A glacial geologist, Dr. Carrie Jennings tells why the Minnesota River is so interesting, from its shape to its terrain and wildlife. Dr. Jennings recalls taking amateur geologist out on the river for many adventures.
This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded by the Minnesota Humanities Center for their We Are Water MN initiative, an outgrowth of our national traveling exhibition "Water/Ways."
"My name is Carrie Jennings and I’m a glacial geologist and I try to reconstruct how glaciers affected Minnesota. I got interested in the Minnesota River because of its unusual shape. It’s deep and wide and the modern river within it is very small compared to the width of the valley. It has very unusual terrain in parts of the valley. For example, up by Granite Falls or by Ortonville there are some lumpy rocks in the bottom of it, it makes a sharp bend at Mankato, after that it has these broad sinuous swoops. I’ve canoed all these rivers, all the tributaries to the Minnesota because that’s the best way to see the exposed glacial material.
I like how you can be on an upland of commodity crops of corn and soybean and drop down into these river valleys 100 feet down and feel like you are in another world. It’s where you see the wildlife - foxes, owls it’s like stepping back in time. I’ve taken a lot of people on river trips! I’ve taken my students. I teach a class at the University of Minnesota. And I’ve had more than one of my classes on and in the water. There’s an amateur group of geologists, they were older, retired for the most part.
I tried to screen them by making sure they had their own canoe and some boating experience and made them camp out the night before and thought I’d just get the really hearty ones. My husband’s favorite line from that canoe trip was when the canoes, almost all of them went over in one rapids, and one woman called out “My caaaaaane!”.
[laughs] But I don’t mean to laugh because, everyone survived, and at the take-out everyone flipped out their phones, they were all calling their kids, saying “Guess what I just did!” [laughs]