A Mississippi River experience
May 3, 2010
by Kristen Miller

For those who have never experienced the beauty of the Mississippi River Valley in southeastern Minnesota, I would definitely put it on the list of places to see.

I would recommend driving down Highway 61 from Red Wing to Winona, allowing plenty of time to stop along the way. Some main attractions include Lake Pepin in Lake City and the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. Red Wing also offers a lot of unique shops and history.

I attended three semesters at Winona State University, but hadn’t been back since I left eight years ago. I was starting to get the itch to get back there again and take in the area’s splendor.

I finally got the opportunity recently, having been down to Rochester (50 miles west of Winona) for a wedding reception, to visit my old stomping grounds, and remember why I love the area as much as I do.

Driving along the river, a person can experience breathtaking scenery, with bluffs on both sides of the Mississippi.

It’s definitely a drive you would prefer being the passenger since there is so much to see and take in.

Being a passenger also allows you to look out the windows and watch the large number of bald eagles you’ll see soaring above. They are such amazing creatures and this area is the home to hundreds of them year-round.

If you want to see bald eagles up close and learn all there is to know about these majestic creatures, I recommend visiting the National Eagle Center. Not only is it a great learning experience, but it also provides an awesome view of the river valley and a chance to see eagles up close and personal.

Located in Wabasha, the National Eagle Center is one of its kind in the US. It’s basically a miniature science museum dedicated to the protection and education of the bald eagle.

This center has become the home to five non-releasable eagles, including a golden eagle from California, who is possibly the most famous bald eagle, Harriet.

Harriet is 29 years old and was brought to the center about 10 years ago after being hit by a car in Wisconsin. She was eating a carcass on the side of the road. Part of her left wing had to be amputated after the accident and she will never be able to fly.

You may have seen Harriet on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for a special Earth Day visit April 22.

I actually got to see her live, in all her glory, eating a dead rat. The educational instructor said that rat was the Sunday special for the eagles at the center!

Harriet can also be seen on the “Support Our Troops” Minnesota license plate. I was told she had to be airbrushed since she has black marks still on her cap from the accident.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any eagles flying around outside the center, but I was told the best time to see eagles in abundance in Wabasha is from mid-November to late-March.

This is when bald eagles migrate to the area from all over and stay throughout the winter because this particular part of the river doesn’t freeze over, allowing for plenty of fish to prey on.

According to the center, there were 697 eagles counted in one day during the month of March. Wow! Now, that would be a sight to see!

For more information about the eagle center, visit www.nationaleaglecenter.org.