River Goods: The beauty of hydrology and topography

Two new maps available for purchase provide a detailed view of the St. Croix River’s fascinating landscape.




2 minute read

The St. Croix River has been cutting through the earth for twelve thousand years or so. The relentless flow of water always finds its way downhill, whether it goes around or through obstacles.

When you walk or drive in the St. Croix Valley, you cross a surface created by the river. The bluffs were once the banks. In some places where the river sliced sandstone and limestone, it intersected an aquifer and groundwater now pours forth. Ravines slice through bedrock, carrying spring-fed creeks and upland runoff swiftly to the river, gravity always gathering the water and bringing it home.

Today, these details of topography are more evident than ever. The governments of Minnesota and Wisconsin have in recent years gathered two-foot elevation data across their respective states. Ten-foot contours were once the norm, but nowadays, a new level of granularity lets you really see the forces of water. Combined with highly accurate water mapping by the U.S. Geological Survey, it makes for beautiful images.

I can stare at a section of river and its two-foot topography for way too long, reading a story of time, water, and physics. After tinkering with the maps for a couple years, I’ve come up with prints I’m proud to share. The two posters above feature some of the most fascinating landscapes along the river.

The first miles of the St. Croix River flow through a valley carved by the outflow of Glacial Lake Duluth some 12,000 years ago. The ancient river’s course can easily be seen making an ‘S’ turn from north to south. The same glacial valley contains the source of the Bois Brule River, which flows north to Lake Superior.

The source of the St. Croix is a bubbling bog, where springs create small pools that gather into a stream which flows a short distance to Upper St. Croix Lake. Here, the historic village of Solon Springs sits on the western shore, while the St. Croix River proper flows out the south end. Numerous gullies and three named creeks show where the hilly surroundings spill down into the lake. Three other named creeks also flow into it. In the bottom part of the map, the St. Croix River’s first tributary, Ox Creek, joins from the east.

Cedar Bend is a storied site along the lower St. Croix, lying between Scandia, Minnesota and Farmington, Wisconsin. Here the river takes a big turn south, passing along a steep bluff on the western bank, where white cedar trees stretch over the river from wet limestone banks.

An 1888 railroad bridge crosses the river, and nearby, a cold and clear stream called Falls Creek slices the valley walls to join the St. Croix. This point of the river was the boundary of the Ojibwe and Dakota territories delineated by white people in an 1837 treaty. In the lower half of the map, the area known as McLeod’s Slough and the Rustrum Wildlife Management Area are situated in a sprawling stretch of river, where it spreads across hundreds of acres of floodplain islands, backwaters, side channels, and wetlands.

If you also love these intricate images and the landscape they represent, prints are now available for sale in a variety of formats. All are 18 inches by 24 inches, printed on high-quality paper, with options for a frame or a simple wooden hangar. Click on your preferred option above, or click here to browse. Thank you.