• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Fountain Bluff and Tower Rock and the Mississippi River

Fountain Bluff and Tower Rock in red

Fountain Bluff and Tower Rock in red

Before Illinoian ice sheet pushed south through Illinois, the Mississippi flowed along the eastern valley wall. The ice blocked the flow of the Mississippi between the eastern valley wall and Fountain Bluff.

Fountain Bluff at Gorham

Fountain Bluff at Gorham

The river eroded a new channel around the the west side of the bluff and along the western valley wall, leaving Fountain Bluff as a free-standing element, rising more than two hundred feet above the ancient channel. It’s named for the numerous springs that flow from it.

Where the Mississippi carved a new course into bedrock, it left behind a rocky channel that the Corps of Engineers cleared during the 1870s. The engineers left Tower Rock as  a free-standing element in the river, thinking that one day it might serve as the foundation for a bridge. The rock, protected from quarrying, is now as the  smallest national park in the country. If you dare, negotiate the currents that swirl between the rock and the eastern shore, and take a boat out to the rock for a picnic.

Tower Rock

Tower Rock on the West and Fountain Bluff on the East

When the river runs low, at 0.1 on the Chester, Illinois gage, it is possible to hike out to Tower Rock.

Tower Rock

Tower Rock

Early nineteenth century geologists ignored the “broad belt of low, wet bottom, five miles in width, and mostly covered with ponds of water, except in the very dryest portions of the season, and over which for countless ages rolled the mighty currents that formed the valley in which the turpid waters of the Mississippi new find their way to the gulf.”

Wetland between Fountain Bluff and the Eastern Valley Wall of the Mississippi River

Wetland between Fountain Bluff and the Eastern Valley Wall of the Mississippi River

“From the fact that the waters of the Mississippi are restricted to an area much less than its average width, at what is called the Grand Tower, and are hemmed by precipitous limestone bluffs on either side, the theory has been entertained that at a former period these limestone cliffs extended quite across the river, forming an immense fall which has be gradually cut away by the current of the river.” —Amos Henry Worthen


[i] Wiggers, Raymond, Geology Underfoot in Illinois, Missoula, Montana, Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1997,  233; McDonald, Timothy A., “Illinoian Glacial Boundary,” Esling, Steven P. and Blum, Michael D., eds., Quaternary Sections in Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, Midwest Friends of the Pleistocene, 42nd Annual Meeting, 19-21 May 1995, 2.4; McDonald, Timothy A., “Quaternary Geology around Fountain Bluff,” Esling, Steven P. and Blum, Michael D., eds., Quaternary Sections in Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, Midwest Friends of the Pleistocene, 42nd Annual Meeting, 19-21 May 1995, 5.14; Hajic, Edwin R., Personal communication, July, 1999; Worthen, Amos Henry, Economical Geology of Illinois, Illinois State Geological Survey, 1882, 503

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6 Responses

  1. Quinta –
    I absolutely love your blog. It’s so informative and your photos make it seem like a beautiful book.

    Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    • Thank you Steve:

      Much of the information on the blog is outtakes from my upcoming book: Mississippi: a Visual Biography, about how the river was formed, what he have done to change it, and how we are trying to restore it. The captions to 200 photographs, from the headwaters to the gulf, place each place photographed within that context.

  2. Excellent site, keep up the good work

  3. Hi by chance did you see the art work? Down Fountain Bluff Rd if did see it, is the path leading to it easy to locate? We are going down 5th and 6th and may see it if time, i saw the location of the Rock Art, but unsure if its easy to spot from the road which path leads to it or so?

  4. Simply desire to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity on your post is just excellent and i could think you’re a professional in this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to clutch your feed to stay up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.

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