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The Double Waterfall

Water Falling Twice

Minneopa State Park is known for it’s double waterfalls that drop over 50 feet.  A Dakota word, Minneopa has been translated as Minne (water) inne (falling) nopa (twice).  Other translations of the word include: “Singing waters where the elk play” and “singing water’s of Elk-land.”  The Dakota considered this a scared place and lived along its banks.  Euro-Americans also became enchanted by this spectacular sight and came to enjoy the area well before it became a Minnesota state park in 1905.  The waterfalls have been on the move for 10,000 or more years since the last glacial period.  Originating near the creek’s confluence with the Minnesota River, the twin waterfalls have cut, eroded and carved its way to the present location.  Over time by downcutting into the softer layers of sandstone and collapsing the harder layer the waterfalls have moved around a mile and a half. 

 

If left to their own device the waterfalls would continue migrating all the way to Lake Crystal.  At high water levels the two falls can be very dynamic and will also stop flowing during drought conditions in late summer and autumn.  In the winter a cone of ice can form from top to bottom.

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At a Glance

  • Minneopa State Park has a double waterfalls that drop into a fairly steep and deep gorge cutting all the way to the Minnesota River.

  • The upper falls drops between 7 and 10 feet and has been stabilized by concrete to hold it in place.

  • The lower falls has the more stunning drop of around 40 feet, especially during flooding events.  About 50 to 75 feet separating the two waterfalls with a bridge running between them.

  • Minneopa State Park has a double waterfalls that drop into a fairly steep and deep gorge cutting all the way to the Minnesota River.

  • The upper falls drops between 7 and 10 feet and has been stabilized by the use of concrete to hold it in place.

  • The lower falls has the more stunning drop of around 40 feet, especially during flooding events.  About 50 to 75 feet separating the two waterfalls with a bridge running between them.

Geology

 

The Jordan Sandstone is white, buff, tan, pink or
yellow, medium to coarse grained quartzose sandstone
that is exposed in the waterfalls, the terrace cliffs
overlooking the Minnesota River Valley, and the
Minneopa Creek gorge. The Jordan Sandstone is the
oldest formation exposed in the park. This sedimentary
rock often exhibits cross-bedding and iron-stained
burrows in the lower exposures and is also massive and
burrowed in other exposures (Figure 12). The best
outcrops of the sandstone in the park can be seen at the
waterfall in the south part of the park and the cliffs
overlooking Minneopa Creek gorge (Figure 13) and the
Minnesota River in the north part of the park.

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At some point during the last 8,000 to 10,000 years, Minneopa Creek began flowing as a tributary to the Minnesota River and cutting down through the overlying sediments. Water flowing down the creek encounters resistant ledges of sandstone which have resulted in a forty foot high staircase-like, double waterfall, for which the park was named. The general direction of flow is from the southwest to the northeast, where it enters the south side of the Minnesota River. There are about fifteen feet of moderately resistant sandstone at the top of the falls which water has eroded down to encounter a ledge of very durable, well-cemented sandstone. This three to ten feet of rock forms the “step” on the staircase. The sandstone above the protruding, well cemented ledge is much softer. The twenty feet of sandstone below the ledge has less silica cement to hold the grains of sand together. It is very “friable,” meaning it will fall apart in your hand. On either side of the falls, the sandstone is curved inward and stands nearly vertical (Figure 4, d-e). This amphitheater-like area is constantly eroding away because of eathering due to water spray and the freeze-thaw cycle removing individual grains and occasionally, large slabs of sandstone. Large blocks of sandstone lie at the bottom of the falls and the sides of the gorge as sandstone talus (broken rock). Many vertical and horizontal joint sets are noticeable in the sandstone cliffs of the amphitheater. On the south wall of the amphitheater, there are diagonal joints. These “cracks” in the sandstone may have been caused by a variety of stresses.

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Watershed

 

Minneopa Creek begins in the western part of this 54,000 acre watershed and flows seventeen miles to its confluence with the Minnesota River near Mankato. 

 

Most of the watershed is in Blue Earth County with a small portion in  Brown County.  Minneopa Creek has been channelized from its headwaters to Lily Lake near the city of Lake Crystal.  From there it follows the original channel eastward
towards Minneopa State Park.

 

A large percentage of the Minneopa Creek Watershed consists of crop fields with a much smaller portion of urban areas, lakes, prairie, wetlands, woodlands, etc.   Some of the lakes found in the watershed includes Crystal, Loon and Mills.

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WPA Historic Buildings

 

Picnic Shelter/Pavilion

Built around 1915, this large structure is widely used for both public and private events. The original pavilion measured 76 feet by 24.6 feet. Later, two identical wings 32 feet by 22 feet were added, resulting in its current design. This picnic shelter features a steeply pitched hip roof with wide overhanging eaves and concrete piers.

WPA Kitchen & Concession

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Federal Government assigned a Works Progress Administration (WPA) crew to Minneopa. One of the main features built by the WPA was a large T-shaped structure in the waterfalls area.


Two sections made up the building. A kitchen and concession were located in the larger 30 foot by 18 foot section. Here visitors could cook food on stoves with a sink provided for their convenience. On the other side an open area served as a concession area to sell food items to the public. A smaller room 12 foot by 14 foot was used for storage.

Constructed of locally quarried sandstone, the building had an intersecting gable roof and gabled areas made of pine. The kitchen area had four wood cook stoves and two openings could be closed with grooved shiplap shutters.
For many years the family of the park’s caretaker operated the concession. By the early 1970s activity at the concession had really slowed down. In the 1971 annual report, the manager reported sales had not been very successful.


At some point the concession closed and in 1976 a nature center opened in the building. Later, exhibit panels on the park’s history, natural and geological features were added.

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WPA Latrine / Rest House

On the hillside overlooking the parking lot sits the rest room or latrine, built by the WPA out of sandstone and pine. The 32 foot by 18 foot building features an unusual bell-shaped stone entrance screen at each of the entryways. Above the buildings is an underground reservoir that used to supply water to all the buildings. Remodeling of the structure took place in 1958 (adding of skylights) and 1984 (interior alterations).

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