According to Winona legend, the daughter of Dakota Sioux chief Red Wing jumped from Maiden Rock Bluff after her lover, a member of the rival Chippewa tribe, was killed by Dakota warriors under orders from her father.
At the risk of sounding callous, she picked one hell of a final view.
It’s become our tradition to take a “Sunday drive” from Minneapolis to Pepin along Wisconsin’s Great River Road. We always stop along the way for a beer, a piece of pie, and a short hike across the top of Maiden Rock Bluff. Spotting it from the road is easy: the 400-foot-tall limestone cliff extends for nearly a mile. Getting to the top is also easy. Begin by turning onto County Road E – a twisting, narrow road that leads straight up. Once you’re at the top, keep an eye out for Long Lane, which is marked by little more than a break in the corn fields. Head west until you dead end at a small parking lot.
Look for a groomed footpath just east of the lot. Follow the path through a block of dense oak savanna. In a quarter mile, the trail turns south and the landscape changes into dry prairie habitat. Here the grass grows tall – well over your head off the trail and brushing against your knees on it.
Another quarter mile brings you to a grove of cliff-dwelling cedars, some of which are 250-years-old. You’ll see shimmers of light reflecting off the river through the dense foliage. Suddenly, the trees end and an endless expanse of blue sky and water begins. Follow the narrow rock outcropping as close to the edge of the bluff as your will allows. Test your balance and nerves by looking straight down into the river valley far below. But don’t forget to also look up and see the graceful dance of peregrine falcons, golden and bald eagles as they swoop through the tree tops.
Stay to watch the setting sun throw beams of orange, pink and purple across the darkening river valley, then return to your car the same way you came. Check yourself for hitchhiking ticks once you get back to the parking lot. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.