Light fog drifted over the St. Croix on a very cold, calm morning at 5:50 a.m. I departed from my noisy Riverside campsite about an hour later. Since the Namekogon, the St. Croix has taken on the appearance of a large floodplain river with wide low-lying forests and large islands to divide her flow.
The Tamarack River enters from the north just a mile and a half downstream from the start of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, where the two States boundary follows the St. Croix River. Other than this river, there were no other prominent landmarks or signs to signal the duo political jurisdiction. I suspected the significance of this political meeting point must lie at the opposite end of the north-south boundary line that separates Minnesota from Wisconsin. The Tamarack adds appreciable color to the St. Croix as a result of its dissolved organic compounds that give the tributary a dark reddish appearance. About a mile and a half downstream, a discarded tan-colored refrigerator rested against the head end of a small island on the right side. Besides this appliance, a tire and a few pop cans were the only human refuse I observed in the St. Croix since leaving Gordon Dam yesterday morning.
Wisconsin's western boundary - "…thence through the centre of Lake Superior to the mouth of the St. Louis river; thence up the main channel of said river, to the first rapids in the same, above the Indian village, according the Nicollet's map; thence due south to the main branch of the river St. Croix; thence down the main channel of said river to the Mississippi; thence down the centre of the main channel of that river to the north-west corner of the State of Illinois…"Wisconsin's Constitution from Ritchie 1858
At 9:15 a.m. I reached the mouth of the Yellow River near Danbury, Wisconsin and discovered numerous dead mussel shells scattered on the bottom. The river was stained a yellowish-green true to its name likely a result of planktonic algae washed in from upstream lakes. Actually, the tributary received its name from the yellow colored sand bottom. The St. Croix has now taken on the character of its big sister tributaries to the Mississippi- the Chippewa, Black and Wisconsin with a large sandy channel and broad floodplain forests. Occasional sandbars protruded slightly above the water surface and were difficult to see and I grounded on several of them during my descent.
"At Yellow River, I halted to confer with the Indians in front of a remarkable eminence called Pokunogun, or the Moose's Hip. This eminence is not, however, of artificial construction. This river, with its dependencies of Lac Vaseux, Rick Lake, and Yellow Lake, contains a Chippewa population of three hundred and eighty-two souls. We observed the unio purpureus (freshwater mussel), which the Indians use for spoons, after rubbing off the alatae and rounding the margin..."
I stopped at the Souix Portage located on the left descending bank at Governor Knowles State Forest which borders the St. Croix River for many miles. The portage trail begins at an outside bend in the St. Croix and follows a dry creek bed that bisects the steep Wisconsin shoreline. I climbed the trail for a short distance to get the "feel" of the carry that Indians and fur traders used to get to Yellow Lake, several miles to the southeast. The alternative route was to paddle, pole and portage up the Yellow River, but this was not easy due to its numerous rapids and swift current.
Several miles downstream, I passed over the inflowing waters of the Clam River that entered from the south where the St. Croix makes a 90-degree turn to the west. The river added a grayish-green turbidity plume to the St. Croix. I suspected it was due to phytoplankton growth in the Clam River Flowage, which is located about one mile upstream from the confluence with the St. Croix.
In the afternoon, I passed many canoeists out for a lazy Sunday float down river to Minnesota's St. Croix State Park. Several canoes had three or four adults in them who were just sitting idle staring at the scenery and consuming beverages while they let gravity propel their canoes downstream. Most of the adults were not wearing life jackets except those with children in their canoes, apparently trying to set a good example. All parties provided friendly greetings as I paddled by. A heavy rainstorm started at 3 p.m. when I was just upstream of Norway Point Landing. I then began to consider camping opportunities for the evening. I paddled on in the downpour hoping it would let up. At 4 p.m., I landed on a small island on the right side just above Head of Rapids and upstream from the Kettle River. The next several miles had numerous rapids and fast water that I thought would be better negotiated after a good night's sleep. The rain broke briefly allowing me to set up camp and have dinner before it started again. I tried bank fishing from the island and after twenty minutes of snagging rocks and overhanging tree branches, I gave up and headed for bed at 8 p.m.
"The distance thence (Snake River) to the Yellow River is about thirty-five miles, which we accomplished on the 31st, by eight o'clock in the morning, having found our greatest obstacle at the Kettle Rapids, which discloses sharp masses the trap-rock. The river, in this distance, receives on its right, in the ascent, the Aisippi, or Shell River, which originates in a lake of that name, noted for its large unios and anadontas."
Souix Portage - Governor Knowles State Forest
Sunday Canoeist near Minnesota's St. Croix State Park