backroads lindbergh stone tower

There is a short section of a log lying on its side not far from the parking lot at Charles A. Lindbergh State Park, just down river from Little Falls, Minn. The log has been laying there for nearly four decades and is somewhat decayed. Yet it is still more than half as high as a tall person. The White Pine which grew the log was killed by a lightning strike in the mid-1980s. Before that, the Works Progress Administration workers (who built the new parks’ 5,000-gallon stone water tower and the peeled log picnic shelter) held the giant tree in such reverence they built traffic barriers around it to protect it from the automobiles which had become common by the 1930s. 

Before that, teen-aged Charles Lindbergh, who had dropped out of high school in 1916 to supervise the family farm along the Mississippi River, called the pine the Sentinel Tree because he could see it towering above all the other trees anywhere on the farm.

Before that, the tree somehow escaped the rapacious saws of the logging baron Charles A. Weyerhaeuser, whose mansion is just across the river and down the road a bit.

Before that … well, nobody remembers. But foresters say the Sentinel Pine that once towered over Pike Creek was probably growing strong at the time Paul Revere made his renowned ride.

The Lindbergh farm and house make up a historic district along the Mississippi. The house is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society and the farm is managed by the Department of Natural Resources as a state park with ample camp and picnic grounds, as well as an extensive network of hiking trails. The Lindberghs donated it all to the state in the late 1920s, shortly after Charles’ 1927 transatlantic flight in the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

During his brief stint as a teen-aged farmer, Lindbergh, Jr. (his dad was also Charles A.) worked with an elderly farmhand to construct a swaying suspension bridge over Pike Creek — just upriver from its confluence with the Mississippi. The suspension bridge is said to have been held up, in part, by strands of barbed wire. There’s a photo of the bridge at the park and it appears crossing it would have challenged the athletic abilities of most of today’s Americans.

We easily crossed the wide stable bridge which is there today; and, just past it, found a little patch of White Trout Lilies. On the ridge above us, a grove of White Pine, not yet so big as the Sentinel Tree, towered over us.   

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