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The Mississippi is synonymous with the southern states of the US and you can still see its signature vessel – the Mississippi steamboat. It rises, in fact, in Minnesota and wends its long, slow way southwards over 2530miles (4070km) to its delta and the Gulf of Mexico. It touches ten states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. The river leaves silt deposits along its route, making this one of America’s most fertile agricultural areas. However, it also has a tendency to flood and levees, locks, dikes and dams have been constructed along its length to keep it in check.

The river’s source is Lake Itasca 1475 ft (450m) above sea level and between here and St Louis, there are 43 dams, some used for power generation, most simply to improve navigation and prevent erosion. The Upper Mississippi passes through several lakes and gorges, then merges with the Minnesota River in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul). Several more rivers join – the St Crois, Cannon, Black, La Crosse, Root, Wisconsin, Rock, Iowa, Des Moines, Crow, Illinoi and the Big Muddy River. The Lower Mississippi has a very different character from the fast-moving higher reaches. From the point where it is joined by the Ohio River, it is slow and meandering and one of the great commercial waterways for cotton, timber and agricultural products. The Mississippi was of crucial importance during the American Civil War and many of the great cities of the Old South are on or close to its course. St Louis and New Orleans, Memphis and Baton Rouge. It is a river that has been synonymous with a civilisation and been an on-going artistic inspiration from The Adventures of Hucklberry Finn to Show Boat.