"The most beautiful prospect that imagination can form," wrote 18th century explorer Jonathan Carver about the view from Barn Bluff. "Verdant plains, fruitful meadows, and numerous islands abound with the most varied trees.... But above all, reaching as far as the eye can extend, is the majestic, softly flowing river."
Composed of various Paleozoic rocks, including sandstone, siltstone, and dolomite, and capped by some 35 feet of sand, gravel, and loess deposited by glaciation, Barn Bluff has also been known as "LaGrange," or "Twin Mountain." Rising some 343 feet above the modern city of Red Wing, it is one of the best known natural features along the Mississippi and was climbed by many of Minnesota's early tourists, including Henry David Thoreau. Topographical engineer Stephen H. Long, who climbed it during his 1819 mapping expedition, found "the sublime and beautiful here blended in a most enchanting manner," and artist Henry Lewis called the view "incredibly beautiful" while remarking unfavorably on a "mass of rattlesnakes" to be found there.
Lewis also reported on an "Indian Legend" about the bluff. Many hundreds of years ago, according to the story, a mountain twice as big stood in this place. The inhabitants of two Dakota villages quarreled over possession of the mountain, and to settle the dispute without bloodshed, the Great Spirit divided it into two parts. He left one part here, and moved the other half downstream to the second village. The portion that was moved, according to Lewis's interpretation, rises above today's city of Winona and is called Sugar Loaf.