You would never expect this terrain of steep hillsides and crowded woods and a winding river smack dab in the middle of the flat prairie.
As a child growing up among acres of corn and soybeans with only the occasional grove to break the endless vista of sky and fields, I felt like a foreigner here.
The trees were too close, the roads too curvy and narrow, the heights too frightening.
Yet, I grew to love this spot, this “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota,” Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls.
Last weekend, while driving through Redwood on the way to a family reunion in Vesta 20 miles farther west, we stopped at this largest of Minnesota’s municipal parks (at 219 acres), located several blocks off Minnesota Highway 19.
First stop, the zoo. I remember the days of monkeys and bears, and buffalo so close you could nearly grab them by the horns. I must settle now for viewing the buffalo from a safe distance through two layers of chain link fence. Oddly, I miss the fear I experienced as a child standing so near these massive beasts.
My favorite, the mischievous monkeys that were occasionally turned loose by equally mischievous pranksters, are long gone. So are the bears.
Instead, a peacock and goats and prairie dogs and ducks and deer occupy the zoo pens.
A stone’s throw away from the riverside zoo, I admire the work of Works Progress Administration Project workers who constructed the stone swayback bridge in 1938. I have always wondered why the bridge was built this way, dipping down, tempting the river to rise up and spill across the roadway. I still wonder.
I note the low water depth and the unpleasant smell of the muddy Redwood River that flows under the bridge and winds through the park.
Later we drive over that swooping bridge, twisting through the park along the narrow paved road that always leaves me hoping we won’t meet another vehicle, especially on the blind 10 mph hairpin curve.
We exit to the falls, the main attraction in this scenic park. Already, I can feel my pulse quickening at the thought of standing at the overlook, peering far below to Ramsey Creek gushing over the rocks.
Camera in hand, I edge inch-by-inch toward the look-out. I back away, move forward again until, finally, I can stand there long enough to compose and shoot several pictures of the falls. The roar of rushing water, and of fear, fills my ears.
And then, a short walk away, a swinging bridge to conquer. The boards rattle and sway beneath my feet. I prefer solid ground, my feet touching the earth.
But still, despite my preference for flat land uninterrupted by trees, I appreciate the beauty of this place, this “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota,” right here, in the heart of the prairie.