Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Following the road less traveled, even if you have no idea where you are October 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:25 AM
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MY HUSBAND WILL TELL YOU, unequivocally, that I am not a navigator. I cannot read a map nor do I possess any sense of direction when we are traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Given that knowledge, I prefer we both know exactly where we are going before we get going. He plots out roads and I sometimes write down directions and hope for the best. That saves lots of frustration and, ahem, discussion about “maybe we should stop somewhere and ask for directions.”

But occasionally a road beckons and we end up in an unknown locale and I start to fret about where we are and where we’ll end up.

About that time in the journey, Randy will pull over to the side of the road (because we are typically in a remote area) and consult the Minnesota atlas we carry with us. He’ll study it for awhile, then set it down and start driving—without telling me where we are or where we are going.

A view of isolated Fillmore County Road 23 as taken through the front windshield of our car.

On a recent day trip to the Chatfield/Lanesboro/Canton/Harmony/Preston area of southeastern Minnesota, we turned onto Fillmore County Road 23, a scenic route recommended by Jackie, who blogs over at “Who will make me laugh” (you really ought to read her blog by clicking here). I wasn’t expecting the tar road to turn into gravel and twist and turn through isolated backwoods before reaching County Road 10.

I was becoming somewhat agitated, wondering if this really was the road Jackie meant for us to travel and how long we’d be driving in the middle of nowhere.

This lovely old stone house seems to meld into the muted autumn landscape.

Soon enough, though, I became distracted by the scenery and the old stone buildings and the beauty of the place through which we were traveling.

Jackie was right in suggesting we follow scenic CR 23. And my husband was right in realizing that sooner or later, I’d enjoy the ride.

And then, bonus, that stately red barn near the old stone house.

And then further, on a bend in the road, these old stone ruins appeared.

And later I would learn, from Troy at the Highland Cafe (where Jackie also sent me) that this was once a mill.

HOW ABOUT YOU: What type of traveler are you? Are you adventuresome or, like me, wanting to know where you are? I expect some of you will suggest a GPS might be a wise investment. Am I correct?

No matter your answers, taking those backroads always, always, results in wonderful discoveries. Thanks, Jackie, for the scenic travel tip.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


36 Responses to “Following the road less traveled, even if you have no idea where you are”

  1. peaches+gingham Says:

    I think there is something to be said for being able to get out and just drive to your heart’s content, to follow wherever it leads you. That being said, a GPS can be a wise investment when you’re ready to get back to civilization. 🙂

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Always have a GPS with me—I am horrible at directions and have no sense of it! At all. and my husband likes to go on “adventures” so it is always helpful to have that GPS with us to get us out of situations. Love to ramble but like you, like to have an idea that we know where we are going! Fabulous back road pictures!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I am going to make sure my husband reads your comment as he always teases me about how horrible I am with directions and reading a map. He is right. But I want him to know I am not the only one.

  3. Amy Says:

    I stumbled on that mill by accident too. And what a great moment it was, coming around the corner and finding it. It’s the Old Gribben Mill. My understanding is that there’s a kind of waterfall behind it.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Exactly how I felt, coming around that corner to see the mill ruins. Now to hear that a waterfall lies behind it makes me wish I’d explored. But with so many low water levels, my guess would be that the waterfall would not have been flowing. I can tell myself that anyway.

      Was the Gribben Mill a flour mill, saw mill or ???

  4. Amy Says:

    Flour mill, is my understanding.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That would probably be correct. It seems odd to me that the mill is seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I wonder if a town once existed there.

      • Connie Thedens Says:

        I grew up a couple of miles up the road from the mill.There was no “town” but I heard it used to be a busy place. Horse-drawn wagons full of wheat would just appear coming down the road and over the hillsides. Must have been a sight! I’ve been trying to research and find out more about the mill but there isn’t much out there. Brothers, Peter and Patrick Gribben, built it in 1868. Fillmore County had nearly 3 dozen flour mills. Then farmers decided corn grew better than wheat so the mills were abandoned. There is a spring behind the mill. A dye was put in the water near Niagara Cave (Harmony, MN) to see where it flowed, and the dye was seen coming out of the spring. Gribben Creek is one of southern Minnesota’s premiere trout streams. The DNR used to stock it. I’m not sure if they still do. It’s cool hearing about and seeing “home”.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Connie, thanks for all the info, which is way more than I knew. The location is just beautiful and lucky you to have grown up near here.

  5. I love to just ramble. I got quite lost a couple of weeks ago but I eventually made my way home. I know GPS’s are handy devices, but I don’t want one. I don’t even have a compass — which my husband complains about whenever we are “lost” in my car.

  6. treadlemusic Says:

    Oh, (sigh) you were so close ! Know that road well! Troy is Vicki’s (Highland Cafe-owner) brother and works with her hubby. This area is just filled with roads (gravel mostly) that are twisty, very rural, “picture perfect” and a compass/GPS would be of little help! In fact, if you were to put in the address (not the coordinates) of the Highland Store Cafe you would end up way West of Highland!!!!!!! Next time……give me/us a call!! Hugs, D

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Most definitely I need to let you know the next time we are in the area. And maybe you can guide me to more of those scenic and twisty roads. I’ve been working on a post about the Highland Cafe, so that will be coming soon. Love that place.

  7. Oh, you make me miss my dad with this post. He loved to drive off into uncharted (by him) territory and see what was there. He never would have used a GPS, either. Our family joked that Dad knew where every dead end in the state of Minnesota was. You’ve inspired me to go take a drive. My GPS will stay in the glove compartment for the duration.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You know, Kathleen, my dad used to take us on Sunday afternoon drives when I was growing up on the farm. He mostly drove township gravel roads to look at the crops. It got us off the farm, so I was happy. I totally understand how this post could you remind me of your dad because it reminds me of mine, too. There are so many wonderful back roads to explore. My husband and I have, in recent years, gone on many a Sunday afternoon drive with no destination in mind. Have fun on your backroads journey. And good for you to stash away the GPS.

      • We are lucky to live where we can do that kind of exploring, aren’t we? If you’re interested, I did talk about my dad and driving on my blog at this post: http://oneminnesotawriter.blogspot.com/2012/02/artists-way-check-in-5-about.html. It was a while back, but those backroad drives taught me a lot about possibility and how to enjoy the journey.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Thanks for the link to your post, which I did read. Interesting thoughts therein. Growing up on a dairy farm, I only went on two vacations during my childhood, one to Duluth and the other to the Black Hills, where I came down with tonsillitis. My childhood world was small and I really am not much of a traveler, except locally and regionally, now.

        As a bonus to visiting your blog, I also discovered Every Day Poets. Since I write poetry too…

  8. Jackie Says:

    You had me worried there for a second, I thought maybe I had sent you on a wild goose chase. When I saw the photos of the old mill I was relieved. I just love that area, and I tell ya Audrey there is so much more to see!!! If I can remember right that mill is not far from Whalen, MN. I feel humbled that you mentioned me in your blog, Thanks you! I’m glad you were able to see some new sights. I’m in love with that area, as dad would say, “God’s country”. So what did you think of the Highland Cafe?, and did you get to the old Methodist church in Lenora?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sorry to scare you, Jackie. I wondered at first if we were on the right road because I did not expect it to be gravel.

      Yes, we got to the Highland Cafe and we loved it. In fact, I will be publishing a blog post about it probably tomorrow.

      We also found the church in Lenora, but not without difficulty. Who would think that since Lenora is so small? We ended up east of town on an Amish farm and I was thrilled. Driving back into Lenora, we spotted the church. I’ll be posting about that, too. I have a whole bunch of pix from that day trip and a whole head full of blog post ideas.

      • Jackie Says:

        OH yea! I can hardly wait to see what you have to say, I was hoping there would be more postings, I’m glad you found the Lenora church, even better that you ran into the amish farm trying to get there 🙂

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Oh, Jackie, you had to know I would have lots more to say and show. Can I go anywhere without taking photos and notes? Uh, usually, no.

  9. Bernie Bowman Says:

    We were in Lanesboro this summer, what a beautiful area…thanks for the pictures!!

  10. Beautiful Photos! I am navigational challenged and love when you find the unexpected when lost. Have a Great One!

  11. Oh my gosh Audrey, those beautiful stone buildings…..just love them, I must go find these one of these days! And, to funny…I’m the worst at directions–or getting were I need to go! I recently got a gps phone, because I have been lost to many times!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, Stacey, you would love this drive. Yes, you would. I hope my husband is reading these comments from so many women who struggle, like me, with navigating.

  12. Love these photos! LOVE that ruin.

  13. Russell Addy Says:

    I do not know if anyone reads this blog now but I found the Gribben mill back in the 80’s and took a photo almost like this one. I even talked to the owner about buying it but did not. He told me the history of it. Love your photo.

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