Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Rugged Blue Mounds State Park on the southwestern Minnesota prairie September 17, 2013

Welcoming visitors to Blue Mounds State Park in rural Rock County, Minnesota.

Welcoming visitors to Blue Mounds State Park in rural Rock County, Minnesota.

YOU WOULD THINK, considering I am a native of southwestern Minnesota, that I would have visited Blue Mounds State Park many times.

But I hadn’t, ever, and it has been on my list of must-see places for the past several years. That and the Brandenburg Gallery in Luverne, four miles to the south. That would be Jim Brandenburg, perhaps Minnesota’s best-known nature photographer. He grew up in rural Luverne, near the South Dakota border.

Hundreds of windmills now define this region of southwestern Minnesota.

Hundreds of windmills now define this region of southwestern Minnesota.

Recently my husband and I traveled to this corner of Minnesota specifically to see these two sites. It was well worth the long drive that took us through many small agricultural communities, past acres and acres of cropland, and past hundreds of wind turbines which define so much of the landscape in this region now. While I understand their energy value, these unnatural giants, in my opinion, have ruined the aesthetics of the prairie. I like my prairie big, open and wide, without monstrosities to detract from its natural beauty.

Beautiful natural scenery.

Beautiful natural scenery.

Thankfully, preserved and protected prairie remains in places like Blue Mounds State Park and nearby Touch the Sky Prairie and in Brandenburg’s images.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass.

On the Saturday we hiked Blue Mounds, strong winds buffeted the land, bending prairie grasses as we climbed a hillside,

Mounds of flat rock naturally planted upon the prairie.

Mounds of flat rock naturally planted upon the prairie.

A close-up shot of that in-ground flat rock.

A close-up shot of that in-ground flat rock.

examined and walked upon clumps of huge rock,

My husband inside the portion of the park where rock was once quarried.

My husband inside the portion of the park where rock was once quarried.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite.

admired towering cliffs of Sioux quartzite,

The prickly pear cactus seemingly grows right out of the rock.

The prickly pear cactus seemingly grows right out of the rock.

bent low to study the prickly pear cactus, an unexpected plant in this northern climate. In the distance, we glimpsed the park’s herd of bison.

One example of the many prairie wildflowers.

One example of the many prairie wildflowers.

Look at the size of that Sioux quartzite rock compared to my husband.

Look at the size of that Sioux quartzite rock compared to my husband.

Just inside the park entry, I spotted this couple getting wedding photos taken among the prairie grasses and wildflowers.

Just inside the park entry, I spotted this couple getting wedding photos taken among the prairie grasses and wildflowers.

I stopped more often than not to photograph wildflowers and the prairie grass and rocks and the overall scenery in this stunning spot on the prairie, unlike any I’ve ever viewed in Minnesota.

From a gravel road that loops past the park, I photographed this rugged rock line.

From a gravel road that loops past the park, I photographed this rugged rock line.

This prairie differs from the flat, cropped agricultural prairie of my youth. This prairie rolls and rises and meets the sky and feels wild and rugged and untamed. I almost expected to see horses galloping across the land, like a scene out of a western. It has that feel.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note their wool clinging to the fence.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note the tufts of wool clinging to the fence.

I observed sheep and cattle grazing in an abundance of rocky pastures nestled between corn and soybean fields. And from the hilltops, the land seemed to stretch in to forever in all directions.

BONUS PHOTOS:

No rock climbing for us, but if you're a rock climber, Blue Mounds allows this sport.

No rock climbing for us, but if you’re a rock climber, Blue Mounds allows this sport.

Photographing wildflowers is more my type of "sport."

Photographing wildflowers is more my type of “sport.” That proved a challenge in the wind.

Farms like this border Blue Mounds State Park.

Farms like this border Blue Mounds State Park.

We followed this gravel road around the park and past a country church in the distance.

We followed this gravel road around the park and past a country church in the distance.

Sheep graze in a pasture near the country church.

Sheep graze in a pasture near the country church.

And because I value detail, I set my camera on the prairie and took this shot.

And because I value detail, I set my camera on a rock on the prairie and took this shot.

CHECK BACK for more posts from this region of Minnesota. I’ll take you into Luverne to view the Brandenburg Gallery and other points of interest.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

39 Responses to “Rugged Blue Mounds State Park on the southwestern Minnesota prairie”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    We loved camping at Blue Mound – and also the WW2 related museum and Jim Brandenburg studio at the restored former county jail in Luverne was also great

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    What a great post. The prickly pear cactus surprised me. I would not have expected to see that there at all. Great surprise and discovery. I like to see wind turbines (although I understand why you don’t) because they are intriguing to me. I love to watch them and hear the quiet hum of the blades. We have had the privilege of seeing wind turbines in some really great places including Hawaii where we drove and drove and drove specifically to find them. My husband is drawn to them–it is the engineer in him I think.
    The wedding couple was also a neat surprise and what a great place to take wedding pictures. I would say you hit the jackpot on this visit!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, Beth Ann, you’ve only gotten a peek at the jackpot of discoveries in Luverne. I love this community. More to come.

      As far as the wind turbines, I can understand why Chris, as an engineer, would be drawn to them. Me? Definitely not so much.

  3. Loving your captures:) You have been so lucky in capturing Wedding couples and parties! Thanks so much for sharing Jim’s photography too – very artistic and natural with his photos. Happy Tuesday

  4. John Says:

    Looks like southwestern Minnesota has a lot of diversity in its scenery. Beautiful.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That’s the thing about Minnesota. We have our prairies on the west, woods and water up north, lakes in the central region, and rolling hills and rivers in the east and southeast. I may be over-generalizing. But the geography of this state is quite diverse and beautiful, one of the reasons I so love my home state.

  5. Jackie Says:

    Love the photo’s of the prairie, what a nice little trip for you and Randy. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the photo of the little country church off the side of the gravel road…. and I didnt miss that there is a cemetery behind that church.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Now you and Rick need to make a road trip to the sw corner of Minnesota.

      • Jackie Says:

        Yes…. we have never explored this part of Minnesota, driven through but never explored. There are so many places to see right here in our own state.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Bingo. That’s exactly what I am trying to show my readers through my travel posts. There’s so much to see right in our backyard.

  6. So glad you had the chance to visit the park! I’ve only been there briefly – no time to walk around much – about 10 years ago. Aren’t the buffalo cool? I love them. So scraggly. There’s a smallish park in Pipestone – can’t remember if it’s a state park or just a local one – with a lovely nature walk and even a waterfall! It’s a beautiful area. And as for those wind turbines…yeah, they’ve sprouted up everywhere in the past couple of years. Crazy. There is beauty to be seen in them too. I actually love driving down into Iowa where if you’re early enough in the day, often the tops of the turbine’s blades are in the fog and you just see the lowest turbine sweep past – it’s pretty cool. I need to get a better photo of it someday. I’ve tried in the past but haven’t gotten a great one yet. Missed my chance this morning yet again!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Gretchen, the park you’re referencing in Pipestone is Pipestone National Monument, a national park. I’ve been there and also to the Hiawatha Pageant, which I believe is no longer presented annually in Pipestone.

      As for the wind turbines, thanks for pointing out your perspective of them. I have not seen them in the fog and I suppose then they would possess a surreal beauty. And, yes, I’d love to see a photo of them in the fog.

      • Right, that’s it! Thanks. Yes, it’s a neat place. I went to the Hiawatha Pageant too – and just as our kids were getting old enough to appreciate such things, it stopped. But we all went that last year and even though L doesn’t remember it, and I’m not sure that K does either, at least I does and that’s good. (And yes, you know that “I” is not a grammatical error there!)

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Our entire family attended the pageant and enjoyed it. Not so much the stay at some vintage motel, though.

      • I can only imagine! But yes, the pageant was wonderful. It’s really a shame that they had to stop.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Yes, but, like any long-running event, I’m sure finding volunteers was getting tougher and tougher. I remember my mom talking about attending the pageant as a young newlywed.

      • Oh, what a fun link to her at that age! Yes, I think that was the biggest reason…I suppose that all things run their course. I wish they’d have planned to do it like every 10 years or something at least, not just BANG IT’S OVER.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Well, you never know, maybe the pageant will be revived someday.

      • Oh, and as for those turbines…it’s funny that I don’t mind them and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always liked windmills and even though they’re ugly ones, they’re fascinating in a way. I like watching the daily change in them – slow somedays, speeding round on others. Still and unmoving on yet other days.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I love the old-fashioned windmills, for sure. But these, no. I find them intrusive. At least you see their poetic beauty and perhaps that is how I need to view them as they are going anywhere, except round and round.

      • Maybe it helps me that they arrived about the same time I did to the prairie!!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        That very likely could be.

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    Lots of beautiful images here and thank you for the tour. I love the one of the wedding couple. We have those ugly windmills too. I really don’t understand it. It seems all over the Western world we have these and they are such visual pollution and I really don’t understand why we have to have them. Yes, they generate some energy but so does solar and we have that to an excess here in Oz so why not go with that instead of these ugly and noisy eye sores xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Just last evening I heard on the Twin Cities news about a wind energy company that actually was not allowed to erect wind turbines in the Zumbrota, Minnesota, area due to the expected deaths of bald eagles. More and more, residents are taking a stand against wind turbines, especially in densely populated areas, although this land around Zumbrota is more rural than urban.

      I understand the value of these turbines. But I feel like you, Charlie, about their negative visual impression upon the landscape.

  8. ryanware Says:

    I’ve been to Luverne several times, but never to the Blue Mound State park or the Brandenburg gallery. I really must make a point of it.

    I did make it to the Jeffers Petroglyphs earlier this summer and need to make it back in decent light and take some photographs.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ryan, you would really enjoy both the park and the gallery. I have more posts yet to come from Luverne.

  9. Tom Sloan Says:

    A friend & I motorcycle camped at Blue Mounds Park Saturday night in order to view the sunrise on the equinox along the ancient quartzite stone line just above the interpretative center at the South end of the park. We also met a new friend and hiked to the quarry together. There is an undeniable feeling of peace that we all sensed while in the Park. Driving through the shadows of windmill turbine blades on the way home in Rochester was an eerie unsettling experience – hopefully we have enough windmills for now! The pictures earlier in this blog are totally phenomenal – I hope that the newly married couple returns to Blue Mounds to renew their commitment and that their marriage fairs better than mine did. I went to the Blue Mounds in an ongoing quest for renewal after being an RN for 33 years and leaving the profession physically & spiritually exhausted last year. I found solace at Blue Mounds!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Tom, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Somehow we missed the interpretative center when we were there. I agree with your assessment of Blue Mounds. Most assuredly one peaceful place. I like your recommendation to the newlyweds.

      Thank you for your kind words regarding my photos.

      May you continue to find solace in your life’s journey.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.