Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Traveling through Minnesota’s Bluff Country November 12, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The terrain here, outside of Rushford in southeastern Minnesota, is similar to that around Houston. Turn left at the intersection and you will be headed for Houston.

The terrain here, outside of Rushford in southeastern Minnesota, is similar to that around Houston, Minnesota. Turn left at the intersection and you will be headed for Houston.

DRIVING ALONG A WINDING and steep ridge road toward Houston, Minnesota, on an October autumn afternoon, I am taken by the ruggedness of this land. Friends Doreen and Tom, who left the Twin Cities decades ago to settle in this area, warned my husband and me about Houston County Road 13. Yet, I was unprepared for the curves, the heights, for the vastness of the valley below, for the overwhelming feeling of smallness I experienced. I suppose others would say the same about the prairie—except for the height part. Familiarity equates comfort. And I suspect Doreen understood that a native flatlander like me might find her neck of the woods a tad daunting. I do. I am not a lover of heights.

Bluffs just minutes from Rushford, Minnesota.

Bluffs just minutes from Rushford, Minnesota.

 

Aged farmsteads dot this region.

Aged farmsteads dot this region.

 

This farm sits just below the ridge near Houston.

This farm sits just below the ridge near Houston.

 

But I have grown to appreciate this corner of southeastern Minnesota with its rolling hills and bluffs, density of trees and rivers. Add in the small towns therein and the ruralness of this region and I want to return again and again to explore. I’ll never love the heights, though.

 

Everywhere bluffs rise up.

Everywhere, bluffs rise.

 

Near LaCrescent, Minnesota, just across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Near La Crescent, Minnesota, just across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

Nearing the Mississippi River bridge to cross from Minnesota into Wisconsin.

Nearing the Mississippi River bridge to cross from Minnesota into Wisconsin.

 

I am always impressed at the diversity of Minnesota topography. Within hours, you can drive from plains to woods, hills to prairie. Trees or no trees. Lakes or rivers. City or country.

Bluff country mural

Doreen and Tom’s son, Brady, painted this mural on the hardware store in Houston years ago when Brady operated Iceman Custom Paint. He set up a projector in the middle of Minnesota State Highway 16 in the wee hours of the morning to get the image onto the wall. As luck (or not) would have it, a state trooper came upon the scene and investigated.

 

The rest of the hardware store mural promoting Bluff Country.

The rest of the hardware store mural promoting Bluff Country.

 

I love this state of mine. I truly do. Except for winter. I don’t miss the fierceness of a prairie winter. And I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with Duluth or Moorhead winters. And I imagine traveling southeastern Minnesota ridge roads in the winter could prove challenging. I take that tip from Doreen and Tom who are migrating south this winter to Texas.

BONUS PHOTOS from Houston, Minnesota:

 

After photographing the hardware store mural, I turned to see this man walking to his pick-up truck parked across the street at River Valley Convenience Store. The business is owned by Doreen and Tom's son Brady and his wife, Tracy. It was the leafy vegetables in the pick-up bed that caught me eye.

After photographing the hardware store mural, I turned to see this man walking to his pick-up truck parked across the street at River Valley Convenience Store. The business is owned by Doreen and Tom’s son Brady and his wife, Tracy. The leafy vegetables in the pick-up bed caught my eye. An interesting note about River Valley: The business features Full Service Wednesday from 1 – 3 p.m. On that afternoon, Tom shows up to pump gas and wash windshields. That’s a small town for you.

 

While I didn't stop at Barista's Coffee House, its exterior charmed me. The business is for sale.

While I didn’t stop at Barista’s Coffee House, its exterior charmed me. The business is for sale and is located right next to the convenience store just off the main highway through Houston.

 

I spotted this co-op fuel truck from nearby Hokah and flashed back to my Uncle Harold's fuel delivery truck at this Midland gas station, long-closed in Vesta, Minnesota.

I spotted this co-op fuel truck from nearby Hokah and flashed back to my Uncle Harold’s fuel delivery truck at his Midland gas station, long-closed in Vesta, Minnesota.

 

Check back tomorrow as I take you inside a special attraction in Houston. 

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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34 Responses to “Traveling through Minnesota’s Bluff Country”

  1. Youve really captured inner america in your photography… Its a special place in my opinion – you don’t realize how quaint and different the inner workings of real america.

  2. Marneymae Says:

    Omigoodness it’s BEAUtiful there!!
    The bluff remind me of the hills of & surrounding Ithaca…
    Though the bluffs are probably different in reality…
    If I had any business sense, i’d follow the temping pull of that coffee shop for sale…
    Looking forward to reading your next post.
    Thanks for sharing about another place to come visit

    • You are welcome, Marney. This region of Minnesota is stunningly beautiful. These photos, however, were taken several weeks ago. Since then, the leaves have fallen, the trees are bare and winter is about to settle upon us.

  3. Fun to know that Doreen knew to warn you! I love the bluffs, but my tummy doesn’t like the up and down curves.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Reblogged this on Treadlemusic and commented:
    A recent visit, and lunch opportunity, from bloggy friend Audrey, and hubby Randy, has resulted in this lovely pictorial account (and “prairie gal’s” impressions) of the awesome area I/we call home.

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    Just had to “Reblog”…..you understand, hmmmmm??? So great to read about our “nesting area” from a visitor’s perspective!!!!! Hugs…………………….

  6. Beth Ann Says:

    You know I wish I would have made it to visit Doreen at her home while I lived there but at least we met a couple of times elsewhere. You would feel like a fish out of water where we live as well but it is wonderful to be able to visit places that are different than your beloved prairie at times, right? Great tour of Houston so far. Thanks.

    • You’re absolutely right. I love the southeastern section of Minnesota where Doreen lives. It’s beautiful with a mix of tree-covered bluffs and open farm land. Perfect.

      But, you’re right on your region. Too many trees hem me in.

  7. Dan Traun Says:

    Hwy 13 is a favorite route of mine. The smell of crab apple blossoms in the Spring is unbelievable. It is worthy of a slow roll with the windows down.

  8. Almost Iowa Says:

    “The business features Full Service Wednesday from 1 – 3 p.m. On that afternoon, Tom shows up to pump gas and wash windshields. That’s a small town for you.”

    Now that’s how to compete against Casey’s.

  9. Loving your captures and that mural is impressive 🙂 Minnesota has its diversities in landscapes. I had a little bit of shock upon arriving back to MN after living in the mountains and now in the sun, sand and surrounded by water. Space is limited here and at times almost crammed in. I enjoyed going back to MN and the nice weather was a bonus while there. Happy Day – Enjoy!

  10. Looks like a beautiful place minus the icy snowy roads that will inevitably happen sooner than later

  11. Sweet Posy Dreams Says:

    As a Tennessee girl, I love hills. That is some gorgeous scenery. I also like the cute little coffee shop.

  12. Don Says:

    Humm where to relocate to…….so many places to choose from…… one thing I do know, it will not be a city!

    Nice pictures showcasing nice places!

  13. Jackie Says:

    Of Love this part of MInnesota, it’s where my roots are from. Dad’s family farmed near Houston in the Mabel/Canton area. Dad and I explore these rolling hills and bluffs at least once a year…always so much to see. How fun for you and Randy to visit with Doreen and Tom! I think I need to go and make a stop at that drive thru coffee house, they always draw me in!

  14. Littlesundog Says:

    Beautiful photos! You really do a terrific job capturing small town and country life. I love the farm shots best of course!

  15. Karen Says:

    Good morning from Portland, Oregon, 1 hour from Saint Helens! My folks both grew up in SE Minnesota [Winona] during the Depression, so thanks for the posts about that lovely area. When I read that Barista’s was for sale in 2015, nearly 2 years ago, I quickly googled it to see if it was still in business. Sure enough! Love to see small businesses thriving in charming small towns.


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