Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road in southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay November 25, 2019

Sometimes I photograph scenes in the passenger side mirror, here the grain elevator in Morgan.


IF I STOPPED TO PHOTOGRAPH everything that grabbed my interest while on the road, I would never get anywhere. So I’ve learned to shoot on the fly—from the passenger seat and out the windshield or the side window. I set my camera’s shutter speed in sports mode (a fast speed to catch action) and then scan for photo ops.

Photographing in this style calls for a watchful eye, an ability to compose/frame a scene at a moment’s notice and a lot of luck. Factor in dirty/tinted windows and reflections and the challenge is even greater.


I often think, this creamery in Courtland would make a lovely brewery. I’m unsure of its use, but I think it’s a residence/apartments.


Still, I manage to capture plenty of images that I wouldn’t otherwise get.


Courtlands’ Swany’s Pub, left, always draws my eye for the signage.


With that background, I take you on the road, westbound toward my native Redwood County. My photo tour begins about 1 ½ hours into this road trip, in Courtland, This small town is a pass-through point for busy US Highway 14. It’s also the home of my maternal forefathers. Not a lot changes in Courtland, although the Crow Bar burned down a few years ago and has since been rebuilt. It’s across the street from Swany’s Pub.


The curve of this tire shop draws my focus.


The Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, which I have yet to visit.


A billboard near New Ulm advertises Schell’s Brewery’s seasonal snowstorm beer.


Continuing west, New Ulm now requires driving through this long river town (due to a major road construction project on Highway 14). I love New Ulm, just not the time it takes to get through the city when you want to reach your destination quickly. The strong German heritage of this place, its natural beauty and a variety of attractions (including Schell’s Brewery) make me a fan of New Ulm.


Harvest was in full swing during my most recent trip to southwestern Minnesota a few weeks ago. This is near New Ulm.


Once outside the seat of Brown County, the rural landscape continues on the long stretch of roadways to Morgan.


Driving through Morgan, a small farming community.


Waiting at the elevator in Morgan.


I photograph this co-op elevator nearly every time we drive through Morgan.


Now I’m back in Redwood County and the familiarity of grain elevators and small town Main Streets.


Near Redwood Falls, a grain truck in a cornfield.


Photographing breaks the boredom of too many miles between Morgan and Redwood Falls.


Driving through part of the business district in downtown Redwood Falls, Minnesota.


Redwood always brings out mixed emotions in me. I attended junior high here, the worst two years of my youth due to bullying in school. From both teachers and classmates. Yes, teachers. But Redwood also evokes some wonderful memories of visiting my maternal grandfather, of hiking in beautiful Alexander Ramsey Park (known as The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota) and buying fabric in the basement of the J.C. Penney’s store. I sewed most of my clothes as a teen.

As I photograph these places, I am documenting my life. Not always directly, but indirectly. And if not my life, then the lives and places of those who call southwestern Minnesota home.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “On the road in southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay”

  1. So many memories wrapped up in those places you photographed from your childhood. Even if there are painful memories there are always memories of times that bring smiles as well. Your photographs are wonderful.

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    Thank you for this photo essay. I like seeing SW MN through your camera lens!

  3. Virg8nia Updegrove Says:

    One day I hope to come to Minnesota and just spend time driving from little town to little town. My only memory of Minnesota was 1974 when we drove down from Alaska and drove the outside perimeter of the US. We were driving through Minnesota in a terrible rain storm. It was getting dark as I recall, and we stopped for gas. Also at the service station was a couple that had just gotten married. He picked up his bride, white wedding dress and all and ran in to the convenience market. Both dripping wet. Who could forget a sight like that. I love your pictures and stories behind them.


    We just completed our annual Fall Trek from Ottertail Lake to AZ, driving through many small towns. I greatly appreciate your photos because I am drawn to the same sights/sites that you record, but it’s all a blur in my mind after 1,700 miles. Thank you for sports setting and your wonderful eye!
    (sorry for the-run on sentence…embarrassing for a retired English teacher!)

    • Lisa, thank you for your kind words. No need to apologize for the run-on sentence. Much has changed in sentence structure through the years.

      That’s one long trek. I thought driving 1,400 miles to Boston a few years ago was a long journey. I hope you’re in Arizona to stay now because our first major winter storm of the season is predicted to begin Tuesday evening.

  5. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    I have that same issue of wanting to photograph everything I see, Camera in hand on “sports” mode is a must! I love your photo’s, all the things you capture have a story. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson (One Minnesota Writer) Says:

    Wonderful photos! Thanks for sharing them. I really enjoyed this post.

  7. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    Loved your photo essay and how you found color in so many places. Lots of memories triggered by the harvest scenes and small town main streets that were a part of my growing up years. Enjoyed it all.

  8. Littlesundog Says:

    It doesn’t get much better than touring the countryside when harvest is in full swing. I loved the Schell’s Brewery billboard… clever advertising is always an attention getter for me! That sounds like a good ale for chasing away the winter blues.

  9. Norma Says:

    I would like to visit the Music Hall of Fame. I believe that Minnesota has more than their share of musical artists there.

    • We do have a lot of wonderful musicians–Bob Dylan, Prince, for starters.

      I wish you were in Minnesota now to experience the winter storm moving in this evening with a predicted possible foot of snow. Plenty of wind will accompany it, so this storm will likely be a blizzard.

  10. Missy’s Håndarbeid (Missy’s Crafty Mess) Says:

    What a cute town. I’m sorry you have some bad memories attached to it.

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