Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Traveling through Minnesota’s Bluff Country November 12, 2015

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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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October beauty along I-90 in southeastern Minnesota October 31, 2011

Hillsides of colorful trees along I-90 in southeastern Minnesota Sunday morning.

I DID NOT EXPECT IT—leaves rusting under a gloomy, grey sky which gripped the second to last day of October like an iron fist.

Autumn seemed determined to hang on, to stand strong and sturdy against winter for one final weekend.

And it was a glorious one. Not glorious in the sense of sunny skies and warm weather.

But beautiful and wondrous and spectacular in the surreal scene of clouds and wisps of fog that pressed against the wooded Mississippi River bluffs along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota Sunday.

As my husband and I traveled through the area between Nodine, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, and onto Tomah, I couldn’t take my eyes off the hillsides of trees shaded in muted hues of rust and moss green and the occasional spark of golden yellow.

I did not expect this so-late-in-October autumn beauty.

Despite the drive day of off-again, on-again rain and mist and pressing-down-upon-you iron grey skies, I felt myself appreciating the irrepressible beauty of the natural world around me.

Even on the dreariest of days, around each curve in the highway, a new scene unfolded and I couldn’t stop taking pictures between swipes of the windshield wiper blades.

Driving I-90 near Dresbach, heading toward La Crosse, fog shrouded the wooded bluffs.

Woods fade into sky into stone in this surreal setting Sunday morning near La Crosse.

And then, several hours later, we saw the same trees from a different perspective as we drove back from Tomah. Here we are driving into Minnesota from La Crosse.

I-90 hugs the bluffs on one side, the Mississippi River on the other along this picturesque stretch of winding roadway between the border and Dresbach.

Approaching Dresbach...

What most surprised me were all the leaves still clinging to branches. I expected most would have been blown off by fierce autumn winds. And the colors, oh, the rust of oaks, so beautiful.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling