Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.


WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.


Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.


This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.


The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.


I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.


A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.


I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.


My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.


I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.


One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.


I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.


We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.


In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.


I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.


I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.


I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.



I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.



I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.



There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.


TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hints of autumn in Minnesota September 11, 2017

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ALREADY THE EARTHY HUES of autumn brush the Minnesota landscape. Touches of red and orange and yellow tip trees now spiraling leaves onto grass and asphalt and sidewalks.

I delight in autumn, a season I welcome for the crisp nights that birth mornings of warm sunshine. Each day seems a gift to hold heart close.



Summer memories fly on the wings of butterflies dipping among fading plants—milkweed and goldenrod and petunias drying in pots.

The air carries the scent of corn ripening, the anticipation of harvest approaching, the promise of the yield.



And in the evening, when the sun slips too soon into darkness, when I close the windows against the overnight cold, I smell still the spicy aroma of chili ladled into handcrafted bowls shaped of the earth. And I am grateful for this season of autumn in Minnesota.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Autumn beauty in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park October 3, 2013

A baby's sock lost along a path at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in rural rice County Minnesota.

A baby’s sock lost along a path at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

A single sock.

When I paused to photograph this oak leaf, my husband dubbed the trail Acorn Trail.

When I paused to photograph this oak leaf, my husband dubbed the trail Acorn Trail.

A single oak leaf.

Countless bees and butterflies flitted among the wildflowers.

One of the many bees and butterflies swarming the wildflowers.

A single bee.

The solo head of an unidentified plant in the afternoon sunlight.

The solo head of an unidentified plant in the afternoon sunlight.


In the quiet of the woods, beautiful berries discovered.

In the quiet of the woods, beautiful berries discovered.


Clusters of wildflowers edge the woods.

Clusters of wildflowers edge the woods.

Wind bending wildflowers and weeds, the sun beating upon our backs as we curve into the shaded woods.

My husband, Randy, pauses to look over the ravine.

My husband, Randy, pauses to look over the ravine.

Pause at the rust-hued railing, glimpse to the ravine below where water once flowed when rain was plentiful.

Couples and families hiked the trails through the park.

Couples and families hike the trails through the park.

Lost in thoughts. Savoring the solace which embraces us even as groups of hikers pass us by.

A tree line in the park shows leaves beginning to change color.

A tree line in the park shows leaves beginning to change color.

We have come here to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on a Sunday afternoon to see the fall colors, only beginning to show.

The sign welcoming visitors to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its beautiful fall colors.

The sign welcoming visitors to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its beautiful fall colors.

But we have come here, too, my husband and I, to walk together, to hold hands, to embrace this afternoon in a place not far from home, yet so far away.


The road running east and west past the park.

The road running east and west past the park.

Berries pop with color near the entry into the park.

Berries pop with color near the park entry.

Leaves of purple and green along a path in the woods.

Along a path in the woods.

The park features an abundance of wildflowers.

The park features an abundance of wildflowers.

The sumac has already turned color.

The sumac has already turned color.

FYI: Nerstrand Big Woods State Park offers numerous organized activities to engage visitors in the season.

For example, from now until October 19, the park is hosting a Fall Photo Quest scavenger hunt. Bring your digital camera or borrow one at the Visitor Center where you will get instructions. Collect fall photos while learning why and how leaves change color.

On Saturday, October 5, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., gather native seeds for planting in park restorations. Sign up at the Visitor Center.

The following Saturday, October 12, from noon – 4 p.m., join the Autumn Trees Scavenger Hunt, collecting clues along trails as you discover which leaf belongs to which tree. Stop at the Visitor Center to start your adventure.

Click here for details on the above listed programming at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

Also on Saturday, October 12, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, sponsors its 17th annual Big Woods Run beginning at the country church near the park. Registration deadlines are October 7 and 8. After the race, enjoy a luncheon featuring homemade soups and more, an awards ceremony and a bake sale. For more info, click here.

This Saturday, October 5, from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Nerstrand United Methodist Church, 12 Maple Street in Nerstrand hosts its annual Fall Festival. The event features gift baskets, a silent auction, a bake and produce sale, and lunch. Hot beef sandwiches, chili, chicken wild rice soup and homemade pies with ice cream will be served.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located just west of Nerstrand or northeast of Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Autumn splendor in Door County, Wisconsin October 9, 2012

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HOW DOES ONE EVEN BEGIN to describe the glory of an autumn landscape?

A view from the Eagle Panorama overlook  in Peninsula State Park where you can see Horseshoe, Strawberry and Chambers Islands, Welcker’s Point and the Upper Michigan shoreline.

Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek in Door County, Wisconsin, shows us what words can never summarize. Natural blazing beauty beyond belief.

My husband, Randy, and me at Eagle Panorama. Yes, Randy is wearing the shell of his winter coat over a heavy hooded sweatshirt. I was not smart enough to bring along my winter coat or a hat.  Photo by Miranda Helbling.

My husband, Randy, with our daughter Miranda, who has lived and worked as a Spanish medical interpreter in Appleton, Wisconsin, an hour south and west of Door County, for nearly two years. This image was shot at Eagle Panorama.

My husband, Randy, daughter Miranda and I toured northeastern Wisconsin’s scenic peninsula on Thursday when fall colors were at their prime.

Except for the raging wind blasting us from Green Bay on the west side and, later, Lake Michigan on the east, we savored the day. How could we not, with colors this stunning, these from Peninsula State Park?

Treetop view from Eagle Tower. Photo by Randy Helbling because I would not climb the 75-foot tall tower which rises 225 feet above the shoreline. You can barely see Shore Road, bottom right, the road we drove through the park.

See me standing down there waving at my daughter atop 75-foot Eagle Tower? Photo by Miranda Helbling.

If I wasn’t afraid of heights, I could have seen this view from Eagle Tower shot by my husband, Randy. The road on the left is Shore Road, the route we took through Peninsula State Park.

Eagle Tower, built in 1914 as a forest fire observation platform, offers a scenic view of Green Bay and beyond. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Horseshoe Island as seen from Eagle Panorama, not to be confused with Eagle Tower.

The Eagle Bluff lighthouse, built in 1868 and on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places. Door County is home to 11 lighthouses. No, we did not tour any and saw only this one.

Remember my earlier mention of the wind? Well, these waves on Green Bay show you just how windy it was on Thursday morning when a wind advisory was in affect for Door County. I believe winds were around 25 – 30 mph.

Near the pier in Peninsula State Park.

Do not let this illusion of calm waters fool you. We did not walk very far onto the pier because of the fierce wind.

It’s a scenic drive along Shore Road through Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek.

HAVE YOU VISITED Door County? If so, what were the highlights of your trip?

CHECK BACK for additional posts of Door County.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Scenic southeastern Minnesota on a Sunday afternoon in autumn September 30, 2012

West of Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

I NEVER TIRE OF IT. Never. Autumn in Minnesota is stunningly beautiful. Stunning.

A Sunday afternoon drive took my husband and me west of our Faribault home along Cedar Lake Boulevard and then on Old Dodd Road, all the way to Kilkenny.

Lake Francis, Elysian

From the Irish settlement, we continued west and then south and west and south and, well, I don’t navigate, until we entered Elysian from the north.

Tetonka Lake, Waterville

We then aimed back east and north along a dusty gravel road and then a tar road to Waterville.

Northeast of Waterville.

We traveled through the North Morristown area and, nearing Faribault, skirted Cannon Lake on the north and east.

It was, for us, a leisurely horseshoe drive to view lovely Autumn, dressed in her Sunday best.

North and east of Waterville somewhere, maybe closer to North Morristown.

A lovely treeline somewhere on the eastern end of our route.

Along Seventh Street in Faribault….my community has stunning autumn colors along many, many residential streets.

A block away up the hill from my house are some of the most blazing gorgeous trees in town lining Second Avenue Southwest by Bethlehem Academy.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A scenic secret in Faribault October 7, 2011

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FARIBAULT IN THE FALL, but any time really, rates as a beautiful city.

Historic buildings. Diverse landscape of wooded hills and open spaces. Rivers running through.

But not until this week did I discover perhaps one of its best kept scenic secrets, or at least best kept to me.

That would be City View Park.

City View Park on Faribault's east side at sunset.

Located next to the city water towers along Parshall Street above Roosevelt School and across from Trump’s Orchards, this hilltop park offers a panoramic, scenic view of Faribault and beyond.

How have I missed this?

Sunday afternoon as my husband and I were returning home from a fall drive, we turned onto Parshall Street, a favorite road into town in the autumn.

That’s when I noticed the teenage boys hanging out atop the hill. That’s when I also noticed the sign, City View Park. We did a quick turn-around and drove back up the hill.

And here’s what we saw—a spectacular view of Faribault in all its hazy, late Sunday afternoon autumn glory.

Near the center of this photo you can see the clock tower at Shattuck-St. Mary's, a private college prep school.

A slightly different view of the same scene as above.

Early Monday evening, after we’d picked raspberries at a friend’s house along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East, another great road for beautiful fall colors, we rushed back to City View Park to view the sunset.

Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

Watching the sun set at City View Park on Monday evening.

Trees block the view in some spots of the park. But even they are stunning against the setting sun.

While I was shooting pictures, a woman walked by. “I didn’t know this park was here,” I commented.

She lives nearby, told me the park has been here for about two years.

I checked the city website and couldn’t find any mention of City View Park.

But it’s there, folks, in all its spectacular fall-color-viewing splendor. Follow the streets to the water towers on the east side and you’re there.

After you've checked out City View Park, follow County Road 25 east of Faribault for more beautiful fall colors.

More colorful trees on the other side of Rice County Road 25.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Sunday drive to view the fall colors in Sogn Valley October 4, 2011

A colorful hillside in the Sogn Valley area of southeastern Minnesota.

MINNESOTANS, THIS is your week.

Get outside. View the fall colors. Experience rural Minnesota at the height of harvest. This could be our best week, weather-wise, until next spring. Not that I’m trying to forecast gray skies and cold and that dreaded word, “snow,” but I’ve lived here long enough—55 years—to realize you should “make hay while the sun shines.”

I took my own advice on Sunday when the husband and I went on a fall color drive to the historic agricultural Sogn Valley area of quaint farms and wooded, rolling hills in northwestern Goodhue County.

We originally planned to paint a bedroom ceiling Sunday afternoon. But then, when a friend asked if the ceiling needed to be painted that day, we decided the project could wait. The afternoon was too beautiful to spend indoors with our eyes focused toward a ceiling instead of upward toward clear blue skies accented by the changing leaves of autumn.

So, just to offer you some visual encouragement to do a fall color drive or go for a walk this week, here are some photos I snapped on that Sunday drive.

We followed this gravel road, 20th Avenue, between Goodhue County Road 9 and Vang Lutheran Church.

Along 20th Avenue, I spotted these picturesque farm buildings.

I photographed Vang Lutheran Church across the cornfield west of the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin 10 minutes north of Kenyon or 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities.

An autumn-themed setting greets shoppers at the seasonal Harvest Thyme Craft Show at the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin, 2290 Goodhue County 49 Boulevard, Dennison. Remaining weekend show hours are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. October 8-9 and October 15 - 16.

We were driving westbound on Goodhue County Road 9 toward Sogn.

You'll see lots of old barns, like this one along 20th Avenue, in this historic agricultural region.

Farmers are in the fields harvesting corn (pictured here) and soybeans.

The Sogn Valley area offers scenic fall color viewing in a rural landscape with little traffic. To truly experience the region, turn off the highway onto back gravel roads. Have a plat book handy and a navigator with a good sense of direction, which would not be me.

CHECK BACK FOR more photos from this autumn drive and for a post on Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a popular fall color destination. The park parking lot was overflowing on Sunday. Colors were spectacular.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling