Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part VI From La Crosse: Atop Grandad Bluff March 30, 2017

Driving toward the landmark Grandad Bluff from downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. The 600-foot high bluff towers in the distance.


THE BRISK MARCH AFTERNOON WIND did not lend itself to standing atop a bluff. So I thought. I pulled on my hand-knit stocking cap, buttoned my wool coat, wrapped a plaid scarf around my neck and tucked my hands inside gloves. I was ready to face the fierce winter wind of Wisconsin.


The view of La Crosse from this bluff is stunning.


But I needn’t have concerned myself about the cold. Exiting the van in Grandad Bluff Park, I found the air still, no brutal wind slapping my skin as it had along the Mississippi River in downtown La Crosse. We—my husband, second daughter and her husband—were all surprised. We expected uncomfortable temps that would send us scurrying back to the van shortly. Rather, we found this spot 600 feet above the city to be calm. How could that be? I still have not figured it out.





The city’s landmark Grandad Bluff—the highest bluff in the La Crosse area with views of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa—teemed with visitors.



My son-in-law John photographs my husband, Randy, and daughter Miranda.



A haze hung over the distant landscape as I surveyed the scene of gridded streets, buildings exposed by naked trees, slips of water tracing through the land, distant river valley bluffs rising.


Peering through binoculars at the scene below.


It took me awhile to assimilate, to edge near the solid fencing overlooking the city. I am a flatlander, an embracer of prairie and horizontal lines, not at all a fan of heights.


I walked part way to the second scenic outlook point before turning back.


But with my camera for comfort, I could view the scene far below. For awhile.



Several signs provide background history on the bluff and surrounding area.


A flag flies atop the bluff.


Nearing the top of the bluff, you’ll pass by the Apline Inn Bar & Grill, a long-time La Crosse establishment. I need to check this out.


FYI: This concludes my six-part “From La Crosse” series.

Click here to view a story and photos from an October 2015 visit to Grandad Bluff. Autumn is an absolutely beautiful time to view the river valley from this scenic overlook.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A sweeping valley view from Grandad Bluff in La Crosse October 20, 2015

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Grandad's Bluff, 89 valley view 1


LATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON and the sun lights and shadows La Crosse. High above this Wisconsin city just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota, I am aiming my camera toward the valley below. With a bit of trepidation. Even though I am securely fenced atop the nearly 600-foot high Grandad Bluff, I am still unnerved by the height.


Grandad's Bluff, 94 railing on overlook


Yet, after awhile, I grow comfortable enough to edge to the railing and fire off shots of the scene below. Houses and colleges. Gridded streets. Water and sky and backdrop of bluffs. Trees, oh, the trees. With a view like this, it is not surprising that some 100,000 visitors come to Grandad Bluff annually.


Grandad's Bluff, 91 valley view 2


Despite the cold and fierce wind, admirers of autumn, like me, have driven to this bluff  park to appreciate the valley view. It is not an ideal time of day to shoot photos here, looking to the west in the late afternoon. But I manage.


Grandad's Bluff, 90 lookout point


Year after year after year, autumn still grabs my heart unlike any other season in the Midwest. Memories of riding in the family car along the gravel roads of the Minnesota River Valley from near Granite Falls east to Morton each fall remain a vivid visual from decades ago. But not until my daughters aimed east for college, one to the Mississippi River town of Winona and the other to La Crosse, did I discover the rugged river valley beauty of this region. This pocket corner of southeastern Minnesota and into Wisconsin is now a favorite to tour as the leaves change color. Anywhere along and near U.S. Highway 61 really.


Grandad's Bluff, 93 valley view 3


Oftentimes I reflect on how fortunate I am to live in a state like Minnesota with such a diverse terrain of prairie and rolling hills, river bluffs, woods and lakes and rivers. So much packed into our state and neighboring Wisconsin.


Grandad's Bluff, 87 red-haired girl


In this final month before winter grips the land, I savor scenes like that which unfolded before me Friday afternoon high atop Grandad Bluff. Soon enough trees will stand naked in the valley. Waterways will ice over. And images of this October day will remain in a computer photo file labeled La Crosse, and in the memory bank of my mind.


Grandad's Bluff, valley view 4


Grandad's Bluff, 86 standing atop post to take photo


This sculpture, installed in September, honors La Crosse resident Ellen Hixon. Sh saved this bluff from developers.

This sculpture, installed in September, honors La Crosse resident Ellen Hixon. She saved this bluff from developers. The bluff area became a park in 1912.

FYI: Check back for more stories from La Crosse.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling