Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road in Wisconsin: Deer & cows & more, oh, my June 4, 2018

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About to enter Wisconsin at La Crosse.

 

SINCE MY SECOND DAUGHTER moved to Wisconsin seven, or maybe it’s eight, years ago, I’ve grown to love this neighbor to the east of Minnesota.

 

Crossing the Mississippi River with Minnesota to the right, Wisconsin to the left.

 

A particularly scenic vista heading west toward La Crosse and eventually Minnesota.

 

 

I like Wisconsin’s rural character, its rolling hills and bluffs and open farmland.

 

East of La Crosse.

 

 

 

Cow cut-outs line a ballpark fence in Mauston. Can you correctly answer the dairy trivia question? Check the end of this post for the answer. And also check back tomorrow to learn all about this herd of cows.

 

I like the quaint farm sites, the cows grazing and the proud promotion of dairy. This is, after all, the Dairyland State.

 

A cheese-promoting mouse statue along the interstate.

 

I’m amused by the obsession with brat frys and cheese and the Green Bay Packers.

 

I’ve never seen so many dead deer as in Wisconsin, except in Pennsylvania. Live ones, too. On the return trip to Minnesota from Madison, I counted 17 dead deer along the interstate. I likely missed some. I didn’t count the miscellaneous roadkill. On the trip out, I saw even more dead deer, but didn’t tally those.

 

I’m not so amused, though, by all the dead deer along roadways.

 

This message flashed multiple times on signs along the interstate on Memorial Day weekend. During the 538-mile round trip to Madison and back to Faribault, I saw only one law enforcement officer, a policeman just outside Kenyon, MN. I wish one would have been around to catch the driver of the car that passed a semi on the left shoulder of the interstate in Wisconsin.

 

Nor do I find the drinking culture particularly positive.

 

As expected, there’s plenty of road construction mixed into summer travel.

 

But all in all, I find Wisconsin an interesting and beautiful state with small town nuances that often delight me.

 

The Wisconsin Dells, with its many waterparks, is a popular tourist destination. Here vehicles are backed up along the interstate following a serious car crash. I was thankful we were on the opposite side. Traffic gridlock stretched for many miles.

 

I am now in the process of discovering a region of Wisconsin previously unvisited. That’s the Madison area. In the past, visits to my daughter took me off the interstate at Tomah and across the state to Oshkosh and then a bit north into the Fox Valley. Now she lives in Madison, a Memorial Day weekend destination. It’s a four-hour drive, an hour less than the previous drive. But it’s still scenic and so quintessential Wisconsin.

 

FYI: Please check back for more posts from Wisconsin, including one on those cows in Mauston and several posts from Madison. All photos here were taken along Interstates 90 and 94, except the image in Mauston.

TRIVIA QUESTION ANSWER: D. Holstein

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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American pride on the road May 30, 2018

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I GAVE THIS SEMI driver a thumbs up as Randy and I passed him along Interstate 94/90 near the Wisconsin Dells Saturday morning.

 

 

To see such visible public patriotism and pride on Memorial Day weekend pleased me.

The driver nodded and smiled and, I expect, appreciated the appreciation.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dresbach & Dakota, that would be in Minnesota June 27, 2017

Following Interstate 90 along the Mississippi River bluffs in southeastern Minnesota.

 

IN THE MANY YEARS I’VE TRAVELED Interstate 90 along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border in southeastern Minnesota, I’ve never exited to explore Dresbach or Dakota.

That changed this past spring when Randy and I were returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Time allowed for the pull off onto Riverview Drive which passes through unincorporated Dresbach and Dakota, population 323 or thereabouts.

 

We pulled off Riverview Drive and curved the van to a small riverside park in Dresbach where I took this photo of the Mississippi.

 

Traffic signs in Dresbach.

 

Leaving Dresbach, I noticed this lengthy, leaning retaining wall.

 

We did a drive through with thoughts of returning again to poke around more. Both villages sit along the western bank of the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Winona, in Minnesota. The river setting is scenic, beautiful, worthy of a second look when the weather warms and river traffic increases.

 

A welcoming sign outside a business in Dakota. That’s quite a name, Trynowski.

 

Holy Cross Church in Dakota.

 

A well-preserved former corner gas station in Dakota that I found absolutely charming.

 

I snapped a few quick photos from the van and called it good. While both villages deserve more of my photographic study, this is a start.

TELL ME: Have you ever driven through/visited Dresbach or Dakota? If yes, what should I see the next time I’m in either community.

If anyone can provide information about any of the places photographed here, please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Not quite gypsies on a cross country road trip June 1, 2016

Our van is reflected in the side of a tanker truck while traveling Interstate 80.

Our van is reflected in the side of a tanker truck while traveling Interstate 80 somewhere east of Chicago.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE a road trip?

We were headed for Somerville, near Boston.

Headed for Somerville, near Boston.

I define road trip as a recent 3,029-mile drive through nine states that took my husband and me from Minnesota to our destination—Somerville, Massachusetts—and back. We followed I-80 through Iowa (to stay mostly south of Chicago) and then I-90 through New York on the way out and took I-80 through Pennsylvania on the return home.

Somewhere in upstate New York.

Somewhere in upstate New York.

There was minimal time to play tourist, although we tried to do so in Buffalo, New York, location of Niagra Falls. We were lost for 1 ½ hours in a rough and seedy part of town and never found the American side access to the falls. Road construction and inadequate road signage left us totally confused.

Tailgaters in heavy traffic somewhere along the route.

Tailgaters reflected in the passenger side mirror. Our travels went well until we pulled off the Interstate in Iowa and headed south for the Amana Colonies. Rounding a curve on a state highway, a driver crossed the center line and nearly hit us head on. Randy cranked a hard right to avoid a collision.

Without smart phones, we relied on directions printed from Google maps, a borrowed GPS system (which challenged me more than once), a good old spiral-bound Rand McNally road atlas and road signs.

In the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across this truck fire along Interstate 80.

In the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across this truck fire along Interstate 80.

Driving around Cleveland was no fun with all of the road construction.

We encountered lots of road construction, especially around Cleveland.

We navigated around major cities, swooped up and down the wooded hills of Pennsylvania, delighted in the beauty of upstate New York, survived morning rush hour in rainy Hartford, Ct., saw more dead deer than we ever hope to see again (Pennsylvania wins that count), rated restrooms, groaned at yet one more road construction zone, and complained about the toll roads.

I didn’t pack nearly enough CDs for the journey and hope never again to hear Cher sing Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves. At times I felt like a bit of a gypsy.

So many toll booths, although purchasing an EZ Pass transmitter in advance

So many toll booths…thankfully we purchased an E-Z Pass transmitter in advance of our trip that allowed us quick access through toll booths.

Five days of driving takes its toll.

Massachussetts

Massachusetts

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

Road trip, 407 red pick-up truck in Ohio

Ohio

But everyone should take a road trip like this at least once to gain an appreciation for the immensity of this country, for the diversity in landscape and peoples and communities, and even barns. I did a similar trip nearly 40 years ago as a college student.

Westbound into Iowa as we near home.

Westbound into Iowa as we near home.

Everyone we met, upon learning we were from Minnesota, responded the same: “Oh, it’s cold there.” I found that interesting, that a single word defines our state to those who’ve never been here. Yes, it’s cold. Sometimes. But it’s so much more. It’s lush green and wide open spaces and minimal traffic congestion (except in the metro). It’s home.

After traveling 3,000 mostly Interstate miles, I am even more appreciative of Minnesota. We met some genuinely friendly people in every state, from a young couple at a state park in Indiana to Pat from Michigan who also got hopelessly lost in Buffalo to a native Bostonian cop with a thick Boston accent.

No matter where we live, we are still just people. We each have our own niche, our place where we feel most comfortable, that we call home. For me, that shall always be Minnesota.

Randy driving.

Randy driving.

FYI: Check back to read more about this cross country journey, beginning tomorrow with the reason for the trip.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Enough to scare the blank out of you February 26, 2016

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Semi view 1

 

AT FIRST GLANCE, you likely are questioning my sanity in photographing a semi seemingly headed directly at the vehicle in which I am a front seat passenger.

If I did not understand the context of this image taken in October, I, too, would be screaming at myself to get the blank out of the way.

But things are not always as they seem.

This is actually a photo of a semi cab hooked to a cab traveling along Interstate 90 near the Rochester exit in southeastern Minnesota. Now imagine if my husband hadn’t been paying close attention. He may have thought the semi was aiming toward us and took evasive action. Thank goodness someone (not me) in our vehicle was fully alert and not fooled by an optical illusion.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to St. Charles, Minnesota, Part I November 18, 2015

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Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

ST. CHARLES LIES in southeastern Minnesota farming country just off Interstate 90.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

It’s home to a pocket of Amish.

We just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus "hair."

During my September visit, I just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus “hair.”

And site of an annual Gladiolus Days celebration. That event honors the late Carl Fischer, once the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

Coffee time at the Whitewater Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I’d been to St. Charles several years ago, even dined at the Whitewater Cafe.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica (near St. Charles) along Winona County Road 33. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I saw the glad fields, the Amish and the historic buildings downtown. But on a return trip in early September, my husband and I took even more time to explore.

Here’s an overall look as we drove into St. Charles from the east, swung through a residential neighborhood and then parked downtown:

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14.

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14. There’s a John Deere dealer in town.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. I don't know why.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. This is a rural community with a John Deere dealer in town, remember.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown. They also show community pride and care.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were "modernized" and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were “modernized” and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

More interesting signs.

More interesting signs. Every small town needs a hardware store.

Now, if I’ve piqued your interest, return tomorrow when I’ll take you inside an impressive St. Charles antique shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photographic connection to my rural roots April 12, 2014

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Rural Minnesota, farm site

 

I INFORMED MY HUSBAND that I would focus on photographing houses, rather than barns, on a recent 600-mile round trip from Faribault, Minnesota, to Appleton, Wisconsin.

He didn’t believe me. And he was right not to believe.

 

Rural Minnesota, red barn and red building

 

Yes, I snapped images of houses. But I could not, no matter how I tried, keep from lifting my Canon DSLR to capture photos of farm sites as we traveled.

 

Rural Minnesota, turquoise barn

 

They are like a magnet for someone such as myself with rural roots. Having left the farm 40 years ago upon my graduation from high school, I rely today on memories and visual connectedness to fulfill my longing for the land. That and my writing, especially my poetry.

 

Rural Minnesota, machine shed and bin

 

Few people I know farm anymore. No one in my immediate extended family farms, although two brothers remain rooted to agriculture, one via co-ownership in a farm implement dealership and the other as CEO of an ethanol plant, both in my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

Rural Minnesota, farm behind hill

 

The farm where I grew up near Vesta is rented out. Thus I have lost that touch of feet on the farm, familiar creak of the barn door—that direct connection to the place of my youth.

My natural instinct now is to seek out, with my eyes and camera, that which is no longer mine.

(All photos were taken while traveling three weeks ago along Interstate 90 between Rochester and the Wisconsin border. Yes, the snow has since melted. Yeah!)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling