Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Exploring La Crosse Part V: A great place to visit October 26, 2015

Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin.

ON THE FRIDAY and Saturday I visited La Crosse, Wisconsin, the city pulsed with people. Driving. Walking through the downtown. Dining. Everything I saw pointed to a vibrant community of some 51,000.

A billboard in La Crosse depicts the natural appeal of this Mississippi River city.

A billboard in La Crosse depicts the natural appeal of this Mississippi River city.

The La Crosse Queen offers cruises on the Mississippi River.

The La Crosse Queen offers seasonal cruises on the Mississippi River. The paddlewheeler docks in Riverside Park near downtown.

A bridge spanning the Mississippi in La Crosse.

A bridge spanning the Mississippi in La Crosse, photographed from Riverside Park.

This is a college town, a regional hub in western Wisconsin, a place of rugged natural beauty, especially in autumn with trees blazing color in the valley and along bluffs.

You can listen to everyday stories of the city by dialing the number posted on street level signs. In the audio, you'll hear first person accounts of events that happened at that exact location. Go ahead, dial the number seen in this image.

You can listen to everyday stories of the city by dialing the number posted on street level signs. In the audio, you’ll hear first person accounts of events that happened at that exact location. Go ahead, dial the number seen in this image.

A snippet of the historic buildings in downtown La Crosse.

A snippet of the historic buildings in downtown La Crosse.

Several businesses are housed in Pearl Street West.

Several businesses are housed in Pearl Street West.

This city presents an architecturally pleasing downtown with the five-block La Crosse Commercial Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 100 buildings in the Historic District about a block from the Mississippi River.

Downtwon La Crosse features stunning architectural details in its downtown Commercial Historic District.

Downtwon La Crosse features stunning architectural details in its downtown Commercial Historic District.

You'll find down-home shops in historic buildings. Cheddarheads offers Wisconsin-themed gifts and t-shirts focusing on cheese and the state's dairy industry.

You’ll find down-home shops in historic buildings. Cheddarheads offers Wisconsin-themed gifts and t-shirts focusing on cheese and the state’s dairy industry.

I could spend an entire afternoon simply strolling through the downtown, eyes focused upward to study curves of windows, artsy architectural details and other aspects of these mostly aged brick buildings. This community obviously cares about these stately structures of the past. And that pleases me.

Corralling wedding balloons in downtown La Crosse.

Corralling wedding balloons in downtown La Crosse.

La Crosse evokes a small town Main Street feel. Yet, for someone like me who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota, La Crosse is anything but small. This city throbs with energy. Heavy downtown traffic. Foot and motor. Busy shops and eateries.

If I could afford the price of a downtown hotel, I would have stayed there rather than along Interstate 90 in an overpriced room (for the condition and age) in a hotel badly in need of updating.

Strolling through downtown La Crosse.

Strolling through downtown La Crosse.

I’ll return to La Crosse. I need more time in this community. More time to explore the downtown. More time to check out the parks. More time to visit museums and art centers and other places of interest. It’s one of those cities that appeals to me. It is large enough to offer lots to do, yet small enough that I feel comfortably at home.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign reminds me that I'm in Dairyland.

A sign reminds me that I’m in America’s dairyland.

I notice details, even graffiti on a business side door.

I notice details, even graffiti on a business side door.

This concludes my five-part series from downtown La Crosse. Check back for related posts from the area.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Every time I cross this bridge, I remember January 26, 2015

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Southbound on Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis.

Southbound on Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis on a recent Sunday afternoon.

6:05 p.m.

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed.

A section of the “then now wow” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. The image shows the collapsed bridge. To the right is the emergency exit door from the school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. Everyone on board that bus survived.

August 1, 2007.

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display.

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display.

One hundred forty-five injured.

Thirteen dead.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

All about eagles in Wabasha March 20, 2014

A section of a map on the floor of the National Eagle Center shows the location of Wabasha along the Mississippi River.

A section of a map on the floor of the National Eagle Center shows the location of Wabasha along the Mississippi River.

DRIVING INTO WABASHA, Minnesota, late on a Sunday morning in mid-March, we spot a bald eagle soaring high above this historic river town.

The stunning National Eagle Center, along the river and a block off the main downtown business district.

The stunning National Eagle Center, along the river in the heart of downtown Wabasha.

The bird’s welcoming appearance seems fitting given my husband and I have come here to tour the National Eagle Center, a modern two-story educational facility with banks of two-story windows and a second floor outdoor observation deck overlooking the Mississippi River.

A second story observation deck outfitted with numerous binoculars, allows visitors to view the eagles along the Mississippi River.

The observation deck, outfitted with binoculars, gives visitors like my husband a view of eagles along the Mississippi River.

This ideal riverside setting allows visitors like us to observe eagles riding river bluff air currents, scooping fish from the water and perching in trees. Wabasha, with its year-round open water, proves an inviting locale for eagles.

The activity area includes a replica eagle's nest, upper left.

The activity area includes a replica eagle’s nest, upper left.

Inside the center, hands-on interactive activities—from stepping inside a mock eagle’s nest to testing the weight of an eagle to experiencing the majestic bird’s vision to creating eagle art to scoping eagles through binoculars and more—occupy all ages.

You can get up close to the resident eagles.

You can get up close to the resident eagles.

But, unequivocally, the major draws are the resident eagles, birds that were injured, treated and could not be released back into the wild. Bald eagles Angel, Columbia, Harriet and Was’aka call this place home while Donald is the sole golden eagle here. The 32-year-old Harriet is perhaps the best known, appearing numerous times on television and serving as the model for Minnesota’s Support Our Troops vehicle license plate.

Donald, the single resident golden eagle.

Donald, the single resident golden eagle.

Handlers tend the tethered eagles in a viewing room while answering questions among a curious crowd snapping photos with cell phones and cameras.

Eagles suspended from the ceiling and a view of the river from the second floor of the eagle center.

Eagles suspended from the ceiling and a view of the river from the second floor of the eagle center.

Thrice daily, the center presents an educational program on eagles. On this Sunday, staffer Bucky, with humor, skill, knowledge and audience engagement, entertains and educates young and old (that would be Randy and me).

A mural provides information about Wabasha and its open water draw for eagles.

A mural provides information about Wabasha’s history and eagles.

We learn, for example, that Wabasha provides the perfect environment for bald eagles with the river, protected habitat and bluffs. Eagles nest across the river and at nearby Read’s Landing.

Dressed as an eagle, a staffer wanders through the eagle center.

Dressed as an eagle, a staffer wanders through the eagle center.

When Bucky shares that eagles are territorial, he mimics the bird’s high-pitched call then asks us to practice our eagle calls. Kids giggle. Adults laugh at the attempts.

During the presentation, Bucky occasionally checks on an elementary-aged boy who is keeping a replica eagle egg warm in the pouch of his sweatshirt. Eagle nests can measure up to nine feet wide and 20 feet deep and weigh as much as three tons.

The current eagle count tallied.

The current eagle count tallied.

Today, Minnesota is home to 1,200 active eagle nests. When the eagle expert asks how many of us can see eagles in our home areas, nearly all 17 of us raise our hands.

But it wasn’t always that way. Randy and I are among the audience few who remember a time when these birds were endangered. Shortly after World War II, the pesticide DDT was introduced, washing into waterways where fish and aquatic life absorbed the toxin. When eagles ate the fish, they, too, were impacted. The DDT weakened their eggshells, resulting in eggs that broke during incubation or failed to hatch. The pesticide was banned in 1972.

My husband, second from right, plays a bald eagle.

My husband, second from right, plays a bald eagle.

To visually explain the chain reaction, Bucky chooses three kids to role play a mosquito, a small fish and a large fish. I know precisely whom he will pick to play the bald eagle. The bald guy in the third role, my husband, makes his acting debut.

Bucky proves his point as, one by one, the performers “ingest” DDT.

Bucky and Angel.

Bucky and Angel.

A few minutes later, after this educator pulls out a board the length of an eagle’s wing span (6 ½ to 7 feet), he exits the room and returns with resident bald eagle Angel. The 11-pound female came to the center in 2000 after suffering a broken wing.

Perched on Bucky’s gloved arm, Angel is the model of perfect human imprinted behavior. She is a guest at many Native American ceremonies and also makes educational appearances.

Shortly after Randy shot this photo of Angel eating a rat, I left the room.

Shortly after Randy shot this photo of Angel eating a rat, I left the room.

I enjoy Angel, until feeding time. Bucky pulls a white rat from a plastic container. For awhile, I watch as the eagle uses her beak and talons to rip apart the rodent. I stop photographing the scene and hand my camera to Randy. By then I’m looking down. He snaps a few photos, hands the camera back to me and shortly thereafter I exit the room to view the resident eagles who are not dining.

Rather they are simply perched, an activity which occupies 94 percent of their lives.

You'll find binoculars throughout the eagle center.

You’ll find binoculars throughout the center for viewing eagles.

Later, Randy will search me out, inform me that I left at just the right time—before rat pieces started flying toward the audience.

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BONUS PHOTOS:

A bald eagle was part of the show in the gym. No, it did not fly.

A bald eagle was part of “Wings to Soar” in the nearby St. Felix gym. No, the eagle did not fly.

WHILE IN WABASHA, we also took in the National Eagle Center sponsored program, “Wings to Soar.”

Dale wandered through the audience with the birds, like this owl.

Dale wanders through the audience with an owl.

In St. Felix auditorium several blocks from the eagle center, Southerners John Stokes and Dale Kernahan presented an educational flying raptor program that, yes, involved birds of prey flying over our heads.

Here an owl flaps its wings. The birds skimmed over our heads during the show.

Here an owl flaps its wings. Some of the birds skimmed over our heads during the show.

Stokes advised anyone who was afraid of birds to leave. That would be me. But I stayed and did just fine with the owls and hawks. But when Kernahan walked out with a vulture and then allowed it to fly at low altitude, I slunk into my folding chair.

On the right, you'll see the second story riverside observation deck.

On the right is the second story riverside observation deck.

FYI: March marks special “Soar with the Eagles” weekends in Wabasha. March 22 – 23 you can attend Sky Hunters, a flying bird show.

This girl is looking up at these...

Inside the National Eagle Center, this girl is looking up at these…

...birds suspended from the glass ceiling.

…birds suspended from the glass ceiling.

In the first floor gift shop, shown here...

In the first floor gift shop, shown here…

...Joseph found a plush toy eagle.

…Joseph finds a plush toy eagle.

The National Eagle Center truly appeals to all ages, to anyone who appreciates the beauty of this majestic bird.

Check back for another post from the National Eagle Center and for additional photos from Wabasha.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Displaying the red, white & blue in small town America July 4, 2013

Flag buntings decorate an historic home in the beautiful river town of Decorah, Iowa.

Flag buntings decorate an historic home in the beautiful river town of Decorah, Iowa.

SIGNS OF U.S. PRIDE/patriotism/love of country are evident everywhere this week in small town Midwestern America.

Here are a few examples from a recent short trip into southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa.

Enjoy.

And Happy Fourth of July, dear readers.

Chalk art at St. Feriole Island Gardens in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, along the Mississippi River.

Chalk art at St. Feriole Island Gardens in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, along the Mississippi River.

Snapped through the windshield of the van, this aged elevator and flag to the right, entering the Mississippi River town of Marquette, Iowa, from the north.

Snapped through the windshield of the van, this aged elevator and flag, to the right, entering the Mississippi River town of Marquette, Iowa, from the north.

A few miles to the south in McGregor, Iowa, I found this "God bless America" sticker and humorous welcome on the door of a bar.

A few miles to the south in McGregor, Iowa, I found this “God bless America” sticker and humorous welcome on the door of a bar.

I spotted plenty of American flags in the Mississippi River town of Lansing, Iowa.

I spotted plenty of American flags in the historic Mississippi River town of Lansing, Iowa.

Signs and a flag in Lansing, Iowa.

Signs and a flag in Lansing, Iowa.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

 

A bit of Sweden in Wisconsin October 26, 2011

J. Ingebretsen's av Stockholm on a corner in Stockholm.

STEP INSIDE J. Ingebretsen’s av Stockholm along Wisconsin Highway 35 in Stockholm, Wisconsin, population 89, and a sense of serenity sweeps over you.

Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian influence. Or perhaps it’s the charm of this quaint Lake Pepin-side village casting a spell upon you that evokes a feeling of peace.

The sign suspended from the front of Ingebretsen's, if I got the translation correct, means "crafts." The dala horse is a popular Swedish symbol.

No matter the reason, the atmosphere inside Ingebretsen’s, a Scandinavian gift shop, conveys a sense of orderliness, simplicity and a feeling that all is right with the world, or at least in this part of western Wisconsin.

On a recent day trip from Minnesota across the Mississippi River, my husband and I discovered this wisp of a village, which, except for all those inviting shops lining the main drag and side streets, would likely stand as another shuttered small town.

But Stockholm hums with activity, its streets packed with vehicles, its sidewalks teeming with folks drawn here by the quaintness, the laid-back feel of this historic place, the smorgasbord of shops that range from precisely orderly Ingebretsen’s to cluttered, books-tilting Chandler’s Books, Curios.

Step inside Ingebretsen’s, an offshoot of the main store in Minneapolis, and you’ll forget the traffic only steps away along Highway 35. You’ll focus instead on the display of dala horses. You’ll draw your hand across woolen blankets that ward off the chill of autumn, soon-to-be winter. Your eyes will turn toward the earthen-hued pottery lining shelves.

Inside the front window of Ingebretsen's, lovely pottery.

A collection of dala horses inside Ingebretsen's, a traditional symbol of Sweden. As the story goes, woodcutters from the province of Dalarna whittled away the long winter months carving these toy horses for children.

Even the pleasant shopkeeper with her crisp apron and refined demeanor fit my image of a Scandinavian. I immediately fell in love with the rough stone that defines this historic building.

You’ll admire the rough stone walls of this 1878 building, first used as a general store, then as a hotel, hardware store, confectionary, barbershop, speakeasy and café. Before it was abandoned and then reborn several years later, in 2003, as this Scandinavian import shop in Stockholm.

Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

The upper level of the restored Ingebretsen's building.

It's all about the details in Stockholm, like this clutch of flowers hugging stone at Ingebretsen's.

PLEASE READ my previous post published October 24 on Chandler’s Books and watch for more stories from Stockholm.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Charming Wabasha on a day in October October 13, 2011

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including Hill's Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT Wabasha that keeps drawing me back to this 1830 Mississippi River town?

Small town charm? Yes.

Historic buildings? Yes.

The river and the eagles? Yes.

Now add to that the yummy, chewy, chocolate-covered caramel turtles from The Chocolate Escape, the homemade tomato basil soup at The Olde Triangle (Irish) Pub, the street side festive corn shocks/fall decorations, and the gigantic pumpkins at the Pumpkin Patch under the Minnesota Highway 60 Mississippi River bridge.

Wabasha knows how to woo visitors with its irresistibly charming personality. While I delight in that put-on-its-best-face appearance, I search for the nuances that define this town’s character.

Dogs plopped on the sidewalk. A cat tucked under a stairway. Handwritten signs. Bricks, bikes and books. Tile floors. Friendly barbers. An old clock. Unattended stores. Polite motorists who stop for pedestrians. Benches that invite sitting a spell.

It’s there, all there, in Wabasha. Join me for a photographic stroll through this river town on an October afternoon.

Then, the next time you’re in Wabasha, or any town, take note of the store windows and walkways, the rooflines and the signage, the vibe of the place you are visiting. Seek out the details and enjoy.

Corn shocks, scarecrows and pumpkins add a festive flair to the downtown.

I saw two dogs and a cat hanging out, this one near Heritage Park by the bridge.

The historic skyline of Wabasha.

A storefront display of vintage fans in the window of Passe Electric.

A snapshot aimed toward the upper wall and ceiling of The Bookcliffs at Pembroke Avenue, just off the main drag.

The death of a businessman, announced in the window of his business, Gambles Hardware.

A nutcracker collection displayed in The Chocolate Escape.

More of those lovely old buildings.

An inspiring message posted inside The Bookcliffs.

A bench featuring Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon from the movie "Grumpy Old Men," which was based on the setting of Wabasha, rests under the bridge.

The Pumpkin Patch, an autumn attraction under the bridge in Heritage Park.

My favorite pumpkin carving in the Pumpkin Patch.

Jewels on the River, a jewelry shop in the old city hall next to the bridge.

A scene under the Mississippi River bridge.

Crossing the Mississippi River bridge eastbound from Wabasha into Wisconsin.

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for something to do this weekend, consider coming to Faribault for the Fall Festival & Chili Cook-Off on Saturday, October 15, in our historic downtown. Sample and vote for chilis, served street side at businesses from11 a.m. – 1 p.m. A Kids’ Costume Parade along Central Avenue kicks off the event at 10:30 a.m. followed by pumpkin painting and treasures in the haystack for the kids. Adults will find plenty of shopping options in the downtown. Click here for more information.

You’ll also want to check out the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour which begins Friday with previews in several studios from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. The tour of 23 art studios in the Faribault, Northfield and Cannon Falls area, featuring 46 artists, officially begins Saturday and continues on Sunday. Hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Click here for more information.

© Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bride’s story: Come hell or high water July 10, 2011

“I TOLD HIM NO WAY IN HELL was I leaving my wedding dress behind,” Tina Marlowe Mann remembers.

And she didn’t. Nine months ago Tina defied a fireman’s order and saved her bridal gown. It was the last thing she brought out of her house during a 15-minute mandatory evacuation of flood-ravaged Hammond on Friday morning, September 24. When she exited her home, the fireman instructed her to park her 4-wheel drive Jeep on high ground, with the wedding dress inside, and walk out of the flooded town because the water had risen too high to drive out.

She refused and instead forged—with five adults, two children, a Rottweiler, two cats, a few clothes and that precious wedding dress—through water that reached the door panels and covered the exhaust pipes of her Jeep.

“We got stuck a couple times and I thought we might not make it out, but we did,” Tina recalls.

Come hell or high water, she would not allow the raging waters of the Zumbro River to snatch away her dream dress.

Two weeks ago yesterday, on June 25, Tina Marlowe married Micheal Mann at Beach Park in Wabasha wearing that rescued bridal gown. A reception followed at Slippery’s Bar and Grill on the Mississippi River.

Tina, on her June 25 wedding day, in the bridal gown she saved from a flash flood in Hammond in southeastern Minnesota last September.

As it did last fall, floodwaters once again threatened. “Ironically, this spring we spent a lot of time holding our breath, worried that Beach Park and Slippery’s might receive major damage from spring flooding,” Tina says. “For weeks we watched the hydrological reports from Wabasha with bated breath. We even made a couple trips down there just to monitor the situation with our own eyes—and we did a lot of praying.

“Then wouldn’t you know it that the week before the wedding, it rained every single day. A couple of those days the heavy rains took me right back to September…and I said to Mike, ‘Wouldn’t it be just crazy if we come home from Wabasha to find water in our house again?’”

Water from last fall’s flash flood filled their basement and rose several inches into the main level, displacing the family from their home for three months.

Tina and Micheal continued praying for the rain to stop as June 25 approached. Then on their wedding morning, the sun came out in Wabasha and, as the fog lifted from the Mississippi River valley, it looked to be a perfect day.

The weather forecast, however, called for afternoon showers. And the wedding was set for 4 p.m.

Within an hour of the ceremony, rain began falling. While Tina was slipping into her bridal gown at a Wabasha hotel, family and friends were moving everything from the decorated gazebo to the pavilion.

Tina and Mike

“Irony again prevailed because it rained from 3 until about 4:30, and then it stopped and the rest of the evening was picture perfect,” Tina says. “All of the bridal pictures were taken in the rain. Every person in my wedding party was affected by the flood in one way or another and here we were, standing in the pouring rain on the banks of the Mississippi River, having the time of our lives.

They say it is good luck to have rain on your wedding day because a ‘wet knot’ is much harder to untie. I truly feel blessed.”

#

TINA, RAIN ALSO FELL on my wedding day in May of 1982. My husband and I have now been married for 29 years.

I expect that you and Micheal, with the challenges you’ve faced, already had a tightly-tied knot. Your positive attitude in the face of difficulties continues to impress me, as does your strength.

Congratulations on your marriage. May you and Mike live a long, happy and blessed life together.

Mike & Tina at sunset along the Mississippi River on their wedding day.

READERS: I F YOU HAVE NOT READ the six-part series of stories I posted in March about Tina’s experience during the September 2010 flash flood in Hammond, you’ll want to check it out now. Go to my archives and click on these dates: March 13 – 15 and March 17 – 19. Click here to read the first post, “Part I, Tina’s story, surviving the Hammond, Minnesota, flood.”

Also, consider contributing to Hammond’s efforts to rebuild city parks. Tina, recently-elected to the city council, is leading efforts to repair the flood-damaged parks. Click here to read a blog post about how you can help.

PHOTOS BY SHERWIN SAMANIEGO PHOTOGRAPHY of Rochester and courtesy of Tina Marlowe Mann.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling