Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Road trip stories: You can’t beat the pre-season price & peacefulness at this lakeside Indiana inn May 4, 2018

A sunset view of Lake James in Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana.

A sunset view of Lake James in Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana.

 

I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO STAY in a lakeside resort or cabin. And you’d think, as a life-long Minnesotan, that would be part of my vacation history. Yet, the opportunity to stay lakeside never presented itself. Until May 2016.

 

Docked at Lake James in Pokagon State Park.

Docked at Lake James in Pokagon State Park.

 

And it happened not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but rather in the extreme northeastern corner of Indiana. Because my husband made a wrong turn, we ended up at the Potawatomi Inn Resort & Conference Center while en route from Minnesota to Massachusetts for our son’s college graduation.

 

The newer section of the Potawatomi Inn, opened in 1995.

The newer section of the Potawatomi Inn, opened in 1995.

 

Prior to departure, we’d plotted the location of our first day stopping point—some 600 miles away in Angola, Indiana. I’d researched lodging options, including a weekday pre-season special of $59 a night at the Potawatomi Inn. I mentioned the deal to Randy, who muttered something like “What are you going to get for $60?” So I scrapped the idea and resigned myself to staying at a non-descript chain hotel along Interstate 80/90.

 

Lovely framed signage inside the entry to the historic section of the inn complex

Lovely framed signage inside the entry to the historic section of the inn complex promotes Indiana state parks as “memories made naturally.”

 

Then came that wrong turn and we ended up directly in front of the entrance to Pokagon State Park, wherein the Inn is located. “It won’t hurt to look since we’re right here,” I suggested. “We can always leave if we don’t like it.” Randy agreed and steered the van along the tree-lined road into the park. After explaining our mission to the park ranger, we continued toward the Inn, our expectations low.

 

This is the original 1920s section of the historic inn with a dining room and lounge on the first floor and hotel rooms on the second level.

This is the original 1920s section of the historic inn with a dining room and lounge on the first floor and guest rooms on the second level.

 

We couldn’t have been more surprised. Rounding a turn, before us sprawled a complex of buildings perched atop a hill and edged by manicured plantings of trees, flowers and shrubs. It was beautiful to behold.

 

This massive sun deck overlooks Lake James.

This massive sun deck overlooks Lake James, the boat rental house and the public campfire pit.

 

The Lake James dock at sunset.

The Lake James dock at sunset.

 

The lovely sun deck up close as daylight fades.

The lovely sun deck up close as daylight fades.

 

And below, across a wide expanse of lawn, lay Lake James. The setting appeared like paradise to two weary travelers.

 

The decor is a bit dated and the bedspread showing wear. But the room was clean, the bed comfortable, the setting beautiful and the

The decor is a bit dated and the bedspread showing wear. But the room was clean, the bed comfortable, the wooded setting beautiful and the location quiet. Our room was located in the new part of the inn, opened in 1995.

 

Still, I wasn’t convinced. How could a place this lovely, at least from the exterior, cost only $59/night? Time to check out the interior. The front desk clerk, whose name eludes me, but whose husband is a native of Delano, Minnesota, greeted us with Hoosier hospitality and suggested that, since we were from Minnesota, we should have a lake view room. Perfect. It was a nice gesture. But the room was much too cramped, the promised lake view from a small, high window. We returned to the front desk, landing in a much more spacious room with windows overlooking woods. Perfect.

 

Cabins in the woods are also available for rent.

Cabins in the woods are also available for rent.

 

After being on the road for 10 hours, the Potawatomi Inn was precisely where we needed to stay. Away from the Interstate in a peaceful natural setting.

 

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original wooden toboggan run in 1935. It was updated through the years to a refrigerated slide.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original wooden toboggan run in 1935. It was updated through the years to a refrigerated slide.

 

We walked to the lake and then followed a trail to the park’s historic toboggan run.

 

The historic dining room, nearing closing time, was a quiet place to dine on a weekday evening in late May.

The historic dining room, nearing closing time, was a quiet place to dine on a weekday evening in late May.

 

We shared a dinner of barbecued ribs with enough for both of us plus left-overs. I love the pine cone design on the over-sized plates.

We shared a dinner of barbecued ribs with enough for both of us plus left-overs. I love the pine cone design on the over-sized plates.

 

Suspended from the dining room ceiling.

Suspended from the dining room ceiling.

 

We explored the buildings, dined in an historic dining hall. And then, when evening faded to dark, we joined a young couple around a campfire. From Elkhart, an hour to the west, they, too, were Hoosier friendly. As we talked, we learned what brought them to the Potawatomi Inn. Cancer. Tyler was taking a break from chemotherapy, his treatment set to resume four days later. He and Kelsey—ironically once an oncology nurse now working in labor and delivery—inspired us with their upbeat attitudes, their thankfulness for the good prognosis, a 95 percent cure rate for Tyler’s cancer.

 

A lovely courtyard filled with plants and with a water feature offers a lovely place to dine outside the Courtyard Cafe.

A courtyard filled with greenery and with a water feature offers a lovely place to dine outside the Courtyard Cafe.

 

Now, as I reflect on the wrong turn that led us to the Potawatomi Inn, I am especially grateful. We spent our first night on the road in a tranquil setting. We met some truly wonderful Hoosiers. And I fulfilled my wish to stay at a lakeside resort.

 

The Lonidaw Lounge just outside the historic dining room.

The Lonidaw Lounge just outside the historic dining room.

 

But what really clinched my appreciation for this resort was my husband’s response to a question asked by a friend about a favorite part of our Minnesota to Massachusetts trip. “The Potawatomi Inn,” Randy answered. I agree.

 

The library is well-stocked with books, board games and puzzles. You'll also find a pool, spa and sauna; activity, exercise, video and game rooms; and a gift shop on-site.

The library is well-stocked with books, board games and puzzles. You’ll also find a pool, spa and sauna; activity, exercise, video and game rooms; a conference room; and a gift shop on-site.

 

FYI: The low rate we got in May 2016 was a pre-season weekday special. Don’t expect a deal this good during the busy summer months. And since this rate is from two years ago, expect that rates have likely increased. I’d highly recommend staying here. It was a great option to a chain hotel and in the most peaceful of settings.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Spring flooding in my home county of Redwood April 30, 2018

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Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, traveling back to my hometown of Vesta, I noted snow sculpted in some road ditches. This late in April, the scene was unexpected. But then a blizzard raged across southern Minnesota only weeks earlier. And that road ditch snow, hard-packed by prairie winds, had yet to melt in the then 60-degree temps.

 

Nearing Vesta (left in photo) along Minnesota State Highway 19, I saw more and more flooding of farm fields.

 

A view of the flooding from Highway 19 just northwest of Vesta.

 

And just across the highway, more flooding.

 

Beyond the snow, though, I noticed water setting in farm fields. The late significant snowfalls and plugged culverts and tiles likely contributed to the collection of snow melt water in many low-lying areas. It would be awhile, I surmised, before farmers would be working this land.

 

 

The deep blue of those temporary ponds appeals to the poet in me. I see lines of poetry in splashes of blue across an otherwise drab landscape stubbled by remnants of last year’s harvest.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta. That’s my home farm in the distance. There have been times when the river flooded across the roadway.

 

A temporary lake of floodwaters borders my hometown of Vesta.

 

Flooded farmland along the Redwood River on the edge of Vesta.

 

On the south edge of Vesta, within view of the Redwood River, a lake formed as the river overflowed its banks and flooded surrounding farm land. The town itself was in no danger with a hill—rare as they are on the prairie—bordering that end of town.

 

Water spreads easily across the almost tabletop flat landscape, here just north of Vesta.

 

There’s something about floodwaters that draws my appreciation, causes me to stand and just look at the river and recognize its power.

 

These grain bins sit a gravel road and short stretch of land away from the floodwaters of the Redwood River in Vesta.

 

I realize that soon (maybe even as I write) this flooding will be another memory as farmers ready for planting and, in several months, the harvest.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This is April in southern Minnesota April 3, 2018

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The snowy scene in my southeastern Minnesota neighborhood Tuesday afternoon.

 

LIVING IN MINNESOTA, I find that winters sometimes get long. Too long. This has been one of them with unseasonably cold temps—try 15 degrees in my part of the state on Easter morning—and now more snow.

 

Snow falls thick and heavy in my Faribault backyard.

 

Heavy, wet snow. Snow globe snow. Beautiful, yet the kind of snow that can slick roadways if it sticks to the surface.

 

Aiming my camera lens upward, I see snow flying against a grey sky bordered by bare branches. Note: I edited this image to make it more visually appealing.

 

The kind of snow, too, that is termed heart attack snow. No explanation needed on that one.

I am wishing for spring. For no more snow. For 50 degrees. Heck, I’ll even take forty.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Eagle watching in the Faribault area March 17, 2018

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MARCH MARKS PRIME EAGLE viewing season in Minnesota. Read about my experiences spotting this majestic bird in a blog post published on the Visit Faribault tourism website.

And while you’re on the website, poke around and learn more about this place I call home in southeastern Minnesota.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of winter in the woods February 27, 2018

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HERE IN THE NORTHLAND, Winter pens poetry upon trees. If only we pause to notice.

 

 

I noticed last week as I photographed the visual poetry that glimmered, layered, clung to tree branches within view of my backyard.

 

 

Freezing rain sluiced ice along branches like strings of diamonds draped upon the woods.

 

 

Then snow fell, icing the same branches in white.

 

 

Darkness emerged later with moody Winter unleashing roiling emotions.

 

 

Tangled. Twisted. Tumultuous.

 

 

But hope shone in the shelter of snowy evergreens, lovely in the gloaming of the day. I observed therein the loveliness a poet sees when words flow from the brain into layers of verses. There’s a feeling of satisfaction, of comfort, of accomplishment. And the light, oh, the light.

 

 

 

The sky, too, the setting for these poems of February, delights. Not when grey. But when blue, oh, so blue.

 

 

This is Winter’s poetry, written here upon the Minnesota landscape, if we but choose to see and read it.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Check back tomorrow for a post that contrasts this one with a wish for Winter to exit.

 

February at the ballpark & I’m not talking spring training in Florida February 23, 2018

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ON A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON, sunshine heats the earth, slants shadows upon snow fallen fresh that morning. It is a rare day of respite from a too-cold winter in Minnesota and I am anxious to get outside.

 

 

So Randy and I hop in the Chevy and head toward Dundas, just south of Northfield. I want to walk in Memorial Park, home of the Dundas Dukes. Randy pulls the car into the riverside park, loops and stops on a snowy road next to a trail. We exit, tread with caution along a path, diverting off the icy route as needed to avoid slipping.

 

 

Passing the abandoned playground, I observe swings hung statue-still.

 

 

I note footprints through the snow leading to a Little Free Library. Used even in winter.

 

 

A short hike away, I step onto the foot bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

 

I pause midway, focus on ruins of the Archibald Mill,

 

 

bridge shadows,

 

 

an open spot of water,

 

 

the river ribboning white between shoreline trees.

 

 

In the simplicity of this place, these scenes, I feel content. I am here with Randy, who appreciates the natural silence as much as me.

 

 

 

Overhead I watch a Delta airliner angling down toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wonder about those aboard. Would they rather be leaving than arriving?

 

 

Some 1,700 miles away in the warmth of Ft. Myers, the Minnesota Twins toss and catch balls, swing bats and practice in the sunshine of opening week of spring training. Here in Dundas, opening day is still months away. I imagine the bold orange seats and grandstands filled with spectators, the cracks of bats, the swish of baseballs when the Dukes meet the Hampton Cardinals here on April 29. I can almost hear the conversations and laughter that will soon fill this place.

 

 

I head back toward the car, tracking in the footsteps of those who, like me, dream. Of sunny summer days. Of baseball. Of walks in the park. And of rivers that run free of ice, free of snow, free of winter under a Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

February at forty degrees February 15, 2018

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IN SNOW TINGED with dirt, a curled brown maple leaf lies, a remnant of autumn lingering in this month of February.

Above, the sun flares against a blue sky bordered by bare branches.

Below, laundry hangs on the line. Drying at forty degrees.

I delight in it all—heat of the sun, fence line shadowed on a dwindling snow pack, ice melt dripping from gutters, long johns on clothesline, interior kitchen door flung open. All hold the hope of spring in a Minnesota winter that seems always too cold, too snowy, too long.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling