Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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


Following the road less traveled, even if you have no idea where you are October 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:25 AM
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MY HUSBAND WILL TELL YOU, unequivocally, that I am not a navigator. I cannot read a map nor do I possess any sense of direction when we are traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Given that knowledge, I prefer we both know exactly where we are going before we get going. He plots out roads and I sometimes write down directions and hope for the best. That saves lots of frustration and, ahem, discussion about “maybe we should stop somewhere and ask for directions.”

But occasionally a road beckons and we end up in an unknown locale and I start to fret about where we are and where we’ll end up.

About that time in the journey, Randy will pull over to the side of the road (because we are typically in a remote area) and consult the Minnesota atlas we carry with us. He’ll study it for awhile, then set it down and start driving—without telling me where we are or where we are going.

A view of isolated Fillmore County Road 23 as taken through the front windshield of our car.

On a recent day trip to the Chatfield/Lanesboro/Canton/Harmony/Preston area of southeastern Minnesota, we turned onto Fillmore County Road 23, a scenic route recommended by Jackie, who blogs over at “Who will make me laugh” (you really ought to read her blog by clicking here). I wasn’t expecting the tar road to turn into gravel and twist and turn through isolated backwoods before reaching County Road 10.

I was becoming somewhat agitated, wondering if this really was the road Jackie meant for us to travel and how long we’d be driving in the middle of nowhere.

This lovely old stone house seems to meld into the muted autumn landscape.

Soon enough, though, I became distracted by the scenery and the old stone buildings and the beauty of the place through which we were traveling.

Jackie was right in suggesting we follow scenic CR 23. And my husband was right in realizing that sooner or later, I’d enjoy the ride.

And then, bonus, that stately red barn near the old stone house.

And then further, on a bend in the road, these old stone ruins appeared.

And later I would learn, from Troy at the Highland Cafe (where Jackie also sent me) that this was once a mill.

HOW ABOUT YOU: What type of traveler are you? Are you adventuresome or, like me, wanting to know where you are? I expect some of you will suggest a GPS might be a wise investment. Am I correct?

No matter your answers, taking those backroads always, always, results in wonderful discoveries. Thanks, Jackie, for the scenic travel tip.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


On our way to church in North Morristown October 12, 2011

ON OUR WAY TO CHURCH on Sunday morning in North Morristown, my husband and I drove through some mighty fine country.


grain bins awaiting the season’s yield

autumn’s glory edging Cannon Lake

harvested corn fields

tree line and crop line

a farmer laboring

beauty and bounty

a clutch of bins

horses dallying in a barnyard

a shed weathered by time

an old brick house on a hill

to Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

We savored the best of a lovely, gorgeous, stunning, beautiful, wonderful, photographic October morning that transitioned into an unbelievably warm afternoon.

Typically we don’t get this many balmy October days here in Minnesota, meaning we need to appreciate each one while secretly hoarding memories of these days for the long winter months ahead.

For now I want to remember this Sunday, this drive west of Faribault to the little country church, Trinity Lutheran, edged by an alfalfa field and across the road, acres of corn.

I want to remember the warmth of the day and of the people with whom we worshiped.

I want to remember, too, the good food and fellowship afterward in the church basement as we celebrated this congregation’s annual fall dinner and craft sale.

CHECK BACK for posts about dinner and about Trinity church.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling