2016 Trip Two, SW Minnesota, Day Two, April 21

Slayton MN April 21

“Adventures can begin in your own backyard.” Ann Bancroft, Arctic and Antarctic explorer.

While this trip is not exactly in our backyard, it is certainly more “backyardy” than most of our trips. Even then, most of our trips are in the US, not to the Taj Mahal, or the Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. So the above quote was a welcome sight this morning at the Jim Brandenburg Gallery in Luverne MN. Luverne is a small town of under 5,000 souls in the far SW corner of Minnesota. Brandenburg grew up here although he now resides in Ely, MN, in the far NE corner of Minnesota. Two different nature areas but from both he has created a vast mosaic of nature photography.

Rock County courthouse in Luverne constructed of Sioux quartzite stone

Rock County courthouse in Luverne constructed of Sioux quartzite stone

Brandenburg spent three decades on long-term assignments around the globe for the National Geographic magazine and has been honored many times over for his incredible photography. In 2010, the International League of Conservation Photographers selected the 40 top nature photographs of all time. Brandenburg had 4 of the 40, more than any other photographer.

He is now focusing on his own goals, some of which have been showcased in National Geographic also. There is a Brandenburg gallery in Luverne. We made it our first stop of the day (after breakfast at the Slayton Bakery where we were spotted immediately as not one of the locals but given the same warm hospitality and good cooking.)

We watched a video about the creation of Brandenburg’s first, solo goal project. For 90 days, he went out in the woods around his home near Ely, MN and took only one picture. No, he did not shoot many and then select just one; he took just one. Sometimes it was shot early in the day, sometimes at last light on the way back home wondering if the project would fall apart on that day. Many of the photos are of small, narrow focused shots, not the broad vistas I tend to take. The impact of seeing the individual shots and of the cumulative collection of 90 shots taken from the fall equinox to the winter Equinox was overwhelming.

Well you know we are not major shoppers. Today was different. The gallery did not have the book “Chasing the Light” that was later printed from this project-we will have to shop for that later. They did have framed posters and prints of over 100 of his photos – from the 90 days project as well as some of his other photos, particularly of wolves. The prints were sharper but the framed posters were more reasonably priced and we bought two posters. We also bought the CD of the video we viewed-watch out daughters, your turn to view it is coming soon!

To see more and to view his 2016 project of one nature video each day, you can go to:

Jimbrandenburg.blogspot.com or to

2016 is the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park System. It is also the 125th birthday of the Minnesota State Park System. Our travels around Minnesota are usually focused around the state parks. This trip is no exception. Today we visited three state parks. Chris has a state park passport book and our goal is to reach 72 of the 76 parks real soon. We are at 35, having started one year ago. The state gives you a pat on the back if you visit 71-4 of the parks are either in development or require a boat to reach.

Bison at Blue Mounds State Park

Bison at Blue Mounds State Park


Today’s first park was Blue Mounds State Park. This park has two unique features. First, the Sioux quartzite rock forms cliffs and outcroppings giving the park its unique look. The Rock County Courthouse in Luverne is made from this rock. Second, a herd of slightly over 100 bison roam the park. Introduced in 1961 from the Fort Niobara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, NE (which we visited about 4 years ago), the initial three bison have expanded to the point that not only are some auctioned off each fall, the state transplanted some of the bison from here to a second MN state park, Mineopa near Mankato.

Pelican at Split Rock Creek State Park

Pelican at Split Rock Creek State Park

Park number two was Split Rock Creek State Park. Split Rock Creek was dammed in the 1930s by a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. The dam forms the only sizable body of water in Pipestone County and birds and waterfowl flock here. In fact, we considered the park “noisy” because of the numerous birds squeaking and chirping along with the sound of the water rushing over the dam and reverberating off the rock cliffs below the dam.

It is sobering to reflect how many of the state park structures were created during the Depression by the people unemployed who were put to work on federal work details. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administration, Veterans Conservation Corps, etc. created a public infrastructure across the country. Nearly 100 years later, these buildings, dams, roads, etc. are still functioning-although many are showing their age and need some maintenance.

Spring fed creek at Camden State Park

Spring fed creek at Camden State Park

Our third park was Camden State Park. In particular, Chris wanted to see the beach and swimming pond that is created from a spring fed stream. Camden started as a community formed by settlers from Camden NJ. When the railroad came through, it located its depot several miles from Camden and the town dried up. However, Camden’s location along the Redwood River adjacent to the prairies has made a pleasant park with picnicking and camping. Chris was denied her desire; the spring fed stream was dumping its water into the river, it is not diverted into the swimming pond until later in the spring.

Touch the Sky prairie

Touch the Sky prairie

Lastly, while our drive focused on parks, we always manage to squeeze in other sights, like Brandenburg and Spomer. This is prairie land and we visited the Touch the Sky prairie, a preserved parcel sponsored by the Brandenburg Foundation. The “Prairie Passage” route is a cooperative effort of multiple states and federal agencies; it encompasses this and other locations to preserve portions of the prairie that once existed all across the broad middle plains of the US. Some small preserved areas avoided the farmers plow; others areas are plots of land being replanted with native prairie grasses to support wildfowl, butterflies, water retention, etc. The “Touch the Sky” piece is 972 acres of untilled land. Less than 1% of the original Upper Tallgrass prairie of the Upper Midwest is intact.

Smallest chapel north of Luverne MN

Smallest chapel north of Luverne MN

In other quick stops we visited (another) smallest wayside church/chapel. This one was north of Luverne. We visited a park with rock garden folk art sculptures dating to 1940.

Windmill collection in Jasper MN with wind turbines in background

Windmill collection in Jasper MN with wind turbines in background

We drove by a piece of ground where a farmer has restored a number of old windmills. This is in contrast to the hundreds of large wind turbines standing over 350 feet tall that seem to be everywhere over Buffalo Ridge, a geologic formation in southwest Minnesota which has enhanced winds running more frequently that most other parts of the country.

Lunch was at Lange’s Cafe and Bakery in Pipestone, a 60 year old diner written up in “Roadfoods”. We took our pieces of pie to go and ate them along the shore of Lake Yankton on the way home. Dinner was back at KeyLargo next door. Good food.

Ed and Chris
April 21. 10 PM

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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