Labor Day weekend – The four-day weekend that usually marks the end of summer for us in Minnesota. It’s our last chance to get to “the lake” or get some projects done around the house before school starts. We are a camping family; however, since we have had children, we have not camped over Labor Day weekend. We are too busy getting ready for school to start, so we have not wanted to be out of town right before the school year kicks off. It just makes life too busy.
However, since my wife and I are empty nesters (as of a couple of years ago), we decided that this Labor Day we could be out of town. We spent our weekend camping at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne. The park is located on what used to be part of a multi-state massive tallgrass prairie biome. According to Jim Brandenburg, professional nature photographer who is originally from Luverne, only about 1 percent of all the tall grass prairie is left. (More on that in a bit.)
Besides the prairie, Blue Mounds is known for Sioux quartzite that rises up in cliffs and pokes out of the prairie sod every few feet. The beautiful rock is reddish and smooth at times and creates some fun photography opportunities.
First let me talk about the state park and the camping facilities. I love state parks, and I will write a post about that in the future. The campground boasts 73 camping sites, most of those electric with 33 non-electric, including some tepees that can be rented, making for a unique stay. The campground area has many mature trees providing lots of shade at the campsites. It has modern facilities, running water and showers available. The campsites seemed close to one other, but I’ve been at locations that are tighter. I always try to book my site at the edge of all the camping areas, then my “backyard” is more natural, and I only have neighbors next door and across from me.
As I sit here writing this on Sunday, Sept. 6, before Labor Day, most of the neighbors have already packed up and headed out, so we have more of the place to ourselves, which suits me just fine.
We have had a gorgeous weekend weather wise. It threatened a severe storm one night, but it passed north and east of us. We haven’t had any rain at all, and I actually think they need rain in this area, although the crops are looking good and starting to turn.
Touch the Sky Prairie
One location we have visited multiple times during our stay is Jim Brandenburg’s Touch the Sky Prairie. Through his non-profit foundation, he helped preserve a parcel of land that makes up part of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge that stretches from Iowa, through western Minnesota. Touch the Sky Prairie, which is within a mile of Brandenburg’s childhood home, is now more than 1,000 acres. While Brandenburg resides near Ely now, he still loves the prairie and hopes “to leave some high-quality Tallgrass prairie” behind rather than just photographs when he’s gone.
As I said, we visited the prairie numerous times during our four-day stay, and for a couple days it was extremely calm (see the video below). It sits on some of the highest land around, thus its name, and provides an expansive view. It is covered with a huge variety of species including prairie smoke, long stem bluegrass, wild sunflowers and others. This beautiful wide-open acreage is dotted with Sioux quartzite, some of which stands up out of the ground, others are level with the soil and the sod just opens up and provides pieces of it like small dance floors in the wild prairie grasses. We wandered around and explored for hours over our time there.
It was past prime for many of the flowers, but the wild sunflowers were abundant and fun to watch as they waved and bobbed in the wind. I spent time trying to capture them with many of my tools including lenses from wide angle to long telephoto. I even pulled out the wireless flash for some. Look through the slideshow above to see the images. Also, I love the look of the quartzite as it pops out of the prairie in random locations. I photographed it showing it’s location in the wide expanse of the prairie as well as tight shots, showing the texture and lichen that would grow on it. I even tried out my video skills, capturing the swaying flowers and the sounds of wind and pheasants. I may try to put together a short video of my flower videos.
We also took the time to hike along the Beaver Creek to see the waterfall. The trailhead for this hike is about a quarter mile west of the main parking area for Touch the Sky. The less than three-quarter mile hike through the mowed grass land is easy. A neighborhood farm dog even joined us, leading the way there and back. The falls were just a trickle since the area has been dry for a while, but it was still a nice relaxing stroll through the prairie.
Anyone going to southern Minnesota for a visit, whether or not you love to do photography, really needs to set aside time to visit Touch the Sky Prairie. Thanks Jim Brandenburg for providing this jewel! In my next post, I’ll talk (and show images) from the state park.
One other note: Another must see place for photographers who visit the area: Brandenburg Gallery. The gallery is housed in the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office in Luverne, and has an impressive display of Jim’s work. (Rarely do I hang anyone’s photographs on my walls at home other than mine, but I had to purchase one of Jim’s prints for my family room.) The gallery is set up as a non-profit and your money purchasing his work will go to help fund the prairie work, so go ahead and feel good about purchasing some prints.