As a photographer, I love our state parks and what they offer for photographic opportunities. Besides spending time in Nerstrand Big Woods, the state park near my home, I tend to spend most of my photography time in state parks north of Northfield. So, this visit to a state park in the prairies of southern Minnesota, almost in Iowa and South Dakota (both of which you can see from Blue Mounds), was new to me. I should say, new since photographing landscapes and wall art professionally. Actually, it was sort of revisiting my photographic beginnings, much like Brandenburg. I am NOT comparing myself to him AT ALL, but his photography career started in Luverne. I did some of my first photography at Blue Mounds many years ago at around 13 years old. My family had taken a trip to Luverne, probably to visit my Aunt and Uncle who live there, and I took some photographs on black and white film with an Instamatic camera during a short visit to the park. When I got home, I developed them in my darkroom.
As I thought about this early time in my photographic story, I remembered that I had entered a photograph of quartzite cliffs (in black and white) taken at Blue Mounds in a photography contest in junior high school. I don’t have that picture anymore, but I remember seeing it years later and thinking about how awful it looked.? But anyway, it was one of my first landscape photographs that I had taken and processed with my own hands. I had been inspired by the beauty I saw at the state park and wanted to capture it.
Coming back after all these years was really like seeing the landscape for the first time. I did not remember much about the park, and my wife and I had a great time exploring it. We enjoyed seeing the old Mansfield house (currently being renovated by the DNR), and walking along the Mounds Trail and Upper Cliffline hiking trails. We were able to see the Rock Alignment, Eagle Rock and view the Historic Quarry from above. Climbers were trying their hand at scaling the reddish cliffs in the quarry. (See the photos in the slideshow that accompany this post.) The DNR website says that the “pink to purplish color in the quartzite is due to the presence of iron oxide.”
We came across scads of wild sunflowers, prairie grasses, prickly pear cactus (yeah cactus in Minnesota, who knew?!) and lots of species I could never name. The colorful quartzite was popping out of the ground everywhere as we strolled along in the bright morning sunlight. Off in the distance, we could see bison grazing behind the fence, and in a few places, we could see the colors starting to change.
One morning, we came across the bison near the fence as we were heading to Touch the Sky Prairie. It was very dark, but I dialed up the ISO and adjusted the exposure on my Canon camera for near darkness. I wanted to see what I could get before the bison wandered off and we had to leave to capture the prairie sunrise. I didn’t catch anything really amazing, but I had fun trying. (Again, see the slideshow for a couple of these shots.)
This prairie park has a different feel than those state parks that are all forest and lakes. The wide open prairie land and expansive skies seem to welcome visitors, while the sunflowers smile and wave at you. You can see for miles from on top of the “blue mound,” which makes a person ask, why is it called Blue Mounds, and why is mounds plural? The state park website says that from a distance, the quartzite on the mound looked bluish to settlers, although I still don’t know how mound became mounds. Oh the mystery of this place.
What I can say about it is that Blue Mounds State Park, and the nearby Touch the Sky Prairie, should be on your list of Minnesota locations to visit. Stop by this destination to expand your horizons (see what I did there?) and learn more about what makes Minnesota diverse and beautiful.