I went this last weekend to Blue Mounds State Park. Located near the bustling metropolis of Luverne – “Minnesota’s Prairie Playground!” (better, I suppose, than Luverne – “Where I-90 and U.S. 75 Meet!” or Luverne – “A Place to Grow!” or Luverne – “Small-town Living, Big Time Opportunities…”) – home of one of the more dilapidated commercial strips in rural Minnesota and one of the more beautiful Episcopal churches, the park itself is remarkable as one of the first tokens of the West.
Signs for Wall Drug grace the Interstate right before the exit. Luverne proudly affixes a buffalo on its city crest. Windmills, which first crop up just east of Jackson, begin to sprout like mushrooms west of Worthington. (Since North Dakota is the Saudi Arabia of wind power, presumably Minnesota is the Iran.)
The country, while still dominated by the aesthetically (insert your choice of adjective here) duoculture of corn and soybeans, begins to display ever-so-subtle modulations in elevation and appearance.
On U.S. 75, between Luverne and Pipestone, I saw a wayside chapel (for rest & prayer, & one thing I forgot), a bright, enthusiastic neon sign inviting me to visit the Trosky Lutheran Church that flashed GOD/NO GREATER LOVE, and two billboards reminding me, lest I forget, that Life is, in fact, Precious. Just two counties east, you don’t see that kind of tender solicitude directed towards strangers’ spiritual welfare.
Back to the park – when prairie is verdant in the spring, it appears blue on the horizon. Blue Mounds State Park, appropriately, consists of a (very large) mound covered in tallgrass prairie with the occasional small cactus. A large part of the park is fenced off for the buffalo.
The mound dominates the surrounding landscape, rising about three hundred feet above it – gentle earth slopes on two sides, a muddy creek and a pair of reservoirs on the third, and a broken Sioux red quartzite cliff-face on the fourth, rising about thirty to fifty feet above the earth below.
The cliffs are neat for (presumably in violation of park rules) climbing and scurrying up and down. The remaining snow makes for a remarkable contrast with the red cliffs and the gnarled leafless trees, especially in the bowl carved out of the cliff-face for gravel mining in the twenties.
While there I hiked to the top of the mound, where there is a quartz outcropping named Eagle Rock rising about ten feet above the turf. I climbed atop it and stood with my arms crossed, the warm south wind blowing through my hair, and a pale February sun shining down on me.
I cast my gaze north, south, east, and west, an endless beige checkerboard with farmstead pieces stretching in all directions under a wide-open cerulean sky. After about three minutes, I got bored, thought it would be a terrible place to be in a thunderstorm, clambered down, and sauntered back to my car.