Finding the beauties of summer in Minnesota's southwest

  • Updated: August 14, 2014 - 8:51 PM

Road trips to Minnesota’s southwest corner offer hands-on history lessons amid surprising beauty and landscape features. Here are some of the top places to experience this part of the state, roughly from east to west.

Harkin Store: The general store closed — with goods still on the shelves — when the railroad bypassed its hopeful village. This Minnesota Historical Society site overlooks the Minnesota River near New Ulm (mnhs.org/harkin store; 1-507-354-8666).

Jeffers Petroglyphs: This outcropping of Sioux quartzite near Jeffers reveals thousands of carvings, some 7,000 or more years old. Seeing them is easiest early or late in the day, when the sun angle is low, or during a guided tour, when a guide re-creates the effect using a board and mirror (mnhs.org/jefferspetroglyphs).

Sod House on the Prairie: On restored prairie stand a soddy (a house built with little more than prairie sod), a more primitive prairie dugout and a log cabin. The site was created by Stan and Virginia McCone on their farm in Sanborn (sodhouse.org; 1-507-723-5138).

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum: A collection of buildings and museum holdings that cast light on pioneer days, in Walnut Grove (walnut grove.org; 1-800-528-7280).

Blue Mounds State Park: Near Luverne, this is one of the state’s largest prairie parks; its herd of bison are sometimes so close to their fence that a visitor can hear their guttural snorts (dnr.state.mn.us/bluemounds; 1-507-283-6050).

Touch the Sky Prairie: This restored prairie with mowed paths gives visitors a feel for the landscape familiar to Indians and pioneers — and offers habitat for endangered species such as the Western prairie fringed orchid. Near Luverne and Blue Mounds (jimbrandenburg.com/bpf/).

Pipestone National Monument: Indians still quarry for pipestone that lies deep under quartzite in this spot outside the county seat of Pipestone. A walking path meanders through prairie and past a waterfall. Inside the visitor center, Indians demonstrate pipe making (nps.gov/pipe; 1-507-825-5464).

Triple “L” Farm: Joan Larson’s hog farm turned bed-and-breakfast offers rooms in the house and two “bunkhouses,” stand-alone cabins with no running water. Highlights include exceptional breakfasts, a sock swing that delights children and the kind hostess. Near Hendricks. (LLLFarmBB.com; 1-877-805-1793).

Kerri Westenberg

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