“The country rolled a little, rocking, just enough to break up the monotony of tableland, and on the tops of each swell, the horizons extended so far away into the haze of the muggy day that the earth and sky seemed continuous.”
— from “The Chokecherry Tree” by Frederick Manfred
From atop the distinctive rock outcrop in Blue Mounds State Park, you can spot Luverne’s (pop. 4800) water tower through the fresh foliage of spring. This is one of the sweeping vistas of the surrounding prairie from the park’s interpretive center, author Frederick Manfred’s former home. From a distance, the mounds looked blue to settlers heading west over the vast grasslands.
The prairie forms the essence of Luverne. The county seat of Rock County in southwestern Minnesota, it is proud of its Sioux Quartzite buildings and neat neighborhoods. The thriving town was one of four U.S. cities featured in Ken Burns’ 2007 documentary film “The War” which included the stories of local veterans. The historic Palace Theatre hosted Burns at the film’s world premiere.
WHAT TO DO
Outdoors: Blue Mounds State Park (4 miles north of Luverne on Hwy. 75) preserves about 1,500 acres of unplowed prairie and grassland. The park’s 1.5-mile-long cliff, 90 feet tall in spots, is a popular rock climbing destination. Blue Mounds is also home to Minnesota’s only state-owned bison herd. A 6-mile bicycle and pedestrian path connects the city to the park (1-507-283-1307; www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/blue_mounds).
Touch the Sky Prairie (4 miles north of Luverne on Hwy. 75, then west on County Road 20 for 3 miles; at the third corner, turn north for 1 mile to the sign) is a large tract of unbroken prairie with rock outcroppings and expansive views. Internationally known nature photographer Jim Brandenburg grew up on an adjacent farm. He established the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation to preserve and expand the prairie in southwestern Minnesota. Touch the Sky Prairie was established in 2001 as a partnership between the foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (http://jimbrandenburg.com/bpf).
Events: Shoppers and rummagers alike might find a trove of treasures at Luverne’s 23rd Annual Citywide Rummage Sale, which takes place May 3-4, and features more than 100 individual sale sites (1-888-283-4061; www.luvernechamber.com).
The 29th Annual Buffalo Days, May 31-June 2, offer a weekend full of fun. Buffalo Days began as a celebration of the prairie and the buffalo that inhabit Blue Mounds State Park, and the festivities eventually moved into town. Cruise-In (Friday evening) hosts more than 200 antique and collectible vehicles; Arts in the Park (Saturday) features over 120 vendors; the Buffalo Days Hoedown (Sunday, at the fairgrounds) offers historic tours and live entertainment (1-888-283-4061; www.luvernechamber.com).
Attractions: The Rock County Courthouse Square is the epicenter of Luverne, anchored by the courthouse and the Veterans Memorial Building (204 E. Brown St.), which makes a great first stop in Luverne. It houses the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Brandenburg Gallery, the Herreid Military Museum and the Kahler Terrace, made of Sioux Quartzite from the old high school.
The Brandenburg Gallery features more than 100 of Jim Brandenburg’s photos, including some that have been published in National Geographic and elsewhere. Proceeds from sales of his photos support the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation and Touch the Sky Prairie.
The Herreid Military Museum grew out of the interest in Ken Burns’ “The War.” It tells about the human side of sacrifice in World War II as seen through the eyes of Rock County soldiers and citizens. The museum is expanding to include the stories of Rock County soldiers in conflicts ranging from the Civil War to Afghanistan. The museum is particularly proud of its display of artifacts from the late Quentin Aanenson, whose story as a fighter pilot is featured prominently in “The War.”
The Carnegie Cultural Center (205 N. Freeman Av.; 1-507-283-8294) sponsors an active schedule of art, history and cultural exhibits, as well as entertainment and education. The Hinkly House Museum, built by the mayor in 1892 of Sioux Quartzite with two stone lions at the front entrance, is open for tours during summer (217 N. Freeman Av.; 1-507-449-2115).
The historic Palace Theatre is one of Luverne’s iconic symbols. The Palace, built in 1915, features current and classic motion pictures as well as live entertainment (104 E. Main St.; 1-507-283-4339; www. palacetheatre.us). Or if you’d rather venture outdoors for a flick, take in a movie at the Verne Drive-In Theatre (1607 ½ S. Kniss Av.; 1-507-283-0007; www.vernedrivein.com), which opens in May.
WHERE TO EAT
The Blue Stem (1202 S. Kniss Av.; 1-507-449-2583; www.the-bluestem.com) features casual dining with an emphasis on local ingredients. Chit Chat’s is a favorite local family restaurant (920 S. Kniss Av.; 1-507-283-4458).
WHERE TO SLEEP
The Comfort Inn (801 S. Kniss Av.; 1-507-283-9488; www.comfortinn.com) is set to become a Quality Inn in mid-May. The GrandStay (908 S. Kniss Av.; 1-507-449-4949; www.grandstayluverne.com) features standard hotel rooms as well as suites.
IF YOU GO
The Luverne Area Chamber is the best one-stop information source for the area (1-888-283-4061; 213 E. Luverne St.; www.luvernechamber.com).
Jim Umhoefer is a travel and outdoor writer and photographer from Sauk Centre, Minn.