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Cold creativity

Ice blue, ever-changing Rush River Ice Sculptures are cool. Real cool.

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Some of the Rush River ice sculptures look like horned monsters.
Contributed / John Sievers

MAIDEN ROCK, Wis. — While sub-zero temperatures aren’t good for my toes, they are certainly nice for ice, and sometimes a little bit of frozen beauty can make up for winter's bitter bite.

The eerie blue ice forms of the ever-changing Rush River Ice Sculptures are just the thing to help you beat a case of the winter blues.

I took the hour-and-20-minute drive from Rochester to the sculptures that are just over the Wisconsin border near Maiden Rock on a Friday. Along the way, I saw great views of Barn Bluff in Red Wing and enticing panoramas of the frozen expanse of Lake Pepin. I even spotted some bald eagles hunting the last patches of open water.

Plumber and grandfather Roger Nelson has been creating the Rush River Ice Sculptures each winter for the last several decades. His 420-acre property includes a 650-feet-deep artesian well that forces water to the surface under 25 pounds of pressure. The well taps into a confined aquifer surrounded by layers of impermeable rock that creates hydrostatic pressure forcing the water to the surface.

The display, which now includes more than 25 sculptures that can grow up to 30 feet tall, started with a single frozen fountain in the front yard. Over the years, Nelson has added more and more pipe forms and even lights to display the sculptures at night.

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Nelson put his plumbing skills to work to create a series of pipes that spout the pressurized water from January until May, creating fantastic ice forms complete with icicle curtains, ice caves, and soaring spires. He estimates he’s used 3,000 feet of garden hose to make the sculptures this year.

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Rush River Ice sculptures can look like frozen waterfalls.
Contributed / John Sievers

While the sculptures start small, they keep growing as the cold weather closes in. The water that continually flows out of the pipes chooses its own way to freeze and forms figures that look like wings, waterfalls, and horned monsters, depending on your imagination. The ice takes on a blue tone since its density absorbs the long-wavelength red portions and scatters the short-wavelength blue portions of white light.

A row of about 13 sculptures is along County Road A and can be seen from the road while still enjoying the warmth of your car. Another dozen or so sculptures ring the pond in Nelson’s back yard across the road.

There is a small parking area near Nelson’s home for those who want to roam. Fair warning: The whole area below the sculptures is extremely slippery because it is coated with bulging and rounded sheets of ice. I waved my arms for balance more than once as I walked around the pond-side sculptures.

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Signs warn visitors of the icy conditions at the Rush River ice sculptures.
Contributed / John Sievers

Signs make it clear that visitors assume their own risks for slipping and falling.

Carefully walking among the iceberg-like formations, I heard the occasional pop or crack as the massive amounts of ice under foot shifted and settled. There was also a sound of water splattering as the artesian well’s water kept flowing through the tops of the sculptures. Curtains of icicles gleamed as they were backlit by the sun.

On the weekends, Nelson and his grandchildren can sometimes be found offering hot chocolate and the warmth of a small fire.

The Rush River Sculptures reaffirm that there is beauty and wonder to be found during the winter.

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My visit to the sculptures certainly left my heart feeling warm, even if my toes were cold.

4 things to know

  • The Rush River Ice Sculptures are at N2696 County Road A, Maiden Rock, Wis.
  • Find more information at the Rush River Ice Sculptures Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Rush-River-Ice-Sculptures-103621035037465
  • Viewing the sculpture is free, but donations are appreciated.  
  • Rush River Ice Sculptures are on private property, can be seen during the day and are lit up at night.
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