One last look at fall on the 125-mile challenge

Falls at Nerstrand big woods state park.

(Editor's note: Outdoor Writer John Weiss has taken the Department of Natural Resources' 125-mile challenge. The DNR wants people to celebrate the 125th anniversary of state parks by going 125 miles by boot, boat or bike in state parks, state forest, state trails or state water trail. Weiss will use the challenge to highlight public land, and what it has, in the region.)

DRESBACH — Fall was slipping into grayness between leaves gone and snow here but my wife, Debbie Weiss, and I last week wanted one last look at fall in its glory.

My first thought was the Zumbro Bottoms, state forestland west of Wabasha where I've spent many days hunting, canoeing, camping and taking pictures. It's part of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest and it's a big block of wildness.

We drove over, we looked, we left. Leaves were gone, the flaunting yellows, oranges and red were not to be seen. Even looking in Wabasha and Lake City was for naught.

On Saturday, a friend, Wayne Bartz, posted a few pictures of Great River Bluffs State Park on his Facebook page of the leaves there, all yellow and grand. In a few hours, Debbie and I were on our way to the park overlooking the Mississippi River north of Dresbach.


We were not alone.

Either Bartz has a lot of people looking at his Facebook page or the word has gotten out just how beautiful that park is. It's not well known, at least I didn't think so until I went there and saw dozens of cars parked along roads and in parking lots, the trails full of people with cameras in hand and fall on their minds.

It was what we had hoped. On some trails, the maples were still in their golden glory, the sun exploding the colors. The river, alas, was brown from all the sediment from high water but that couldn't stop the beauty of the river, and its backwaters on the Wisconsin side, from shining through. It was fall as it should be — warm but not hot, the maples beautiful.

It was sad to leave the park.

As is turned out, I think we also left fall.

On Sunday, we came back from the Twin Cities and stopped at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park northwest of Kenyon. It has traditionally been a perfect place to see fall, with the little waterfall of Prairie Creek, the trees, the blue sky. Not on Sunday. It was if fall flashed from its perfect yellows to its late-season grays in 24 hours. Nearly all the leaves were gone, the sky was gray, a cold wind blew, the best way to keep warm was to walk.

That was all we could do: walk. We soon left and drove back through a land where most crops are down, most trees are bare.

it was fall at its bleakest.


But Saturday, we still had Saturday. You can't forget that. It was a good way to say goodbye.

"We spent a beautiful sunny day on hiking trails enjoying the beautiful scenery overlooking the Mississippi River," Debbie said. She was satisfied.

What To Read Next
Get Local