Highway 14...

Took a detour on the way south just to see some new country. From time to time its good to change the route to make the journey interesting.

By pure chance we found ourselves on Highway 14 in Rochester, Minnesota, heading east and decided to follow it all the way to Winona. For most of the run the highway was unremarkable, rolling farmland broken by small towns with names like Eyota, Dover, and Lewiston. But a dozen or more miles from the river the topography changed as the highway plunged down from the prairies and through the coulees.

For those who live in mountain country coulees are nothing much, not hills at all but rather valleys like the hollows of the Ozarks. But in our flat state they're the best most of us will do, our own little piece of pseudo-alpine country, a chance to drive the scenic twisties normally reserved for folks farther west.

Highway 14 winds out its run clinging to the sides of these coulees, stark in winter beauty, inaccessible for human use, and refuge for any creature who can adapt to them. At some points along the way you can see for miles as the valleys break steeply from the road leaving nothing but space between their sides. A few miles back the road snaked through farmland, domesticated, servile, and long broken by plows. But here there is still a memory of the wild, a place too steep for lumberjacks, too difficult for miners, and unsurrendered to any human implement. Rattlesnakes live in these valleys as they have since the last ice age and no one has ejected them from their towers.

In too short a time the houses reemerge, a few here and there, and then as the valley levels to the floodplain more and and more. Soon we're in town again with all its lights and comforts but curious minds can wonder what things have yet to be discovered, what caves remain hidden, or what wild thing remains wild just a mile or so back up the road.

At least I do.

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