Richardson Nature Center

The Richardson Oak standing idyllically in the prairie in autumn.

Of all the different ecosystems in Minnesota, for me, prairies are the most inspiring. Coming from the state known for its 10,000 sparkling lakes, a state covered with deep forests, immense bogs, and craggy blufflands, choosing waterless expanses of rolling grassland may seem like an odd choice for inspiration. But there is something about the way the the sun sets fire to the afternoon grass, the beauty of a single tree or house or bison standing alone in an otherwise featureless landscape, the subtlety of the constantly shifting prairie colors - golds and reds and browns - a burst of purple wildflowers here and the flash of a red-winged blackbird there, and above all the possibility of uninterrupted vision reaching endlessly to the horizon.

The grass changes color seemingly on a weekly basis, but the forest surrounding the prairie is best in autumn.

The very nature of urbanity makes prairie like this very difficult to come by anywhere near a city. Most urban wildernesses are small, sheltered from the surrounding world by trees, the noise of water, or only your imagination. Fortunately for Minneapolitans, there are a few places around that, while not even close to the experience of being in the actual prairie of the western part of the state, give you a taste of openness, an escape from the walled confines of the city streets.

Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington's Highland Lake Park is one of those places. Just 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and literally across the street from a series of small skyscrapers on Normandale Lake, the prairie of Richardson is situated in a valley surrounded by forested hills just tall enough to hide the outside world. Although the park encompasses much more than just the oak savanna, the open spaces are my favorite part. I'd try to describe how it seems more beautiful in every season, but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

The wildflowers come in every color, but they don't last long.

The park entrance is off of East Bush Lake Road. There are several paths you can take from the visitor center. The prairie path will take you here, but it won't take more than twenty minutes to do, so spend some time explore the rest of the park. Not everyone loves grasslands as much as I do, but I guarantee that Richardson has something everyone can enjoy.