By Jim Umhoefer
Rock County. 4 miles north of Luverne on Highway 75 to park entrance road.
Highway map index: C-21.
Daytime thunderstorms rumble eastward from South Dakota in sinister blue-black formations that darken the sky for miles. At sunset, the mile-long, 100-foot-tall cliff looks blue, which inspired the westbound pioneers to name the prairie landmark Blue Mounds.
The best sky watching is from the hiking trails on the mound. Of the park's 13-mile trail system, these trails are the longest and least crowded. The interpretive center, formerly the home of Frederick Manfred (a historical novelist), has been remodeled to assist visitors in understanding the native prairie and the culture of the Plains Indians. Schedules of activities like hikes, films and discussions are posted daily. On one of the guided hikes, you'll pass a 1,250-foot-long stonewall, aligned exactly east and west, that may have helped prehistoric people mark the seasons. The naturalist also will discuss bird watching in the park, where more than 200 species have been sighted.
It's a two-mile hike from the interpretive center past the buffalo pasture to the park office. Or you can drive to the main park use area by following the signs from the interpretive center. On this end, trails wrap around two small lakes connected by a stream, then lead to the campground. The 73-site semi-modern campground (with 40 electric sites) is popular during the peak summer season. A 100-person primitive group camp is available by reservation.