by Kathleen Weflen
Minnesota has a wild place called tallgrass prairie. Millions of bison once grazed on this native grassland. Prairie Indians hunted bison for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. When French explorers arrived, they looked out on miles of tall grass stretching all the way to the horizon. They called it prairie, meaning meadow. On an 1838 expedition, Joseph Nicollet wrote, "The plateau … is high, grand, and beautiful prairie. The view to the south seems limitless. The spectacle is full of grandeur."
Today, you can explore much smaller prairies at state parks such as Blue Mounds, Glacial Lakes, and Buffalo River. Most of the original prairie is gone, but the little habitats that remain still hold a surprising variety of wildlife. Lie down in a tallgrass prairie and listen to millions of blades of grass swaying in the wind. A hawk swoops to catch a ground squirrel. Frogs and ducks call from ponds. Thousands of dragonflies, bees, and other insects travel among hundreds of kinds of wildflowers. Under the ground, gophers, snakes, and voles scurry through tunnels or curl up in dens.
From spring until fall, about a dozen species of prairie plants come into bloom each week. Any day is a fine time to explore a prairie.
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