November–December 2023

Photo Essay

The Sanctuary Next Door

The vast Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area is a visual feast—and a mental break—for this photographer.

Gary Alan Nelson (text and photographs)

Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, about 30 miles north of the Twin Cities, encompasses over 24,000 acres of public land containing forests, grasslands, wetlands, and small lakes. For the past several years I have explored this wild area to photograph it as well as enjoy the sounds and sights of nature.

This ecologically diverse environment is a 10-minute drive from my home. It’s close enough to visit without a lot of foresight or planning, and I can easily get there at a moment’s notice. If I see an interesting weather-related photo opportunity, be it hoarfrost, an approaching thunderstorm, or early morning fog, I can usually make it to Carlos Avery in time to capture the phenomenon before it fades away. Sometimes I simply wander into the area for a brief intermission from, as Edward Abbey called it, “the caterwauling of commerce.” 

The four-season photo essay that follows didn’t begin as a project, but as the years have passed it seems to have turned into one. With any luck I’ll continue adding to the collection.