Sunday, June 30, 2019

Tale of Three Rivers - An Ice Age Trail road walk with historic and personal links

Colorado or Bust, Days 13 and 14 found me traversing the Lower Narrows of the Baraboo River, a steep-walled gap cut in the hills eons ago (first photo above), the Pine Island State Wildlife Area, along the sprawling Wisconsin River (second photo) and finally the historic Portage Canal, third photo, which connects the Wisconsin River as it flows to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico with the Fox River, which flows into Lake Michigan and on to the Atlantic.

This report doesn't have many more photos.  It's more about the deep history and some unexpected personal history.  To go with the three rivers, I discuss three bits of history.

First the Lower Narrows.  According to this interpretive sign,

the Narrows were cut 500 million years ago through 1.5 billion year old rock.  Devil's Lake is mentioned as another cut through that ancient rock of the Baraboo Range.  I get up close and personal with its steep cut rock faces in my next report.

Second, in much more recent history, the First Peoples of America maintained a trail between the Wisconsin River and the Fox River as a major commerce route well before the Europeans arrived.  Europeans established Fort Winnebago there to secure the area because of its economic importance, then set about to eliminate the portage (carrying one's boat overland) between the rivers by digging the canal.  The town of Portage is built around this historically important pre-industrial thorofare.

Finally, as the third historic note, in the Early 20th Century, famous pioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold bought land in the area of Pine Island and began practicing and refining his revolutionary conservation principles, known as the 'Land Ethic.'

As I hiked through the area, I found the Leopold Center to be a convenient rest stop.

I had not known it was there, and knew nothing of its significance.  The Aldo Leopold foundation was established in 1982.  They built this building from wood locally harvested off his former property.  It is set near 'the shack' where Leopold and his family often came to work on restoring the land and to just relax and vacation; and it is located near the spot where Leopold tragically died in April 1948 fighting a wildfire.

I visited the 'green building' that houses the Leopold Center, and mentioned to the friendly staff that I was a distant relative of Leopold through the marriage of a second cousin of mine to Leopold's grand-daughter Wendy Leopold.

Amazingly, the staff produced a Leopold Family Tree, made a copy for me, and shared my excitement as I showed them where I fit in that tree.

The visit has renewed my appreciation for the great man, who studied Forestry in college then went on to realize the true value of the Forest, not merely as a resource to be plundered but as a sustaining, nurturing cradle for wildlife - a place to be respected and husbanded.

Here are the GPS Tracks for these two days.

In the next report, I'm hiking real trail again, in fact it is by consensus the signature bit of trail of all the 1200 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic trail.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Forty Five miles of Road walk, five miles of trail

"O give me a home where the Buffalo roam" … unfortunately hiking trails and open productive prairie don't mix.  Trails and natural areas these days are most often reserved for land that farmers and developers didn't have much use for.

Colorado or Bust, Days 9 through 12

It was four days on the road, with three miles of trail around a little lake at John Muir Memorial County Park and a couple more miles of trail along Chaffee Creek where the noise of I-90 dominated the first mile.

I-90 underpass that the Ice Age trail uses, shared with the segment's namesake, Chaffee Creek
Nicer part of the Chaffee Creek Segment - bench with a view of … a trail marker
Ennis Lake, the central feature of John Muir Memorial County Park, view from the trail looking north at the south end of the lake

This area is not an ideal setting for a foot traveler.  It is the most trail-poor section of the Ice Age Trail; but the routing has a purpose. It sets the hiker up for the best stuff along the trail, at Devil's Lake State Park.  Watch for that report soon.

But today's report is about open country, Amish farm country.

I came upon a typical Amish family fishing at French Creek Dam, and there were a whole gang of Amish men fishing at the fishing pier at John Muir County Park. Took no photos except of their buggies parked at the parking area.

Amish people resent being photographed. Its based on their belief in the second of the Ten Commandments, which bans all 'graven images.' They have a point. By making an inanimate image of a person, thing, or even an idea (writing something down) you are idolizing them, and idolatry leads to error in thinking and behavior (sin) - separation from what's right and real and true.  One must stay intent on worshiping the "Living God".

What the Amish, and almost everybody else seem unable or unwilling to accept is that the Bible itself is a graven image, as is the original stone tablet containing the Ten Commandments themselves. This is one of the great beautiful Paradoxes that lie at the heart of what makes our reality such an interesting place. The word of [God], the nature of reality, is a living thing, not subject to being frozen in time, just as the Amish 'Ordnung' is - their always unwritten code of rules and ethics for proper living. It changes with the flow of events. It lives and breathes.

The advent of the written word marked the onset of the downfall of human culture. As soon as a person sets down footprints, they begin to fade. Their trail is lost unless others follow, and personally sustain it. Each traveler's footprints are their own, unique, personal, and not reproducible. Its such an obvious truth, and yet our tech-dependent culture is wholly dependent on denying this principle. This is a subject very close to my heart and at the core of my belief system. And so I'm taking the liberty of imposing it on you in this paradoxical written form. Better to talk to me about it some time.

Anyhow ... back to the subject at hand. Road walking is not all bad. In Fox Creek Preserve I met a most interesting fellow road walker.

Neighbors along the roads often feel inspired to entertain passers-by.

If you're going to have to pass people's private property, this is the kind I prefer.

The road I chose went across Buffalo Lake on a long causeway.  It's one of those lakes that is miles long and just a few feet deep.  They have a big problem with aquatic vegetation (clogging boat propellers), though the geese would not agree that it's a problem at all.

So here are the GPS Tracks for these four days on the road.

So now, with luck, it's on to 'greener pastures.'

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Prairie Views and Deer Fields - Mid-Point of the Ice Age Trail

Colorado or Bust, Days 7 and 8:

In just about the middle of Wisconsin, just about the middle of the United States, and just about the middle of the sprawling Fifty Trail that I'm still in the process of establishing (haven't published an exact route through Wisconsin and eastward), I have come upon the exact middle of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

It's dead smack in the middle of lots of open prairie, just a few miles from the most wide-open mile of hiking I've encountered yet.

No trees, no shrubby bushes or brambles, just grass and wild flowers.  Practically the whole mile is visible in that shot above - it's the ribbon of slightly more colorful grass that rambles off to the left and then again to the right as it approaches the distant tree line.

This was part of the Mecan River segment, which also featured some nice riverside walking.

Mecan Springs was on the trail menu here too.  Its the headwaters of the river, in what's called a Glacial Tunnel valley.  But the trail just skirted the steep rim of that valley, never immersing the hiker in the wonder of this unusual setting.  Barely a glimpse of the headwater lakes, because the valley walls were wooded, and no views of any actual springs.  Pretty disappointing compared to what some creative trail building might have provided.

Farther north, in the "Deerfield Segment" I saw … well … just what you'd expect.

Sometimes, just rarely, the names of places actually make sense.

Wild flowers and prairie meadows were the most common sights.

They don't always make for the most photogenic subjects, unless they are as stark as the headline photo, where the hay had just been harvested and somehow that lone stalk of Queen Anne's Lace 'fell through the cracks'.  So instead of broad vistas, I focused on the little things, like fairy rings in clover.

Or Lichens on an old weathered bench, on tree bark, and on glacier erratic rock.

Or these ridiculously red sprouts of an oak, of the species known as 'red oak'.

Hmmm.  Maybe names make sense more often than I give them credit for.  But this was an extreme - brighter than most flowers.

Anyhow, one feature of the hike that didn't fit the pattern was a wade through Bohn Lake.

Water levels had covered what was apparently normally dry trail.

The water got even deeper than the photo.  Thigh deep.  Couldn't take that photo.  Modesty, you know.  After all, it was just a couple days past 'Hike Naked Day'.  Nice summer-mild water.  It was a refreshing change from prairie meadows in the bright sun.

Here are the GPS Tracks of these two hiking days.

The majority was on real trail, with just a few short road walks.  Not so in the upcoming report.  Next I had to negotiate 30 miles of continuous road walking, a short segment of trail, just three miles, then 12.5 more miles on the road.

Prairie makes for good private farm land, and not for good public preserves.  Ahh, well.  I better get used to it.  I've got a thousand more miles of it on this trek to Colorado.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

What's blooming in central Wisconsin?

Ditch art.  This wild grape vine and a budding Queen Anne's Lace make an unexpectedly pleasing pair.

Colorado or Bust, Day 6:

Spring is turning into summer, and here in the heart of Wisconsin that means a profusion of wild flowers.  Today I had a 'boring' 14.2 mile road walk to accomplish.  The land is pretty flat, the weather was benign, and I wasn't passing any landmarks of note, so I had to entertain myself in other ways.  I decided to 'smell the roses' - to concentrate on documenting all the little splashes of color that lined the shoulder and banks beside the road.  Here's what I came up with.

First of all, have you ever really taken a good look at a common, ordinary dandelion flower.  In 70+ years I apparently never had.  The detail - all the little squiggly pistils - came as a complete, delightful surprise.

Plain old pink clover, when viewed from a different perspective, can also present an interesting picture.

A lot of the other flowers I can't identify, but that takes little away from my appreciation.

Here's my favorite individual portrait.  I have no clue about the function of the hollow bulb, but it seems an important part of this flower:

Here's a gallery of several more across the color palate:

Can you count the ants?  They seem to love this common tall blooming weed.  Maybe they're brushing up on their fractal geometry?

This old variety of iris grows 'wild' along the road, though, like the tawny European daylily, which grows here but is a month from blooming, was probably originally a garden plant brought by immigrants.

More bugs.  Bugs like flowers.  (Flowers like bugs.)

Here a fungus makes a showy statement as it infects leaves of a common blackberry

It had much the same color as this collection of common meadow flower

Red and orange are unusual colors here this time of year, but one distinctive exception is the eastern columbine:

Of course the Monarch Butterfly fits in this color class too, and there are plenty of them around now, even though the milkweed isn't yet blooming--the flower buds are just beginning to peek out the top of the plant.  But since we're on the subject of Butterfly color, here's one that it took me all day to capture.  This type doesn't often sit still for long.

The GPS Track for the day shows the setting for this small adventure.

The lesson for the day:  Joy is everywhere.  You just have to open your eyes and your heart.