Fields of dreams in beautiful southwest Wisconsin

Comments 13 Standard

Driving in and around the tri-state area is a feast for the eyes.  Although you won’t be ogling towering mountains here, the rolling hills filled with farmland and dairies offers a scenery only the heartland of Amerian can provide.  Sometimes you cruise along the county roads for miles without meeting another car – there is no traffic here.  Wisconsin’s picturesque dairy farms, pastures and rolling hills lured me to get out and snap some pictures.  Caution: multiple images of farmland ahead!

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Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland for good reason.  It’s home to 1,271,000 dairy cows, each one producing about 7 gallons of milk per per day and generating $21,000 per year in economic activity (Source: Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS), August 1, 2014).

Holstein Cows

Nice cow butts!

Holsteins, the cows with black and white markings, account for 90% of the dairy cattle population, for they produce more milk than other breeds.  Not surprisingly, Wisconsin’s #1 agricultural product is cheese, with milk production coming in #2.

Holstein Cows

Now THAT’S a nose ring!

The picturesque dairy farms are still 99% family-owned, many operated by descendants of the families who began raising dairy cows six generations ago.  There are about 10,200 licensed herds as of August, 2014 (Source: Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS), August 1, 2014).

Joe and Deb Brant Farms

Joe and Deb Brant Farms

Kunkel Dairy Farm

Kunkel Dairy Farm

Along with 11 other states, Wisconsin is in the “corn belt,” a region of the U.S. where corn is a predominant crop.  Much of it is grown for grain and silage as livestock feed.

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Some of these farmers have a sense of humor – this one allows dinosaurs to graze on his land…

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…and this one is friendly enough to allow aliens to camp out on his.  It doesn’t look like he provides water or power, though.

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After taking a long drive to enjoy the beautiful countryside, the sun made a welcome appearance.  It was finally nice enough out that we could start a campfire and wind down for the rest of the day.

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Steve “recuperating” after a tough day of driving his wife around Wisconsin dairy farms

 

Next up:  Nothing runs like a Deere!



 

 

 

 

Tri-states means triple the fun!

Comments 14 Standard
The Big M, Platteville, WI

wpid30207-2014-09-10-WI-1410232-.jpgOur slow southern migration continued to our next stop at Kieler, Wisconsin, which just happens to lie at the junction of three states – Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  We established our one-week home base at Rustic Barn Campground and RV Park (Steve’s review here).  The unsettled weather while here added some spice to our “activities planning”, but I used my “Daytripper Book of 101 Things To Do”, to choose the ones that piqued our curiosity and were within a reasonable driving distance.

Upon settling in, we wondered what the small building just across from Betsy was.  I went over to check it out and discovered it’s a very small chapel that seats 25 people, complete with stained glass windows and wooden pews.  Not something we see in campgrounds very often!  I learned that it’s not only a chapel available to campers, but is also used occasionally for weddings.

Rustic Barn Campground

An antiquated chapel right in front of Betsy

Each morning, with coffee in hand, we looked out over this dairy farm to watch the farmers and cows doing their thing:

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

When the cows were out grazing, Steve would walk down and have a chat with them.  He decided not to join them in eating grass though – it doesn’t go well with coffee.

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

Honey, can we have steak for dinner?

While passing through Platteville, Wisconsin, a big “M” on a hill caught my attention for an obvious reason – it’s my first initial!  It was visible from many miles away, probably because it’s supposedly the world’s largest “M”, a claim made by the city’s Chamber of Commerce that remains unchallenged.  The letter is etched into a one-mile long by half-mile wide mound that rises 450 ft. above its surroundings.  At 241 ft. high, 214 ft. wide and with 25 ft. wide legs, it definitely stands out.  In 1937, some engineering students built this letter to represent the miners of Platteville.  It continues to be maintained today, as folks occasionally whitewash the stones and light it on homecoming days.

Just 5 miles from our campground was a series of grottos and shrine structures covered in shells, stones, tile pieces, wood, glass, gems and geodes collected from all over the world. Father Mathius Wernerus, who created it between 1925 and 1930, dedicated it to the unity of God and country.

 

From afar this looked like an ordinary grotto, but upon closer inspection we realized the enormity of the project, as we saw the thousands of pieces that had been imbedded into the cement.  The creativity and tediousness of it is quite amazing, and we actually stopped by twice to take in the detail and workmanship.  You never know where you’ll find something so cool and unusual – worth a stop if you’re in the area.

 

Galena, Illinois

We crossed the state border into Illinois about 20 miles from our campground to visit Galena, Illinois.  The word galena is the technical term for sulphide of lead, which existed in considerable quantities in northwestern Illinois.  The city of Galena was born in 1826 and became very prosperous.  In fact, there was a time during the mid-1800’s when it was larger than Chicago.  It provided a core transportation hub (steamship, railroad and highways) and was a rich base for lead mining.  When the mining ceased, Galena’s glory days were over and the city was almost forgotten.  But the buildings left behind represent a large variety of architectural styles, and 85% of them are listed on the National Historical Registry.

Galena River

Galena River

Galena, IL

A levee was constructed after a flash flood in 2011

Main Street in downtown Galena has a large number of specialty shops and restaurants, plus a winery and brewery.  It was a great place to shop and have lunch – we went back twice.

Galena, IL

Main street, Galena, IL

Galena, IL

After the first day of looking around at the buildings and window shopping, all I ended up with was a bag of delicious sweet caramel popcorn.  Steve was happy to find his hard-to-get Wingtime Garlic Wing Sauce.  If you like to make your own buffalo wings, try to find this sauce!  Or if you meet us for a “happy hour” down the road, ask Steve to bring some wings – he’ll be happy to oblige!

History buffs may know that the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, lived in Galena after the Civil War.  He was so esteemed by the residents of Galena that he was given a mansion in which to live.  While in town on a rainy day, we took a guided tour of the mansion.  Ninety percent of the furnishings are original, left by the Grant family.  Several other buildings on the property displayed interesting exhibits, including one consisting of painted stones with all of the Presidents and First Ladies represented.  We also saw White House china from 14 administrations, and displays of the pets of every U.S. President.

We came back on a rare clear and sunny day to get the only real exercise we would enjoy during our stay.  We followed the Galena River Trail, clocking 7 miles on the flat terrain.

Galena River Trail

Galena River Trail, looking east

I stopped at the Buehler Preserve, a wet prairie that is preferred by some of the area’s colorful flowers:

Galena is located on the banks of the Galena River, which flows out to the Mississippi.  It’s a very picturesque place, due to all of its rolling hills and exposed rock.  Our short time there gave us only a glimpse of what it has to offer.

 

Dubuque, Iowa

wpid30262-2014-09-10-WI-1410239-.jpgAcross another border was Iowa, and Dubuque was only seven miles from our campground. The city is the “birthplace of Iowa”, and its oldest city.  It rests upon scenic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.  The Riverwalk along the Mississippi was our initial destination, and while strolling along we were able to admire the various river art sculptures on display for the summer. Downtown,  I was taken once again by the unique architecture of the historic buildings in the downtown area.

Town clock, Dubuque Iowa

Town clock in the middle of Main Street

This was the first time we had seen a water fountain just for doggies.   Cool!

Port of Dubuque, IA

Man’s best friend gets his own water fountain in this town!

We rode up the shortest, steepest cable car in the world, the Fenelon Place Elevator.  The original cable car was built in 1882 by banker J.K. Graves, who lived on top of the bluff and worked at the bottom.  Since the ride in his carriage took 30 minutes, he decided to decrease his commute time by laying tracks and having his gardener let the cable car down in the morning and pull it back up at noon for lunch.  After his meal and a nap, the gardener let him down again, then back up once more after work.  That gardener must have been in very good shape!  I’m sure he was thrilled when a motor was finally installed and he was able to go back to just gardening.

Fenelon Place Elebator

Fenelon Place Elevator on the bluff

Today’s cable cars are pretty nice, having replaced the previous ones destroyed by fire.

Fenelon Place Elevator Company

Elevator up!

The railway is 296 ft. long and elevates passengers 189 ft. from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.  At the top we enjoyed great views of the business district, Mississippi River and all three states.

Fenelon Place Elevator

Panoramic view from the top; straight across is Wisconsin, and over to the right is Illinois

Summer may be over, but this city keeps their Farmer’s Market going until October. We had fun walking through and buying some fresh veggies.

I realize this post is long, even though I tried to cram in just the highlights of our activities in the three states – not easy to do!

 

Next up:  Field of Dreams



 

 

 

If you’re into Cranes, read on! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Comments 27 Standard
Blue Crane

wpid29915-2014-09-07-WI-1560294-.jpgAnother cool thing about Baraboo, Wisconsin, is that it’s home to the International Crane Foundation (ICF), which definitely caught my interest.  Steve gladly dropped me off so I could enjoy some “alone time” with my feathered friends.

The cranes here aren’t in the wild – ICF is home to a captive population of cranes on their 225-acre campus in Baraboo, including the only complete collection of 15 recognized species in one place.  Yes, all 15 species of cranes in the Gruidae family are at this facility.  Be prepared for bird pictures (Steve’s yawning)!

International Crane Foundation

The grounds and viewing platforms at ICF

In 1973, two friends (Ron Sauey and George Archibald) who shared a passion for cranes founded the International Crane Foundation.  Their dream was to save the cranes of the world, and that vision has been the driving force behind ICF ever since.

Nature Trails at ICF

Nature trail at ICF

The ICF’s stated mission is to work worldwide to save cranes, and to conserve the ecosystems, watersheds and flyways on which they depend.  ICF is dedicated to providing experience, knowledge, and inspiration to involve people in resolving threats to these ecosystems.

Wattled Crane

Crane enclosures

I joined a tour, the best way to learn about the mission and goals of ICF.  Having an educated guide helped me to appreciate each species of bird, as he talked in length about the crane’s habitat, the path of their flyways and the current threats to their survival. These birds had their wings clipped, so they won’t be migrating anymore.  But they seemed to be happy here, and I was very happy to see so many of them in one place!

International Crane Foundation

Our tour guide told the conservatory story of Whooping Cranes

According to the conservation status designations assigned by ICF, the handsome fellows shown below are considered Endangered:

Blue Crane

Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa

Red Crowned Crane

Red Crowned Crane – Asia

The last recorded observation of Siberian Cranes from the central Asian flock was in 2002. Along with Whooping Cranes, the Siberian birds receive considerable conservation efforts as they are primarily threatened by hunting and risk from loss of wetland habitat.  They are classified as critically endangered, which means the species is facing an extremely high risk of complete extinction in the wild.

Siberian Crane

Siberian Crane

Wattled Crane

Wattled Cranes stand up to six feet tall and can weigh fourteen pounds!

Black crowned crane

The Black Crowned Crane occupies an important place as a “messenger of peace” in the cultural life of the Turkana (Kenyan) people

ICF also classifies the following  as Vulnerable:

Sarus Crane chick

This Sarus Crane chick named Curry was hatched at the facility on Aug 18, 2014

Black-necked Crane

Black-necked Cranes, the “alpine crane”, were the most recently discovered species

Grey crowned crane

Grey Crowned Cranes are non-migratory, and their range stretches from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya, to southeastern South Africa.  Is this guy gorgeous or what?

Hooded Crane

A Hooded Crane chick named Wasabi was hatched on June 6, 2014

White-naped Crane

White-naped Cranes breed in northeastern Mongolia, northeastern China, and adjacent areas of southeastern Russia

And these beauties are still abundant in the wild that they are designated as Least Concern:

Demoiselle Crane

Demoiselle Cranes are the smallest and second most abundant species

Eurasian Cranes

Eurasian Cranes live in over 80 countries!

Brolga

The Brolga Crane occurs throughout northern and eastern Australia, and in limited areas of New Guinea

I learned from the tour guide that the total number of cranes in the facility varies from season to season, but they normally have between 100-120 birds.  They usually have about 30 on display – always in male and female pairs.  Another area of the facility, consisting of 65 pens, is called “Crane City”.  It’s off-limits to the public, since this is where cranes breed and they are sensitive to disturbances from people.

For those who are counting, you may have noticed that I didn’t include Sandhill Cranes in this story. There were a couple here, but I’ve already hung out with thousands of them as they wintered in Arizona – and wrote a story about them here.  They remain listed as Least Concern.

But the stars at the ICF are the endangered Whooping Cranes –

The Whooping Crane’s recovery is one of conservation’s most inspiring success stories. From the tour I learned that only about 600 Whooping Cranes exist in the world today. Their historic decline to near extinction, and gradual but fragile recovery, is among conservation’s best known success stories.  Since 1973, the ICF and their partners have made great strides in protecting and re-introducing these birds, but the job is far from completed.

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes are the rarest of the world’s crane species

Whooping Crane

The Whooping Crane is the tallest flying bird in North America

In the 1980’s, ICF researchers began experimenting with “costume-rearing” of cranes.  This involves workers wearing full-length crane costumes to hide the human form, and using crane hand puppets to feed and interact with the chicks.  No talking is allowed, either.  OK, I know what I’m going to wear to my next Halloween party!

 

Whooping Crane

Costume-rearing of Whooping Crane chicks

Costume rearing

Our guide describing how the Crane costume is used.

Ultra Light Migration

Photo credit to International Crane Foundation

ICF and its partners return Whooping Cranes to the wild through Direct Autumn Release, ultralight-led migration, and other other re-introduction methods. Since 2001, ultralight aircraft pilots have acted as surrogate parents to guide captive-hatched and imprinted Whooping Cranes along a planned migration route – beginning in Wisconsin and ending in Florida’s Chassahowitzka and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuges.  Amazing!

Whooping Cranes migrate over 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in western Canada to their winter digs on coastal wetlands near and within the boundaries of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Texas.  We’re going to spend part of this coming winter there, so I’m excited to see these birds in the wild in a few months!

I thoroughly enjoyed my day as I was educated about the beautiful cranes.  So, if you’re in the area and are interested in cranes, or in the ICF, the $9.50 fee is well worth it!

For more information about the International Crane Foundation, click here.

For more information about conservation efforts for the Whooping Cranes, click here.

To check out ultralight-led migrations, click here.

 

 

Next up:  Tri-states means triple fun!



 

What a cool place! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Comments 17 Standard
Elephant Rock

My good friend Lyndon Veloso was persuasive when he suggested we stay at Devil’s Lake State Park near his home in Baraboo, Wisconsin during our next stop.  Baraboo wasn’t originally a planned destination, but it was within our driving “range” and we decided to check it out.  We’re very glad we did!

Fun with a friend –

Being the gracious host that he is, Lyndon gave us a full-day “tour du jour” of his city and the surrounding area the day after we arrived.  We savored some of the good eats and drinks that Wisconsin is known for.

On that day, we viewed some cheesemaking and tasted cheese curds (yum!) at the Carr Cheese Factory.  We also sipped (and bought) some good wines at Wollersheim Winery, and tried a flight of brewskies at the Ale Asylum Brewing Company.  Finally, we drove through the fascinating Wisconsin Dells area.  We decided to pass on visiting the Circus World Museum, which is a local landmark and was home to the Ringling Brother’s circus for many years prior to 1918.

Devil’s Lake State Park –

We almost cancelled our stay at Devil’s Lake State Park after discovering potentially damaging low branches on the access road to our assigned site in their Northern Lights campground.  Fortunately, they were able to put us in their Quartzite campground section, which had better-trimmed trees and some level sites.  Would it kill these people to trim the trees now and then?  Lordy, what are we paying for!

Steve was glad I had suggested driving through the park in the car first to look around – it would have been very unpleasant if we had tried to take Betsy straight in.  We always unhook the car at a park’s entrance if we can, but we’ve learned it’s also a good idea to drive through with the car before committing the rig – especially if there are a lot of trees.

Anyway, we finally settled into our “electric only” site (Steve’s review here) with a full tank of fresh water.  We were happy to be here after Labor Day weekend – we had the whole campground practically to ourselves!

Devils Lake State Park

Betsy was happy at site #55E in the Quartzite campground

Oh my goodness, the hiking! –

The centerpiece of Devil’s Lake State Park is…drum roll…Devil’s Lake!  The lake and the Baraboo Hills are unique to the midwest.  Like many of the famous natural features of Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake and the surrounding area are the result of glacial activity.  The bowl shape we saw was cut into the bluffs by ancient rivers and sealed up by glaciers over 10,000 years ago.  Geologists theorize that the glaciers’ halt left two large terminal moraines along the north and south ends of the park, trapping the lake in between.  The result is a beautiful 360-acre spring-fed body of water.

Devils Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake, viewed from East Bluff trail.  West Bluff trail is on that hill straight across

Devils Lake is an endoheic lake, meaning it has no natural outlet.  Its elevation is about 130 feet higher than the Baraboo River.

Devils Lake State Park

The lake viewed from Tumbling Rocks trail.  The park is beyond that north shore tree line

The rocks – mostly Baraboo quartzite – are among the oldest exposed rocks in North America, at approximately 1.8 billion years old.  They consist of compacted sandstone, the hardest rock known.  The view from almost anywhere around the lake is breathtaking, especially when standing on top of the bluffs and looking down at the water and the tumbled rocks around it.

East Bluff loose rocks

The scattered fallen rocks can be seen from all of the surrounding bluffs

During our hikes, we noticed the tumbled rocks/boulders all over the east, west and south bluffs.  We initially thought they were old quarries, but then found out they are all natural. They had cracked, shattered and tumbled during eons of high winds, moisture and sub-zero temperatures.

Tumbled Rock Trail

Looking up at the lichen-covered tumbled rocks

Those boulder fields, called scree or talus, looked like they had been blown up with dynamite.  And although the process continues, we didn’t experience any rocks falling down – even though a few were sitting on precipices, looking like they could take a tumble any minute.  Our hike to the Balanced Rock formation was a steep and uneven stone staircase.  It ascended the quartzite talus slope from the picnic area at the south shore.

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Look out below!  Yeah, like that’s going to happen…

Tumble Rocks Trail

More lichen-covered tumbled rocks along the lakeshore

With the summer crowds gone, we enjoyed having the popular hiking trails around the lake to ourselves.  The park has over 29 miles of trails, and with easy access from our campsite we were high in energy for some outdoor fun just about every day.  With tumbled rocks all around the lake, some trails consisted of small paved paths through the talus slopes.  Many sections required heart-thumping climbs along the 500-foot quartzite cliffs.  Other areas were just a relaxing meander through the oak woodlands.

Tumbled Rocks Trail

Which was there first, the boulder or the tree?

Balanced Rock Trail

Look up – Steve is somewhere amongst those gorgeous purple rocks!

Balanced Rock Trail

View of the terminal moraine, looking south

Baraboo quartzite rock is typically dark purple to maroon in color, due to the presence of iron (hematite) and other impurities.

Baraboo Quartzite

Huge lavender and purplish boulders

The narrow white lines seen on the rocks below represent deposits of sand that formed as bars or ridges.  The sand eventually formed sandstone, which was then compacted to become quartzite.

Baraboo Quartzite

Lichens growing on  the quartzite

Devils Lake State Park

Rock climbing is popular here as well

Elephant Rock

We saw this “elephant” resting along the East Bluff trail

West Bluff Trail

View from West Bluff, looking out at the south shore picnic area

Devils Lake

Empty beach on the north shore, with West Bluff in the background

Checking out a glen –

Also within the park’s boundaries is Wisconsin’s first designated natural area.  Called Parfrey’s Glen, it was designated in 1952.  But we wondered, what exactly is a glen? According to Wikipedia, a glen is a valley, typically one that is long, deep, and often glacially U-shaped, or one with a watercourse running through it.  Wow, are we glad we found this glen!

Parfreys' Glen

We learned from the park’s brochure that Parfrey’s Glen reaches a depth of nearly 100 feet, and it embraces a mountain-type stream flowing over its floor.  Its walls are sandstone, embedded with pebbles and boulders of quartzite.  This quartzite is conglomerate, sometimes called a “plum pudding” stone.  The sandstone layers conceal sandy beaches from ancient times.

Parfreys Glen

Steve immediately put this hike on his “all-time top 10 favorites” list!

It wasn’t just quartzite that captured my fascination on our many hikes, but also the late-summer blooming wildflowers.  I easily spotted some fiery red berries, as they gleamed amongst the green leaves.  And to my delight, many pink flowers thrived all along the trail!

This little guy was one of the smaller tree squirrels playing hide-and-seek with me until I finally got a good shot – my first red squirrel capture!

American Red Squirrel

American Red Squirrel

Oh, and look – a few more mushrooms 🙂

We’re so glad we stopped at Devil’s Lake State Park to experience the Baraboo Hills, designated as one of the “Last Great Places” by the Nature Conservancy for its rare rocks, plants and animals.  And many thanks to Lyndon for suggesting this stop and giving us the wonderful tour.  What a cool place it is!

Devils Lake State Park

Happy campers on one of Baraboo Lake’s bluffs

 

Next up:  Oh my, the Cranes!



 

A quick stop for hubby at Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Comments 13 Standard
Bugatti Racing Plane

[This is Steve’s post about his experience at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Airventure Museum, which he visited during a quick stop at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  I took a pass on this one – you know, some alone time!].

Wittman Regional Airport.

Final approach to what is reportedly the world’s busiest airport during the annual Airventure fly-in at Oshkosh, WI

While planning our drive from Egg Harbor in Door County to Baraboo, Wisconsin, I noticed that it was a bit more than 200 miles – just about my limit for a driving day with Betsy. When I looked to see what was mid-way between the two cities, I was happy to discover that it was Oshkosh, home of the annual EAA Airventure gathering at Wittman Regional Airport.  I decided right then to make a stop there.

Although I was really hoping to finally attend the Airventure show earlier this summer, we already had plans with friends that just wouldn’t permit it.  So, even though the show was long over, I thought it might still be worth spending a night to check out the airport and nearby EAA museum.  I’m glad I did!

EAA Airventure

After visiting at least a half-dozen air museums and exhibits during our travels so far, I felt comfortable rating this one.  I enjoyed the medium-sized museum that displayed many aircraft from the beginning of flight until the present.  But what made it unique was the area that detailed the Scaled Composites Voyager display, which flew the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world by an airplane in 1986.  It took 9 days for the aircraft to fly 26,366 miles, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager.

Scaled Composites Voyager

Several Rutan-developed aircraft replicas were on display here

There was also a display and movie that showed how Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne flew into space as the first privately-funded space vehicle in 2004, winning the $10 million dollar Ansari X prize.  The company continues as a leader in field of private space travel, and is scheduled to provide rides into space for civilians in the near future.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to pony up the required $200,000 per person to take that flight anytime soon!

SpaceShipOne

This full-size replica of SpaceShipOne, designed by Burt Rutan, hangs over the Rutan display

There were several other displays of original and replica aircraft that I found interesting.  I’ve always been a fan of Charles Lindbergh and others who had none of the sophisticated navigational aids that I did while flying.  It must have been pretty scary making those long and lonely historic flights!

mock-up of Paris, France

This impressive mock-up of Paris shows what Charles Lindbergh may have seen during his historic approach to the city

Although the name Bugatti is synonymous with race cars, the only example of a Bugatti racing plane resides here.  It has twin engines driving 2 counter-rotating propellers, an awesome example of unique engineering!

Bugatti racing plane

Bugatti racing plane

Even though we spent only one night in Oshkosh, we arrived early and I made good use of my day by visiting the museum and then taking my lovely wife to a Filipino restaurant recommended by our friend Lyndon.  Why drive 200 miles in a day when I can drive only 100 and have so much fun?

-Steve

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We had an excellent Filipino dinner at this place in Oshkosh

 

Next up:  Who knew how excellent hiking could be in Wisconsin?



 

Gnats, Range Lights and Mushrooms – Door County, WI

Comments 32 Standard

My “editor-in-chief” (Steve) was not very enthusiastic when he learned this post is mostly about mushrooms.  He pointed out that I had initially overlooked some interesting things we did other than viewing mushrooms.  Well, I have included a couple of experiences we had during our stay in Door County, but I must admit to being so enthralled by the abundance of fungi I found along the hiking trails that I got a bit carried away.  So, here we go with my story about the gnats, range lights and mushrooms.

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Not sure what it means, but it’s pretty!

One day we discovered the hard way that vinegar attracts Gnats.  Steve had our dinner cooking in the crockpot, and among the ingredients that permeated our house all day was vinegar.  It was such a beautiful day that we left lots of windows and the main door open.

Bad idea!  We suddenly noticed swarms of gnats coming into the house, right through the screens!  We killed a lot of them, but then decided to go online to see if we could buy or make some kind of a trap.  What do you know, one of the traps actually uses vinegar to attract them!  We ended up filling a jar halfway with Apple Cider Vinegar, covering it with plastic wrap and poking several small holes through the wrap.  The vinegar lures them through the holes but they can’t get back out.  It worked pretty well!

How to kill Gnats

Our high-tech gnat trap

So, what are range lights?  We didn’t know until our trip to Bailey’s Harbor took us right to the Bailey’s Harbor Range Lights, a pair of lighthouses arranged in a “range light configuration”.  When mariners approach the harbor they simply line up the two lights one in front of the other, which keeps them safely in deeper water so they won’t run aground. Built in 1869 at a cost of $6,000, these were part of a six-light system that were built on the Great Lakes at the time.  Today, the buildings in Bailey’s Harbor (upper and lower lights) are the only ones of their style and class still standing in their original locations.  They were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Baileys Harbor Range Light

The lower range light is the building in front, with the upper range light 950 feet inland.  The newer navigation aid in the foreground replaces their functionality.

What makes this configuration unique is best explained below:

Baileys Harbor Range Light

Gallery of mushrooms and fungi

And now about the mushrooms!  I usually see one or two mushrooms on our hiking trails, and the most I’ve ever seen before this stop were at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where I saw four types.  But along the trails we followed at Door County I saw many kinds and colors of mushrooms, so I started paying more attention to them.  This was one of those hikes that frustrated Steve, as I like to stop and take pictures while he wants to keep moving along.  So, if you’re like my honeybunch and couldn’t care less about mushrooms you can just skip the next section. And oh, I am unable to id them all!

I found these mushrooms along the walking trails at White Cliff Fen and Forest Preserve at Egg Harbor, Newport State Park at Ellison Bay and Whitefish Dunes State Park at Jacksonport.  Taking pictures of mushrooms can be quite challenging, even though they don’t move around or fly away like birds do.  I had to get down on my knees and level my camera on the ground, or crawl around on dead trees and leaves to get up close and personal.  And because these mushrooms thrive on dead trees and the forest floor I had to learn how to work with less light than usual.

All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms.  For those fungi that produce them, the mushroom plays a similar role to a flower or a fruit in other plants.

Mushrooms are categorized as fungi because unlike plants that require sunlight to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food, mushrooms lack chlorophyll.  But they do require a substrate and other specific conditions in order to grow.  I saw them growing on soil, leaf litter and on dead and decaying wood.

Of course, all fungi must obtain energy and nutrients from the environment.  Mushroom-producing fungi do this by extracting nutrients from soil, decaying plant material or by exchanging nutrients when in association with other living plants.

Lastly, as we all know some wild mushrooms are edible and some are deadly.  I don’t know which ones are which, so I just take pictures of them and leave ’em alone!

wpid29647-2014-09-02-WI-1400448-.jpg

 

I have to admit I got a bit carried away, but there you are – the mushrooms of Door County. There were so many that I hiked one of the trails several times to capture them all!

Here is a more in-depth and scientific discussion about mushrooms, if you happen to be interested.

 

Next up:  Our southern migration is underway



 

Off the beaten path – Door County, Wisconsin has it all!

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Door County

While driving out of Michigan and heading into Wisconsin, we realized that we were leaving the eastern time zone for the last time, and that we’ve been through all six of North America’s time zones (Alaskan, Pacific, Mountain, Central, Eastern and Atlantic) during our travels.  We’ve stayed at places where crossing timezones was a daily occurrence, and we’ve had to learn that booking a campground or a flight can be complicated by the fact that we could be an hour early or an hour late if we’re not careful.  Oh well, we’ll be living in the Central timezone now for the next year or so – just when I was learning how to set all of the clocks!

Anyway, getting to our story…

When we mentioned to Rob and Rox (we met them via RVillage in April) that Door County, Wisconsin was on our itinerary, they were enthusiastic – being former residents of Wisconsin.  Their list of must-do activities made it easy for us to explore the area, thank you guys! Fast forward to now, we arrived at Door County during the last days of summer and the Labor Day weekend.  While it was quite busy, we felt the villages weren’t overrun by tourists and there was plenty of room on the outskirts to breathe and roam around.

Door County

Door County is the largest county in Wisconsin by total area, and it’s known as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”.  A sliver of land jutting into Lake Michigan, it’s framed by 300 miles of scenic shoreline along Green Bay to the west and Lake Michigan to the east.  Along the two main highways – Highway 42 on the Green Bay side and Highway 57 on the Lake Michigan side – are several quaint villages.  These are small midwestern towns full of all kinds of stuff that entice folks to stop, linger and shop.

Fish Creek, WI

The name Door County was derived from Death’s Door, the water passage that lies off the tip of the peninsula where the waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay converge.  Death’s Door is the English translation of Porte Des Morts, the name given by early French explorers to this treacherous water passage, based on Native American stories they had heard – and their own perilous experiences.

Door County

You want the tourists to learn about your area? Put it on a beer glass!

So what did we do during our one-week stay?  A lot!

Since we’re not “arts and galleries” types, we stayed away from the hundreds of art galleries and shops.  Door County has been Wisconsin’s “Cherryland” for more than 100 years, but we arrived well after cherry season and missed those events.  But there were plenty of things to do and natural wonders to see for us active folks.

Green Bay,WI

Overlooking Green Bay from Eagles Bluff

We ventured off the main drag and engaged in what locals refer to as  “silent sports,” – biking and hiking.  This was the first time I had heard the term, which also refers to kayaking, skiing, kiteboarding and diving.  We were glad that engaging in the silent sports often involves scenic drives through various sections of the beautiful peninsula to get to your destination.

Peninsula State Park, WI

I’ll relate our activities to how the county is divided into four sections: Bayside, Door County North, Lakeside and Southern Door.  The villages in each section have unique environments and offerings that we checked out.  Leaving the main routes took us to 3 of the 5 state parks, 4 of the 19 county parks and a Land Trust property – where I found many wild mushrooms.  We also visited 2 of the area’s 11 historic lighthouses.  So, despite the overcast skies we were pretty active on this stop and filled our days with plenty of outdoor fun.  We also managed to squeeze in the essential beer, wine and cheese tastings, plus a Fish Boil – a Door County food tradition.

The Bayside

Along the azure waters of Green Bay are the villages of Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay and Egg Harbor (our home base).  These villages line the west coast of the peninsula and have been referred to as “a boater’s paradise”.  The vibrant villages are where most visitors congregate, and they were indeed crowded over the Labor Day weekend.  We were glad that we selected Egg Harbor as our spot – it just had the feel of a cool and quaint little village with plenty of excellent restaurants and good access to a marina where we could enjoy wonderful sunsets.

Sister Bay, WI

Sister Bay

Al Johnson's Restaurant, Sister Bay, WI

Excuse me, there’s a goat on your roof!  This Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay featured a full-blown lawn on the roof with several goats grazing on it – not something you see every day!

Egg Harbor, WI

Entrance to the marina at Egg Harbor

Ephraim, WI

Ephraim

Fish Creek Marina

Fish Creek, also a cool village but a bit busier

For our first silent sport, biking, we tackled 10 miles of hilly trails within Peninsula State Park.  Located between Fish Creek and Ephraim, it’s a huge park with many walking and biking trails.  We biked several of them with steep ascents and descents through white cedar and hardwood forests that gave us a great workout.  It also passed through some meadows and bluffs, culminating with breathtaking views of the shoreline and its beautiful shell-filled beaches.

We were happy to attend a Door County tradition in Fish Creek – a fish boil!  Watching the preparation of the meal is the main event, followed by sitting down and enjoying the delicious feast of fresh whitefish and boiled potatoes.

The potatoes, onions and whitefish (fresh from Lake Michigan) are cooked in a huge kettle over a wood fire.  At the end of the cooking process, the “boilmaster” throws kerosene on the fire to super-heat the water and boil off excess oil from the fish.  The resulting “flame-up” creates a spectacular fire that is the climax of the show.  The fish and potatoes are then served with melted butter and cole slaw, followed by cherry pie – the traditional dessert here.  Yum!

Door County North

By virtue of their remoteness, the villages of Ellison Bay, Gills Rock and Northport have a lesser concentration of people.  I visited two parks here, a State Natural Area called Ellison Bluffs, and Door Bluff Headlands and the Newport State Park.  This side of the peninsula offers more closeness with nature and features a densely wooded two-tiered rock terrace – part of the larger Niagara Escarpment rock formation that winds though the site – providing spectacular views from the bluff tops.  Door Bluff Headlands  is unique in its formation and history, and the 155-acre park has been preserved in its natural state.  Walking down to the water was hazardous, as it sloped down severely.  There is no developed trail, and I saw these amazing trees growing out at odd angles but still thriving amongst the rocks:

Door Bluffs Headlands

Door Bluffs Headlands

Door Bluffs Headlands

Door Bluffs Headlands at the water’s edge

Ellison Bluff

Ellison Bluff overlook

Newport State Park is located in Ellison Bay.  Just like the two county parks, the 2,373 acres were developed to a wilderness requirement that only one mile of vehicle road can exist within the park.  Exploring for only an hour ($5 charge), I followed  the Upland Trail – where I encountered some interesting mushrooms (more on that in my next post).

Green Frog

I caught a glimpse of the this green frog in the grass

The Lakeside

The villages sitting on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula – Baileys Harbor and Jacksonport – are pretty laid-back.  They are referred to by locals as “the quiet side” of the peninsula.

Bailey's Harbor

The beach at Bailey’s Harbor

Jacksonport is home to the 867-acre Whitefish Dunes State Park and Cave County Park – the only county park within a state park.  Whitefish Dunes is home to the highest sand dunes in the state of Wisconsin.  We also visited the Bailey’s Harbor Ridges Park along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Spending several hours walking the trails of these parks on a windy day, we enjoyed the quiet with few other people around.  At Whitefish Dunes we noticed the beach was narrow, but pretty with lots of grass and sedge.

Whitefish Dune State Park

Grass and Sedges along the beach

American Frog

Another frog, look how he blends in!

Cave Point County Park is a beautiful and geologically interesting forested park with a shoreline boasting several caves and outcroppings.  The coastline has many cliffs with waves crashing into them, forming sea caves under the bluff line which rise 30 to 50 feet above the shoreline.  We walked along the cliffs and enjoyed the relentless waves slamming into the rocks below.

Cave Point County Park

Dolomite rock formations

Cave Point County Park

Wave-worn dolomite/limestone ledges

Baileys Harbor Ridges

Life’s good at Bailey’s Harbor Ridges County Park

The Southern Door

The villages of Sturgeon Bay and Carlsville are along the gateway to the peninsula.  We passed through here on our way to our campground at Egg Harbor (Steve’s review here). Sturgeon Bay is the county seat, but it’s a large town and we decided not go back there to hang out.  Wine tasting was our activity at Carlsville, and on our way there we noted its bucolic fields along highway 42:

Carsville, Door County

We’re talking good old Wisconsin farmland here, folks!

Carsville, Door County

“Udderly” awesome green countryside

Door Peninsula Winery

Have you noticed Steve’s always smiling when he leaves a winery?

Carlsville, Door County

While it’s true Door County is a tourist destination, we never felt overwhelmed by the crowds.  The villages were very accessible, and driving around the county took us through pastoral countryside and simple historical places that delighted us.  Our week-long, high-calorie stay was enjoyable, and being able to work off those calories using the excellent walking and biking trails made it the perfect place to spend our Labor Day weekend.  We love this place!

 

Next up:  The wild mushrooms of Door County – and more!