What a cool place! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

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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.


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!


Gnats, Range Lights and Mushrooms – Door County, WI

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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.


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!



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