Sunday, October 5, 2014

Exploring Wisconsin's Hidden Gems


Aldo Leopold.  A 40 foot deep gorge.  Prickly Pear cactus and desert.  Just a few of the hidden gems I recently explored in Wisconsin.

Finding places I haven't explored before in Wisconsin is always an exciting adventure.  When my brother decided to pay a visit for the first weekend of Autumn, we decided (as we always do) to go out for a hike and explore.  This time we picked the Baraboo and Spring Green areas of Wisconsin which lie in the Dirftless Area of Wisconsin.

Aldo Leopold Foundation

We started our quick two day journey of exploration at the Aldo Leopold Foundation.  If you don't know who Aldo Leopold is, he's known as the father of wildlife conservation and was an early leader in the American wilderness movement.  (Read more about him on the Wilderness.net.)

While visiting we decided to take the self guided tour through the land along the Wisconsin River that his family owned and worked to restore.  The Shack the family lived in is still there to this day and so are some landmarks of the work he did.  Overall it was a humbling experience to be able to view and feel the work he did here which has resonated far beyond the boundaries of his property.

Aldo Leopold Shack at The Aldo Leopold Foundation
Aldo Leopold Shack

The Aldo Leopold Foundation is definitely worth the visit.

Pewits Nest State Natural Area

Definitely a hidden gem in Wisconsin.  Pewits Nest State Natural Area in Baraboo, WI is pretty well hidden with no signs leading to it.  It's one of those places you need to know exists to find it.  Which makes it a perfect place to explore.   Upon arriving we hit the trail and starting walking toward the gorge.  One of the first things I noticed when we hit the forest was the wall of rock that was growing as we walked the trail.

Within a short distance we took the trail that lead us down to Skillet Creek where we could peer into the gorge and see a small waterfall.

Pewits Nest Gorge and Skillet Creek
Skillet Creek and Pewits Nest Gorge
Next we wandered around and to the trail above the gorge and followed the creek to the end of the gorge and park.  We noticed many small waterfalls and different views of the gorge.  

Skillet Creek and Pewits Nest Gorge
Skillet Creek and Pewits Nest Gorge
View down into the gorge and Skillet Creek at Pewits Nest
View down into the gorge
After hiking the trail and returning to the car, I felt lucky to have found this place.  From the road I would have never guessed what was just beyond the edge of the forest and in the middle of the farmer's fields that lie around it.  Definitely worth a visit to see the splendor that the retreating glaciers left for us to explore.

Spring Green Preserve

Did you know Wisconsin has a desert where prickly pear cactus grow naturally?  No?  Neither did I.  Upon arriving at the Spring Green Preserve I  immediately noticed a difference in this area versus the adjoining landscapes.  Upon hitting the trail which was dry, sandy soil I saw prickly pear cactus.  Even the ridge line in the distance was different than the others.  All the ones around it held forests, but not this one.

Prickly Pear Cactus at Spring Green Preserve
Prickly Pear Cactus at Spring Green Preserve
Spring Green Preserve - "Wisconsin's Desert"
Spring Green Preserve - "Wisconsin's Desert"
We hiked the 1.6 mile trail (one way) through the prairie taking in the beauty of the fall colors of the prairie grasses.  The trail itself winds its way behind and up the bluff and provides a great overview of the surrounding area.  

Spring Green Preserve Trail end - overview of surrounding area from atop the bluff
Spring Green Preserve Trail end - overview of surrounding area from atop the bluff
My brother and I continued to explore additional areas over the two days we had and found some amazing places to explore that we had never been to and places we've explored before, but were worth another visit.  In addition to the above we explored:
  • Bakken's Pond State Natural Area - definitely another worth visiting.  It's a wetlands area that is home to many species of animals including the Sandhill Cranes we heard and then finally saw as they took off over the pond.
  • Devil's Lake - no visit to this area is complete without a quick trip to Devil's Lake State Park.  Today we hiked the East Bluff and saw plenty of turkey vultures floating on the thermals.  
  • Tower Hill State Park - A smaller state park, but another not to miss.  We camped here and visited the Shot Tunnel and watched the reflections of the seasonal changes of the trees in the river.
  • Ferry Bluff State Natural Area - we hiked the short trail that brings you up to the top of Ferry Bluff and provides great views of the Wisconsin River and the surrounding area.  
Fall is a great time to get outdoors and explore.  And the Driftless Area provides plenty of opportunities to view fall colors in their glory.  

And today I'll switch it up a little bit, instead of a John Muir quote to end this post, we'll reflect on Aldo Leopold.

"Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language" Aldo Leopold

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine Forest

Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine

What a perfect way to enjoy a fall weather like day but to head out for a hike on the Ice Age Trial in Southern Kettle Moraine.  Heading out from the Forest Headquarters, I hiked to the Horse Riders campground.  

Heading out from the Forest Headquarters I took the Ice Age Trail west to the meadow hoping to find some fall wildflowers in bloom.  And that I did.  Goldenrod was still in bloom.  I watched it dance in the breeze as it called to the monarchs that were flying around in the meadow.  
Monarchs on Goldenrod on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Monarchs on Goldenrod on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
As I hiked on I watched the native grasses of the meadow flow in sync to the breeze and watched the big billowy clouds float in the sky.  After 1 1/2 miles I hit the Blue Springs Lake Segment and felt myself looking forward to the rest of my journey today.

Prairie Grasses on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
Prairie Grasses on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine

Blue Spring Lake Segment - Ice Age Trail

Heading into the Blue Spring Lake Segment via the Emma Carlin side, I walked through the forest looking for signs of fall.  I didn't find any fall colors coming out yet in the forest, but what I did find was mushrooms.  Now I admit I don't know anything about mushrooms, but today I was intrigued with all the different types and colors of mushrooms growing along the trail.  So today's hike ended up becoming more about what would I find next and taking pictures of them.  Once I arrived home I did a little research to find out what I saw during my hike.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

The first mushroom that caught my eye on the trail looked like a brain, and was about the size of what I assume a brain would be (or maybe bigger).  These were huge mushrooms.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail
Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail
Giant Puffball Mushrooms.

False Chantrelle

Many of these along the trail.  They are yellowish orange in color and were still holding water from the rain we had on Friday.  Very pretty.  But not edible.

False Chantrelle Mushrooms growing along the Ice Age Trail
False Chantrelle Mushrooms growing along the Ice Age Trail

More Wisconsin Wild Mushrooms

Here's a few more that I found along the trail today.  I'm not sure what these are, so if anyone knows please leave a comment at the end of this blog.  I would love to know what I found.  

Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine

Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
I also found these flowers(?) growing along the trail.  The only other place I've ever seen them before was when I was hiking up to St Paul Lake in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana.  I've heard them called "Corpse Flowers" but am not sure if that is the official name.  Again if anyone knows please leave a comment at the end of this blog.
Flowers on the Ice Age Trail (corpse flowers?)
Flowers on the Ice Age Trail (corpse flowers?)
Another beautiful day hiking.  Another beautiful day in the forest.  Feeling rejuvenated.  

 “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”   John Muir

Today this was true, I went for a walk in nature looking for wildflowers and found something else of interest - mushrooms.  Unexpected and a learning experience.  I now feel a little smarter.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve - Bluffs, Wetlands and more....

Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve

Hidden along the shoreline of Lake Michigan just south of Port Washington in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin is this great little nature preserve - the Lion's Den Gorge.

Since I had just found out about this place a week ago, I was excited to get up today and bike there and do a little exploring.  Upon arriving at the park I locked up my bike and hit the trails.  This park has a nice trail system that will take you along the bluff line providing you great views of the bluff line and Lake Michigan.
Bluff Trail and a view of the bluff line along Lake Michigan at  Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Bluff Trail and a view of the bluff line along Lake Michigan
Less than a mile in on the Bluff Trail and you'll find a bridge that will take you over the gorge and to a set of stairs that will take you down to the lake shore.  I'm guessing the view from the bridge would be amazing in the spring when the snow is melting or after a good rain fall.  Today it was dry below, but still a pretty view.

The shoreline was a great place to find a log to sit on and eat lunch.  Sitting and listening to the waves crash on the shoreline is so relaxing.  It brings me back to the days I lived by the Atlantic Ocean.  I walked down the beach a ways watching the wave patterns and trying to catch some shots of the waves crashing on shore.
Waves crashing along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Waves crashing along the shoreline of Lake Michigan

Waves crashing along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Waves crashing along the shoreline of Lake Michigan
After wandering around for a while along the shoreline I decided to head up and explore the rest of Lion's Den Gorge.  Following the Gorge Loop trail through the forest I came to the Cedar Loop side trail.  It's a short little loop that walks through a small grove of cedar trees.  I then came back to the Lion's Den Trail and started walking back toward the parking lot.  This trail is wide and wheel chair accessible for those that need it.  Instead of following this trail which is away from the bluff line back to the parking lot, I took the Wetland Way trail and crossed back over to the Bluff Trail.  I wanted to make sure I had time to take in all the views that were offered while I was here.

Once this trail caught back up to the Lion's Den I took another side trip on the Waterfowl Walk and made a quick stop at the boardwalk viewing area to check out the Waterfowl Production Area.  It is an expansive wetlands area with lots of cattails.  And one little frog.

Waterfowl Production area via the Boardwalk Viewing Area at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Waterfowl Production area via the Boardwalk Viewing Area 

A frog trying to blend in at the Waterfowl Production area at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
A frog trying to blend in at the Waterfowl Production area
After watching the frog for a little while, I hit the trail and headed back to my bike.  It was time to head out and back over to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail to bike back to Mequon and my car.  It was a great day for exploring this little gem of a nature preserve and I will definitely be back again.

Trip Stats:
Bike Ride from Mequon (Hwy 57/Mequon Rd) via the Interurban Trail / Ulao Parkway - 27.39 miles
Hiking at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve - 2.55 miles
Trail Map of Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve

"I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness."  John Muir


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mt Baker National Recreation Area - Railroad Grade & Park Butte Backpacking

Mt Baker National Recreation Area

After having just finished a five day backpack trip through the Glacier Peak Wilderness, we decided to take a shorter and cooler backpacking trip on the west side of the Cascade Mountain Range.  After driving over and spending the night at Baker Lake, we woke up in the morning, packed and headed up to the trailhead.

Railroad Grade and Park Butte Trails

Arriving early at the trailhead on a Friday morning, we were lucky enough to beat the weekend crowds.  As we hiked up toward where we would set up camp, the sun rose higher along with the heat and humidity.  Though not as hot as it was on the east side of the Cascades, the humidity made it feel just as warm and sticky.

After passing the trail junction for Railroad Grade and Park Butte, we got our first good views of Mt Baker.  It was beautiful, majestic and inviting.  A few pictures and we continued on to Cathedral Pass where we put up base camp for the night.  Not a bad hike, about 1300 feet of elevation gain.

First views of Mt Baker from the Railroad Grade / Park Butte trails.
First views of Mt Baker from the Railroad Grade / Park Butte trails.
Once arriving at Cathedral Pass and setting up camp, we decided to explore.  We were happy to drop the heaviness of the packs and carry a lighter pack for the day with only the essentials that we needed.  First we headed back down to the junction of the Railroad Grade and Park Butte trails and headed up toward the climbers camp on Mt Baker via the Railroad Grade trail.  This trail runs along the top of a ridge line toward Mt Baker and its glaciers.  It is exposed and provided us some good exposure in the sun (ie, make sure to wear sunblock) and great views of Mt Baker and the surrounding area.  We were even able to see Glacier Peak in the distance where we had just spent five days backpacking.

View looking down the Railroad Grade Trail and the Cascades in the distance.
View looking down the Railroad Grade Trail and the Cascades in the distance.

Mt Baker from just above Climbers Camp on the Railroad Grade Trail
Mt Baker from just above Climbers Camp on the Railroad Grade Trail
Taking a break to take in the views once we reached the climber's camp, we decided to head up further on the trail.  At our high point we were at an elevation of 5,990 ft on Mt Baker (10,781 ft).  If only we had time and the gear to climb to the top.  But after spending time on Mt. Baker we decided to head back down toward camp.  We were hot from the heat, humidity and exposure.

At camp we took a break, finished setting up camp and built a snowman, which in this heat didn't last very long.  But when you have snow and time for a break - what else is one to do?

Building a snowman at Cathedral Pass @ Mt Baker
Building a snowman at Cathedral Pass @ Mt Baker
After dinner we decided to take a hike and head up to Park Butte.  Park Butte is in the Mount Baker Wilderness Area and is a restored 1933 fire lookout.  Upon arriving at the top we explored the fire lookout and took in the views all around us.  

Park Butte Fire Lookout on top of the ridge @ Mt Baker Wilderness Area
Park Butte Fire Lookout on top of the ridge

View out from Park Butte fire lookout at Mt Baker
View out from Park Butte fire lookout at Mt Baker

View from Park Butte fire lookout over toward the storms @ Mt Baker Wilderness Area
View from Park Butte fire lookout over toward the storms 

On the day we headed up, storms rolled in to the south and west.  It was pretty interesting to watch the sheets of rain move through to the south of us.  On our way back down to camp, we took time to wander around and take a look in the pools for reflections.  We ended up with some pretty good shots of Mt Baker.

Reflecting pool with Mt Baker in the background
Reflecting pool with Mt Baker in the background
We finally decided to head back down toward camp for the night.  As we arrived in camp, the sun started to set and provided us with some great views over the peaks in the distance.  

Sunsetting from Mt Baker National Recreation Area
Sunsetting from Mt Baker National Recreation Area
As the sun set, it was time to end another great day in the Cascades.  Tomorrow we would wake up, pack up and head out.  Another trip comes to a close.  I felt refreshed.

"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean."  John Muir





Monday, September 1, 2014

Glacier Peak Wilderness Backpacking - Spider Gap - Buck Creek Pass Loop

Glacier Peak Wilderness

Glacier Peak Wilderness holds the Northern Cascades only wilderness volcano.  And in this year when we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, it was a perfect time to go into the remote wilderness area and explore.  No we didn't climb it, but we did spend 5 days at the end of July backpacking through the majestic beauty that surrounds it.

With the late snow that came in this year and the heat that came with the end of July, we were in for a treat.

Day 1 - Trinity Trailhead 

We started the day in Spokane, WA and drove to the Trinity Trailhead.  After parking the car here, we had a 3 mile hike up to the Spider Meadow trailhead.  I was thankful once those three miles were over and we were able to head into the woods and shade.  The goal was to hike to Spider Meadow, but after another couple of miles, the heat and lack of sleep took its toll on us.  We found a camp spot in the woods and decided to call it a day.  As we finished dinner and settled in - we had our first of many experiences with the wildlife in the wilderness.  A female mule deer wandered into camp.  She must have enjoyed our presence as she kept coming back.

Day 2 - Spider Meadow, Spider Gap & Upper Lyman Lakes

Spider Meadow looking toward Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Spider Meadow looking toward Spider Gap
Waking up to a beautiful morning in the wilderness refreshed, we packed our gear and headed to Spider Meadow and Spider Gap.  Spider Meadow still held some of its beauty of wildflowers and gave us an amazing view toward Spider Gap and the peaks around it.  We also got our first view of the many marmots we would encounter in the wilderness and more mule deer grazing in the meadow.

After hiking through the meadow we climbed the trail up to Spider Gap and finally got a view of the Spider Glacier.  All reports for this trip stated to bring an ice ax with you to climb over the glacier.  But with the heat we had on this trip, the conditions of the glacier made it so that you didn't need it.  It was an amazing 1/2 mile hike up the glacier to the top and the high point of this trip (7100 ft).  The coolness of the snow and ice of the glacier made it so the heat that was bearing down on us didn't feel so bad.  

Tip: Take time once you get to the top for a break and the opportunities to take some great photos of the glacier and the Upper Lyman Lakes area.

Spider Glacier with a view back out toward Spider Meadow @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Spider Glacier with a view back out toward Spider Meadow

Upper Lyman Lakes from Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Upper Lyman Lakes from Spider Gap
After taking a break and enjoying the views it was time to head down to the Upper Lyman Lakes area.  The hike down was fun through the soft snow until we hit the end of the snow.  At that point it turns into a scramble down loose rock.  And then you find the mosquitoes.  After another break to take some pictures of the Upper Lyman Lakes area we headed over to the other side of the bogs and where we would camp for the evening.

Lyman Glacier from Upper Lyman Lake @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Lyman Glacier from Upper Lyman Lake
View back toward Upper Lyman Lakes, bogs and Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
View back toward Upper Lyman Lakes, bogs and Spider Gap
After setting up camp, we had time to wander around the area and take in the reflections in the pools of water that were all over in this area.  But with that said, we also had the pleasure of battling the mosquitoes - head nets were a necessity.

Camp in the Upper Lyman Lakes area @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Camp in the Upper Lyman Lakes area.
Sun setting above Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sun setting above Spider Gap
Evening brought us the beauty of the sun setting in the wilderness.  And with the clouds in the sky, it was even more beautiful.

Day 3 - Upper Lyman Lakes to Miners Creek / Image Lake

Waking up to another glorious morning in the wilderness (even with the mosquitoes buzzing around), we ate breakfast and headed out to our next destination:  Miners Creek to camp and a side day trip to Image Lake. Our first obstacle of the day (besides the mosquitoes) came as we got down toward Lyman Lake and had to cross the river via a downed tree.  Now crossing a river over a downed tree is not that bad, but this one happened to be right over a rapid and falls.  If you slipped on the log it was a not a short fall or would it be a soft landing - you would probably get hurt.

Lyman Falls @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Lyman Falls

Lyman Falls crossing @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Lyman Falls crossing
After a quick stop to take pictures of Lyman Lake we headed up to Cloudy Pass and our connection with the Pacific Crest Trail.  Make sure to take some time once you get up on Cloudy Pass to enjoy your last view of Lyman Lake and Spider Gap.  And to take in the view of all the wildflowers in the meadow up on the pass.

Cloudy Pass looking back at Lyman Lake and Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Cloudy Pass looking back at Lyman Lake and Spider Gap
Cloudy Pass wildflowers - Lupine, Heather and Paintbrush @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Cloudy Pass wildflowers - Lupine, Heather and Paintbrush
Once over Cloudy Pass, it is a short 1 mile hike to the Suiattle Pass and then down to Miners Creek.  At Miners Creek we diverge from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and set up camp across from an older Miner's Cabin. 

Miners Cabin @ Miners Creek - Image Lake Trail @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Miners Cabin @ Miners Creek - Image Lake Trail
From here we take a 7 mile side trip to Image Lake.  This is not to be missed.  On this side trip we encountered our next adventure with a water crossing, meadows full of wildflowers and our first good views of Glacier Peak.  And of course Image Lake.  

Miners Cabin @ Miners Creek - Image Lake Trail @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Paintbrush and wildflowers in the meadows on the trail to Image Lake
Image Lake with Glacier Peak in the background. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Image Lake with Glacier Peak in the background.
Marmots all over the place, this one was hiding out along the trail. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Marmots all over the place, this one was hiding out along the trail.

Falls and crossing area at about noon. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness Image Lake Trail
Falls and crossing area at about noon.
Falls and crossing area at 5 pm @ Glacier Peak Wilderness Image Lake Trail
Falls and crossing area at 5 pm
Water crossing area at 5 pm.  At noon we there were rocks to cross, not at 5 pm
Water crossing area at 5 pm.  At noon we had rocks to cross, not at 5 pm.
Day 3 was a lot of hiking, but the side trip to Image Lake was well worth it.

Day 4 - Miners Creek to Buck Creek Pass

Today we had more friendly visitors to camp while we were eating breakfast.  We had seen him the evening before but today he came back with his lady friend.

video

It also felt like the hottest day so far on our trip.  We headed down from Miners Creek and out toward Buck Creek Pass.  As we headed up to the first pass and took a break, we found a side trail that we explored before heading on the rest of the way to Buck Creek Pass.  The side trip was well worth it.  It took us to another meadow full of wildflowers.  
Side trip to another meadow of wildflowers and great views of the mountains around us. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Side trip to another meadow of wildflowers and great views of the mountains around us.
After heading back to the trail, we continued on toward Buck Creek Pass and where we would spend the night.  We stayed up on top of the pass where we could have nice views of Glacier Peak and the surrounding area.  And of course more wildlife.  
Mule deer @ Buck Creek Pass
Mule deer shaking off the bugs.
Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass @ the start of sunset.
Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass @ the start of sunset.
Sunset from Buck Pass looking toward the Pacific Ocean
Sunset from Buck Pass looking toward the Pacific Ocean
What a great way to end the day and for our last night in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  It was hard to believe the next day we'd wake up, pack up and head out.

Day 5:  Buck Creek Pass to Trinity Trailhead

Day 5, it came so fast.  After waking up early to watch the sun rise on Glacier Peak it was time to pack up and head out of this beautiful wilderness area.

Sunrise on Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunrise on Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass
It was 9.6 miles from camp to the car, but it was a beautiful hike down through the forest and valleys.  As we hit Buck Creek and followed the trail toward the car, we passed a number of avalanche areas which are just amazing to see.  For all the beauty nature offers us, it can also be very destructive.

Glacier Peak Wilderness - Buck Creek trail and route out
Glacier Peak Wilderness - Buck Creek trail and route out
Glacier Peak Wilderness - Avalanche area along Buck Creek
Glacier Peak Wilderness - Avalanche area along Buck Creek

As this trip came to a close, I got the same feeling I get every time I go out on a trip like this.  I always feel like I'm losing a part of myself when I head out of the wilderness.  Not because I'm leaving it in the wilderness, but because I can't take the wilderness with me.  In the wilderness I feel whole, at one with nature.  It's always a different challenge which is something I crave and enjoy.

Good thing is after this trip, I headed over to Mt Baker and did another backpacking trip.  It was a relief to know I could head right back into the wilderness.

Trip stats:
Dates:  July 26 - 30, 2014
Elevation gain:  11,082 ft
Elevation loss:  10,999 ft
Distance:  ~48 miles

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn." John Muir

More information on Glacier Peak Wilderness.