On July 16th I headed out on a “slow tour” of Wisconsin, traveling the state over 6 days at a pace that let me explore places I’d merely passed through before. This was not my original plan. I had wanted to badly explore South Dakota, but with the temperature there hovering around 100, I thought heading north sounded a little better.
And so I began my journey. I started off in the Driftless Area, the part of Wisconsin (and Minnesota and Iowa) that was not leveled by the glaciers that covered the rest of the region thousands of years ago. The land there is much less flat than the rest of the state and when I was a kid I loved driving across bluffs and through steep valleys on the way to visit relatives. I still enjoy the scenery. Much of the first few days was spent exploring small town but I camped for one night at Perrot State Park. I had some time to explore the park on my second day.
Perrot is a smaller park, just under two square miles, but it packs in a lot of beauty per acre. The quintessential stop is Brady’s Bluff, which also happens to be an SNA. I woke up early on the 17th and hiked the steep hill just as dawn was beginning to creep in. The lower half of the bluff features dense woods with ferns and sandstone cliffs. The top of the bluff is a whole different story, with prairies and drier woodland. And man, what a view!
After my morning hike, I didn’t leave the park just yet. The previous evening I had checked out Horseshoe Falls and I wanted to revisit it in better lighting. “Falls” is a misleading name because during my visit there was just a series of drips heading over the cliff, but it was beautiful just the same. Walking up to it felt like walking into an old, ornate cathedral.
Vines hung over the lip and moss grew in the wetter spots in what resembled cave formations. Two pillars of moss to the right of the main drip were roughly the size of my thighs.
I haven’t mentioned any wildlife yet. Animal activity slows down this time of year, especially when it comes to birds. I have a few butterfly pics that will be in later posts about this trip but I spent more time enjoying scenery than seeing a plethora of animals. Here is one exception: there is a colony of northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) at horseshoe falls. Their erratic flying and beeping added to the cathedral feel of the place. Were they perhaps the choir or possibly angels flying above any worshipers who entered?
Overall though my posts about my trip (and the pictures) will be focused more broadly on scenery than my typical emphasis on birds and other critters. That is only fitting for a trip that included stops at not only the bluffs of Wisconsin’s driftless area but also the world’s largest freshwater lake and several waterfalls farther north.
I just spent 2 days near Cedarburg Bog at the UW Milwaukee Field Station for a short course. The course was amazing, but this post is about the bog itself. I found a new SNA that I love. As explained by the prof, the bog is a relict habitat, meaning it is a leftover from a time when the local climate was much colder and it resembles a natural community you might find farther north. It is not the first such habitat I have visited and it’s fun to know the history of these places and how it ties in with the rest of the region’s history.
Part of my hands-on coursework led me into the west side of the bog (on university property) during the day but I feel like the point I fell in love with it was when I took a night walk there with a few other students. It took on a whole new feeling when the shroud of darkness made it more mysterious. Not wanting to take away from that feeling, I set my headlamp to a soft red rather than a harsh light. It made for some unique pics.
Today when class ended I went to the south entrance. There I found another sizable boardwalk with a scenic meandering route.
Cedarburg Bog is in Ozaukee County in southeastern Wisconsin. It is worth visiting not only if you live in the area but also if you are spending a weekend nearby like I did. To find the boardwalk at the south parking lot, take the right hand path when the trail forks. I assume the bog is also amazing by canoe or kayak.
I was hiking at the Spring Green Preserve today with the Madison LGBT Outdoors Group when my friend Jon mentioned that he’s been coming to the preserve for about 20 years. How long have I been going there? Good question. I cannot recall a first time. I remember going there with my family at various times when I was very young, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took me there before I left infantile amnesia behind.
Point is, it’s a place that feels like a longtime friend. Like with any friend I only see a handful of times a year, it’s easy to pick up on changes. Last time I went, on May 31st, Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) was the dominant flower, making the prairie blue. Today the prairie had more white and yellow. The yellow was partially from eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), of which about a third to a half were still in bloom following their mid-June peak.
As usual, grassland birds were among the delights. Eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) and lark sparrows (Chondestes grammacus) remained from my last visit and welcome newcomers were the dickcissels (Spiza americana).
The Spring Green prairie was not my first one growing up. I know without a doubt the first prairie I ever “met” was my parents’ small restorations. Taking pictures there after mowing the lawn I was able to get shots that I couldn’t under the harsh sunlight at Spring Green. My favorite find were the banded hairstreaks (Satyrium calanus) butterflies on a patch of butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). I remember seeing hairstreaks all the time in the backyard as a kid. Could these be the same species? It wouldn’t surprise me if that was at least partly true, but I bet we had other species too. I remember seeing ones that looked more gray or blue than brown. Today’s hairstreaks were super easy to photograph. It took me back to childhood memories of butterflies that I could walk right up to.
One plant that is abundant at Spring Green is leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and the purple flowers were in bloom on our hike. My best picture of one today is of my family’s sole specimen.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the therapeutic comfort of nature and many people talk about walks in the woods as their preferred method of outdoor stress relief. Me, I’m a prairie guy. I don’t know if it’s because they’re our original ground cover, their amazing biodiversity, or because I like the feel of open spaces rather than the coziness of the woods. No matter what the reason is (fewer mosquitos?), I feel more of a “forest bath” when I’m not in the forest. Spring Green has one of my favorite prairies and I would strongly suggest that anyone who loves a good prairie hike check it out. Maybe you can feel the prairie too.