I like hiking off trial. Yes, it’s harder than walking through a groomed area, but that’s the point. You have to push through brush. You have to look at the lay of the land and plan each twist and turn. You have to prepare for the possibility that even though you know where you are, you still don’t know exactly where that is.
Yesterday I went hiking at the Ridgeway Pine Relict State Natural Area with the Madison LGBT Outdoors Group. Five of us showed up for what ended up being my most adventurous hike of the year so far. The SNA covers almost a square mile of land, but don’t let that make you think the SNA square- it follows Driftless Area valleys. It’s a steep hike down from the prairie restoration on the ridge to the relict, but it’s worth it. The forest, a mix of deciduous trees and pines, is a sparkling jewel. A pine relict is a type of forest that is left over from a colder time when the glaciers were leaving Wisconsin. As a result, relicts often resemble the vegetation you’d expect farther north. Like others in the area, the Ridgeway Relict in in a sheltered valley.
There is an old logging road that leads partway down from the Ridgevue Drive parking area, but it doesn’t go very far. As with many SNA’s there is no designated trail. At some points there are deer paths or worn routes from previous hikers but for the most part it was up to us to decide where to go. The trickiest part of navigating the SNA is that it doesn’t perfectly follow the valley floors and we’d wind up hitting private property. To figure out how to get around these areas, we had to know where in the SNA we were. A combination of a parcel map (provided at the trailhead) and GPS was helpful. Even with that, we still disagreed about our exact location sometimes. That’s just part of the experience.
The highlight of the hike for me was the rock formations. Composed of warmly-colored sandstone, they dotted the hillsides. Most were on steep slopes and hard to get to. I’m glad that while I was growing up I was able to gain experience on this type of terrain; it reminded me of when I was a kid and would play in the woods in western Dane County. I’m definitely going to go back and explore the hills and rocks more. I think spending several hours there someday soon would be a good idea.
An added bonus is that I get to expand on the theme I started with my previous post. Blue Mound was in my line of site at the top of the hill on Ridgevue Drive and was only about 8.4 miles away. Since the two points both lie in a high area, there were other hills that got in the way of Blue Mound and it could only see it from the crest of the hill.