Pleasant Valley Conservancy – A Walk into the Past.

Directions: Head west out of Middleton on Hwy 14. Once you get to Black Earth turn left on Hwy F and drive through town until you see a turn right to continue on Hwy F. Take the right turn and continue until you see a left on Hwy F about one mile. Turn left and continue for about 2 miles until you reach Pleasant Valley Rd. Turn left and parking is on the left about 1/4 mile.

The gold grasses in the autumn warm the cool days.  The green of the grasses in the valley in the spring is a pleasant greeting after cold Wisconsin winters. Prairie plants have been painstakingly maintained. Big blue stem, indian grass, little blue stem, praire Dock, prairie cup plant, compass plant. Each provide interest to the landscape. Oaks line the hills. In the spring the leaves bud in green bundles that line each of the limbs. In the summer the dark green boughs shade the plants below. In the fall the leaves turn to shades of red, gold and brown. Hikes in this conservancy are picturesque in any season. Most of the hiking can be found at the top of the hills. The center path takes you through the grasses of the prairie. The road on the right will take you op the hill on a less steep route though woodland plants and trees that provide their shade on hot summer days.


At the top of the hill there are several paths that plop through the oak savannah. The west portion of the conservancy has an old growth oak savannah on the east side of the hill and woodland growth on the west side. There are lookouts on the south ridge and a path the winds along the ridge back down to the road. Take care along this path. It can be tough going in spots.


In the north are gentle sloping paths through prairie with prairie clover and blazing star as well as many other plants.

Wild life in the conservancy can be seen at any time during the day. Many native birds can been seen, indigo bunting, blue bird, blue jays, redtail hawks. At dusk you may see whitetail deer as they come out to graze.

On the south side of the road is a path that loops through the marsh. Foot bridges that take you over the stream and a pier out onto the marsh. You will see sandhill cranes most of the summer. You will certainly hear their distinctive calls over the quiet of the marsh.
The different flora and fauna in the conservancy in each of the different areas allow one to experience all that the southern Wisconsin landscape has to offer. I highly recommend hikes at least once a month through this conservancy to see the change of each season and the growth of the plants as they grow and fade through the weeks.

This will always remain a favorite hike of mine.

Parfreys Glen. A winter hike on a frozen stream.

The seasons have changed.  A cold beauty of white and leafless trees await you as you hike into Parfreys Glen.  After an ice storm January’s freeze gave way to a thaw.  I thought it was a good time for a winter hike out to the glen.  It is a stark contrast to the last post.  Instead of vibrant greens there is the bare beauty of the glen.  Frosted rocks.  A stream frozen in time.  Dark trees clawing the winter sky.

If you would like to visit do bring your Yaktrax as you will be walking and climbing on ice.







Photos of Parfreys Glen

Pewitts Nest 100

On winters frigid mornings I find myself remembering spring.  It could be that I long for the warmer temperatures or the green of the fauna as it pushes its way through the earth.  I tend to think that it is the latter.  Those wondrous days of wet spring weather welcoming a new viridescent season.  Leaves of green sprout from tree buds, new spring flowers unearthing themselves in the warm air, green moss carets the rocks and wet earth… is all there for a person to observe.  Each spring brings the senses alive as if we were experiencing it for the first time.

Last year was a wet spring.  Piles of snow melted quickly with the heavy spring rains that came in March, April, May and June.  I made my spring visit to Parfreys Glen.  The green plants greeted me as always.





IMG_20130728_103821_681The sunlight rays hit the leaves radiating a brightness the flows the stream as if the sun itself has spilled onto this wood.


A gap in the ravine in Parfreys Glen before it opens to the green hillside.


As I walked through this pass of rock an overhand of rock with water dripping oto a ledge below caught my eye.  I ended up taking over 50 pics to catch the water as it dripped from the overhang.

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When I look at the photos almost a year later it is as if I am discovering the spring all over again.

Chapel in the Woods, Durward’s Glen

Video by danedem

A spiritual hike along tree fern lined paths.  Creeping myrtle with periwinkle blossoms greet you as you walk to the chapel.

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The Durwards fell in love with the glen, and they bought the land from a blacksmith who lived there.  The Durwards called their home “Auld Geordies”, but later referred to it simply as “the glen”.  While living in the glen, they made a living  truck farming, selling their fruits and vegetables in local markets.

The Durwards constructed a house on top of a knoll on the property.   In 1866, the family built a small chapel so that Mrs. Durward did not have to walk so far to church. One of her sons was ordained there.  Later they added a studio to the buildings.   After the chapel, known as “St. Mary’s of the Pines”, burned in 1923, it was restored by the Madison council of the Knights of Columbus in the late 1920s.  The Durward family sold the land to the Roman Catholic Order of St. Camillus in 1932. The order established a seminary on the land, where it trained priests beginning in the 1930s.  The order’s primary building was a 75-foot stone and log novitiate, built entirely by hand.  The buildings were expanded in the 1960s to accommodate a conference and retreat center.  The glen was sold to The College of Saint Mary Magdalen in 2007, which owned the land for four years before selling it to Durward’s Glen Our Lady of the Rosary Group. The group now uses the property as a retreat center, and for weddings and other group events. (excerpt from Wikipedia)

The property is located off of Hwy 33.  You take Hwy X east until you reach Durwards Glen Road.  Take a right and travel for about 6 miles until you reach Leisch Rd.  Take a right and the parking lot is on the right at the bottom of the hill. 

There is a path the meanders through a wooded area.  Along the way there are markers containing small carvings of the signs of the cross.  As you make your way up the hill among the maples and oaks you will find a creeping myrtle patch.  In the summer the blossoms peek out from behind the dark green leaves.  In the clearing at the top of the hill is the chapel and cemetery.  Large tombstones with simple carving are lined among large elaborately carved religious statues. 

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A small chapel sits on the crest of the hill.  Behind the chapel is a path down to the glen.  It can be slippery so watch your step.  The Durward cemetery is behind the chapel along the path.  The old markers are interesting and allow one to peak into the history of the family.  At the edge of the glen you will find stairs the take you down to the stream level. 

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A rock lines stream cut through the rock thousands of years ago to create the glen.  White pines tower over your head.  It is breath taking in the spring with all the green poking through. 

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A pond and bridge great you with a drinking fountain.  Just past the pond is a garden of historic buildings and quiet garden nooks to find spiritual solace.  

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OIlbrich Gardens a Spectacular Retreat in Madison’s Atwood Neighborhood

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A palatial rose garden, a Thai pavilion, an English garden, a pebble garden retreat……there are sights and smells around every corner.  You can wander all afternoon and never be bored.  Each area is another world onto itself.  Olbrich Gardens is not a hike but a walk of discovery through a world of well maintained gardens.  You will be amazed at the variety and beauty of the botanical garden.

Olbrich Gardens is easy to get to.  From Middleton take Hwy 12 & 18 East. Exit onto Monona Drive. Take Monona Drive around Lake Monona to Olbrich Botanical Gardens; approximately 4 miles. (Monona Drive becomes Atwood Avenue as it curves around Lake Monona.) Olbrich Garens is on your right as Atwood Avenue opens to the East end of Lake Monona.

There are 16 acres of  gardens and an indoor, tropical conservatory at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.  Among the places to visit in the outdoor gardens is the Thai Pavilion and Garden.  Olbrich’s Thai Pavilion allows you to step outside of Madison and into a foreign land. Outside of Thailand, this is the only Thai pavilion surrounded by a garden in the US. There is a reflection pond filled with large smooth pebbles.


A gold Thai pavilion that towers over the gardens.  As you walk to the garden you pass over a bridge that ushers you to a garden of foreign plants and spectacular flowers.



There are a wide variety of roses in the Rose Garden, which opened in 2005.  Olbrich’s rose garden a playful mixture of Midwest shrub roses and perennials. When in bloom you can smell the perfume in the air.  The colors are spectacular and each rose is a wonder on itself.


You can also find other specialty gardens within Olbrich Garden.  There is the Perennial Garden, Sunken Garden, and Herb Garden to name but a few. Olbrich’s outdoor gardens are open daily, year-round.

With in the gardens is the Bolz Conservatory, a 50-foot-high glass pyramid that contains a diverse collection of tropical plants,  free-flying birds, and blooming orchids. You can see plants such as banana, coffee, and vanilla. There are ordheids , Carnivorous plants, lush tropical rubber trees.  And if you are in the gardens July and August there is a butterfly exhibit.

In June the Peonies are in bloom.  As you walk through the arbor and into the garden there the peonies blossoming with colossal flowers of every color and size.  The perfume envelops your nose as you get close to the bushes.  Brilliant pinks and red petals surround golden centers laid with pollen.

It is fascinating how they can prune the peonies so that the blossoms are spaced around the bush.  These plants have been meticulously maintained. Also in June there are many bulb plants that are throughout the gardens.

As summer progresses you can find the roses blooming in the rose garden.  Many plants are at their peak and the looks and smells are spectacular.

During the fall the colors change and the leaves on many trees are amber, yellow, orange and red.  The best time to visit the garden is your favorite season.  You can call ahead to find out what is blooming ar special events.  The Olbrich’s outdoor gardens are open daily, year-round as well as the Bolz Conservatory.  I visit the gardens several times a year.  It is a wonderful place of discovery in natures beauty.

West Bluff Devil’s Lake Wisconsin

Devils Lake Wisconsin

Directions:  Coming From The South: From Interstate 90-94 just take exit 106 to Highway 33. Take a right at the stop sign and go to Baraboo. (13 miles) When you get to Baraboo Take a left at the 2nd stop light. (This is Business Hwy 12) Then go through town and watch for a sign to the park. You will turn left on Highway 123 and follow it straight out to the park. Coming From The North or Wisconsin Dells: Just take Highway 12 south (Exit 92) and go about 1 mile past Baraboo (approximately 14 miles). Take a left on Highway 159. This will bring you to Highway 123. Take a right and follow into the park.

Formed 1.6 billion years ago, the Baraboo Hills rise 500 feet above the surrounding landscape. The Green Bay Lobe covered the eastern half of the Baraboo Hills and deposited the end moraine, which created Devil’s Lake. To the north and south of the Baraboo Hills, the trail crosses glacial out-wash plains and small moraines.  A combination of interesting geology, diverse fauna, prehistoric effigy mounds, historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) buildings and spectacular scenery make Devil’s Lake a popular “must-see” destination.

As it was going to be warm today (in the 90s) and the park will be busy due to the fact that it is Memorial Day, we set out early.  It was a beautiful drive into the park.  The entrance drive is wooded with a wide variety of trees.  The greens were vibrant and the sun shining through the canopy made the drive a psychedelic trip of greens.  A kaleidoscope of greens passed your eyes as you glimpsed rays of sun escaping the grasp of the tree limbs.  Each ray streamed toi the ground in a jubilant rejoice of freedom a it splashed the color of the canopy across the road.  At each corner ss you drive into the park along the winding road there are outcroppings of Baraboo granite.  A reddish hard rock.  On some days you will catch glimpses of rock climbers scaling the granite walls as you drive in.  They balance on the side of the rock precariously supported by a rope.  Like spiders  on a strand of silk they find their way among the cracks in the granite.  The granite is a dark earthy color when washed with the greens of the canopy.  Moss grows on the side of the rock displaying its love of the cool shade of the maples and oaks.  The wonder of spring is welcomed after the cold winds of winter have diminished.

We decided to park by the lake.  We needed to get a sticker to park in the state park and the visitor lodge is located by the lake parking lot.  While we had stopped I asked the ranger if Parfrey’s Glen was open today as I had seen ropes drawn across the entrance to the second destination for hiking today.  She said that it would be closed for the rest of the year for repairs.  THe flooding of 2008 had caused extensive damage.  The flood af water had washed out trees, boulders, stone pathways and bridges from the gorge and glen.  I was sorry to hear of the close.  I will welcome the opening next year with delight as it is one of my favorite spots to hike in the spring and summer.  We parked with the few cars in the empty lot.  It was just after 8 am and we had certainly beat the rush of park visitors.

The lake spread before us.  Waves from the brisk wind caught the early sunlight, sparkling like a myriad of gems strewn across a midnight blue velvet cloth.  It was as if the stars had fallen from the sky into the lak the night before.  Now they could be seen at the crest of each wave in the daylight.  The sun jealous of this new light reflected brightly off the tumbled rock walls of the bluffs  in tones of grey, red and purple.  Child’s blocks that had tumbled after a misplaced block fell causing the blocks to tumble into an unorganized pile.  White pines and maples dotted the rocks.  Their seeds had found earth between the rocks and the seedings had jutted up growing into magnificent trees.  The spires of green shown brightly against the gray tones of the rocks.  Each tree a testament to the veracity of nature.

The head of the trail lies at the west end of the beach at the line of trees.  A gravel trail weaves up the side of the bluff with large boulders on your right and green undergrowth lining the forest bed on your left.  I start to snap a couple of pictures of the rock formations and blooming may apples when my camera whines.  Damn.  I forgot to charge the battery.  I had to decide if I should continue without pictures for my blog or to head back home and charge my batteries.  I decided to head back home as I could not deny you the wonderful scenery of this park.  I quickly dashed back home and charged the batteries just long enough to take a full set of pictures of the hike.  As I made my way back into the park I knew it would be getting busy.  I parked in lot partway up the bluff by the nature center and made my way back down to the lake where Tom waited for me.  THere was a line of cars at the visitor center that stretched up the switchbacks of the road.  I was happy that I had parked above.

Tom and I made our way back up the trail.  The rock outcroppings are magnificent.  The cool rocks had retained the moisture from the rain of the previous day, glistening in the sun that shone through the green leaves.  Silent guardians of the trail.  Just ahead lies the rock stairs the take you to the top of the bluff.  These guardians ushered you through a doorway into the lush landscape of the West Bluff Trail.  We made our way to the sign at the foot of the rock stairs.  This marker mapped out the trails of the park and also the ice age trail the wound through the park and included the West Bluff Trail that we were to soon hike along.  Trails criss-cross the bluffs and take you through the many wonderful features that dot the landscape.  This trail has a grand lookout on the cliffs that give you view of the park as if you were on the back of a hawk gliding on the warm updraft of winds.

We mounted the stairs and began our climb.  Quickly it becomes evident how high you are climbing as you start to breathe heavier.  A look behind you and you can see the trail below you far below.  The stairs wind through the trees and underbrush that line the side of the bluff.  Only a short way up there are people resting on the path to catch their breath.  It will be a long climb so brief rests are always welcome.

The rocks that make up the stairs are still wet with the rain from the day previous.  Vigilant at every step I make my way up the side of the bluff.

The trees tower above our heads as we make our way along the path.  With each step the song of the local birds greet our ears.  The scurry of small mammals can be heard from under the plants and along the brown leaves from lat autumns drop of foliage.  If you hike this trail at the end of may you can see the wild geraniums in bloom.  They line the forest with blossoms of pink that smile up at you through their deep lobed leaves.

Our fist stop up the bluff is an out look over the beach.  You can see the Baraboo Hills in the background.  The wooded area stretches for miles in each direction.  The rock cliff does not jut out far enough to see the town of Baraboo but I joke anyway that I can see my house from up here.  The beach lies below with the many park visitors already enjoying the cool water of the lake filled by the cold rains of spring.  The water is refreshing on a hot day like today.  Already the temperatures are rising well into the 80s.  I can feel the sweat running down the small of my back.  It tickles as it makes its way along my skin.  I can hear the swimmers and picnickers below.  wild screams of enjoyment and high-pitched giggles float up the side of the bluff intermingling with the birdsong.

This is not the expansive look out the lies farther up the trail but a taste of what lies ahead.

I catch a picture of Tom as he stands close to the edge.  He is shaded by the overhead trees so it is hard to see his smile.  Yet if you look closely you can see the mischief at the corners of his lips.

The walk up the bluff starts to level.  We hike in and out of the rocks the line the edge of the bluff.  If you peer over the edge you can see the tumbled boulders below.  Relics of the eons of erosion.  Each rock must have a wonderful tale to tell that stretches over millions of year.  If you concentrate you can hear them whispering in the wind that is caught in the white pines above.

We spy a plant popping up through the dead leaves on the floor of the forest.  They look to be a saprophyte with a golden color.  Meticulously lined pinecones that have been bleached of their dark brown and been placed each standing erect one can imagine.  They can be seen through out the hike dotting the pathway.  I am curious as to their name but have yet to find any information about them.  I will have to hike up again and look for them as they ma change in appearance in a couple of weeks.

We break into a clearing and behold the view before us.  We have reached the lookout over the lake and park.  The water lies in a pool below us.  The green bluffs spread out beyond the lake sheltering it from the heat of the day.  We have reached the pinnacle of the hike.  A vista of green hills lies before us.  Hawks and vultures ride the updrafts on the face of the cliffs.  I feel as if I could reach out and touch one.  It is exciting to be so close to one of these big birds.  You cannot take in the scenery without turning your head.  A full view of the lake and surrounding park lie before you.

From the edge of the cliff you can see the rocks far below you.  Green trees dot the rocks.  From so far up they look like toys that you can reach out and place where you would like.  I was able to get this string of pictures taken before the many hikers scrambled close to the edge.  Myself, I stood back from the edge.  The height makes me gasp and sends vertigo through my body.  I am happy to enjoy the view from a couple of feet away from the edge.

Now that we have seen the outlook we make our way down the bluff.  The trail winds along the edge of the bluff then makes its way inward though the forest.  There are several views of the South end of the park before you descend along the trail.  The East Bluff rises from the like with steep tumbled rocks and cliffs along its edge and base.

The coolness of the shades touches my skin.  It is welcome after the hot sun on the edge of the bluff.  Shades of green mellow your sight after the harsh reflections from the rock ledges.  The chatter of birdsong greets your ears.  I make my way down a series of rock stairs.  It is much easier hiking down this side than hiking up the other.  There are many hikers climbing up the trail as the day is getting toward noon.  On the way down is a bed of maiden hair fern.  The green lace covers the area hiding the brown earth and leaves.  Each overlaying the next striving to capture what little sunlight filters through the canopy.

I stop.  I direct my eyes on the path that I had descended.  Many stairs dot the path.  I spy some hikers coming down.  A small boy who makes light of the strenuous hike.  It is hard to believe that I once had that energy.

I move to the side and let them pass.  The small boy with his father and mother in tow.  What a wonderful hike for a family to share.  As I make my way down I can hear him giggling as he comes upon each new wonder.  We are close to the end of the hike.  I can hear the passing of cars below.  The trail turns to blacktop on the last descent.  The road lies on your right and the bluff with its expanse of underbrush lie to the left.  THere is a trio taking a picture of the mayapples in bloom.  White flowers with golden centers plump with pollen for the many honey bees. Two heavy green leaves shade the flower.  Hiding its beauty from all those except for the inquisitive few.  Soon they will have the small green fruit that bares the seeds for next years new growth and the next season of spring.

We emerge from the trees upon a road with the lake beyond.  The cool water beckons us on this hot day.  Many hikers have taken refuge from the heat today in the glistening water.  I stop to take a quick picture.  No time for a swim as we are on our way back to the other side.  It is going to be hot.  This chance at a cool dip will be sorely missed later.

Onward along the tumbled rocks trail.  This trail makes its way along the edge of the lake where the erosion of years has left thousands of boulders along the edge of the lake.  THe trail weaves in and out of the boulders with a few areas of shade from white pines that have sprouted up many years ago to grow into towering shade trees.  The smell of them is almost delicious on these hot days.

We make our way down a short road with 5 lone cottages on the shore of the lake.  The road leads to the trail that opens to a tumbled rock field descending to the water.  Quartzite rocks line the shore and stretch far above.  The path is blacktop and winds in and out of the boulders.  Many of which are taller than I.  The wind has started to pick up.  The waves on the lake are higher now and the breeze feels good on this hot day.

There are many hikers along this path.  It is an easy path to hike.  The backtop provides sure footing and the undulating path is a far cry from the steep climbs of many of the other Devils Lake trails.  This makes it a draw for many a person.  I see people walking their dogs, pushing strollers, large families, and women carrying their babies along the trail.

The first shade along the trail is a stand of white pines along the shore.  The wind can be heard blowing through the pine needles whispering in you ear.  The cool shade is noticeable.  THe sweat on my arms is cools immediately.  I smile as I find the comfort from the heat of the day.  Up above the boughs of the tree block the sun with only small bits of sunlight breaking through the dense needles upon each bough.  THe thick trunks of the pines jut out from the rocks miraculously.  It is a wonder that the saplings ever found soil among the tumbled rocks.  I take a seat to enjoy the breeze.

 The trail again weaves through the tumbled rocks.  The sun bakes the rocks during the day so there is no growth of moss upon them.   Yet the proliferation of custose lichens on the rocks is fascinating.  The blue-green color is inspirational.  It contrasts with the rose gray of the quartzite.  I have taken many pictures of it before.  I was so taken by it that I painted my bathroom the same color.  The lichen is flaky and some rocks are completely covered with aqua blue flakes.  I run my hand down the face of the rock to feel the rough ness of the lichen.  It is like green-blue calluses on the rock face and they tickle the palm of my hand as I brush the surface.

There are people climbing the boulders far above me.  They have mats strapped to their backs that they use to lay on the rocks as the climb or descend them to break their fall as the jump from boulder to boulder.  I can hear them chatting back and forth between gusts of wind.   I spy a group taking a picture far above me.  Their big packs strapped to their backs jutting over their heads.

Canoes dot the lake.  Each person struggling against the strong wind gusts.  I can see the grimaces on their faces as the exert themselves with each stroke of the oar.  One lone kayak travels with the wind as the passenger has capitulated to the wind as they turned around and made way back to the North shore.

I see the North shore beach nearing as the trail comes to an end.  The bustle of the beach is accented by the laughter of children in the water.  I walk through the last shade before the end of the hiking trail.  A couple has taken refuge from the afternoon sun and made use of the lazy day by taking a breather.  A snap a quick photo before I move on thanking them.  Such a cute couple.

The trail ends and sills out onto the beach/picnic area.  I sign marks the path for those interested in a quick hike along the lakeshore.  I have enjoyed my day at Devils lake and look forward to my next hike on the East BLuff.  Steep climbs up the Balanced Rock Trail followed by woodland hikes along the bluff crest.

Pewitt’s Nest

Directions: From the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and County W at the stoplights by WalMart, go west on W 1.5 miles. The road winds to the South and then the West.  Just after the west bend is a small parking area south of the road.

The sign close to the entrance reads: Pewit’s Nest open daily 6:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Food and beverage are not allowed in the natural area. Please help protect this sensitive resource: Climbing on or jumping from rocks is prohibited.

The dominant feature at Pewits Nest is a 30 to 40 foot deep gorge formed during the retreat of the last glacier. Associated with it are Skillet Creek, shaded cliffs, and a northern dry-mesic forest. When Glacial Lake Baraboo drained, Skillet Creek cut a narrow canyon through the Cambrian sandstone, forming a series of potholes and waterfalls.  A fill once stood within the gorge many years ago.  Today no evidence of the mill remain.  Before the building of the mill, an individual lived in the solid sandstone, like a gnome in a cavern. This dwelling resembled the nest of a phoebe (or peewit, an earlier name for this bird), hence dubbed by early settlers the ‘Peewit’s Nest.

As I pulled into the lot it was evident that it was going to be a busy day at the gorge.  A group of people had gathered in the center of the parking lot discussing what they would see in this beautiful natural area.  I walked past the group and entered the trail.  A dirt trail that had a few muddy areas due to recent rain.  The trail winds through what looks like a forgotten orchard.  I was greeted by the aroma of apple blossoms. 

The white and pink flowering trees dot the path.  The break from green to pink and white is striking as I walk further along the path.  The morning air is filled with the sounds of warblers, cardinals, blue jays, and finches among other birds.  The sound of the water cascading grows louder with each step into the natural area.  About 40 feet into the wooded area aire several breaks in the path.  These lead to the upper portion of the Gorge.  The cliffs that look down for spectacular views of the falls.  I keep heading straight as I know this leads to Skillet Creek and a basin at the foot of the falls.  I look to the right to see the sandstone walls jutting out among the trees.  I look to the trail and see jack in the pulpit, trillium, Dutchman’s britches, and many other native plants.  It is early in the year so the foliage is not over grown and each plant is easily noticed.

I see a fallen log and know that just past is the creek.  I walk along the log and see the familiar sight of the creek rolling over the rocks.  Some have been strategically placed so one can cross to the lush glen where the creek meanders beyond the gorge.  The water from the falls fills the air.  A calming sound with birdsong brings a smile to my face.  How I love this park in the spring.

I stop to catch a quick picture of the falls deep in the gorge.  You can catch a glimpse of it if you look carefully from one of the first rocks in the creek.  I glimmer meets your eyes as you see the water cascading down the sandstone rocks.  The sun shone down through the towering trees above as a spotlight on the falls.  The glimmer of the water below the falls looks like sparkling jewels cast before me.  The moss on the cliffs was such a bright green as if a child had spilled green paint upon the stone.  It is a wonder each time a see this special place.

I step upon the stones that dot the creek so I can cross and see the white pines the tower over the creek.  The sun rays streak through the pine canopy to deliver a little bit of heaven to the spot in Baraboo.

I walk down the creek to spy ferns unfolding in the early spring foliage. White and purple violets pepper the ground.  Yellow reniculus skimmers as if painter with glitter.  THere is something to look at with every step.  Frogs jump into the creek and tadpoles look as if they are playing along the muddle bottom of the streams that come from springs in the hills that line the glen along the creek.

I stop to admire the reflection of the trees in the creek.  Greens and browns dance in a blue reflection of sky as tiny waves from the fish feeding on bugs on the water cause the painter water surface to shimmer in the cool colors of spring.  Greens and blues are the pallet and this is painted upon the creek.  It is as if the cool spring air had washed the water top with the left over color from the tree tops.

The walk back to te paths that lead to the cliffs is just a spectacular.  I retrace my steps across the carefully laid stones in the creek making sure that I do not fall on the loose stones.  I don’t want to spend the rest of the day in a soggy shoe or wet shorts.  Again a stop to admire the falls as I make my footing on the shore. 

I climb the path.  Not very steep.  It leads to an overlook that gives one breathtaking views of the falls.  I have never been able to get a good look at the falls as my vertigo gets the best of me.  Yet, today I did not want to miss this opportunity.  I held my breath as I made my way to the edge of the cliff.  I then followed the path along te edge until I could spy the falls.  I could not believe that I had been here so many times over the years and let my fears get the beat of me.  Breathtaking is all I can say.

You can walk long the edge of the cliffs to see several water falls along the path of the creek within the gorge.   I walked along the path for a mile or two.  The path drops to the level of the creek where you hike through farm fields and brush along the creek edge.  There is an oak savannah with picnic tables partway to Gasser Rd today. The creek winds in and out of the trees and farm fields. You can hear and dee abundant wildlife. There were many types of birds flying around the tree tops. I was wa.lking with a set of deer tracks for most of the pathway. I did not make it all the way to Fasser Rd. Maybe another day when the mood catches me.

On the way back in the parking lot I saw a bridal party with the bride in white satin getting ready to make their way along the path.  An unusual place for a wedding yet an unforgettable wedding for this lucky couple.  The last picture I leave you with is of an oak gracing the side of the creek.  The leaves are just sprouting and the bright blue sky contrasts the light green leaves and the dark oak bark.  I hope the hike the Memorial day weekend.  I don’t know which hiking trail will call to me but I know whatever the choice it will be a memorable hike.

I would like to thank my friend Tom who accompanied me on this hike and put up with my neurotic tendencies when in high places.  Thank you.

Baxter Hollow, A hidden Treasure in the Baraboo Hills

It’s July and the summer heat is pressed upon us.  Days of relaxing under the catalpa sipping cool lemonade.  My refuge on those hot days when every piece of clothing sticks to your skin and the air hangs heavy. 

Today the sky is clear.  The blue is electrifying shocking my inner soul.  It is a great day to hike in the cool shade of Baxter Hollow.  Few people venture to this nature preserve.  Only a stones throw from Devil’s Lake yet you can walk for miles without seeing  a single person.  If you want a morning hike to collect your thoughts without the crowds this is the place.  If you are driving from Sauk City you take Hwy 12 out of the city and follow it to Badger ammunition.  On the other side of the plant turn left on Hwy C and drive for about 1.4 miles.  Then turn right on Stones Pocket Rd.  Drive into the forested area.  There has been a road block for the past several years.  I always park on the roadside and hike in for the next mile on the road.  I have included a link to a map of the surrounding area of Baxter hollow.

The road is closed because of damage from floods in previous years
The entrance

As you walk on the road you enter a gorge cut through Baraboo quartzite by Otter Creek.  Cold clear water rushes beside you and the sound f water hitting the quartzite boulders greets your ears. NEar Otter Creek white pines fill the sky blanketing the area in a dappled shade.  The presence of water in the creek and wetlands below creat a diverse fauna that is evident as you walk up the road to the natural preserve. As you walk you will notice the many ferns including the maidenhair and marginal wood fern.  There are witch hazel, and birch dotting the roadway with tall ash, maple and oak at every turn of the road.  In the late spring there is a sea of wild geranium the surprise each hike with their pink blossoms and if you look closely you will sly squawroot pushing up through the dead foliage.  Little cone-shaped spikes with a golden glow that almost look foreign in the spring landscape.  This is the largest preserve in the Baraboo Hills covering 5600 acres and has been growing since the Nature Conservancy purchased it in 1970.

As we walked in the deer flies attack.  If you have a hat and a cloth to drape over your neck and ears then by all means bring them.  THe flies will be bothersome as long as you are hiking in the shade by the water.

The deer flies don’t seem to bother Tom.

Otter Creek crosses te road after short walk on the rad.  quartzite boulders line the creek.  Brought down from rushing flood waters after torrential rains.  They have been scattered as if a 10 foot child had been playing with toy blocks and tossed with excitement over the streambed.  Sun streams down through the breaks in the white pines.  Bright rays glisten as the stream reflects them.  The road meanders along the creek then heads up the gorge leaving the sound of rushing water behind.  The forested hills are green this time of year.  Tall white and red oaks with birch and maple fill the area.  Wildflowers and ferns blanket the undercanopy.  You slowly break free from the stresses and rushing of days past as the forest seeps into your senses.  Smells, sounds and sights are everywhere at every turn.

THe road dips down to Otter Creek for one last cross before you trek up hill to the entrance of Baxter Hollow.  A red rusted gate seems to block the entrance.  THere is a gap to the right of the gate that allows you entrance into the nature preserve.  THere are several markers at the entrance that tell you a little about the area. but I found it best to browse the internet for information and maps of the hollow.
The path through the preserve can be muddy and overgrown so dress appropriately.  There is a patch of willows only a short walk from the entrance.  They envelop the path.  A short distance further and the path opens into a meadow of tall grasses and wildflowers.  In the mid summer the grass is waist high.  Th dew from the grass cools your skin to the touch.  The milkweeds call to butterflies that fly overhead.  Their colorful wings flutter in the blue sky with contrasts of yellow, orange, and red.  Each painted carefully with dots and stripes to catch your eye.  We see grass that is laid flat in large areas as if deer had bedded down here the night before.  Soft mounds of grass flattened for a cool nights slumber.

   The hike through the wooded area has many surprises.  springs and small streams are underfoot in many places.  The underbrush is covered with many wildflowers and ferns.  Lush green leaves carpet the ground.  Tall oaks and maples surround you filtering the hot sun.

A couple of miles into the hike you come across a dry stream bead.  hundreds of boulders strewn over the bed.  There are mossy sides of some boulders.  Green carpet on the hard rock.  The deep shape allows the moss to grow unhindered. 

The green canopy of trees block the sun cooling the forest floor.  The hot July sun has no power here.  hey have been dash away by the guardian trees of the wood.  viridescent leaves of many sizes and shapes protect the many residents from the hot rays of the sun.  The cool shade is welcome and kisses my cheeks as a smile at the cool touch of her lips.  The ferns dance around my feet and I step through them.  Each frond bouncing in a secret rhythm as the music of the wood whispers to each dance partner.  It is a summer ballad and the wind carries it through the gorge for each tree and fen to enjoy.

The trail is hard to follow in areas so we keep a mindful log of each landmark that we pass.  This preserve is so large that it would be easy to lose ones direction if we were not watchful.  The enjoyment of the day fills my soul. y eyes have taken in so much this day yet each time I come back to Baxter Hollow there is something new that had gone unnoticed before.

I have been hiking less this summer due to a knee injury.  A torn meniscus.  Dull throbs in my leg always persistent keep y from wandering too much in the woods.  I do turn back and follow the path out of the hollow.  But the ache in my leg is quelled by the sounds of summer that are filling the air. 

Each time I hike through Baxter Hollow I try to pick a different time of the year.  The fall has brilliant color, the spring has vibrant greens and new life sprouting from every foot of the undergrowth. THe summer has rich foliage that beckons you further into the hollow.  Every time I enter I come away with a fresh outlook as if the wood had found the frets and worries within my life and banished them.  It is this feeling that draws me back again and again.

Hemlock Draw State Natural Area

A warm summer day deserves a cool walk in a shady wood.  The Hemlock Draw State Natural Area just out of Leland is that cool wood.  Just take Hemlock Road 2 miles, then continue north on Reich Drive 0.5 miles to the gate. Park along the shoulder of the road south of the mailbox. Please do not block Reich Drive as local farmer use it to move large equipment.  It is easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled.

Upon entering the trail head there is a sign to great you.  It will tell you about the Natural Area and map it out for you.  A short walk down the trail and it opens onto a stream.  The birds fly overhead asking you to follow.  You can make out many different birds from the calls if you listen carefully.  There are many different species of birds in this natural area.  A great place for bird watching.  During the migration the birds take refuge here so you can spot many types of birds that yo nave not seen before.

There is a stream crossing that is a little tricky.  A little ravine and then the stream.  As long as you are sure footed you should have no problem.  There is skunk cabbage and wildflowers growing by the stream edge.  The water trickles slowly down the stream.  The sounds are tranquil with the birds and stream gurgling, the wind rushing through the trees.  This is a quiet hike and you will rarely see another person in the wood.

The woods are filling with birch and maple.  White oak and ash.  Many different types of trees as the trail winds through the wood.None are marked yet those who know the different species will be able to pick out the variety of trees within the natural area.  Just looking at the leaves you can see the wide varity of maples, oaks and birch.

After about 4 miles in you will come to the hemlock draw.  Sandstone outcroppings with hemlock growing along a dry stream bed.  The sandstone is cool to the touch.  The hemlocks block the sun as they touch the sky.  It is like a cathedral with a choir of birds singing as you walk among the towering hemlocks.  The dry stream bed is covered with small stones like a cobble stoned road.  Dappled sunlight plays upon the stones at midday. As you walk through the draw you can feel the cool air wafting off the sandstone. There are places where you can scale the sandstone but be careful of poison ivy and itch weed.  It is prevalent in the overgrowth of fauna.

You can spend many hours investigating the natural area.  There are only a couple of paths in the wood but each is a pleasure to hike.  You will not forget this place and this fem will be a favorite spot if you ever decide to hike it.  It is a great hike for a hot afternoon.

Ready. Set. GO!

A hike at Devil’s Lake

Sounds like a race, doesn’t it?  Well, not a race but maybe more of a leisurely stroll.

I live in a small house in the small picturesque town of Baraboo.  It is nestled in the Baraboo hills along a meandering river of the same name.  The streets are lined with maples, oaks, elms and the occasional spruce.  The downtown square lies just off the river with colorful shop fronts beckoning in each curious traveler.  A weekly farmer’s market sets up each Saturday as weather permits and festivals are held most every other week far into the fall.  The countryside is a spectacular vision to all that behold it.  Majestic pines tower over tumbling rock formations.  Glacial trails wind both north and south marking the edge of the long forgotten glacier that once blanketed the land.  A mixture of farm valleys and granite prehistoric mountains mixed with sandstone and limestone bluffs provided a wonderful backdrop to hiking and bike riding in this small town. Over the upcoming weeks I will hike through the parks and back woods trails.  Documenting each step I take through the Baraboo hills and neighboring areas.  And if I happen to remember my camera, I will snap a couple of pictures for you to enjoy. Most days I head to Devil’s Lake.  A beautiful state park just a short bike ride (short is you don’t mind 15 miles) away.  I can get there and back in less than an hour.  Of course I have to linger so I can enjoy all that the park has to offer.  So, this weekend I will start with a hike through Devil’s Lake State Park.  I have included a picture of the Baraboo Granite that lines the bluffs and lakeside in the park.  Just to tease you a bit.  I promise that I will take more pictures…..that is if I remember my camera.