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. http://dnr.wi.gov/Org/land/er/sna/PDF_topo/map82.pdf
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.
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 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.