Category Archives: Hiking

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.


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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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.

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.