Category Archives: Nature

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.


Photos of Parfreys Glen

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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.

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.