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

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.

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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.