Ice Age Trail at Devil’s Lake offers heavenly wandering

Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail is unique for several reasons, including its lack of directness compared to most of the other 10 National Scenic Trails.

Its S-shaped path terminates in the east near Sturgeon Bay and in the west on the St. Croix River. Driving directly between each terminus would require a trip of about 320 miles. Yet the trail winds about for some 1,120 miles, plus an extra 80 or so for a bifurcation that occurs at Devil’s Lake State Park.

Only the North Country Trail, which runs 4,600 miles through eight states (including northern Wisconsin), comes close to the meandering nature of the Ice Age.  But it is a relatively flattened S in comparison.

Most national trails look more or less like fairly direct lines from one end to another when viewed as a whole.  For me, the wandering Ice Age is more charming. The trail beckons as a way of seeing our fine state rather than plowing through it from beginning to end.

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Baraboo, No. 2: Parfrey’s Glen awes year-round visitors

Washington and Wall Street may have brought new life to the cliché “an embarrassment of riches,” but it’s still nice to see places that came about their riches honestly.

Sauk County is one of those places. The long, slow processes of glaciation and melting, along with shifting waterways, erosion and other natural forces, have blessed the county with more than its share of physical wonders, including Devil’s Lake, one of our most popular state parks.

I’ve been to that park several times in a decade of Wisconsin residency, and after a fine day trip to the Baraboo Riverwalk in late November, I decided I hadn’t come close to my fill of the area. So I convinced frequent hiking buddy Chris Sadler to check out Parfrey’s Glen and a little more of the Ice Age Trail about a week later.

The first of Wisconsin’s state natural areas, Parfrey’s is a deep, rocky ravine that’s worthy of “Lord of the Rings”-scale fantasies. The rugged, boulder-filled end of the ravine, where a small waterfall pours into the gorge’s mouth, makes Parfrey’s an imagination-inspiring destination.

 

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Unlike Bigfoot and broken promises, Baraboo is the real thing

Being nestled between the Dells and Devil’s Lake may sound like a recipe for being an outdoor-recreation also-ran, but the city of Baraboo has its own fresh-air gem in its Baraboo Riverwalk.

Part of the Ice Age Trail, the Riverwalk is only four miles of mostly-paved walkways meandering through the heart of Baraboo. It shows off a charming small city in its best light and it’s worth a trip for its own sake, although there’s plenty of bonus entertainment that comes along with it.

Hiking buddy Chris Sadler and I recently took two vehicles, parking one at the northern trail endpoint at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County campus in Baraboo. We extended our hiking distance by heading to a parking area just off State Highway 113 in the eastern portion of Devil’s Lake State Park, where the Devil’s Lake segment of the IAT starts.

The park wasn’t in our itinerary for the day, although it and other area local spots are on the agenda for future columns.

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Original “selfie stick” provides view of a bigger picture

This is my second weekly column for the Portage County Gazette, whose new web site is almost ready. — Steve

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loren & yami overlooking boquillas

The best pictures of nature show less of the people and more of the scenery, like these native grinding holes in a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande and Mexico (Big Bend National Park, 2000) .

Selfie sticks are getting whacked a lot lately.

For those still living in the world of talking to others, selfie sticks are the devices that allow one to avoid all human contact while holding a camera at more than arm’s length and blessing everyone with yet another shot of one’s beaming mug.

Banned from some Disney World rides because of the danger they can cause, they also are forbidden at many concerts and festivals because they block people’s views. Coachella’s web site called them “narsisstics.”

For obvious reasons, the secret service didn’t want them near the Pope on his U.S. visit. Reuters News Service  and Mashable recently told us that more people have died taking selfies in 2015 than have been killed in shark attacks.  Search “selfies” in the New York Times and you’ll get all sorts of cogent, thoughtful, and recriminating pieces about the meaning of selfies in our culture.

This is the story of my selfie stick.

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Waning days of a beautiful Wisconsin summer

The end of last week brought us some of those spectacular Wisconsin summer days that make this place like no other.  Wispy clouds, a deeper and clearer blue in the sky, a crispness to the sunlight that highlighted the contrasting greens, yellows, purples and other colors of our Northwoods palette without making anything too sharp.  Pines, birches and tamaracks, rivers and lakes, red barns and rolling hills, all with just enough focus to spotlight their beauty, but enough softness to remind us of the fragility of those passing, perfect days.

We were fortunate to be able to share our Wisconsin with a niece from Texas.  She got to try Paul Bunyan’s donuts in Minocqua and camp at Copper Falls State Park, eat a garlic-asiago roll from Ashland Baking Company and a sub from Penokee Mountain Deli and Sausage, and run the trails and throw rocks into the water at Amnicon Falls State Park.

It was a fantastic time.  There aren’t suitable words or space to relate how wonderful it was and how blessed I felt to be able to share it with two rambunctious little girls — my 7-year-old daughter and her 11-year-old cousin.  There’s nothing like being around kids who are likely to burst into loud Christmas carols at the mention of the town of Rudolph or shriek with unbounded joy at finding a better stick to play with than the last one.

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