I spent a few hours Sunday afternoon driving and walking Wisconsin Rustic Road 51 in Pierce County. This is the most rustic of the rustic roads I’ve driven. It was not much more than two wheel tracks, in many spots suitable for only a single vehicle. It starts at the top of a small ravine. The road and ravine plunge downhill with a cliff rising up on one side of the road and the ravine on the other side of the road. There was little water in the ravine, only a few small pools. In the spring after snowmelt or perhaps after heavy rain, there would probably be water rushing down the ravine and over least one waterfall. Eventually, the ravine levels out into a narrow, flat-bottomed valley run through by Pine Creek, a small, meandering stream. In four places the creek crosses the road in gravel washes – no bridges or culverts.
I spent a couple hours photographing the road and didn’t encounter a vehicle or a person. The weather was not good. I had to use an umbrella to keep the rain off my camera lenses. Not the best light or weather for photography. I did get a few decent shots, not just on Rustic Road 51, but on other back roads in southern Pierce County. I think I did OK considering the conditions. And – I had fun.
I am starting two new challenges: to cover the segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin and to read fifty classic books over the next five years.
North Country National Scenic Trail
I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete this challenge given my age and the state of my health. I intend to have fun trying. I used the verb “cover” in the first paragraph above because some of the trail follows roads so I’ll be able to drive. The rest I’ll have to hike – definitely a challenge since I can manage only a mile or two at a time.
The North Country Trail Association describes the trail as “the longest in the National Trails System, stretching 4,600 miles over 7 states from the middle of North Dakota to the Vermont border of New York. The stretch in Wisconsin is 207 miles and runs from the Minnesota – Wisconsin border near Superior, Wisconsin to where the Wisconsin – Michigan border meets Lake Superior.
I’ve been exploring the Chippewa River this spring and late winter in the stretch of river between Eau Claire and the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin. Much of the terrain along this part of the river is barrens such as the Dunnville Barrens and bottoms such as the Dunnville Bottoms. And yes, a bottoms can be a barrens.
Bottoms, as in bottomlands, are “low-lying land along a watercourse” [Merriam-Webster.com]. Barrens are “level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.” [dictionary.com.] So bottomland can be barren but not necessarily, and barrens can be on bottomland, but not necessarily.
This is part of the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area within the Dunnville Bottoms.
This is a fun area to explore. It encompasses the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area, Dunnville Bottoms, the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, and the Dunnville State Rec Area and Sandbar (great for swimming). The Red Cedar State Trail runs along its southern edge, crosses the river on an old railroad bridge, and ends at its intersection with the Chippewa River State Trail. The Chippewa River State Trail runs along the river between Eau Claire and Durand.
I wrote this post a year ago, March 21, 2016. For some reason, I forgot to publish it. Better late than never.
I went to the Wind In the Pines Nature Park yesterday. As has happened before in the park, I was unable to follow the trails. The trail map in the parking lot showed that to follow the route I chose, I should go left at the first fork and left again at the next T-intersection. I didn’t find either of those things before coming to the end of the trail. I tried to follow what seemed an obvious alternative. The alternative was a very faint trail, but judging by the terrain I thought I was at least in the right area. The trail faded in and out but I was always able to find some sort of trail, sometimes very faint. I eventually came to an easy-to-follow trail marked by stone cairns.
Lo and behold, I came out in a different parking lot in a different natural and scientific area that I never knew existed. That explains why so many signs I saw were facing the wrong direction. The area I stumbled upon is the Falls Creek State Natural Area managed by the Minnesota DNR. By the end of my hike, I hadn’t taken very many steps, but I ended the days with around 40 floors of vertical movement according to my Fitbit, most of it in crossing and re-crossing what I think was the same gulch in the forest, one that carried a very nice, small stream.
Most of the better photos I took were of small things. I was often on my hands and knees or sitting to get close to the subject.
I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area. The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock. The top of the knob is relatively flat. The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge. Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens. There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.
I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime. I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out. Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head. (Hovering? They were attacking.) I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.) Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible. That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.
On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum). The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got. By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing. This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects. The first time it was mosquitoes. Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots. The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.
I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind. What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats. Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent. She was one of the first pilots in the region. She writes about elephant hunting:
Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush. A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat. Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files. The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.
All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain. Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”
By the way, I highly recommend the book. A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.
The Fish Lake State Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin near Grantsburg is part of a collection of areas managed as The Glacial Lake Grantsburg Properties. They are Fish Lake Wildlife Area, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, and Amsterdam Sloughs Wildlife Area.
The Fish Lake area is mostly “huge sedge marshes” interspersed with areas of low hills with oak forests. The first time I visited Fish Lake, I was not very impressed – it seemed too flat. The more I visited and explored, the more I came to appreciate the area. There are lots of nooks and crannies, paths and dirt roads to explore. I was there yesterday, a beautiful warm Sunday. I didn’t encounter another soul. That’s heaven for an introvert that loves exploring solo.
I reached the source of the St. Croix River in northwest Wisconsin. Last year I tried twice to reach the source. The first time I got to the start of the Brule Portage section of the North Country trail after I was already tired out so I didn’t hike very far. The second time I could find no way to get to the source. There was a clearly marked side trail to the head of the Bois Brule River but nothing to the St. Croix. After the second try, I decided that I would come back for another attempt when the snow had melted but there was not yet any foliage in the woods. I also studied Google Maps and my Delorme Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetteer (page 25 I think.) I decided that if I parked on the side of Rifle Range Road, a dirt road northeast of Solon Springs, I would be only a few hundred yards from the source of the St. Croix.
I drove, I parked, and I walked in on a trail which shortly ended at the North Country Trail from where I could easily see a small pond. I knew I was in the right spot because I had seen the pond on Google Maps. I had been in the same spot last year but had no idea that the pond and St. Croix Creek were only a couple hundred feet away. The mid-summer foliage completely hid the pond.
I walked to the pond and could see that a small stream choked by fallen logs entered the head of the pond. The stream was the headwaters of the St. Croix. I confess that I didn’t get to the literal source. Walking was like bushwhacking through a jungle. I didn’t have the energy to go the extra 100, at most, yards that would have put me at the source (water bubbling out of a spring perhaps.) I can claim that I saw and photographed the headwaters, if not the actual source, of the St. Croix so I consider the expedition a success.
Pond On St. Croix Creek
Near St. Croix Creek; Like a Jungle
St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River
I recently wrote about Jay Maisel’s book Light,Gesture, & Color in which he writes
All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can. One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.
I’m now reading On Being a Photographer. David Hurn advises photographers to
. . . take on a project that is containable, and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. . . . just wandering around looking for pictures, hoping that something will pop up and announce itself, does not work.
I think both approaches can work and have worked for me. It’s true that having some sort of focus, whether it’s a project or a weekly challenge published on the internet, will improve one’s photography. I have fun just rambling about with camera ready. Sometimes things do pop up. I went on a road trip yesterday to work on my project to photograph the St. Croix River from source to mouth. I also kept my eyes open for pop-up opportunities. Of the three best photos from yesterday, one was of the St. Croix, the other two were things I spotted while driving on back roads in Wisconsin. Here are the three:
Artistic: Shadows – The opposite of light is dark, the absence of light is shadow. Interpret this into a masterpiece.
The alley is completely in shadow in contrast to the building at the end of the alley that is sunlit.
I had jambalaya at the Court Brew Pub in Des Moines last night. I had a choice of mild, traditional, or hot. I’m glad that I chose mild. Traditional would have been painful. Hot would have been fatal. The jambalaya came in a huge bowl with a large and tasty cornbread muffin. It had chicken, andouille sausage, ham, shrimp, okra, rice and who knows what else. It was very good although I didn’t completely enjoy the texture of the okra. I also had two IPAs brewed on site: Honest Lawyer IPA. I chose the IPA because my cousin is a lawyer in Iowa and is completely honest. That makes sense doesn’t it?
Tonight I ate in a sports bar that advertises itself – rightly so – as a sports museum. I didn’t eat at this Subway. I saw it on my walk home. I think it makes a nice photo.
I hiked yesterday on the Riverside Trail in William O’Brien State Park. I live only 20 miles from the park but haven’t been there in years, decades even.
It was well below zero with an even lower wind chill. (I guess wind chills are always “even lower”.) I saw no one on the trails. I saw two gray squirrels, one mouse or vole, and few crows. That is all. I felt very good about braving the bitter cold and remaining reasonably comfortable – I was dressed for the weather complete with long underwear and a balaclava. In one spot on the ice of a side channel of the river out of the wind and in full sun, I was actually quite snug. My camera worked well in spite of the cold. The only effect was that my lens’s zoom mechanism was stiff.
So what’s your muse — what subject do you turn to frequently, more inspired each time?
My first thought was of the old, lift bridge over the St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minnesota. I live only a five-minute walk from the bridge and have photographed it in all seasons and under many different conditions. Then I thought of my photo drive; a route over the back roads of Washington County in Minnesota and St. Croix County in Wisconsin that I drive regularly with all my camera gear. Above is my favorite photo from one of these drives – a lone tree in the backwaters of the St. Croix. Below are some other favorites from the drive plus some shots of the lift bridge.
At the start of June, I went on a day trip exploring the area between Bayfield and Cornucopia, Wisconsin. I stopped at Bayfield, Little Sand Bay, Meyers Beach, and Cornucopia (see map). Here are some of the photos from the day.
I drove down to Columbus, Nebraska over the weekend. I stopped a number of times along the way to take photos. I had a run-in with a farmer who told me that “around here we call it trespassing.” I had driven into an abandoned farmstead that was not posted. All I was doing was taking photos. Chill, dude. I didn’t actually say that. I was very polite and all ended well.
One picture in the slide show below is of the Randall Valley, which I took from a dirt road above the valley. How could I not take the dirt road down into the valley to see what I would see? Way down upon the valley bottom, the road intersected with another dirt road. At the intersection was an abandoned white church.
Another picture is of a tiny, one-room jail in Verdel, Nebraska. The jail is about 10 feet by 10 feet. Notice the barred, glassless windows. There were no signs to indicate its historical significance or even if it was still in use. I doubt it. It would get a bit cold in the winter. The jail is not actually pink. I added the color so I could use the picture in a slide show with the theme Color.
I went to Duluth and environs on May Day. I wanted to visit Wisconsin Point which is a mirror image – geographically speaking – of Minnesota Point. Culturally the two points are completely different. Minnesota Point is residential with houses closed packed along the shoreline. Wisconsin Point has only one structure one it. The rest is beaches, beach grasses, and pine woods. There is also a white, red-roofed lighthouse where the two points are separated by a narrow channel that gives access into the inner port. I also had lunch at Fitger’s in Duluth and spent time on the Superior shore north of Duluth with my camera on a tripod waiting for the sun to shine through a patch in the clouds which it never did. I wound back home on the back roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The view of the St. Louis River Valley is from a historic overlook on Minnesota Highway 23. I came upon the quiet pool and stream along a gravel road in Carlton County, Minnesota.
Last year I did a day trip to the Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin and ran across the tiny town of Gays Mills, in a small valley with hills to the east and west. A highway winds up the hill to the east. There are a historical marker and parking area at the top of the highway from which one can look down on the town directly along the main street that is only a few blocks long. Since that day I had often thought of going back to Gays Mills to take a picture of the town at sundown.
Friday I did. The area around Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove, and Ontario is pleasant, beautiful, and photogenic. I got some nice photos. My POTD is of Gays Mills in the blue hour after sundown. There was still light in the sky, but it was dark enough so that the lights had come on in the town. A nice photo.
In one little town on the Kickapoo River – Ontario I think – there is a canoe rental business that has buildings with metal siding stamped to look like bricks. The buildings are painted bright yellow with maroon trim around the doors and windows. I could not pass by without getting some nice shots of the building, some against the blue sky and white clouds.
My day’s shoot was filled out with barns, sheds, landscapes, etc. All in all, a very successful day. (However, I didn’t get any exercise. I ate poorly. I had too much beer, and I didn’t get home until after 1:00 AM.)
Tuesday evening I blogged about starting Road Trip 2014. That evening in a hotel in Fargo I couldn’t sleep (not unusual for me in a hotel), and around 1:00 AM I started feeling sick. So I made the rather impetuous decision to cancel the road trip and return home. Since I couldn’t sleep I got out of bed, got dressed, and hit the road going east.
In retrospect, I feel a twinge of regret, but I think I think I did the right thing. I’m not ready. My plan now is to do all I can to get fit enough for strenuous hiking and do the road trip next spring.
Today is the first day of my Road Trip 2014. I only made it to Fargo because I got a late start. Fargo seems appropriate because I drove from a warm, humid air mass from down south into a winter-like, cold air mass moving out of Canada. I was going northwest. The cold air was moving southeast. We met, and the temperature dropped twenty degrees between The Twin Cities and Fargo.
I drove about 250, uneventful miles today. I expect the driving to stay pretty boring until tomorrow evening at the earliest. Straight west across the flat lands of North Dakota on I-94. I plan on avoiding interstates and freeways as much as possible, except for getting across the Great Plains. I’m going to scout my road atlases and stick to scenic roads.
I’m staying overnight at an over-priced Fairmont Inn in Fargo. It will be cold and wet tomorrow. I have always pictured myself on this road trip hiking in shorts in warm weather. I didn’t think it would be too cold for shorts. Luckily I got a new rain parka and a light-weight fleece on Thursday. I’ve outgrown the parka and fleece I had. (Only growing children should outgrow their clothes. Not a man in his mid-sixties. I’ve had to replace my entire wardrobe.)
As I was driving today I thought that if I hadn’t made Airbnb reservations, I might have headed south today instead of north. What would be worse? Low temperatures, rain, and wind? Or monsoonal rains in the Southwest strengthened by a hurricane in the eastern Pacific? I don’t know if there is anyplace in the west that will not be having unpleasant weather over the next few days.
I’m starting on an extended road trip in September. I don’t know how long I will be gone; at least a few weeks. The closest I’ve come to a schedule is thinking that I should be back home by election day in November.
I have been thrilled to discover and use Airbnb.com, a unique site. It puts travellers in touch with people wanting to rent houses, rooms – I even saw someone renting a couch for $10 a night. There are also very expensive rentals. The prices range from very low to very high; something to meet anyone’s budget. I stumbled across Airbnb after checking out typical, chain hotels in Medora, South Dakota next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the sort of hotels easily found using sites like Expedia. They were all too expensive at around $200 a night. The great thing about Airbnb is that one’s accommodations become part of the travel experience. One can stay in unique dwellings, truly one of a kind.
I’ve booked into two places, each for three nights and each at about $90. Here is one of them, The Shipping Container Home in Montana.