Category Archives: camping

Sauk County: the Wisconsin river valley

There’s something about driving through the Wisconsin countryside that tugs at my Missouri roots and summer days spent on the family farm.  Between the rolling hills, lush green foliage, water, bluffs, and scenic overlooks this state is beyond picturesque, with the drive from Madison west to Spring Green hovering near the top of my favorite scenic drives list.

I was headed to the lower Wisconsin river valley to camp and visit my friend M who lives in that part of the state. Windows rolled down and wind whipping through my hair, I was belting out the words to TLC’s “don’t go chasing waterfalls” when I realized I’d been here for a year now. A YEAR. It’s strange because that part of my life seems so far out of reach but at the same time like it all happened just yesterday. Time sure does fly. But I digress.

M grew up on a cheese factory farm about 10 minutes outside Spring Green so we took a drive over that way so he could show me where he grew up. Though they weren’t making cheese that day, I at least got my very own personal tour and sampled some of the best sharp cheddar cheese I’ve ever had. Along the inside walls are pictures of the farm dating back to when his grandfather first bought it some 40 years ago. The tanks below were on the farm and they still stand there today so I just had to get a picture with them.

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After the cheese factory we went on a hike to St. Ann’s shrine – a sweet hilltop stone chapel dedicated to the mother of Mary. M and I both grew up Catholic so it had special significance for us. When we got there we took off on foot through the cemetery and past the stations of the cross lining a steep trail that went through the woods. There are only a few pews on the inside but sitting there you could feel a strong sense of spiritual presence in the room.

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Though I love all these hidden gems, there was one super touristy thing I wanted to do in Spring Green, which was visit the House on the Rock. It is just that – a house on a rock. It’s one of the main attractions in Wisconsin and something I wanted to mark off my bucket list for my county-by-county project. Lucky for me, M had left over tickets from last year so while he went to work for a few hours I wandered my way over to the scenic overlook off Hwy 23 and to section III of the site.

From the scenic overlook you can see the Infinity Room of the house (I would totally pee my pants being up there) and you can’t help but marvel at the architectural genius of Alex Jordan. I think maybe because I didn’t go into the house itself I was confused about what section III was actually about but nonetheless seeing the largest indoor carousel and perusing the collection of old, albeit sometimes creepy, artifacts was pretty cool. I only made it through section III but since tickets are good a year from the date of purchase I have plenty of time to head back and check out the other sections.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Another hidden gem M took me to is a diner tucked back in the foothills on a small air landing strip. Here you can enjoy breakfast and watch hangar planes fly in and out. It’s the kind of place where no one is in a rush (it took us two hours to even get our food) but with the extra time we could sit back, drink our coffee, and enjoy the conversation and views.

M was a fabulous tour guide!

M was a fabulous tour guide!

A restaurant named restaurant.

A restaurant named restaurant.

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A lot of the activities I got to do were things I would have never even known about if it weren’t for M, which is part of why I love having locals play tour guides wherever I go. One thing I do see as I’m writing this post and looking at the pictures is that I am finally moving forward with my life. It makes my heart full to see happiness in my eyes instead of emptiness and for once in a very long while I know that I’m not pretending to feel that way for the sake of those I am around. Thanks, M, for a great weekend!

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Filed under camping, County project, exploring, friends, happiness, hiking, outdoors, travel

Jackson County: Black River State Forest

Since I’ve been traveling out of state a lot this year, I decided to keep my summer adventures close to home. This past weekend marked the beginning of a summer chock full of camping, hiking, and kayaking adventures, which fits in perfectly with my county by county project. For sure my favorite part of living in Wisconsin is the abundance of outdoor activities available to me in my own backyard. Finally, all that investment in outdoor equipment will pay off!

For the first camping trip of the season, a few friends and I headed 2 1/2 hours north to black bear and timber wolf country, where Black River State Forest offers some of the best hiking, canoeing, and fishing in the state. Our camp site was at East Fork Campground, which is one of the more rustic places to stay as there is no electricity and you have to use vault pumps for fresh water. I prefer rustic sites like these over those close to showers and plumbing, primarily because sites with more amenities mean camp sites are literally sitting on top of one another. Though the sites at East Fork were somewhat spread out, they were still pretty close to one another, which I found to be the only downfall to staying there. Usually I prefer hike-in sites that are off the beaten path (the ones where you carry water in and carry trash out) solely because you’re nestled in the woods and further away from other groups, which means you don’t have to abide by quiet hours or worry about how much noise you’re making. Plus, I appreciate being nestled deep in the woods.

I think back to this trip and I can’t help but laugh at all our misadventures, especially for two of my friends who were camping for the second time ever. I only wish the weather hadn’t taken a turn for the worse – from bright and sunny to a torrential downpour – since I doubt they have any desire to tag along on future trips. Between the abundance of ticks and mosquitoes and the flooding of their tent, I feel bad their introduction into the great outdoors was less than ideal. To quote one of them, “This was the worst night of my life.” Haha.

If anything, I think we all learned the importance of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, as well as investing in quality equipment (especially tents). My buyer’s remorse over a $200 tent? Completely wiped out! That sucker held up in a massive thunderstorm with no leaking whatsoever.

But my most exciting purchase of the season was my kayak, though I will admit it came with its own frustrations. For one, I’m weak in my upper body strength, which means lifting the kayak on top of my vehicle alone is almost impossible. There was a lot of cursing on my end. Plus, my anxiety level went through the roof since I had to keep stopping on the side of the highway to readjust the kayak as it kept popping out of the rack. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos since then to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Hopefully I get it right the next time around. If anything, I’m determined to do all this without needing the help of someone else.

Also, somewhat disappointing is the fact that Miley absolutely hates being in the kayak (actually, hate is an understatement). And, getting her life vest on is a difficult task in and of itself. Basically, I have to wrestle and hold her between my legs. Once I get it on, she makes every attempt to tear it off. She becomes a wild child. On the bright side, she looks super freaking adorable in it!

Though I thought she would love being in the kayak given her love of water, the further out we got from shore, the more she whined and started shaking. Not to mention the fact she nearly flipped me on several occasions (it will happen eventually, I’m sure of it). Plus, she ignored all my commands. I feel like this photo pretty much sums up life with Miley on a daily basis, especially the bottom right box. 🙂

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Hopefully her comfort level will change the more we take the kayak out. I mean, it has to!

Despite some of the frustrations of this past weekend’s camping trip, I had a pretty good time. Check out some of our photos below.

BeFunky Collage

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Filed under camping, County project, kayaking, outdoors, parks, photos

Grant county: camping on the confluence

Along the southwestern border of Wisconsin is Wyalusing State Park, which is where the lower Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi. About 500 feet above where the rivers meet is an abundance of outdoor space and natural beauty just begging to be explored. I first discovered Wyalusing on a travel Wisconsin website and it’s been on my list of parks to explore ever since so when my friend Kelsey invited me to join her and a group of about 15 others to set up camp here for the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.

Although most people I’ve talked to about Wyalusing have never been there or even heard of it, it definitely didn’t disappoint. I now consider it one of Wisconsin’s hidden gems, offering plenty of scenic views, hiking trails, and canoeing and kayaking opportunities. You can even go birding here if that’s your thing. Although I’m not so much into that, the number of bald eagles I spotted from different vantage points was amazing. Their sheer enormity left me awe-struck and watching them soar among the tree tops in mass made me feel a sort of spiritual connection to the earth.

The fact there were few people in the park definitely added to the overall experience. Typically, group camp sites leave a lot to be desired (overcrowded, no privacy, flat grassy land) but I was impressed with the sites here. Our little camping village was nestled at the end of a long drive and in the shape of a horseshoe, meaning we were secluded from other campers and surrounded by trees. It made the experience more intimate and friendly – a home away from home – and offered more opportunity to get to know some of the other people there. I came away from the trip feeling fortunate to have met Kelsey and her group of friends. They’ve all been so warm and welcoming but Kelsey especially has invited me into her life with open arms. I think what helps is that of everyone, only one is a native Wisconsinite. Everyone else moved here from out-of-state so there’s a sort of kinship and bond in understanding what it’s like to move to a city where you know no one.

Speaking of bonding, by far my favorite part of the weekend (which ironically had nothing to do with being outdoors) was the result of an impulse buy. On the way out of town, Kelsey and I stopped at Woodman’s to pick up a few items and inevitably got sidetracked by the giant pit of piñatas. Even though we were a group of adults, there was no reason not to blindfold people and watch them whack at something with a bat. It was the best $10 I’ve spent in a while. If I had thought about it more, I would have filled it with something other than candy, like baby bottles of booze. Who wouldn’t want that raining from the sky?! We certainly got some strange looks from other campers and I imagine we all looked like total red necks but it was fun. Plus, I love telling the story of Kelsey and me walking out of Woodman’s with a giant piñata, a bag of candy, a case of beer, 5 packets of taco seasoning, and ice.

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Scenic view on a hike through the bluffs.

Scenic view on a hike through the bluffs.

Kelsey and Selina posing with the bird pre destruction.

Kelsey and Selina posing with the bird pre destruction.

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Filed under camping, County project, Joy, parks

Door County Fish Boils

I sat with my parents and grandma around a fire pit outside the Old Post Office in Ephraim, WI as Earl, the boil master, prepared our food for us. He stoked the fire, removed and added logs around the pit to control the temperature, and shared a short history of fish boils interspersed with corny fisherman jokes like, “What did the fish say when it hit the concrete wall? … DAM!” and, “Why did the vegan go deep-sea fishing? … Just for the halibut!” (I’m chuckling even as I write these). 

I suppose that’s really what Door County fish boils are about – theatrics over food. Although, don’t get me wrong, the food is pretty fabulous too! The meal typically consists of locally caught whitefish boiled with potatoes, onions, and enough salt to give you a heart attack just looking at it. Top that off with homemade cole slaw, sweetbread, and cherry pie and you’ve got yourself a full on fish boil experience. But the real excitement came when the boil master threw kerosene on the fire, causing the oils from the fish to boil over and engulf the pot in one giant, fabulous flame.

Whitefish, potatoes, onions, and lots of salt. Pre-boiled.

Whitefish, potatoes, onions, and lots of salt. Pre-boiled.

Putting the food into the pot.

Putting the food into the pot.

Kerosene!

Kerosene!

Little fire.

Little fire.

BIG fire!

BIG fire!

And 10 seconds later it's done. :)

And 10 seconds later it’s done. 🙂

Whitefish is tender and mild tasting. It reminded me a lot of soft lobster meat.

Whitefish is tender and mild tasting. It reminded me a lot of soft lobster meat.

For all the entertainment big flames bring, I can appreciate the historical aspect of fish boils as well. Back in the day, they were just a cheap way to feed large groups of fisherman and lumberjacks working and living in the area. Only in the mid-1950s did they become commercialized as a means of drawing in tourists. While they retain their purpose of feeding large groups of people as cheaply as possible, it also gives you some insight into the traditional way of life of a Northwoodsman.

Above all, I love that I got to experience Door County with my 70-year-old grandma. Experiencing a traditional fish boil was a first for the both of us but she had quite a few other firsts all her own as well – her first s’more, first camping trip, and first taste of a fried Wisconsin cheese curd. My grandma often remarks how much she admires my bravery and adventurous spirit because she could never do the things I do. Yet she showed so much courage and bravery this past weekend. While camping or trying a new food for the first time may seem like small potatoes to some, it really is a big deal for her. I am beyond proud. I hope when I’m 70 years old that I’ll still be willing to step outside my comfort zone and say, “Sure, why not.”

First camping trip

First camping trip

And first s'more. I asked her to describe how she was feeling. She said, "I am actually miserable right now." Lol

And first s’more. I asked her to describe how she was feeling. She said, “I am actually miserable right now.” Lol

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Filed under camping, County project, fish boil