Shortly after returning from my big trip a year and a half ago, I took a new job and moved to the northeast corner of Wisconsin – a land of tall pine trees, clear waters, and primal predators. Living in the land of wolves, Wild Rivers, and old-growth hemlock has its perks, but I alternated between exploring my new territory and missing the cows, prairies, and delectable local brews (and cheeses) of the southern portion of the state. I’ve had a lot of questions about what I’ve been doing up here (and, from the skeptics, what there is to do up here), but new friends have also been asking me about the trip I took, and one of the first questions out of everyone’s mouth is, “So, what was your favorite part?” In light of that, before I jump into my “new” adventures, I thought that I would present a post on my “Favorites” from the cross-country travels that inspired this blog.
That proved to be a little more difficult than I thought. There are a few places that stand out as #1 or #2 on my list, but when I try to expand that to a Top 5 or Top 10, I find myself asking, “Well, Favorite what?” Places, people, and things might be highly memorable for only one reason, but not qualify for the overall “Favorite” distinction. Since they say that people today like easily-digestible, prescriptive information, I thought that I would provide a few different summaries of such things as my favorite foods and beverages, wildlife and plant experiences, music and radio stations, and of course the overall cream of the crop.
I’ll start with a list of places that may or may not have made my overall favorite list, but that might have if I’d given them a better fighting chance. I call it:
Top 5 Places I Want to Go Back to and Explore More
Some of the other places on this list might think that it isn’t fair to include this, since I’ve been hoping to plan a trip out here ever since I first saw the area in 2001, moving between Alaska and California. I made a conscious choice not to spend time in the Rockies on this last advenure, because I felt like a week-long backpacking trip needed more specific planning. I wasn’t even planning to go to Idaho, until I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to follow Louis and Clark’s tracks over Lemhi Pass. My one night on the Salmon River was not only a breath of cool air between the heat of central Montana and that of the coastal Central Valley, but the babble of the blue river was a relaxing break between two long and winding days of driving. I’m hoping to get back to the general vicinity sometime in the next two years for a more in-depth experience.
I also decided not to spend a significant amount of time in the desert Southwest, since I had spent over a week there in 2003, moving back from California. I did, however, take a more southern route, and the plants of the desert astounded me more than the red rocks of northern AZ and NM had years before. I dragged my feet a little bit through Arizona, trying to take it all in, but I never had a chance to spend much time in any one place. Specifically, I would have liked to spend more than 18 hours in Tucson, visiting family and getting to see some of the artistic side of the town. I would also get slightly out of town to get to see the more wild and undisturbed portion of Saguaro National Park, and to get a better understanding of desert ecology and plant life. I hope to get back there sometime in the next five years, maybe for a springtime blooming of the desert.
3. Gulf Coast
When planning my travels in Texas, I didn’t even think of the ocean and beaches, so the time I spent there was short, but enjoyable. I wouldn’t mind spending a couple days lounging on a beach, eating oysters on the half-shell, and learning about the coastal ecology that is so valuable to the healthy function of our hemisphere. A couple years back I went to New Orleans for a weekend, and I remember thinking that, if I had scheduled it better, I would have saved some time for the coastal bayous, as well. I’ll probably get down to somewhere along the Gulf coast in the next few years for an informative, tasty, and relaxing few days!
Unlike every other place on this list, Oregon was an integral part of the planning for this cross-country journey. I had never been there, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. During my week there, I had the opportunity to look at most of the more exciting parts of the state, but each portion only briefly. I could spend a lot more time in the mountains of the Cascades and the Coast Range, exploring the neighborhoods of Portland, and dipping my feet in the Pacific. It would be fascinating to give myself a rigorous course in volcanic geology while driving around the state. Most of all, however, I’d like to do a focused survey of the fresh-hop beers that are tapped late every summer. I got a small sampling when I was there, but I was a little late for the peak season, and I hadn’t planned on touring brew houses. Next time I go back, I’ll make sure to be better organized and have a clearer direction to my visit. It might be a good idea to trek the mountains before I start the beer tour, though!
5. Big Thicket
If you recall my recent post on the Big Thicket National Park, you’ll remember that I was very excited about this ecological melting pot, but didn’t even have time to enter the park proper. I’d like to spend several days in this north Texas/north-western Louisiana area with a few good field guides and maybe even a local naturalist to lead the way. Not sure when I’ll get back there, but there’ll be some good botanizing when I do!
To all my fellow adventurers out there – have you been to any of these places or done any of these things? Do you have suggestions for off-the-beaten-path exploration when I finally get a chance to return?