On Monday night, I had a nice dinner that featured some very good, but very rich sausage on a cheese flatbread. As a result, my digestive juices were still working on it the next morning, and everything that reminded me of those sausages seemed to give extra vigor to the process. That wouldn’t seem to be a problem, but as I was driving through south-central Wisconsin, I was assaulted by signs like this in, approaching, and around nearly every town:
I decided that, sausage signs notwithstanding, a leisurely road trip through the area would be in order, hopefully to be capped off by a hike when I was feeling more lively. As I pulled into Lodi, WI, I thought that I might grab a bite to eat (at a small cafe just down the street from this meat market… and involving no meat products), and take a trip down memory lane. We used to come to Lodi occasionally as kids for two reasons: so that we children could see Susie the Duck, and so that my mom could go to the antique shop. I noted on the way in that there were new banners on the lampposts approaching downtown that touted Susie, so I swung by to say, “hello” for old time’s sake. Alas, although she is still present as an icon in the town’s
Susie the Duck
signage and collective consciousness, she is no longer a downtown fixture herself. “Susie,” used to be ensconced in a nest box at the point where Spring Creek flows through downtown Lodi, at a little park between two underpasses. We would go and watch her sit there, or maybe swim around a bit, and if we were lucky we could talk my mom out of a dime so that we could split a handful of corn toss for her. The park has been renovated, the nesting box removed or repurposed, and I saw only male mallards swimming in that stretch of creek. Her sign still stands, though, and Susie the Duck day continues to be an important part of Lodi’s calendar!
There are a few other, much more accommodating, parks in Lodi, all along the creek that has been channelized to flow along the main street (appropriately named Water St.), through downtown, and out the other side. And my mom would be pleased to know that, although it has changed ownership a few times, the antique store in an old church is still there (I didn’t go in, though, because I have too many memories of the hours spent there as a young’un)!
Of course, then I had to hit the other attraction that we usually included on the day trips to Lodi: the Merrimac Free Ferry. The actual purpose of the ferry is for transportation across Lake Wisconsin, and I have used it to that end as well, but yesterday I was pretty much just taking it for fun. The boat is pulled from one side of the lake to the other on a cable, and the trip takes less than ten minutes. About 15-20 vehicles can fit on, but some are usually larger vans or trucks (or towing boats). Yesterday was extremely windy, and the choppy “seas” might have been too much for me if it had been a longer journey.
These girls are enjoying the trip as I did at that age
Once on the north side of the lake (actually a dammed flowage of the Wisconsin River), I thought that, being so close and all, I might just take a swing up to Devil’s Lake State Park. The park is always amazing, but the real impetus this time came from a fellow blogger – Bob Zeller’s Texas Tweeties has been writing about the escapades of fledgling Great Blue Herons, and I wanted to see how one of our local flocks was coming along. At the foot of the south face of East Bluff, a few dozen heron nests perch in the top of dying pines sandwiched between the CCC Parking Lot and the Outdoor Group Camp. If you have never been in a Great Blue Heron rookery, you should definitely find one near you and check it out – the noise alone of all those big
A blurry photo of heron nests in the treetops. The accumulated acidity of their feces over the years is gradually killing off these pines.
birds is remarkable, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see them (or the chicks!) go about their daily routines. Yesterday was extremely windy, with the tree-tops (and the nests in them) swinging well over 10 feet from side to side in the gusts, so the birds weren’t moving around too much. I couldn’t find any chicks peeking out of the nests yet, but I would expect that many or most have hatched by now. I drove out of the park to the north, and headed on my way.
Devil’s Lake State Park reminds me an awful lot of Yosemite for something in the middle of the Midwest – no wonder it’s the most-visited state park in the whole region!
Next stop, a few more miles down the road, was Baxter’s Hollow, a 5,000-plus acre preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy in the Baraboo Hills. Dogs aren’t allowed in the preserve, so I stayed on the paved road with mine, looking at a couple of different species of native honeysuckle (uncommon in these parts) twining along the road, the babbling Otter Creek, and more. This is the time of year when the early spring flowers are done and the summer ones haven’t yet bloomed, but I enjoyed my botanizing nonetheless. If you head to Baxter’s Hollow (which I recommend), I suggest you take along a good and detailed map or atlas that shows all of the small rural roads in the neighborhood. This area of Sauk County is beautiful, and a meandering trip along those roads can take you past century farms and amazing rock formations, over creeks and through wooded groves, and along some steep and winding roads.
The small community of Denzer at the foot of the Baraboo Hills
- Crop rotation in Sauk County, WI
Alternating corn and alfalfa is a common technique in this area for minimizing erosion.
Corn coming up! They say that an estimated 95% of the corn crop is already planted as of yesterday, compared with 75% last year. It’s certainly early to see so much of it coming up already!
Wouldn’t you love this farm, at the base of Castle Rock?
I certainly enjoyed my meander over to the town of Plain and the small family-owned Cedar Grove cheese factory. This is another spot that was a favorite jaunt for my family as kids, and we tried to get there while it was in production so that we could actually see them making the cheese through the big display windows. Have you ever been to a cheese factory? If so, then you would also have recognized the distinctive smell that greeted me when I walked in, even though cheesemaking was done for the day – it is somewhat sour and acrid, and would probably be a bad smell if I didn’t associate it with great things like fresh cheese curds! I perused the cheeses – from specialty to scraps – in the shop and picked out a couple for gifts for the hosts I would stay with later in the week (and that I hoped they’d allow me to sample in their home!). The Cedar Grove factory installed a “living machine” around a dozen years ago, which allows them to process all of their wastewater by using hydroponic plants and microbes to break down any additives before returning the water. If you decide to head that way for some of their delicious cheese, I’d take a tour of the factory and living machine while you’re at it, because they’re pretty interesting.
Where is your favorite road trip? Any special places in south-west or south-central Wisconsin that you love to explore? Check out a map of my trip to get your own ideas!