NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Superhero of Her Own Life

The main reason for our recent camping trip was to see our daughter Katrina graduate from UW Eau Claire.  She majored in Women's Studies and minored in Sociology.  She's been applying to various non-profit organizations but her dream job would be to work in some capacity for Planned Parenthood and she's been applying all over the country.  This week she even had a preliminary interview for a job with them out of Appleton....her Daddy is hoping she gets that one!

I'll admit that my attention wandered during the commencement speech, but the one thing I remember is the speaker encouraging the graduates to "show up" .

 "While this commencement is a celebration of results you've attained, to me and to the world, it is not a finish line, but a starting block. A starting block for you, the class of 2013, to explode out of and race into the world with gusto. Constantly be superheroes of your own life and never, ever forget to show up."

Good advice for all of us, no matter what stage of life we're currently experiencing. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not Just Bikes and Berries

Monroe County in Wisconsin is promoting themselves as the place to go for "Bikes & Berries", but there is more here than cranberry farms and bike trails.  Don't get me wrong, we loved the bike trail and we've enjoyed driving past the cranberry fields and speculating on how it's all accomplished.  There is a Cranberry Discovery Center here in downtown Warrens, but they charge $4 each to go in and acquire that information, so I headed onto the trusty internet for some research instead. Thanks to for this information.

Cranberry Farming in Wisconsin

Cranberries have always been a vital part of our state's agricultural economy. Wisconsin provides more than half of the nation's total cranberry crop from 18,000 acres of beds. Another 160,000 acres are given to adjacent wetlands, woodlands, and uplands, and huge networks of ditches, dikes, dams and reservoirs are a common sight in our state.
Wild cranberries are native to the marshlands of central Wisconsin, and Native Americans harvested them for centuries. Local Ho-Chunk Indians carried on a large trade for them with early settlers of Juneau County in 1849. Commercial production in Wisconsin began near Berlin in Green Lake County in the early 1850s. The center of the industry later moved to marshes around Tomah, Warrens and Wisconsin Rapids.

Harvesting Cranberries

For hundreds of years cranberry harvesters picked the wild berries by hand. Starting in the 19th century, the cranberry rake— a hand-held tool with a large comb at one end and a basket at the other — increased production. The rake allowed leaves and stems to pass through the tines of the comb while collecting the berries in the basket.
During harvest the marshes were flooded with 6 to 10 inches of water to make the berries float to the surface, where seasonal workers wielding cranberry rakes collected them. Each fall, large bunkhouses in Tomah and Wisconsin Rapids filled with migrant workers. Native American workers would set up camp on the grounds of some of the larger marshes to work as pickers. Workers were paid 75 cents per bushel, and in 1875 pickers averaged two bushels per day.
The berries were then brought to a warehouse for cleaning, grading for quality and storage. At the end of a long day of picking berries, workers might look forward to dancing and music before retiring early to prepare for another day's labor.
During the 1945 season, German prisoners of war confined in Wisconsin worked in the cranberry bogs near Wisconsin Rapids. The prisoners worked in the marshes all summer, weeding the beds, digging drainage ditches and assisting with the harvest.
Around 1950 harvesting began to be mechanized. In 1949, 96 percent of Wisconsin cranberries were harvested with hand rakes, but by 1956 two-thirds were harvested mechanically. Today almost all berries are harvested by machine.
Cranberry Pickers
cranberry pickers, 1905

Harvesting Cranberries
harvesting cranberries, 1950
cranberry harvesting today

 I also ran across this article about the local cranberry price crisis, which I thought interesting.  Canada is now a cranberry contender and squeezing their way in.  As always I'm torn on which side to support as I'm thrilled when Canadians succeed in the worldwide marketplace.

But, as I started out saying, Monroe County isn't all berries and bikes, as you all have seen from my recent posts about the area.  Now that I've filled you in on the berries and the bikes, here's a few odds & ends to tide you over until you make your way out to central Wisconsin yourself.
Careful on the roads, Amish buggies share the road, especially in the town of Cashton
Susan Renae Sampson is an artist who painted 2 of these signs about Historic Warrens, and many more similar signs in Black River Falls as well. 

We went for a walk around Castle Rock at the campground every evening.

But I saved the best for last, every time we drove into Warrens we had to pass this scarecrow.  They take their vegetable gardening pretty seriously out this way.  We've seen a lot of deer...but still!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail

When trying to come up with a plan for Sunday we finally settled on loading up the bikes and driving over to the tiny town of Norwalk to see the tunnels on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail.

We bought our daily trail passes for $4 each at a local restaurant.  This reflects an increase in last year's prices, the annual fee jumped from $10 to $20, so bikers be prepared!  There really isn't much to see at all in Norwalk itself, but I must say that their portion of the bike trail is the most picturesque trail we've ridden on yet.

Need some more convincing?  Okay, feast your eyes on the wildflowers, the Trilium were everywhere!

As if the scenery weren't enough to get your attention for the 3 miles southeast to Tunnel #3, there was also a stone flume from the early 1900's to divert water and control erosion along the path of this old rail bed.

After checking out the flume it was pretty neat as the dirt walls rose alongside the trail and you could see the stone lining the top of the flume up there.  But, the main attraction is the tunnels, and when we came around the curve to the tunnel entrance we were blasted with at least a 30 degree temperature change as the wind blew the cold air out of Tunnel #3 toward us. 

The stone panel above Tunnel #3 says it was built in 1878, and this is the longest of the 3 tunnels on the trail at 3,810 feet and took 3 years to build.  The link has great historical information and pictures if you want to know more!

We only went a short way inside because we had forgotten our flashlights and this tunnel gets dark fast.  After the 6 mile round trip ride we drove to the next town on the trail, Wilton, to check out Tunnel #2.  That section of the trail had nowhere near the wildflower show that Norwalk did, but the Cottonwoods were putting on their own show and if it wasn't over 80 degrees you would have thought it was snowing!

Tunnel #2 is 2 miles from Wilton, was completed in 1873 and since it is only 1,694 feet long we walked our bikes through it.  You could see well enough to walk due to the opening at the other end, but seeing the floor was difficult and riding would have been dangerous.  Check out this great shot of the tunnel from the past!

Tunnel 2

Ten miles for our first bike outing of the year ain't too shabby! Here's a video leading up to Tunnel #3.  Enjoy the sideways trip through the tunnel, wasn't thinking ahead when I did that.  I tried to insert the YouTube video but wasn't able to, so here's the link to YouTube.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DayTrip to Historic Downtown La Crosse

We were expecting scattered thunderstorms in the area on Monday so we daytripped it out to La Crosse thinking we would have better odds of finding indoor amusement if necessary.  The weather ended up being beautiful, in the 80's like it has been for the whole trip.  All the better for walking around historic downtown La Crosse on the Mississippi River and admiring the architecture.  Unfortunately no one seems to have cared to save any of the history on the inside of the buildings, not even the old banks. Numerous small businesses have moved into the historic area, and the streets were filled with pedestrians at the lunch hour.

During the 1850's mills, stores, and small industrial shops were set up in La Crosse to serve the shipping, lumbering and agricultural interests of the area.  The steamboat trad was thriving, but it was the railroads that became the dominant shipper of goods. By 1876 there were 3 railroads in La Crosse and lumbering grew tremendously.  By 1906 none of the lumber mills were operational and the demise of the steamboats also contributed to the slowdown of growth in La Crosse.

Today La Crosse is home to two Universities and a Technical College, and provides access to numerous River related activities for visitors to enjoy.  If you're heading down I-90 stop in on your way across the Mighty Mississippi!  As nice as La Crosse is...Winona is even better, cross the border there if you get a chance.  I posted about our visit here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Black River Falls Post Office

While we were in the area I took advantage of the opportunity to stop in and see the New Deal mural in the US Post Office at Black River Falls.  This oil on canvas mural is entitled "Lumbering–Black River Mill" and was painted by Frank E. Buffmire in 1939.

For a list of New Deal and WPA art in Wisconsin, follow this link.  To see the post office mural from Lake Geneva, click here.  In my post on the Lake Geneva post office mural I mention my "treasure" hunting and the sculptures of John Lopez.  We decided this weekend that our first trip after my shoulder heals will be to Blue Mounds State Park in Minnesota with a side trip to Sioux Falls to see some of his sculptures in August!  We'll spend a few days in Minnesota and then a few more days in Yankton, another place I'm excited to see thanks to the TV show "Deadwood".  These new plans help ease the pain of the cancelled trip to Bayfield that would have focused on kayaking.

If you find the New Deal murals interesting, see if you can find similar murals in your state, and of course head on over to Mural Monday to see murals from around the country and around the world!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

First National Bank, Black River Falls

When it was raining the other day we swung into Black River Falls to view their post office mural and to see what else the town might have to offer.  There wasn't much to see in "historic downtown", most of the buildings were not in the best of shape, however I did really like the First National Bank building.  It's for sale, and has seen better days, but dig that clock!

I should have crossed the street and peeked in the windows, but it was drizzling and I wussed out.  If I were looking for a place to live in BRF I'd probably buy this place and bring it back to life!  What a cool home that would be, I wonder how an interior designer could make it work if you were leaving the original vault and other items in place?  Tin ceilings would be nice.

If you look at the above postcard from 1920 you can see the clock jutting out on the right hand side of the street, right in front of the first parked car behind the moving truck.  Looks like the name of the bank used to be above the clock face.  Besides this image, I was unable to find any additional information about the bank.  I always love the sense of "time" that an old building can give you, and this one sure did the trick!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

McMullen Memorial County Park Review

The RV parks are kind of few and far between up here in central Wisconsin.  Normally we stay at Lake Wissota State Park in Chippewa Falls and I highly recommend that to anyone in the area.  I wanted to try something new this time so we're staying at McMullen Memorial County Park in Warrens.

It's a first come first served, self-register park with electric only hookups.  The layout is a little odd, with quite a few of the sites being "2+" unit designated, but overall the sites are large and fairly easy to get into.  You can't beat the price - we paid $110 for 7 nights in this giant site with electric and water.

There is a nature trail that goes through the woods and past the roomy tent site area. It loops around the giant rock "mound", and has a spur trail that goes deeper into the woods that we haven't investigated yet.  Fishing seems to be a popular activity here, all the weekenders are down at the lake with their poles.

I didn't check out the shower area, but the flush toilet building was very clean and well maintained and there is a camp host and firewood for sale.  Overall a very nice park that I would recommend.  Warrens has an annual cranberry festival the last weekend of September, I'd say it would be hard to get one of these non-reservable sites at that time!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Necedah NWR and Roche-A-Cri State Park

There was a lot of wildlife to be seen at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Our list included snapping turtle, painted turtles, sandhill cranes, a rose breasted grosbeak, white tailed deer, ducks, geese, coots, trumpeter swan, squirrels...but no sign of caterpillars or chrysalis of the Karner blue butterfly.

We weren't even all the way to the Visitor Center when we ran across Wildlife Biologist Jon Olson and his just captured snapping turtle.  She was enormous, and very unhappy to be in the back of his truck.

Many thanks to Jon for sharing his time and his experience with us!  At one time snappers were being killed because they ate baby ducklings, but research indicated this was not their most common meal and not a threat to the survival of their species.  Lots of interesting information on snappers here. 

The Visitor Center was almost a let-down after that encounter, but I gotta admit that they had a really nice trail system that traversed a couple of different habitats.

While we were walking along the boardwalk we noticed there was a controlled burn going on, and we got to see it a little closer up when we drove around the refuge.

It looked like some carp might have gotten stranded when the water rose with all the spring rains.  Something was dragging them up onto the boardwalk and helping to clean up the mess they left behind.

Kind of gross, so I'll move on to some nicer wildlife shots.

We were very curious about what might be living in the burrows...anyone have any ideas?

After we left the refuge we had a quick lunch and headed over to Roche-A-Cri State Park to see their petroglyph/pictograph panel.  Unfortunately it was quite disappointing, but maybe anything is after seeing the ones in Utah.

The wall was thick with graffiti, and even with the help of the sign all we could locate was the above pictograph of a humanoid figure in red.  We stuck around as long as we could, but the first mosquitos of the season were swarming around the platform and we had to escape!  More stories from Wisconsin tomorrow!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sparta Once More

Yesterday we decided to head back down Hwy 94 to interchange 55 at Camp Douglas to check out some rock formations that we see every time we drive past.  I noticed on our way up that there was a little road with a pit toilet there so figured it must be open to the public.  It is...after Memorial Day.  Not to be deterred, we checked with the helpful guard at the Camp Douglas base gate first and then parked outside the roped off area and walked in.

Lots of graffiti in the soft sandstone all the way around the rock formations.  There was a sign in the parking lot that said this area was once part of a glacial lake and Castle Rock was an island that jutted up out of it.  Thousands of years of erosion have left only this adorable cluster of outcroppings.  I'm sure someone's done the math and knows how many years until it's completely obliterated by time.

As you can see, Wayne attempted to climb up the one spot that doable, but the sandstone was slippery with sand and pine needles and he only got to a certain point before coming back down.  I did not attempt it at all due to the fact that I've been dealing with some shoulder issues since December.  Started out as a nagging occasional "pinch" after I foolishly started an unsupervised weight training attempt and then gradually worsened until I went to the Ortho at the beginning of April.  They thought it might just be an impingement and inflammation issues, but the cortisone shot and physical therapy didn't help and last Friday I finally got an MRI.  No kayaking for me this summer, I will be getting surgery for a labrum tear at the end of June.  My first surgery ever and I'm more focused on the fact that I will essentially be one-armed for most of the summer than on the fact that they will be cutting me open.  Whether that's denial or just practicality remains to be seen!  In any event, I bumped my shoulder against the truck door yesterday and today I felt every bump in the road and am babying that area and avoiding anything that requires sudden movement or two arms.  We'll be talking more about this as time goes on, I suppose. (sigh)

On to happier things now, though.  From there we decided to detour back to Sparta after stopping in Tomah to pick up Tramadol at the pharmacy.  Turns out we should have hit more than the edge of town, because it's the county seat and has a few things of interest.  Besides being a biking hot-spot due to the Elroy-Sparta state trail, it has some pretty well kept up turn of the century architecture for such a small town, including a lovely courthouse.

The courthouse was built in 1896 and the outside is clad in Lake Superior Red Sandstone, which we recognized from our trip to the Bayfield area.  It was restored a hundred years later and they painted the trim an interesting lavendar that was common for the original period.

More architecture in town, not to mention a few fiberglass icons including their large bicycle near the entrance to the trail.  There are lots of pictures of that online, look it up if you like.  Personally I was more enchanted with the roller-skating bear holding the mug of root beer.

A quick stop in the small free county museum to ask about local murals didn't net us any mural finds, but we were delighted to become acquainted with a piece of photography history that we had never heard of before.  A local photographer had taken shots with a Stereo Realist Camera that takes two pictures at the same time.  The pictures were developed and mounted side by side on a cardboard sleeve.  Like the old red child's View-Master, the resulting images had a 3-D effect.  Wayne was so entranced he viewed all of them.

As we slipped out of Sparta once again, we stopped at FAST corp for one more try at a shot of me with the big eyeball which didn't turn out the day before.  No self-respecting Optician could pass that up!

I'm looking hard for murals, but finding other things instead.  If the weather is good, Thursday should find us at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. TTFN!