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!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bald Bluff Nature Trail

Well, you all know me, one hike was not enough.  In the Kettle Moraine area there are a lot of scattered destinations that fall under the care of the State Forest and State Natural Area system.

Barbara really enjoyed the Queen Anne's Lace

Bald Bluff is a self-guided nature trail with numbered posts that along with the pamphlet at the trailhead tell the story of General Henry Atkinson and the Blackhawk War in this area.  If you're picking up a pamphlet at the trailhead watch out for hornets and wasps, we saw them poking their heads out of the donation box.  We felt it was better to forgo a donation in those circumstances.

Field Bindweed has arrowhead shaped leaves

Even though the heat was starting to climb a bit we were all up for the 1/2 mile hike up the bluff after a quick reapplication of sunscreen and insect repellent.  Nothing stops true adventurers!

Lots of Sumac at the trailhead

Another flower that has been abundant here in southern Wisconsin for the last few weeks is Asters, but I didn't get an opportunity to get a nice shot of them so I made do with some Fleabane instead.  I'll make it a point to hunt down a nice patch of Asters on my next outing.

Common Fleabane

General Atkinson wasn't the only famous American who has camped here.  Abraham Lincoln slept here as a soldier in the U.S. Army during the Blackhawk war.  Maybe I should pitch my tent at the nearby Ice Age Trail Shelter so I can say I slept where Honest Abe did.  Truthfully this might be a good place to have my first overnight hike in August or September.  The Ice Age trail Blue Spring Lake Segment intersects with this trail with the segment starting at the Emma Carlin trail parking lot and ending at the Bald Bluff parking area.  At 7 miles it's definitely something that could be done in an easy day.

Flowering Spurge

Bald Bluff wasn't just important from a military standpoint, Native Americans also used it for its vantage point above the prairie and to light signal fires.  I wouldn't advise lighting any signal fires up there now, that probably wouldn't be wise.

Ron leads the way

The ascent is a little steep, but easier than most trails I've done in the Smokies!  Don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for things like this Lead Plant.  Technically a shrub it can live for centuries but doesn't get taller than 3 feet.

When we got to the top of the bluff there was a sign that said not to go past the fence.  I just couldn't believe the couple of pieces of wood at Barbara and Ron's feet were supposed to denote a "fence" so I moved on down what was obviously a well worn path to see if there was another fence further down.

Safe behind the fence

Of course there wasn't another fence.  There also wasn't anything to see.  There was supposed to be a prairie, but it was crowded with Sumac which  means it's probably due for a burn.  I thought the prairie down by the parking lot was much nicer myself, so you can skip the rule-breaking if you go.

Letting me take the risk, I'm a rebel

My new pals and I never ran out of things to talk about, and one of them was Barbara's calendars that she makes.  I've made a few featuring my photos in the past, and I know Linda does as well.  This year mine was a desktop model that I brought to work that the patients flip through while they're waiting to check out at the front counter.  Most of them catch on that I'm the photographer and it makes for a great conversation starter about places to go!

A home is a home no matter how big or small

Of course our time together had to come to an end.  Not only were we all getting hot and tired, but check-out time at the campground is 3:00 and I'm not always a rule breaker.  That is one I always follow in case someone else needs the site.  It only took me a few minutes to break down my tent and then I was on my way, but I'm sure I'll catch up with my new friends somewhere else down the road.

As a traveler whose followers are mostly travelers as well I've got to ask if anyone else has watched "An Idiot Abroad".  I watched the first two seasons a few years ago, and now I'm watching the third season where Karl, the put-upon-reluctant-tourist is forced by Ricky Gervais to take Warwick (of Harry Potter, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Willow fame) along as his "mate".  The unlikely pair are retracing Marco Polo's route from Venice to China and almost every word out of Karl's mouth is pure gold.  He looks up at the winged lion sculpture in St. Mark's Square (Lion of Venice) and says "What's a lion doing up there with wings on it? If that was done today you'd go - what is that shit?"  I'm watching it on Netflix and in addition to Karl's reactions to the places he has no interest in visiting I like it because there is usually a lot of in depth mixing with the local culture, the more different from ours the better to discomfort Karl.  What are you watching?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Barbara and Ron Hike Kettle Moraine

Don't you love it when you meet new friends and then feel like you've known them forever?  Barbara and Ron from The Road Less Traveled invited me to go hiking with them.  When they heard I'd be camping at Kettle Moraine's Ottawa Lake the night before we were to meet they decided they'd meet me at the campground and have more time to scope out the great spots to see in the State Forest.

Ready to tackle the Scuppernong and Ice Age Trails

"Poor Wayne" had to work, but I even got invited to dinner!  After work on Monday I showed up at the campground at 7:00 p.m. for my spaghetti dinner with my first full-time-rv-blog friends.  I learned a lot about them over dinner, including the story about why they always eat kale and how Ron can't pass up almond kringle when they're in Wisconsin.

I don't want to give away too much, after all if you meet them you'll want to hear the stories for yourselves.  We had so much to chat about over dinner that the next thing I knew it was after 9:00 and I had to go set up my tent in the dark!  Good thing I pack so light, right?

Monotropa Uniflora

The next morning we scooted on over to the Scuppernong Trailhead and made our decisions about how long to hike.  There is so much to see in the area that they didn't want to overdo so we could see some other area highlights afterward.  We settled on taking the orange trail with a few minutes on the Ice Age Trail for a bonus shortcut that put us at about 3.5 miles.  We weren't on the trail long before Barbara spotted Indian Pipe popping up.  I was so excited to see so much of it scattered around and even more excited that I remembered the Latin name.

Well, Barbara and Ron were so impressed and were ready to be wowed by all my flower identification, but it turned out that most of the flowering plants we saw after that were new ones and I couldn't identify them!

We'd been talking about my recent iPhone purchase and Barbara said I needed to have it with me so I could ask Siri some questions while on the trail.  At first I laughed it off, but by the end of the hike I was starting to think that eventually I might be doing just that.

Ron kept asking all kinds of interesting questions I didn't know the answers to.  What is the "kettle" in Kettle Moraine?  Does the Ice Age Trail follow the edge of the last glacier?   He had to wait a few hours until we stopped at the State Forest Headquarters to get his answers from the experts.

Tall Hairy Agrimony

Ron was right in his thought that the "kettles" were made from chunks of glacial ice being deposited in the soil as glaciers retreated.  When the ice block melts, depressions called kettles are formed.  In most cases these depressions eventually fill with water sediment or vegetation.  My guess was it had something to do with the lakes in the area, so I wasn't wrong but Ron definitely knew his glacial stuff!

Now you're wondering what a moraine is, right?  A moraine is glacial debris ranging from sand to large boulders that get deposited as the ice moves and then melts.  Kettle Moraine is a belt of irregular ridges and upland areas that extends for more than 120 miles.

Deptford Pink (dianthus armeria)

Did you know that the most recent era of the last Ice Age is known as the Wisconsin Glaciation?  The route of the Ice Age trail generally follows the last outline of Wisconsin's most recent glacier 10,000 years ago.  The trail is one of eleven National Scenic Trails in the country.  I'm still hoping to pick a spot and do my first overnight solo hike on one of its segments before the year is over.  I bought the new Ice Age Trail guidebook while we were at the Forest Headquarters so I can get started.  I have a feeling 6 years is not going to be enough time for me to get fully acquainted with this trail before we retire, but I'll do my best.  

Help is needed identifying this giant plant with the pods on top pictured above and below.  We were all stumped.  Did you notice Barbara's Merrell hiking shoes?  She got them on sale at Shopko for $25!  Why don't I ever get that lucky?  I'm in the market for a new pair, but I know I'll end up paying a lot more than that.  All three of us wore our Columbia hats.  Great minds think alike.


Another way we think alike is our preference for avoiding smoky campfires.  We were all pretty relieved the other party wasn't going to be trying to smoke the other one out.  Pollen was bad enough in the air without adding that misery, and of course I didn't remember to use my inhaler until AFTER the hike.   That's what happens when you're too excited about getting on the trail.

Evening Primrose

As if the wildflower variety wasn't enough to keep us entertained, we had some butterfly visits as well.  We really enjoyed the iridescent blue color that shimmered in the sun as it moved on the specimen below. Thanks to the Wisconsin Buttterflies site I was able to identify it as the Red Spotted Purple.  Turns out butterflies take up water and minerals from wet sand.  I give up counting how many new things I learn each day, because I'll guarantee you it's way higher than one!

Mosquitoes weren't too bad on either trail and Barbara took a picture of my Bug-Me-Not spray bottle after I told her I just ordered two more bottles on the internet.  Even though you have to reapply every half hour it works well enough to be worth it, the smell is light and easy to wash out of clothing, and the price is less than other similar concoctions I've run across.

Sunflowers - Hairy Sunflower maybe?

Since they got to the campground the day before I did Barbara and Ron checked out the Scuppernong Springs Trail too and said they enjoyed it immensely.  They pointed out that while it's not much of a looker to start out with it turns out to be a very interesting trail and they met a very interesting gentlemen who is doing a lot to help it along including trying to eradicate the knapweed there. But I'll let them tell you that story, I'm sure they'll be posting about it eventually.


I thought for sure the above plant was Wild Mint so I crushed the leaves but didn't get the minty smell I was expecting.  I was not on my game as far as identifying plants goes that day, let me tell ya!  It's probably Motherwort which is a member of the mint family so I feel a little better about my identification-faux-pas.

White Campion

This darling bloom is most likely White Campion just starting to open.  When we were in Kewaunee recently as part of our Manitowoc wanderings I spotted its relative, Bladder Campion which is very pretty too.

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) 

I'm fairly certain it was the Aphrodite Frittilaries that were floating around the Wild Bergamot near the end of our hike.  If you crush the leaves you'll get a scent similar to oregano from this plant.  I've been contemplating getting some of this for my flower bed, it's been especially pretty this season probably due to all the rain we've had this year.

In addition to the two different trails named Scuppernong there is also the Scuppernong River and the Scuppernong Prairie to visit if you're in the area like Barbara and Ron were. Wonder why everything is called Scuppernong in the area?  Me too, so if you find out let me know!  More about my new friends tomorrow, we had more to see at Bald Bluff.

P.S. - don't ask me how many hours it took to research this post!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Country Thunder De-Camps

To help clear up my mini-rant about Country Thunder I left the house on Monday morning to get some pictures.  I was hoping most of the crowd was gone already at 9:00 a.m. even though when I finally fell asleep at 1:00 a.m. the party was still going strong and loud.

The partygoers are leaving, but nowhere near gone.  If I still worked in Crystal Lake I would have to call in today.  I'd never get there.  Luckily Wayne is on the afternoon shift today and won't have to leave until later.  We live in a small older subdivision on the outskirts of Twin Lakes, across from farmland.  Our normally quiet and empty main road that leads into town looks like this at the moment and the normally empty  hay field looks like the picture below.

Local police turning in to subdivision to check on residents

It is only a little over a mile to the stop sign they are backed up from...but how far are they backed up once they get on Route 12 in Richmond where I wanted to go for my run this morning?  Now, if I wanted to go into Twin Lakes I might get lucky...then again the traffic could be backed up for miles in that direction too just past the curve.   I have to be at work in Lake Geneva by noon, hopefully things will die down a bit in two hours and I'll be able to get out.

30 seconds later that intersection isn't clear anymore.  Don't think I'm leaving just yet.

Most of the traffic will head into Illinois on Rte 12 right through the town of Richmond.  I can't imagine what their day is going to be like as they try to make their way home.  I noticed on their website that they state travel time to Milwaukee as one hour but travel time to Chicago as one and half hours and then put "without traffic" in parentheses.  I only have to make it 1/2 mile to the turnoff going north later this morning, I wonder  if my farmer neighbor would mind if I cut through the corn field?

In the spirit of the party that is (thankfully) over I give you today's Monday Mural contribution.

This little mural was found in Milwaukee a few months back.  I'd never heard of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum before and wondered if this was a nostalgic mural but research indicates it's a current brand.  I'm sure there a few rum hangovers happening across the street this morning.

Now that Country Thunder has extended the party until the wee hours of Monday morning we'll definitely be out of town next year when they all descend.  Can you believe that when I mention that I live across from the festival while at work folks say "oooh, that must be nice"?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wayne Gets Indoctrinated

For our July getaway last weekend Wayne picked me up at the end of my workday on Wednesday.  It was so funny to lock the front door and see the truck and camper parked on the side of the street in Lake Geneva!  He wanted to get a jump start on our drive to Manitowoc so we went as far as Ottawa Lake campground at Kettle Moraine for a night.  Wayne has actually never camped or hiked there, it's where I usually go when he's working overtime.

There really isn't a bad site at Ottawa Lake, but some are more big rig friendly than others so be careful when choosing your site.  When we got up in the morning we headed over to the Scuppernong Trailhead for a short hike on the red trail.


I spotted a few new wildflowers blooming, and the butterflies were busy checking them out as well.   We were busy reapplying Bug-Me-Not because our friendly Wisconsin mosquitoes just can't leave us alone this year.

Thanks to Sherry's blog I thought I had this butterfly identified as Aphrodite Fritillary, but when consulting the Wisconsin Butterflies website to be certain I just got more confused.  Aphrodite or Great Spangled?  Both?  I thought flower identification was hard, but as long as the leaves and the blooms match it's usually pretty obvious.  The plant they were paying so much attention to was much more easily identified as Heal-All.

Not just Heal-All was blooming, Wild Bergamot had just opened along with lots of asters.  I picked the leaves and crushed them to smell them and was surprised to discover it didn't smell the same as the Bee Balm in my garden.  The wild variety smelled more like oregano than mint to me.

The Solomon's Seal berries caught my attention along the path as well.  I wonder what they'll look like when I go hiking on Tuesday with Barbara and Ron?

Back at the campground a young ground squirrel got chased out of the underbrush while we were hooking up to leave and lost sight of its mother.  Luckily my camera was handy on the front seat of the truck and I was able to catch a couple of shots while it looked for her.

Concerned it might run under us as we tried to leave I inched closer and closer until it darted off into the foliage behind our campsite.  I'm assuming a family reunion soon followed.

This weekend has been noisy at our house.  Not inside, but outside.  Loud music, helicopters,'s that one dreaded weekend of the year - Country Thunder.  It used to be that things were quiet and everyone was pulling out on Sunday morning but the party now lasts until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.  The helicopter rides are a new annoying addition as well.  I tried to leave this morning to go into town to get a birthday cake for Cory but couldn't get out of the subdivision.  Can you believe I actually had to raid the cupboards and freezer and cook everything from scratch?  The horror! Cory's out now delivering pizza in the town on the other side of the festival, hopefully most of his deliveries are not in the danger zone.   Usually we're gone for the "invasion" but they scheduled it later than normal this July.  You can bet next year I'm checking their website when I schedule our July getaway.  Tomorrow morning I can cross the road like I usually do and run down the lonely country road that divides the "campgrounds" (Click the link above and go to picture #24)....if I don't mind the smell of garbage and porta-potties.  Maybe I'll run somewhere else for a few days.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Borderland Prairie Trail in July

Time to talk about how beautiful the Prairie Trail has been since McHenry County Conservation District restored it a few years ago.  When they first cut down trees I was bummed out, but then....

Field of Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Pallida)

While technically a 26 mile bike trail from Algonquin to Genoa City in Illinois, the other WI/IL borderland locals and I use it as a hiking trail.  Lots of dog walkers frequent it too, but I've been stopping over with my camera this month later in the evening to shoot the crazy variety of wildflowers that have made an astounding comeback.

Wild Quinine

In addition to my copies of "Wildflowers of the Smokies" and "What's Doin' the Bloomin'" I've been using the Minnesota Wildflowers website whose pictures make identification of flowers common to the Midwest easy, and they are organized by color which helps narrow it down quickly.  If all else fails I type in a google search for images with the color and name of the state and hope I get lucky with the images that pop up.

Common Milkweed

Monarchs have been checking out the Milkweed everywhere I go, I have a separate post planned about our Monarch sightings in Two Rivers last weekend.  I haven't seen much in the way of butterflies on the North Branch section of the Prairie Trail, but thanks to the birdhouses they have out there I do see a lot of birds.


I was having a little trouble identifying some of these plants until I stumbled upon Prairie Moon Nursery and Tallgrass Restoration's websites.

Butterfly Milkweed

I found the Wild Quinine on the Illinois Wildflowers website which was a great resource once I ran out of other options.  You have to click on each name one at a time to get to the pictures which is very labor intensive but did turn up a few I hadn't found elsewhere like the Foxglove Beardtongue below.

Foxglove Beardtongue

Moving on from the topic of wildflower identification for a minute, I saw on Lloyd's blog the other day that he favors Theo dark chocolate.  When I stopped in Whole Foods the other day I picked up the orange and mint bars to try.

Purple Coneflower ( Echinacea Purpurea)

Let me just say that Lloyd is now my hero.  Theo dark chocolate is dangerously delicious.  Buy at your own risk.

Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida Pinnata)

I'm trying to lose the 7 pounds I've gained since April, and doing things like buying Theo dark chocolate does not help.  I've only lost 1 pound so far, mostly due to increasing my exercise, not due to decreasing my chocolate or baked goods intake.

Purple Prairie Clover

Monday after work I'm heading to Kettle Moraine with my tent.  I'm hoping to meet Barbara and Ron from the Road Less Traveled for a hike on Tuesday.  My lack of exclamation points has nothing to due with my excitement level, trust me.

Queen Anne's Lace

They were recently in Iowa and toured the Capitol building there.  Hope they get a chance to tour the one here in Wisconsin if they've never done that.  I plan to get to Madison before summer is over so I can go up to the observation deck accessed from the Rotunda with my camera.

Hoary Vervain

Remember when I was trying lenses for architecture recently?  Turns out I was ordering lenses that would work better for different bodies than the one I have.  I ordered the Canon 10-22mm and tried it out on the kayak the other day and think I might finally have a winner.  I'll post more about that soon.

Horsetail Milkweed - Thanks to Susan!

Back to the prairie for now.  I searched high and low but couldn't identify the plant above.  I think the flowers below are Whole-Leaf Rosinweed.  Rosinweed resembles sunflowers, and both are actually members of the asteracae family.  Every picture I saw of Rosinweed on the internet looked different so this identification is very tentative.  Regardless, hard to believe that flowers like sunflowers and yarrow and asters are all in the same family.  Are you bored yet?  I'm starting to bore myself just a little bit so I won't fault you if you just looked at the pretty pictures.

Tomorrow is Cory's birthday and Katrina is home for the weekend.  They're getting ready to head out the door to hang out with old friends from Janesville. Wayne is working doubles again so maybe I'll head out to the prairie and see if anything new is blooming or get in the kayak and see if I can find any turtles and birds...or maybe I'll just watch "Justified" until I lapse into a coma like I did last night.

Special thanks to Travel Bug Susan for helping me identify the Horsetail Milkweed!