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!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not For Horses

So the Ice Age Trail is many things, but it is for hikers only.  No snowmobiles, no bikes, no horses please.   You can bring your dog, providing they are leashed.  There are signs at every crossing.  Big ones.

On Saturday I came around a corner and was so startled by running into someone with a horse that I momentarily forgot they weren't even supposed to be on the trail.  By the time I remembered I was already past them.  And they had a dog off leash as well.

I got really irritated because in the 2.2 miles of trail from Little Prairie Road (right at the horse campground, by the way) to the Stone Elephant there are THREE horse trail crossings.  There is nothing on the Ice Age trail that isn't on their trails.  Except privacy...and hikers who don't want to step in horse poop.

Shield lichen

And tell me how she was going to leash her dog from the back of a horse?  I mean, come on.

unknown crustose lichen

Anyway, I did see some neat lichens and fungi, including the one below that looked like a massive mutant baked potato.  Check it out compared to my foot!

Also on the section from Tamarack Road to the Stone Elephant was this opening between the pine forest and the oaks.

prairie remnant in the middle of the woods

Looks like lots of flowers bloom here in the summer, and the ground was so littered with spongy wood chips it was like walking a fresh bed of mulch.

I got there as the sun was getting low in the sky so I had to hurry.  I kept expecting a deer to walk out of the trees.

I didn't see any deer, but I did see a handful of dragonflies on top of the ridge.

another prairie remnant - woods will take over eventually

The sun was too bright for pictures of the Stone Elephant when I got there, but I made sure to take the time to have a snack on that bench before turning around.  On Saturday it was so warm that I was hiking in a t-shirt.  There were a lot of folks out in the State Forest enjoying what was probably our last truly warm day of the year.

Since it wasn't wet and slippery like the other time I visited I checked out the slope going downhill behind the Stone Elephant.  There was a path cut into the steep slope, some logs dug into the side to help folks down.

I climbed down there, then climbed back up.  My legs were pretty shaky after I climbed back up.  Any rockier and I would have had to rapel!

That was the end of my day's adventure and I made my way back toward Little Prairie Road at a brisk pace so I could get back to my car before dark.  I got there right around sunset, and the light through the trees was really pretty.

Today I was on the IAT again, I've got nowhere else to go and I've suddenly got the urge to knock out a complete section before the end of the year like I said I would.  Even though it was only in the 40's it was pretty comfortable hiking weather since the sun was out and the wind was low.  I parked at the Bald Bluff parking lot and headed in the other direction all the way out to Oleson Cabin and back.

What else did I do today?  I stopped in at the office for a couple of hours, shopped for dish towels on Amazon, made homemade chicken noodle soup and after my 5 mile hike I ended my day cleaning toilets.  Happily living the life of the semi-retired! (except for the part about the toilets)  More trail shots tomorrow, including  that cabin and a pond too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

From Little Prairie Road - The First Mile Anyway

I'm pretty happy about having conquered a new segment of the Ice Age Trail.  I parked on Little Prairie Road just outside the Horseriders Campground shown on the map and walked from there to the Stone Elephant and back.  Since I don't have anyone to shuttle with at this time I have to do the out and back thing, but it's another 3.7 miles completed even though I had to walk it both ways over the course of two days.


I can let the news out now that Katrina has put her notice in at her job.  She's leaving her job in Michigan and applying to jobs within an hour of our home here that are only part time so she will be able to increase her course load to complete her masters degree.  Since she's coming back home for the time being I might be able to have her follow me out to some IAT sites and get some miles knocked out!  I might as well take advantage while I can, knowing Katrina she won't be here long.

IAT trailhead on Little Prairie Road

In this section of the state the Ice Age Trail provides a lot of variety, but one thing you can count on is that there will be a lot of ups and down on rocky ridges.

Sunny skies!

While the rockiness is never fun it's more manageable when you can see the rocks and try to avoid them.  Even though I only walked 4.4 miles my feet and legs were so tired after hitting so many hidden rocks while going up and down the leaf covered hills.

Sometimes when you're going down you end up in a ravine and sometimes you end up out in the open and who knows what you'll see.

Like aspen!  At least I think it was aspen, you folks from Colorado can probably help me out.  I did bring home leaves from a quaking aspen and a bigtooth aspen, along with a bunch of other leaves I found on the trail.

I can't believe it, but I think I'm going to order an identification guide for trees.  Like I don't have enough to do identifying flowers, lichen and fungi!

In the spots where the trail isn't littered with rocks it's like a sandy beach, I was inspired to leave my mark.

All this in just the first mile!  I may be on the fence as far as ordering a tree guide but one thing I did order was a new sleeping bag and I hope I get to try it out before the temps get below freezing.  It's been between freezing and 45F every night lately and it's been keeping me from wanting to get out with my tent.

I have a lot more to share from the rest of the hike but the day has gotten away from me yet again so I'm going to do another post tomorrow.  In the meantime, anyone know what tree this leaf belongs to?  I'm not having any luck.

The wind has picked up around here again and it's a good thing I went out on Saturday because this morning the leaves are few and far between.  The wind made for good video though!

Monday, October 27, 2014

From Bald Bluff to the Stone Elephant

At the top of Bald Bluff there is a bench for admiring the views while you catch your breath.  I used it to set up my Gorillapod and get a selfie.

I had toyed with the idea of going all the way to the Horseriders Campground but the afternoon was getting away from me and rain was in the forecast so my goal was to make it to the Stone Elephant.

Oak woodland

When at the top of the bluff with Ron and Barbara we had looked down the trail but decided against following it down the other side of the bluff.  This was my first time on this section of the Ice Age Trail and I was not disappointed.

Going down the other side of the bluff I encountered mostly oaks, but there were other trees as well including one maple tree whose yellow leaves were so vibrant it was like a beacon through the forest.  Even though it was off-trail a bit it was easy to get to with all the vegetation dying back at this time.

It was so nice looking up through the yellow leaves that I almost didn't want to get back on the trail.

But, a sprinkle of rain began so I figured I best keep moving.  The maple trees weren't the only ones flashing a bit of gold.

Here and there I even spotted a few late asters making one last effort.

Fungi growth is getting harder to spot with all the leaves on the ground, but I saw this new colony taking off on the edge of a stump.

And I had to go off trail a bit to get a closer look at this dinner plate sized one pictured below.  I loved the ruffled edges.

I found some berries on a plant at the edge of the oak opening that I couldn't identify because all the leaves were gone and there was so much to see that I didn't take the time to get all the details needed for further research.

Oak openings are very rare because they were easy for settlers to convert to agricultural or residential use.  Once off the bluff area the soil became very sandy and pleasant to walk on.

There was even a small dry prairie opening at the bottom of the bluff.  Dry prairies are fire-dependent, and without frequent fire would eventually be overgrown by trees and shrubs, which is why this one is probably so small and enclosed.  The prairie grasses and wildflowers are adapted to fire, and resprout vigorously.

Most plants in dry prairies are less than three feet tall, and need direct sunlight to thrive. Because moisture is usually limited, the plants will often be widely spaced with patches of bare soil between, but the roots are typically dense and very efficient at catching every drop of rain.

anyone know the name of this one??

There was a pile of wood in the clearing with some cool lichen and fungi on it.  As I was circling it for a shot angle I almost stepped into the pile...but then remembered Sharon's warnings about snakes and decided maybe it wasn't a good idea.

As I was leaving the prairie opening the rain picked up from the occasional sprinkle to a steady light rain.  It made the leaves on the trail sparkle even more.

Then the rain really picked up, but I knew I was getting close so I kept on.  I had packed my rain coat but taken my umbrella out of my pack because I thought serious rain wasn't likely.  Like I said before, there's always something I wish I had packed!

It looks more like a whale than an elephant to me!

The Stone Elephant was on a short spur that was well marked, if a little steep and slippery from the rain soaked leaves.  The area even had a nice bench and a path down into the ravine, but due to the rain I didn't hang out long.  My pack was getting soaked and I was starting to worry about my equipment.

The light rain continued for the 1.5 mile trip back through the woods, and right before I had to climb Bald Bluff again I smelled a "wet dog" smell.  I moved a few feet foward, then a few feet back, but the smell was very localized.  I peered around while staying on the trail to see if I spied a furry fella nearby but didn't see anything.  Most likely there was a den nearby for whatever I was smelling, but I wasn't poking around someone's home uninvited.  At least I know it probably wasn't bear in these woods!

Since I didn't get a chance to hike from the Stone Elephant to the Horserider's Campground I returned on sunny Saturday to do that segment.  It may be only a distance of a couple of miles, but I saw a lot of different things on that small portion of the Ice Age Trail!  And I got to revisit the Stone Elephant on a warm sunny afternoon and use that bench.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Back to Bald Bluff

When deciding what area of Kettle Moraine to choose for a hike on Thursday I picked a return to Bald Bluff.  I thought Barbara and Ron might enjoy seeing what it looked like in the fall since we hiked it together earlier this year.

The trailhead wasn't lined with Bindweed and Fleabane, but with going to seed Asters and Goldenrod.  It was like a bouquet of dried flowers!

The trail meanders up to the top of Bald Bluff and on the way up connects with the Ice Age Trail. To follow the IAT you can either continue up the bluff and then keep going down the other side, or take the spur to the right and head towards a camping shelter I mean to check out next spring.  I was all for conquering a new section of the IAT, so planned on hiking further than the bluff itself this time.

The trail leads through Kettle Moraine Oak Opening, a mixture of oak opening and oak woodland that is dominated by Bur Oak and Black Oak.  I thought an oak was an oak until I got a good look at all the different oak leaves on the trail.  I found a page with a good identification guide here.

View of trail from under a Black Oak

Like the trees I saw in Lake Geneva the ones along this trail were sporting colorful lichen as well as colorful leaves.

Even the rocks were getting in on the party!  If you hike this trail come prepared with decent hiking boots instead of sandals or sneakers.  The trail to the top of the bluff is quite rocky and uneven.

The Sumac had lost all their leaves, but left their berries behind.  Research indicates they are edible and you can even make lemonade from them!  Of course summer would be the time to do that, in fall just enjoy their splash of red color.

You might recognize this spot in the trail, I got a picture of Ron ascending it this summer.  Didn't notice at the time that we were moving through an oak forest because we were busy admiring the wildflowers.

As I neared the top I got this great view from a break in the trees.  The view at the top wasn't as nice, it looked over an area that had less color.  As you can see, our color season is winding down, at least half the trees down there are bare already.

At the top of the bluff I started my way down through the oaks to make my way toward the Stone Eleophant.  More on that tomorrow!