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!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Won't You Be My Neighbor

It's the weekend again already and I still haven't finished writing about last weekend's adventure!  I actually had to work 4 days this week, not leaving much time to reflect on my short stay near Galena.

Warren, Illinois

The closest town to the campground at Apple River Canyon was tiny Warren, Illinois.  At less than 1,500 residents there isn't much going on there but after filling up with gas I walked across the street to have a look at the Apple River State Bank building.

As I always do on these occasions I smile and say, "I'm just being nosy about your architecture," which usually leads to a conversation about the building.  This time it was about how long time residents came in after the drop ceiling was removed and commented on how they not only remembered the stained glass that was uncovered but they remembered when the drop ceiling covered it up.  What must that be like to be reunited with an old view you thought you'd never see again?

While the landscape in Jo Daviess County in Illinois is stunning, don't think that doesn't mean it isn't just as lovely a few miles across the border in Lafayette County, Wisconsin.


I drove all around on county roads, and saw towns as tiny as Gratiot whose population barely tops 200 to the largest town in Grant County which is Platteville.  Platteville has a UW campus and a population over 11,000.  Once a thriving mining community now almost 50% of the population is college age students and now that it's summer the town seemed oddly empty and forlorn.


I did spot a mural that paid homage to their mining history and even though it's not Monday here it is.

I saw Shullsburg on the map so I had to swing through to have a look since I've bought Shullsburg brand cheese at the grocery store before.  Known now for the home of the Shullsburg Creamery, it was once home to the creator of the fountain pen, and four different State Assemblymen and two different State Senators have lived there.  Seems to be a good place to raise bright young people, right?


The strangest thing I saw was as I was driving from Lancaster to Platteville.

The hair was up on the back of my neck and I doubted my own sanity as I pulled over to take these pictures of this disturbed individual's home.  Can you imagine being this guy's neighbor?  I wouldn't be able to sleep at night, but what could you do, no one would buy your house if you put it on the market.

On the other end of the spectrum the sweet little town of Argyle is always a treat for the eyes.

And with homemade pies on the menu Irma's Kitchen is a must-stop.  I brought home some of all three!  The oatmeal pecan was quite interesting.


Don't let the sleepy towns fool you if you drive through southwestern Wisconsin.  Stop and have a look at what's going on in their historic downtowns, and then head back out to enjoy the views of the cornfields rolling off into the distance as you continue to your destination.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Galena and Things You Didn't Know About President Grant

Anyone driving to Galena is in for a treat, the countryside in Jo Daviess County is gorgeous, including the limestone alongside the road.

When I saw the Gray Headed Coneflowers (aka Yellow Coneflower and Pinnate Prairie Coneflower) along the top I had to pull off to the side and get up there for a closer look.  I haven't seen such a dense collection of them anywhere else this summer.

Ratibida pinnata

A little further along I found another place to pull over and admire the view of the farms in the morning light.

Hazy morning promising heat and humidity on its way

I got to Galena before the town's shops opened and used the hour to get my exercise in before the heat and humidity got too high.

Main Street shops

Wayne and I stayed at the DeSoto House for one of our anniversaries, don't ask me which one except it had to be more than 5 years ago because it's been at least that long since I quit going to hotels unless I had absolutely no other choice.  With my allergies the cleaning agents and other products that get used make me too miserable and most establishments now have windows that don't open as well.  When I set up my tent or our RV I know I won't be going to bed with a migraine!  When we did stay at the DeSoto House I don't remember having any problems, but who knows what their policies may be at this time.

I popped inside for a quick look at the lobby which has a lovely tin ceiling.  Named for the discoverer of the Mississippi River, the DeSoto House opened on April 9, 1855 and was billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West.”  The original hotel building consisted of five stories and a lower level, 225 guest rooms, a gentleman’s reading room, ladies’ parlors, a 300 seat dining hall, a kitchen with equipments for feeding hundreds, and it own gas works for lighting halls, dining rooms, and public areas.  In addition, retail stores, offices, a saloon, and a bowling alley also found their home in the DeSoto House.

President  Abraham Lincoln spoke from its Main Street balcony on July 23, 1856, in support of John Fremont’s bid for presidency.  Just two years later, on July 25, 1858 Senator Stephen A. Douglas spoke from the same balcony.  On September 13, 1860, a crowd of over 15,000 rallied in front of the DeSoto in response to a “Grand Republican Mass Meeting” in support of Lincoln’s presidential bid.

Ulysses S. Grant’s return to his hometown of Galena following the Civil War brought 25,000 citizens to the streets to welcome him home.  Bands, parades, and cannon salutes preceded a reception ball for 2,000 persons which was held at the DeSoto House.  Grant later used rooms 209 and 211 of the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters.

Starting out on Main Street near the Floodgates built in 1951

I highly recommend touring Grant's home, though I didn't stop there last weekend.  Wayne and I really enjoyed all the information we learned about the 18th U.S. President when we visited.  Did you know that he was born Hiram Ulysses Grant? A clerical error had listed him as Ulysses S. Grant when he enrolled at West Point Academy.  Not wanting to be rejected by the school, he changed his name on the spot.  Ironically, he didn't do well at West Point, and planned to resign from the military after he served his mandatory four years of duty.

85% of the buildings in Galena are in a National Historic District

He resigned from the army in 1954 after 10 years of service and failed to make a go of farmland that was given to him by his father-in-law, then went on to fail to find success with a real estate venture, and was denied employment as an engineer and clerk in St. Louis. To support his family, he was reduced to selling firewood on a St. Louis street and eventually went to work below his younger brothers in the tannery business.  I found a great caricature of him as the "Galena Tanner" , part of his campaign that portrayed him as a workingman of the people, amusing because the family's leather business was the last place he wanted to end up.

lots of flowers planted along the way

In 1961 he re-entered the military during the Civil War and after some significant victories was promoted to major general of volunteers.  Did you know that Grant suffered from intense migraine headaches due to stress?  They  nearly disabled him and only helped to spread rumors of his drinking, as many chalked up his migraines to frequent hangovers.  He did not come by his success easily and when he was elected President in 1868 he was politically inexperienced and the youngest president up to that time at 46 years of age.

While he had some success during his time in office, including pushing through ratification of the 15th Amendment and establishing the National Parks Service, his administration's scandals rocked both of his presidential terms, and he didn't get the opportunity to serve a third.  We can thank Grant for signing the bill in 1872 that established Yellowstone as the first national park.  Want to know more about the efforts of others in establishing the park?  Try this link.

stairs going up from Bench Street to Prospect Avenue

For now, back to my walk in Galena, a city which in 1845 was producing 80% of the lead in the United States from mining efforts.  At one time 14,000 people lived here, but now less than a third of that number call Galena home.  The city's Main Street lies along the Galena River where you can get a trolley tour through its streets or you can do like I did and walk up all those stairs between the tiers that make up the town.

historic mansions above downtown

I walked 159 stairs from Bench Street up to Prospect Avenue alone, pausing twice to let my heart beat settle down a bit.  I thought about continuing upward but instead enjoyed watching a hummingbird sampling some blooms.

After eyeing a few mansions I took another stairway back down.  And down. And then another stairway down to Main Street, though that one was half as long as the first one.

Efforts to turn the nearly forgotten town of Galena into a tourist destination began in the 1980's and were very successful.  Once again it is a town visited by folks from all over the Midwest, and as far as old fashioned towns with quaint shops go I'd say it's one of the best if you like that sort of thing.  Unlike some towns, there are actually things worth buying in quite a few of the shops and the restaurants are decent as well.


I was only there to revisit two of the shops, and as soon as they unlocked at 10:00 I was picking out my spices at Garlic Garlic and my chocolates at Chocolat on Main Street.

I ended up being a bit disappointed in the chocolates.  They were twice as expensive as the ones I bought in Townsend Tennessee and only half as tasty.  Not a very good trade!

Walking back to my car as the humidity started sapping my energy I popped in to the U.S. Post Office out of curiosity and was amazed at the glamour I found inside!

High style for a place to buy your stamps!  Hope you enjoyed the little tour of Galena, if you're looking to come to the area in your R.V. I'd really recommend staying at Blanding Landing which is a Corps of Engineers park on the Mississippi River that is less than half an hour south.  I camped in my tent at Apple River Canyon State Park a half hour northeast of town which has no hookups but if you want a more rustic feel and have a smaller unit or tent I'd highly recommend it as well.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Little Trails, Little Pleasures

Apple River Canyon State Park is not a hiking destination, but does have four different short hiking trails that were a good warm-up for me to begin and end my two days there.

On the 1 mile Pine Ridge loop I climbed the bluff quickly to get my heartrate going and my metabolism roaring.  I didn't stop for more than a couple of seconds here and there to snap a few quick pitures with my point and shoot.  Sunset was coming soon and I didn't want to be climbing down the bluff in the dark!

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot)

Tall Bellflower was everywhere here, looking blue or purple depending on the light.

Campanula americana, Tall Bellflower

Also plentiful was sunny patches of Yellow Jewelweed.

 Imatiens Pallida, Yellow Jewelweed

Also a mile loop, the Primrose Trail could be accessed from the bottom of the bluff or from the campground on top of the bluff.  I walked this one quickly in the morning, using the staircase to get that burst of energy I was looking for.

A small patch of dry prairie remnant was being preserved between the campground and the bluff's edge, where False Foxglove and Culver's Root hung on as a reminder of the past.  Hard to imagine this area full of prairies loaded with wildflowers instead of farms with corn stretching for miles across the hills.

Aureolaria pedicularia, Yellow False Foxglove

Veronicastrum virginicum, Culver's Root

The woods were quiet, no mosquitoes buzzing, and little traffic passed nearby to distract with modern noises. I hated to leave, and if there had been longer trails to explore maybe I wouldn't have!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wading the River at Apple River Canyon State Park

I just got back from a two day getaway to nearby Apple River Canyon State Park which is only half an hour east of Galena in Illinois.  The Country Thunder crowds descended on our little town of Twin Lakes starting Wednesday night and by noon on Thursday I finally escaped after two near-accidents within a mile of my house.  Tourists!

Once a stop on the stage route from Chicago to the lead mining town of Galena, nothing remains of the town that used to be here. Millville took advantage of the Apple River's power with its two sawmills and had a population at one point of 330 people.  In 1854 the railroad was built 4 miles away and in 1892 a flood washed out the dam and drove out the remaining population.

The area wasn't flattened by the glaciers like most of Illinois and Jo Daviess County's terrain is rugged and beautiful, including the limestone, dolomite and shale deposits that line the canyon walls.  Plants and lichens grow in the cracks, including the rare Bird's Eye Primrose which appears in April along with other spring wildflowers.  Hopefully I'll remember to come back next spring!

As fascinated with lichen as I am?  Check out this link to a lichen group on Flickr with its 122 pages!  Crusty yellow lichen was the most common on the rock, but there was also a lot of what I first mistook for a lichen that turns out might be liverwort instead.  So much to know out there in the natural world!

Liverworts are true plants but instead of anchoring themselves with roots they have rhizomes on their underside.  When I pulled one to look underneath (I do this all the time with lichens to help with identification) it resisted a little and then let go much like velcro does.

Walking in the river in my Keens I even followed a frog as it swam away from the cliff's edge and tried to hide by blending with the river bottom.

After exploring the river and one of the short hiking loops that went up the bluff I headed back to my campsite, satisfied after finally getting some challenging exercise for the first time in a week.  Unlike this treasure, my county was flattened by the glacier and it's been too hot to run.

Much more relaxing than the crowds descending on my neighborhood this weekend

Illinois state parks do not require a permit like Wisconsin, and the non electric sites are only $8.00!  They are large and well spaced, but even though they had a dump station there were only vault toilets (incredibly clean ones!) and no showers.  I threw on running shorts and took a dip in the river to rinse off the sweat and dust, just like I did in Lake Superior.

Crayfish shared my bathing pool, can you find all three?

The park was only about two thirds full when I left this morning and all the campers were unusually quiet for a Friday night, perhaps because alcohol is prohibited at Illinois state parks and there is no other entertainment nearby so true nature seekers are most likely all that stay here.  What else was missing?  Biting insects!  Not a single mosquito landed on me, not even when I sat in my camp chair, something I haven't been able to do yet this year.  It was wonderful to read outside of my tent for a change, and the only insect that visited me was this tiny fly that looked like a cross between a mosquito and the world's smallest poodle.  He wasn't a biter, and therefore I tolerated his presence when he kept returning.  Anyone know what it is?

Swallows had their nests built on the underside of the bridge, so maybe they help keep the mosquitoes down, but I also didn't see any swampy spots or ponds nearby.

The light in the morning hit the wall for a short time and I got there just in time to see it after my hike.  Then I was ready to take on Galena before the weekend crowd descended.  Believe it or not it was a shopping list I had for Galena Garlic that brought me out to begin with!  More about the hiking and other tidbits to follow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Proliferating Prairie at Table Bluff

Before I say good-bye to the Ice Age Trail until the fall I have one more post, this one a happy tale of my visit to the Ice Age Trail Alliance in Cross Plains and my hike from there to the Table Bluff segment.

The IATA headquarters is in Cross Plains and I wanted to stop in.  I met a few folks working there and Matt took my picture outside with the mammoth before I went on my way.  I had packed my Osprey backpack for an overnight trip, but it turns out I hadn't read the Guidebook correctly and the dispersed camping area was on the small Cross Plains loop and not on the Table Bluff segment, both of which are in Cross Plains. Since I had already dropped my bike at the end of the Table Bluff segment I just walked from the IATA to my original destination and I would figure out where I was spending the night when I returned.

Downtown Cross Plains is under construction so a little detouring might be on the agenda if you are in the area.  The signs were good, and watching the big bucket was a unique way to start out a hike.

From the start I really felt the 35 pounds on my back and was a little worried about how I'd hold up for the long haul.

It was about a two mile walk through town and down Hwy 14 to the trailhead.  After turning onto County KP things got a little less hectic and a little more scenic.

By the time I could see Table Bluff my back had adjusted to the weight and I was feeling pretty comfortable and confident.

The trail up the bluff was pretty easy with a couple of switchbacks loaded with wildflowers and views worth stopping for.

It was a little strange not to take off my pack whenever I used my camera, but I was afraid if I took it off it would get harder to put it back on!

While  looking for information on the Table Bluff segment I ran across a blog with an opinion of the IAT's efforts similar to the one I've recently voiced but better articulated.  It made me feel a little less bitchy!

One thing that did not make me feel bitchy was the amount of flowers on this trail.

I'd never seen Horse Nettle before, and while I've seen Lead Plant it is something you don't see everywhere.  It's a good indicator of high quality prairie environment and while it is a slow grower its deep root system withstands fire well.

Another plant I saw that I've never seen before was False Gromwell.  The Lakota made a tea from the root and seeds of the plant to treat swellings on injured horses according to the NPS Wind Cave website.  I guess next time I'm out in South Dakota I'll have to keep my eyes open for it.

False Gromwell

While I wasn't thinking about South Dakota on this hike it turns out that one of our patients was getting ready to go there on a family trip and our new Optometrist used to live there.

Culver's Root

I also saw Culver's Root, not to confused with Culver's the restaurant, a place anyone traveling through Wisconsin should stop at.  Personally I ask for my sandwich without the butter on the bun, but I am a big fan of their grilled chicken sandwich which tastes like something you'd make at home and not like fast food.  Cory is a fan of their cheese curds and their concrete mixers.  Too much dairy for me!

White Prairie Clover

The path across the top of the bluff eventually enters an oak savanna where I had to pick up the pace a little to keep ahead of the mosquitoes.

But there are distractions in the woods, too, never fear.

There was also a display on chert at a bridge crossing.  Chert is composed of fine quartz crystals and resists erosion and chemical breakdown.  With its sharp edges, pieces of chert were used by Native Americans to form tools.

From the woods I came out into another prairie with spots along the trail that looked likely to be places where the deer were lying down during the day.

The Table Bluff segment was 2.5 miles but I walked almost 2 miles just to get to it, and taking the road on my bike back to the IATA parking lot made for a quick and easy 4 miles since it was mostly downhill.  There was no shoulder but traffic was light.

Most of the long and challenging segments of the IATA are in the northern part of the state which are hard for me to access plus camping is not allowed on the trail and fresh water is not accessible either.  I think I'm just going to view any trails I hike along the route as separate trails and not part of the not-so-whole state scenic trail.  I was looking at trails in Kentucky and they are in process of planning a state scenic trail as well, but don't try to fool you in to thinking it is anything near complete.  Looking at maps of Kentucky got me thinking that I'll probably end up wandering around that state again in early winter, I love the hills and the weather is just a bit nicer than here later in the year.