Friday, October 4, 2013

Enchanted Forest

Charlie and I have been making the most of my vacation this week, hitting all our favorite places to catch the fall colors before they're gone. Wednesday we headed over to the popular Dells of the Eau Claire River to enjoy probably the best spot to view colors in our area on what I hoped would be a quiet week day without too many visitors.

We always stay on the less-used Forest Preserve Trail side of the river, but there were already two cars in the parking lot when we arrived at noon and several older couples were strolling along the main section of trail. Charlie and I stayed close to the water's edge away from other hikers, where the reflection of trees and sky were so vivid, and Charlie could play with sticks in the water.

After walking past the bridge, we took a short break at our usual spot - a flat outcropping of striated rocks jutting into the river. I found the remnants of a turkey that some wild animal had eaten for dinner the previous night while Charlie warily sniffed the feathers, bones and foot that were scattered about. She quickly forgot about the turkey foot and went off to find some more sticks. As I made my way to a flat rock near the rapids to sit and breathe for awhile, I found a pothole! Ever since I learned about these fascinating geological formations, I've been finding them in places I never thought to look. So cool.

Small pothole in the bedrock.

For some reason, I spontaneously decided to take a different trail back to the parking lot. Perhaps it's because I had nowhere I needed to be, but I figured it would be a fun adventure to take a new path and wander in the woods for awhile. I was pleasantly rewarded by finding an Enchanted Forest that I never knew existed. There are many possible reasons for this feeling of enchantment:  beautiful fall colors, warm breeze stirring the leaves, the "new-ness" of a trail I've never been on before or maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with finding the quaintest little stone picnic shelter.

This sweet, little shelter was built into the hillside out of the very rocks scattered about this entire area - the 1.8-billion-year-old bedrocks, I might add. We had a great time exploring the building and surrounding area while enjoying the view of the colorful woods.

The narrow, leaf-strewn trail continued to wind around massive stones and rock walls that jutted up straight out of the ground. Rocks of all shapes and sizes, covered in all different types of moss and lichen covered the ground everywhere. Parts of the trail were even paved with them and occasionally short stone bridges spanned over tiny creeks.

Tenacious trees grew along the tops and sides of some of these rock sculptures, defying gravity with their acrobatics as they clung to whatever scrap of dirt they could hold onto, twisted into impossible shapes. As we moved further away from the river, the forest grew quiet except for the leaves crunching under my boots and the occasional tweet of a bird. I was at once enlightened by the bright, uplifting scent of pine needles carpeting the forest floor and grounded by the deep, earthy aroma of decaying leaves; wind swirling the competing but complimentary fragrances around me, saturating my clothes and hair with the essence of the forest.

Pure magic, I tell you.