Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Recap

Labor Day weekend is here and it always feels like the end of summer. This last day of August is warm and perfect but may very well be the last of this kind of weather for a long time. Cooler temps are forecast for next week, which will definitely make hiking more comfortable. But I don't feel like we packed enough into these short, summer months. I definitely wanted to do more camping.

Almanacs are predicting a bitterly cold and snowy winter. I run from the room, wishing to be blissfully unaware of this, when these reports pop up on the evening news. I'm in denial.

I took this photo yesterday:

And this is a photo of the same spot in December last year:

It's hard to be in denial when winter is only a few short months away. Already the wildflowers I photographed two weeks ago are gone, dried up and dead.

Okay, enough mourning over these sad last days of summer... I better get outside and enjoy what's left!

If you didn't already catch this article on, here's another one of my submissions that was printed in August:

Have a great Labor Day Weekend dog-lovers!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's All Fun And Games Until...

As the saying goes, "It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt."

It's been HOT this week. Like 90+ degrees and super humid. It's so hot that we've put off hikes and walks to find other activities to keep us busy while staying cool.

I filled up Charlie's baby pool in the backyard and we played with the hose:

And we shared some watermelon:

But Charlie's all-time-favorite game is FETCH! I think Charlie was a soccer goalie in a previous life because she LIVES to block the ball. When she was younger, I used to kick her tennis balls around the yard because they would get too slobbery to touch. One day I kicked the ball and it hit her right in the eye. I was so worried that I'd done permanent damage that we ended up taking a trip to the vet to make sure she would still be able to see. Fortunately she was fine and it just took a couple of days for her to stop winking at me out of that eye.

On another occasion, I kicked the ball down the narrow side yard next to the house and as she turned to run after the ball, she whacked her head into the foundation of the house. I'm pretty sure she gave herself a concussion because I had to carry her into the house and keep an eye on her throughout the night to make sure she didn't die. Another vet visit and everything was fine. Whew.

I don't play with tennis ball in the yard anymore - they've been deemed too dangerous. Instead, I found some squishy bouncy balls that are perfectly harmless if they accidentally hit Charlie. And surprisingly, their soft spikes prevent them from getting too slobbery.

So I decided to play some kick-ball with her squishy ball in the backyard... and guess who got hurt this time. Me.

Charlie was so anxious and determined to catch the ball, she dove for it just as I was kicking it and she accidentally bit my toe instead of the ball. I could tell immediately that she realized she'd bit me when she quickly sat down and looked concerned, no longer interested in the ball. I hopped around trying not to yell because I didn't want to scare her, but MAN did that hurt!

You can totally see two teeth marks on the bruise. Yikes. So much for yard games... we're both looking forward to the cooler weather next week so we can get back to hiking!

What do you have planned for your fur-kid this long holiday weekend?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lower Wisconsin Riverway

Between Lodi and Prairie du Chien, in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin, you'll happen upon Scenic Byway 60 winding along the curves of the Wisconsin River. To properly enjoy this scenic road trip, you'll have to put away your electronic devices, stop looking at your watch and turn off the GPS. Put on your favorite music, roll down the windows and let your hair blow in the breeze. Hopefully you're lucky enough to be the passenger on this drive so you can enjoy the views without having to concentrate on driving. But even drivers will appreciate the gentle curves gradually leading you up hills and back down into valleys as you keep the speedometer at a steady 55 miles per hour, only slowing as you pass through the quaint towns or to stop at local shops, restaurants and attractions.

To me, there is nothing better than taking a road trip with my dog and the weather cooperated perfectly. Charlie was pleased to have the sun roof open on this trip so she could drink in the smells of the river and fields as we cruised down the highway. She LOVES cows and I made sure to alert her when we were nearing another field so she could return their lazy gaze. Many farmers were baling sweet smelling hay in their freshly cut fields, churning out golden cubes in long rows.

Before you cross the bridge over the Wisconsin River to Prairie du Sac, take a quick detour down Hwy. 188 to the Wollersheim Winery. The historic buildings built by Europeans in the 1850's along with the vineyards situated on the slopes overlooking the Wisconsin River will inspire a relaxed frame of mind for the rest of your road trip. Stock up on some delicious wine while you're there to enjoy when you get home!

The farm fields occasionally give way to riverfront and the low water level reveals a multitude of sandbars full of campers, boaters and swimmers. People were out in droves taking advantage of these warm dog days of summer before school starts.

I'm always in awe of this driftless landscape:  On one side of the road, mounds of wooded hills rise out of the rolling meadows; on the other side lie marshy lowlands and sandbars of the Wisconsin River; and in between these beauties are waves of farm fields lined with ancient oaks keeping the different crops separated from each other.

We turned down Cassell Rd. to get a better view of the bluffs along this stretch of highway just before arriving in Spring Green. There was a grassy parking area with trails leading out into public lands where Charlie and I stretched our legs while taking pictures of the amazing bluffs.

I wanted to continue westward on this Scenic Byway, but we turned off Highway 60 at Spring Green and headed South on Hwy 23, toward family and our ultimate destination:  Platteville. Between Spring Green and Dodgeville, there are several stops you should consider making.

The first one that you'll encounter as you head south is Taliesin and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. Just before you cross the bridge over the Wisconsin River to this architectural landmark, there's a park along the shoreline where you can take a break and go swimming if the weather is agreeable. On this particular weekend, the park was full of people enjoying the water and even dogs frolicking along the sandbar beaches and fetching frisbees in the sand. Although it was a busy weekend, it didn't feel crowded.

Next, you'll pass The House on the Rock. It's REALLY hard to describe this place and definitely something you'd have to see for yourself anyway. I actually took my 11-year-old niece there back in June and we spent almost the whole day exploring the collections. Make sure to pull over at the Scenic Overlook before you get to The House on the Rock; there's a view of the Infinity Room from across the valley that can be seen from the Overlook on both the northbound and southbound sides of the highway. When Charlie and I first arrived at this spot, I wasn't quite sure what we were supposed to see; after I took the photo below we turned to head back up the trail and I caught a glimpse of the Infinity Room and knew exactly what I was looking at! It was like finding a secret!

Self portrait of me and Charlie at the Scenic Overlook.

The Infinity Room is way off in the distance on the bluff.

Zoomed in on the Infinity Room from the Scenic Overlook.

View of the Infinity Room from the Northbound Scenic Overlook (bridge connects both sides of the Overlook)

View of Highway 23 from bridge at Scenic Overlook.
After The House on the Rock, as you approach Dodgeville, you'll discover Governor Dodge State Park. I've previously reported on this beautiful (and dog friendly!) park, but you'll want to plan ample time to explore it because there is too much to see in one day.

This upcoming Labor Day Weekend is a perfect time for a scenic road trip. The countryside is brimming with sights to see, a new treasure to behold around every curve. Even if you just go for a drive with no destination and don't make any stops at all, your mind will be full of all the beautiful images of the scenery along the way, and that is priceless. Get out there and find a scenic drive this weekend... you might be surprised at what you find and you'll definitely come away with a deeper appreciation for your part of the world!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

River Bed Exposed: Dells of Eau Claire River

Even though we had a somewhat wet start to the summer, the last two months have been unusually cool and dry. There was a warm snap last week and will be another one next week, but still no significant rain. The only upside to this lack of rain is that water levels in the rivers are low enough to expose new scenery. This is a really good time to explore area creeks, streams and rivers to see parts of the shore that are normally submerged and an opportunity to discover new treasures!

We ventured to Dells of the Eau Claire County Park yesterday to explore the shoreline and hike one of our favorite (and nearby) segments of the Ice Age Trail. Here's a little photo tour for you!

Charlie found LOTS of sticks along the shore.

Charlie found a snapping turtle - luckily no one got injured!

My favorite "walking tree"

I love the striations on these river rocks.

Someone left a mini-Stonehenge on this rock slab.

"Mom, can we PLEASE swim some more???"

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Charlie knows a lot of words. Even though she looks like a miniature yellow lab, beware: there is border collie in there too! I'm pretty sure her "smart genes" are an attribute of the border collie. Don't get me wrong - labs are smart dogs too... but in a different way than border collies.

Labs are smart in the way that they want to please you. Whereas, in my opinion, border collies are smart in the way that they want you to please them.

Charlie's needs include doing a lot of brain teasers and constant learning. She isn't happy with just the "regular" repertoire of Sit-Stay-Gimme Five... she wants to LEARN. Which is why she knows so many words. (Also, I talk to her a lot - hey, she's my best friend!)

Charlie's All Time Favorite word is, FUN! She knows this word all the way to her core. She'll pick up on this word in just normal conversation and turn to me with her ears up, all expectant.

If we're in the car on our way to a park, I'll turn to her and say "We're going to have some FUNZ!"... and she'll intently look out the window as if she'll be able to see the FUNZ when it appears.

FUN means we're going to go do something... be it going for a drive, going to the park, or going swimming - it doesn't matter. We're GOING somewhere; and it will most likely be FUN.

I hope you have plans to do something FUN with your best fur-friend this weekend!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pup Cones

Do you have an ice cream place in your town that serves FREE "Pup Cones?" In the central Wisconsin area, our place is Briq's Soft Serve. Apparently they've been serving free Pup Cones for a long time... and I just found out about it last weekend.

I decided to treat Charlie to her very first taste of ice cream after a long hike near Mosinee. I asked for a small dish of vanilla ice cream for my dog and the helpful girl behind the counter instead showed me the tiniest of tiny cones that they use for "Pup Cones." I said that would be perfect! Then she said they were FREE. I was speechless!

I took Charlie's Pup Cone back to the car where she was patiently waiting and let her have her first lick of vanilla.

She REALLY liked it!

And before I could get any more photos, the cone disappeared into her mouth and was gone! Let's just say this was a BIG HIT and we'll definitely indulge in future Pup Cones.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Green Circle Trail - Stevens Point

Sunday was a good day for a road trip down to Stevens Point to check out the Green Circle Trail! The Green Circle Trail is a state and federally recognized 26-mile scenic hiking/biking trail that loops around the Stevens Point area and is also a designated Birding Trail. The loop is conveniently broken down into "segments" very similar to the Ice Age Trail, so I didn't feel overwhelmed trying to hike the entire length; I just chose the most scenic segment - the River Pines Trail - along the Wisconsin River.

Skipping the historic section of trail beginning in downtown Stevens Point, we opted to enter the trail near the Bliss Ave. entrance. There isn't a designated parking area there, but a few cars were parked along the dead end road so we joined them. Finding the Green Circle Trail is not difficult, there are signs all over town pointing the way or you can just follow the steady stream of bicycles!

There are sign posts near most of the entrances to the trail with a map and rules - basically walk on the right, let people know when you're passing and pick up after your leashed dog. Interactive maps on the website, which I printed off to take with me, were really helpful in visualizing the segments and providing trail information. Only one section is off limits to dogs - the University Trail through the Schmeekle Reserve - so this trail gets my enthusiastic dog-friendly seal of approval!

While dogs are to be kept on a maximum 8' leash, there were several spots where we could access the river off the trail to let Charlie take a break and go swimming. Typically parks/trails that allow leashed dogs are pretty cool with allowing them to be unleashed as long as they are in the water. Just use your judgment to make sure you're not bothering other trail users.

We only passed two other "hikers" on the trail, otherwise it was mostly bike-use. This trail is VERY popular with bike riders for obvious reasons:  a well-groomed gravel path, beautiful scenery, lots of places to take a break and best of all - quiet!

Bikes passing by us were very polite as they called out, "on your left!" Some of them even announced how many were in their group so we wouldn't get run over. Each time a bike passed, I stopped and had Charlie "sit" while they went by in order to reciprocate the politeness.

At one point, this section of trail went under a County Highway, and Charlie was not impressed. As with her earlier experience on the Chaffee Creek Segment of the IAT, the sounds of the cars passing above spooked her.

The scenery alternated between marsh/swamp, which were dry this time of year, to woods full of all types of trees. One minute there would be soft pine needles underfoot and then rock outcroppings along the riverbank. We saw several flocks of ducks on the river that didn't even move when canoes drifted past them and I'm positive I even saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers. I'd like to make a trip back here during the fall migratory season to take full advantage of this Birding Trail.

We walked as far as the old stone foundation at the place formerly known as Echo Dells. According to the website,, these stones are all that remains of Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, George Nelson's fireplace. I love a trail with history!

It was a warm day and Charlie had behaved very well on our leashed walk, so we took a leisurely break on the way back for her to swim and play with sticks on a tiny stone island just off the shore near a park bench. There was a sturdy log providing a "bridge" between the shore and the island, but I knew I'd fall in if I attempted it and unfortunately the brown, cloudy water was not inviting. I stayed ashore while Charlie kept bringing me sticks to throw for her, which were always just out of reach; she had a nice pile collected by the time we headed back up onto the trail. Silly dog.

Overall, I think we trekked about 3 miles total for the afternoon; a day well-spent exploring a new trail in a nearby city while enjoying nature and learning a bit of history. If you're a bike enthusiast or just a hiker (with or without a dog), this trail offers something for everyone.