Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dylan's Dairy - Cornell, WI

Often times, on our journeys, we end up finding really cool places and even cooler people. Our recent road trip/camping/hiking excursion over in Chippewa County was no exception!

On our way back from the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center to our campsite at Brunet Island State Park, we decided to find somewhere to grab a delicious late lunch in nearby Cornell, WI.

The quaint and cozy downtown strip in Cornell has a little bit of everything, but our eyes (and tummies) were drawn to Dylan's Dairy.

This place had delicious homemade sandwiches, locally-made ice cream (from Dylan's Dairy), breakfast items and handmade pizza. I was in heaven.

After ordering a prime rib sandwich for me and a mushroom-swiss burger for my trail helper (and mom), we sat back and took in the decor. There was a tiny little shop in the back offering clothing, handmade aprons, jewelry, home decor and other little odds and ends.

Walls were covered with cow and farm motif items that kept us busy looking around for a while. Beautiful french doors opened onto an enclosed patio filled with umbrella-covered tables for outdoor dining, including a water feature for ambiance. The cow-motif continued outside.

One wall inside the cafe caught my attention though. There were a collage of framed pictures and newspaper articles detailing the relatively short history of Dylan's Dairy. All of a sudden, a very personal and tragically beautiful story unfolded while we waited for our lunch.

You can read more here:  Dylan's Dairy - Dylan's Story

The food was awesome, the people were so friendly and the reminder of how fleeting our time is on this earth made everything that day a little sweeter. If you find yourself in this neck of the woods, I highly recommend you make time to stop at this little cafe and enjoy a dish of Dylan's Dairy's finest ice cream. And if you're really lucky (like me), they might have fresh apple pie to go along with your ice cream.


It was a carpe diem day.

We sucked the marrow out of that 3-day weekend and enjoyed every single drop. I'll be reveling in those memories for days, weeks and years to come. Some pretty spectacular things were seen and precious moments shared between a mother and daughter enjoying our time together. It was an awesome weekend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

IAT: Chippewa River Segment

On our last day exploring the Chippewa River area, we hiked the short 1.8 mile Chippewa River Segment. This narrow stretch of land along Cty Hwy CC parallels the Chippewa River, reminding me a lot of the Grandfather Falls Segment in Lincoln County.

Charlie admiring the view and wishing for another swim in the river.

This segment offers great views of the Chippewa River from the edge of rolling bluffs within the forested strip. Terrain is steep and the trail is narrow, giving the trail a cozy and rustic feel.

Ravines for water drainage are easily crossed with the boulder-walk, but are dry at this time of year. Soft mud revealed a highway of deer prints, but no other signs of hikers were present; obviously this trail is used by wildlife much more often than humans (or dogs)!

The last bit of the trail follows the road amidst the wildflowers before coming out onto the road for a short road walk to the parking area. As my legs brushed the tall grasses, memories of childhood walks came rushing back, ignited by the scent of summer surrounding me. I longed to pick the wildflowers and listen to cicadas; whiling away the day with not a care in the world.

Ahhh... summer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

IAT: Chippewa Moraine Segment

After a relaxing day at nearby Brunet Island State Park, we spent the following day taking a scenic road trip along County Highway M to visit the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center and hike part of the Chippewa Moraine Segment of the Ice Age Trail.

This is one of the *nicest* Interpretive Centers I've visited so far and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit! The building, perched on top of an ice-walled lake plain, offers spectacular views of the valleys below. Grounds are filled with butterfly and hummingbird gardens and the entrance is lined with hummingbird feeders alive with activity - birds were buzzing all around us!

Remnants of last night's weather were still present, sprinkling us with sporadic refreshing showers occasionally. The cool raindrops dampened the landscape and ignited scents of prairie grasses and wild flowers blooming all over the hillside.

Inside the building, everything is a "hands-on" experience. You are invited to touch all kinds of objects including animal furs, skulls, snake skins, and actual live reptiles! There are informational videos and interactive maps of the glacial topography and tons of opportunities to learn about the natural wonders in Wisconsin.

I could have spent HOURS in this building! Alas, the hiking trails were waiting to be explored and I didn't want to leave Charlie in the car for too long (even though temps were in the mid-60's and all the windows were open).

I did take a moment to purchase an Ice Age Trail cap though. It was just too cute. If you look closely at the picture below, you'll see tiny embossed hiking boot prints in the suede along the brim. How awesome is that!?

And so, with my new hat on, Charlie and I set out to hike a portion of the Chippewa Moraine Segment. I was immediately taken with the lush scenery as we trekked up and down a rolling topography with small lakes on either side of the ridge.

Every turn in the trail revealed another beautiful lake scene.

Unfortunately, the deer flies were REALLY intense and we couldn't stop for very long to admire the view; we had to keep moving. Actually, we practically ran the whole way.

I love that the "trail selfie" (below) of me in my new hat includes a photobomb of a deer fly sitting on the brim. That's how bad they were. They buzzed my ears, my eyes, sat under my hat brim, on top of my hat brim and pretty much did circles around my head the whole time. And they could care less that I was covered in a thick layer of bug spray; it had no effect on them.

And poor Charlie. She was completely covered in them. They bit her nose, her feet and her ears. They hitched a ride on her tail or her head until we stopped long enough for them to bite.

It was miserable.


And because the deer flies were so intense, we turned back and gave up hiking for the day. No matter how awesome the scenery is or how badly I wanted to explore this trail, it was just not worth it.
I don't know if there are certain times of the year that are better or worse for insects, but I think I'll come back here in the fall when leaf color is at peak, temps are cool and the bugs are gone.
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Brunet Island State Park

Brunet Island State Park was our "plan B" destination last weekend, but don't let that fool you - this park gets an A+! We headed out with a specific plan but with enough wiggle room in case something didn't go as planned, which is always a good idea when it comes to outdoor adventures. Since our first destination didn't turn out to be what we had in mind and there were no vacant campsites anyway, we headed a little further west to Brunet Island State Park in Cornell, WI.

Upon arriving at the ranger station, we were told there were only 2 campsites still available. I took site 58 - sight unseen and hoped for the best. As it turned out, site 58 actually was the best!

We were welcomed by a huge site with a trail leading down to our own private waterfront. Charlie was in heaven.

View of lagoon from campsite 58.

Campsite 58... our home for the weekend.

Cruising around the park to explore the island, we found friendly and playful deer. Almost every campsite had waterfront access, being an island and all, and all the campers were quiet and respectful, allowing us to have a peaceful and relaxing Saturday. Most of the campers had dogs with them - all very well-behaved as well!

This is definitely a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Many campers had canoes or kayaks with them and took full advantage of the easy access to the Chippewa River.

We set up our chairs near the waters' edge at dusk on Saturday, delighting in the dragonflies dancing over the water and watched a big cloud bank slowly move in and frame the sunset while painting a pretty picture on our lily pond.

As the sun set and the sky darkened, the cloud bank began to flash with lightning. Hmmm... not a welcome sight for campers, but we settled in for a great light show as the storm front moved from west to east just north of our campground.

After lounging around the campfire all evening we went to bed around 10pm, the thunder began to rumble and the light show intensified. We sat watching the sky flash and boom like it was our own private showing of Mother Nature's finest programming. Charlie was happily curled up on her bed in the corner of the tent, content from the day's activities and not afraid of the storm at all.

Eventually the pitter-patter of rain on the tent lulled us to sleep as the storm tapered off and moved on, never amounting to much of a storm but definitely quite a cool memory!

Lightning over our lily pond.

The following morning, Charlie was back in the water swimming and digging up sunken root balls. She is in her element when there is water nearby! The day was filled with exploring the Chippewa River Valley, including a scenic road trip and hiking on the Ice Age Trail, but I think Charlie most enjoyed her riverfront property for the weekend.

Charlie gnawing on a saturated root ball from the shoreline; she's in love!
After a long day of exploring, swimming, stick-throwing and hiking, we were all content to watch another sunset over the lily pond back at the campground.

Charlie chilling in the sunset; another amazing day gone.
Our Sunday evening programming included watching a Great blue heron strut around in the middle of the lily pond, collecting that night's dinner.

Great blue heron
Monday morning we were provided another opportunity to watch this beautiful bird catching a sunrise meal while we savored our own breakfast cooked over the campfire. Charlie fetched sticks around the shore and enjoyed one last swim before we packed up and said good-bye to this magical spot.

Charlie enjoying the last morning of her riverfront property, with Great blue heron in background.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sunday, Awesome Sunday

After a stressful and long day traveling across the state and back on Saturday, I was truly looking forward to a more relaxing day on Sunday.

The morning began with a batch of blueberry pancakes and a pot of coffee. Charlie had a big breakfast of Sojos mixed with fresh meat and blueberries. I sat in the backyard enjoying breakfast and watching birds flit back and forth between the trees and bird feeders while Charlie kept watch for squirrels. We played a short game of fetch and in general, just enjoyed a pleasant morning.

A little while later, I packed up the cooler with drinks and snacks and loaded Charlie into the car for a short drive to Hartman Creek State Park in Waupaca.

Having spent the previous morning packing up the car with all our camping gear and getting Charlie's expectations up for a fun trip then letting her down by just coming home, I felt like the worst dog-parent ever; I owed it to Charlie to have some fun today.

Fragrant pine forest.

Thankfully, Sunday was a completely different day - weatherwise - than Saturday. We had bright blue skies and sunshine for the entire day! Such a relief.

Giant rock along the Hartman Creek Segment of Ice Age Trail - trail selfies are hard!

We spent hours on hiking trails and even ended up on a section of the Ice Age Trail for a little bit.

Charlie took several swimming breaks throughout the afternoon, enjoying the cool, clear water. I get such a kick out of watching her body move through the water when she's swimming... it's really quite beautiful.

Distracted by flock of swimming geese in the distance.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rained Out at Perrot State Park

I had a sinking feeling as the first fat raindrops splashed onto my windshield while nearing our destination - Perrot State Park - on Saturday. The weather forecast had predicted isolated/scattered thunderstorms for the afternoon that would taper off by evening, so I had gone ahead with our plan to drive 3+ hours and camp for the next 3 days. I'm always up for an adventure and I've never let a little rain get in the way. How bad could it be?

At the park office, I left the windows of the car down halfway and the sunroof open to allow plenty of fresh air for the dogs while I went inside to check in to our campsite and get some hiking maps.

While waiting my turn, I noticed a sign on the counter indicating that the drinking water at the park had high nitrate levels and was unsafe for pregnant women or infants and that boiling the water would only concentrate the nitrate levels - so don't boil it either. Hmmm. This didn't look good, especially since I had chosen NOT to fill our water jug at home, but to use the state park water instead.

After receiving my maps and campsite tag, the clerk informed me that Catfish Days, an annual festival, was going on in town this weekend (which I had obviously seen already on our way to the park) and that hundreds of runners would be going through the park on Sunday and they would be closing off the main entrance to the park.

Hmmm. The whole point to camping (for me anyway) is getting away from crowds and noise. Hundreds of runners? Not good.

She also informed me that one hiking trail was off-limits to dogs and another one was known to have rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes??? For some reason, I was unaware that Wisconsin had rattlesnakes. How could I not know this? What kind of hiker am I?

Also, it seemed that the rain was now forecast to continue heavily throughout the afternoon and would taper off near 8pm and there would be more scattered showers throughout the night. I'm not afraid of a little rain and I've camped in rain before, but I've never attempted to set up my tent, etc. in the rain. This was going to be tricky.

As I exited the park office, I realized it was now pouring rain outside and the car was soaked. Yay.

I decided to drive through the campground and get an idea of the park layout. I had reserved my site earlier in the week - sight unseen - and was hoping for a decent spot. The campground loops were really confusing, but the map helped a little. Rounding the curve in the narrow drive, I was relieved to see that site 65 was actually pretty decent. A long driveway led to a nice round space with a good area for the tent and there was a convenient trail leading to the bathrooms at the back of the site with thick foliage surrounding us for plenty of privacy.

But everything was dripping wet and the ground was muddy with puddles.

Still trying to muster an attitude of optimism, I decided we could do a little hiking while waiting for the rain to stop. It was already getting late in the day, but I was putting on a brave face and hoping for the best.

Alert to the sounds of a nearby firing range.

We drove down to the trail entrance to Brady's Bluff - a trail that would offer spectacular views of Trempealeau Mountain. This was the whole reason we came here - Trempealeau Mountain:  a very rare solid rock island in the middle of the Mississippi River - one of only 3 of these types of islands along the entire Mississippi River. And Brady's Bluff is supposed to offer an amazing view of this special island.

The rain steadily continued as I buckled Charlie into her hiking vest and zipped up my raincoat. I could hear distant faint booms and wondered if the sounds were fireworks. But I couldn't imagine anyone lighting off fireworks during the day or in the rain.

Charlie apparently heard the booms too, although I hadn't noticed her increasing anxiety until we were well on our way up the trail. I realized, too late, that the sounds we were hearing were from a firing range somewhere nearby and the reverberating gunshots were spooking Charlie terribly.

Planning her escape up the side of the bluff.

The trail was slick and muddy and the steep stone steps were slippery. If I hadn't been strapped to a scared dog pulling me at a breakneck pace up the path, it actually would have been a beautiful and peaceful hike. I love hiking in the rain and listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the leafy vegetation; it makes me feel like I'm in a tropical rain forest.

But Charlie was trying to escape from the phantom danger of distant gunshots and was trying to scale the bluff to escape. I couldn't walk/run fast enough for her. She was digging in with all her strength, splaying her legs out with her belly almost flat to the ground to pull me along faster. Trying to keep up with her, I fell off the trail as we rounded a curve on one of the switchbacks and was afraid I had landed in poison ivy. My boot had sunk into the mud and I was pretty shaken from the close call.

Looking up the trail, I saw that it narrowed considerably and the drop-off along the edge was getting steeper. Little rivulets of rain were running down the muddy slope and I was worried that it was only going to get worse the further up we got.

At this point, neither of us were having fun and I decided we needed to go back. I wistfully looked up, sad that I would miss the view from the top, but also relieved to get off the dangerous trail.

Charlie, unfortunately, was not happy about going back down. To her, the threatening gunshots were down there and she wanted to continue going up. She leaped up into the vegetation on the hillside, trying to scale the bluff to escape several times. Sometimes she would bolt down the stone steps, dragging me behind her and then she would cower behind me on other parts of the trail.

Once we were off the trail she gained super-human strength and continued dragging me toward the car. I ran behind her at scary speeds, physically unable to stop her. Back at the car, I gave her a dose of Rescue Remedy and took a very long break to get my heart rate to return to normal. My whole body was shaking.

At this point, I was not in the mood to deal with setting up the campsite in the rain. This was not fun anymore. Every ounce of optimism was washed away with the flood of adrenaline in my body from our hike.

I made the difficult decision to abandon our camping reservation and drive home.

Sometimes the best of intentions don't work out. There was no point to "toughing it out" and staying if we weren't going to have fun. I rationalized the expense of the trip to just having a scenic road trip, enjoying the view of Trempealeau Mountain from the shore of the Mississippi River and getting to see a different part of the state that I had never been to before.

It was definitely an adventure.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Touch The Earth

Touch the earth, love the earth,
honor the earth, her plains,
her valleys, her hills, and her seas;
rest your spirit in her solitary places.
~ Ernest Dimnet

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Traffic & Tornadoes

"Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions."
~Lady Bird Johnson

While other holiday travelers headed north this past holiday weekend, Charlie and I headed southwest for a family visit in Platteville.

Friday was a picturesque summer day with clear blue skies illuminating a bright green landscape; the perfect day for a road trip!

Wildflowers are beginning to bloom along the highways, coloring the landscape in bright purples, pinks and oranges. Queen Anne's Lace is sprinkled along medians in bursts of bright white, appearing as nature's own fireworks, and honey-colored feathered grass waved in the wind. I am always so grateful for Lady Bird Johnson's efforts to beautify our highways with her love of wildflowers while on these summer road trips.

But when we got to Platteville, I was faced with the reality of how close the recent tornadoes came to my dad's house; a home I visit regularly. Driving through town along the path of damage, I was awe-struck by the massive amount of damage to a place so familiar to me. And when we came upon the home of a friend of the family and found nothing but the bare foundation, I was appalled. A friend was injured in that home and has a long recovery ahead of her.

I've always been awed and impressed with violent weather - especially tornadoes. It is a testimony of Mother Nature's power. But seeing the damage up close and thinking of all the people affected is humbling.

And even though I had a wonderful visit full of typical 4th of July celebrations - good food, laughter & family - the destruction just over the hill was ever-present in my mind.


I go into the woods on a regular basis and give thanks to the beauty of nature, but there is a violent and destructive side of nature as well and it is a reminder to respect this power. Enjoy it, but be safe.


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