8

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: A Park and a Half

Summertime is prime time for exploring Wisconsin, and with tomorrow being July 4th and therefore prime time for all the Wisconsin spots worthy of exploring to be full of people, we decided to spend today exploring one of our great State Parks.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 10: A Park and a Half (Roche-A-Cri State Park, Friendship, WI)

I wanted to spend the day, or at least part of it, doing something fun out of Madison. Unfortunately, I woke up with a splitting headache that had me on the couch until mid-afternoon, Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to rally by around 4 PM, and we were on the road to Roche-A-Cri State Park, a place I’d seen on the map and randomly picked to visit.

Roche-A-Cri (French for “crevice in the rock”) State Park is in the tiny town of Friendship (population: 725) in Adams County, about an hour and a half north of Madison. Fortunately, the park is open until 11 PM due to the campgrounds being so popular, so we had plenty of daylight and sunshine to explore.

Getting there was a little difficult at first. We took a back road through the Dells, and didn’t see any signs for the park until about one mile away. Once we got in and parked, though, it was a pleasant surprise at how peaceful this little park was. We paid the $5 admission fee and left it in an envelope at the park’s entrance (all WI state parks cost money to enter – if you park on the grounds) and set off on the shady trail.

Being a rather small park, we weren’t expecting too much. The longest trail, the Acorn Trail, is only about 3.5 miles long. But it was perfect for an hour and a half walk-around. We walked about half of the trail, only seeing a handful of other people, and then made our way to the observation point at the Indian mounds. The signs warned us of a strenuous climb – 303 steps, on an elevated staircase. The sign wasn’t kidding! Once at the top, though, we were treated to incredible views, and actually had the viewing platform all to ourselves – just as we left, a big family was coming up the stairs, so we crossed paths but otherwise it was quiet and serene.

We headed back along the trail to the car, stopping off at the petroglyphs for which this park is known. There is a huge rock, several stories high, with petroglyphs carved both by Native Americans and travelers from the 19th century (and probably some modern vandals, I’d suspect) and some fading red pictographs. We read the plaques about them, and were able to make out some of them, including a signature left by a traveler in October of 1845. It really was impressive and I’ll get the pictures up soon.

Upon leaving the park, I wanted to go a different way, so we could include more highway driving especially as it got later, but I ended up missing a turn. We were about 4 miles down the wrong road when we decided to turn around. To do that, we turned into a parking lot…and what do you know, it was Rabbit Rock – not exactly a state park, but one of the rock formations visible from the top of Roche-A-Cri, one that looked really interesting. Since we happened to be there, we poked around for a few minutes before getting back in the car. Apparently, visitors are allowed to climb this rock, and while it would have been fun, it was getting close to 8 and we needed to hit the road in order to be in Madison before dark. We backtracked, turned onto Route 21, and headed for the highway. About halfway there, Ship Rock appeared on our left; we didn’t stop, but it was really impressive and colorful, both with rock strata and graffiti. It took us about the same amount of time to get back to Madison, with a quick stop at the Starbucks on E. Washington for an iced coffee because I was fading (even though it was 9 PM and we only had like 15 minutes to go; wonder how I’ll sleep tonight). All in all, it was worth the 3 hours round trip to get out of town and walk around for an hour and a half, in a quiet park with beautiful views and ancient petroglyphs.

Oh, and in other exciting news…my third 2016 pen pal response showed up, all the way from Baby Ruth in the Philippines! Thanks for the fun letter; I got it out of the mailbox last night along with my other mail as I was flying out the door for Salsa Saturday, stuffed it in my bag, and ended up opening and reading it at the club during the break between the two sets. I thoroughly enjoyed the fan mail (which is what I’ve decided to call the response letters, heh) and I will write back soon! 13 other pen pals, take note.

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2

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Because The Devil’s in the Details

I’m a little sunburned, a little tired, and a little itchy, but I had a lot of fun today with around 25 members of my ballroom team. Join me in:

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 8: Because The Devil’s in the Details (Devil’s Lake State Park)

After twenty long, hot minutes of walking in the sun, I made it to the ramp at Steenbock where the rest of the group was waiting to set off for a day of fun at Devil’s Lake State Park in Sauk County, near Baraboo. I squished into a car, and less than an hour later, we were in the wilderness. Well, us and a ton of other people, but none of us had phone service, so we all had to interact. It was a beautiful afternoon, and people were swimming, playing, and enjoying the sunshine.

A huge group of us set off together, hiking on one of the trails around the lake. Hiking is fun when there’s a ton of people and everyone’s talking.

Until someone got the bright idea to climb up the rock fall.

So, as a group we clambered up an almost vertical rock wall on hands and knees. Of course, I ended up at the back, asking myself why we did this rather than just walking up on a trail. But after several close calls, I made it to the top, and wasn’t even the last one, and the view was beautiful: a blue-green lake just shining through the trees. After a short break, the only way to go was down, and fortunately for all of us we took a conventional trail. We stopped for several group photo ops, tripped a few times, and saw a snake, but we made it down in one piece, to the North Shore parking lot. We had been hiking for two hours, but were still less than halfway there. Regardless, we took a break at the concession stand there (yummiest strawberry shake ever) and then continued along the trail towards the South Shore parking lot, where we started. Half the group took the high trail, and I joined the other half, who walked along the lake on a lower trail. There were way more people, but the breezes were nice and cool and the rocks were all differently colored pastels. There were even a few balancing rocks. Just as the group of us (five at this point) were in sight of the end, somebody had the idea to wade through the lake…so we did. As the only person in the group wearing pants, I was worried, but surprisingly, I was able to roll up just enough so that I didn’t get them wet. We beat the high-trail group back, but by this point it was 5:30 PM, an hour past our reservation time at Farm Kitchen for dinner…whoops. But, we went there anyway, and although it took almost 2 hours, the 20 of us got dinner (or most of it) and headed back.

Now, I’m just sitting on the couch, pounding some popcorn. Despite the fact that I only got through maybe half of my reading goals for the day – just 1 book for prelims and 1 play over breakfast, no pleasure reading – I feel pretty accomplished. And a little exhausted. But not too exhausted to walk down to Capital Centre for some ice cream.

8

Utahhhh-choo!

Man, Utah really does a number on the nervous system.

Even though this post is going to technically be published on July 21st, my computer is on Central Time, and I’m currently sitting here and writing this at 11:24 PM Mountain Time here in Julie’s living room in Orem, Utah. This is also the middle of Phase One of my 2015 Summer Odyssey, and kicking it off in a new state – number 40 for me – has, so far, been great.

So, to recap:

Yesterday (July 19) = Day One. Awake at 6-something after being to excited/anxious/nervous to sleep. At least I didn’t have to move apartments this time around. Actually, that made last time somewhat easier, but this time, I could get lazy about cleaning/packing since I could pretty much leave my apartment as is. Basically, I cleaned the floor, washed the dishes, and took out the trash before I left, but I left with half a hamper full of laundry and a bathroom that hadn’t been scrubbed clean in a long time. Once in the cab, I had my first mini-heart-attack of the trip, when I realized my camera was missing before we turned off Conklin Avenue. It ended up stuck between the seats of the cab, for some reason.

Security at Dane County Airport was a breeze, and soon enough I was on my first flight, on United Airlines from Madison to Denver, Colorado. On the flight, I sat with a high school kid who was on his way to Orange County. The flight was two and a half hours, and even though I don’t normally sleep on planes, I think I nodded off for at least thirty minutes.

Arriving at Denver Airport, I had about a half hour to book it from Gate B20 to Gate B77, just barely enough time to get on the plane. This one was much smaller, with a very loud engine. I had to gate-check my bag as it wouldn’t fit in the compartment.

Then, finally, Salt Lake City. Julie and family timed it perfectly and we had a happy reunion at the airport, before heading out into the beautiful Utah sunshine.

Wow.

Utah. Is. GORGEOUS. Everywhere you look, it’s a different color, from red rock to yellow sand to green and brown mountains. The sky isn’t as big as Texas but the blue is striking on a sunny day. They informed me that Salt Lake City, being a Mormon hot spot, shuts down on Sundays almost completely, which I found to be totally weird. Fortunately, we found a great little Italian place that seemed relatively new. It’s strange; a setting of ancient mountains, yet everything looks brand new.

Soon enough we arrived at their lovely apartment in downtown Orem, a suburb of Salt Lake City. After a short break to catch up and catch our breath, we headed on out to Bridal Veil Falls, and even though there were tons of people there, we still got a great little hike in to a beautiful waterfall. It was so refreshing to feel the cool mist on my face, while watching idiots ignore the “no climbing” signs and try not to die. It stays light until almost 10 PM here, so it was broad daylight when we went home for a light dinner. After the little girls went to bed, Julie and Nathan and I sat up with wine and chocolate until about midnight.

Bringing us to Day 2, which was today. A bit of a late start so I could sleep in from the trip and get adjusted to the time difference. We were going to take a long road trip today, but the forecast seemed a little uncertain so we went to Timpanogos Cave National Monument in American Fork, only 45 minutes or so away. Once there, I bought Iris a National Parks Passport and introduced her to the wonderful world of stamping. I love spoiling other peoples’ kids. We thought we could just go in, but it turns out you need to buy tickets for a guided tour, which is the only way you can see the caves! Fortunately, Nathan snapped up the last few tickets of the day, a 5:45 PM tour.

And the time? 11:45 AM.

Fortunately we had looked up some places to explore nearby in Salt Lake City, so after lunch at a Whole Foods cafe, we headed over to a spot I’d found, the Gilgal Sculpture Garden. It’s a “visionary art environment,” in every sense of the word, complete with a Sphinx with Joseph Smith’s head, stone books, and rocks with bible quotes. It was small, (about the size of an average home’s backyard), but perfect for Ramona, Julie’s littlest, to run around in and imagine and ask questions.

Then, Julie found info about a nearby International Peace Garden, so off we went. Now this place? Super cool. It was built in 2002 for the Olympics, and it’s a pretty large park with different pavilions and mini-gardens representing different countries. Right near the entrance is a Chinese hut with a little pond, then right after that, some Greek columns, and on it went from there. It was beautifully designed, even though it seemed kind of arbitrary since other than the architecture and flags, the flowers all seemed to be the same. Iris and I walked around and hit the highlights, including a Margaret Thatcher bust in the England Garden; a tiny house in Switzerland; a mini-maze in Korea; an Eiffel Tower sculpture in France; and a giant harp in Wales. We also saw gardens for Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Lebanon, Germany, Ireland, Brazil, Philippines, Japan, India, a general idea of Africa, and oddly enough, the Pacific island nation of Tonga. Iris was disappointed that there was no Madagascar or Australia. The only ones we missed were Scotland and America, maybe we breezed by those too quickly.

Then, back to the main attraction of the day: Timpanogos Cave. I’m getting a little tired, so maybe I’ll add more description in a future post, but I can describe it in a few words: hot, cold, amazing, and cute. Hot: the hike up to the cave. Steep trail, blazing heat, but fantastic views. Cold: Once inside the caves, we all needed jackets and were shivering when we finally emerged at the end of the hour and a half long cave tour. Amazing: all the stuff we saw and learned in the caves. Beautiful, glowing calcite formations, majestic flow stone, stalactites and stalagmites, tiny underground pools, intricate patterns on the walls and ceiling, and trying not to get too wet from the drippy drippy drips. Going down was a breeze, all the way to the cute: Ramona and Iris doing the Junior Ranger program. Julie shot a video on her phone and took pictures, it was adorable. Then, back to civilization for Smashburger and Menchie’s (we deserved all those calories!) and back home for bed

My first impression of Utah (well, after beautiful): ah-choo. I’ve been sneezing and already had two nosebleeds, in addition to a scratchy throat and headaches, just from the altitude, it seems. I go to the gym nearly every day, yet I got winded really easily on the hikes, from easy Bridal Veil to tough Timpanogos. I am constantly thirsty, and my voice has cracked a few times. Also, it seems like people here can have some serious attitude; twice we almost got slammed into by other drivers, and there was a certain air of holier-than-thou-ness about a lot of the people we saw, save for the awesome and patient National Park rangers. Seriously. This older lady literally pushed past me at Menchie’s without so much as a “sorry,” and it just seemed like I kept getting in peoples’ way.

That’s all for today, I guess.

Stay tuned for more Utah adventures tomorrow, and any important details from today I may have forgot.

4

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

On today’s episode of Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin, my friend Rahul joined me in an adventure to see four new counties plus a whole new state.

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

File:WI Trempealeau.png

Trempealeau is in red, with Winona right beside it.

I rate today’s expedition somewhere between a success and a failure. In terms of success, we hiked a mountain in beautiful weather, made it to a brand new state for both of us, and had tons of fun. In terms of failure, however, no geocaches were found and the drive back was probably one of the worst storms I’ve ever seen.

Rahul and I have wanted to do an out-of-Madison trip for awhile now, and since there’s “no day but today,” I pooh-poohed the monsoon-like weather forecast and decided that I wanted to see the Mississippi River and finally add Minnesota to the list of states I’ve visited; unless we’re talking about age, 40 is a better number than 39. Wisconsin has oodles of state parks but today I chose to start in Perrot State Park in Trempealeau.

We got a pretty good morning start, leaving Rahul’s place at about 8:30 AM. Some friends of his were going to join us but they all bailed, which turned out to be nice because it was a great time for us two to get closer. Leaving Madison, we had gorgeous weather, and I thought that maybe, maybe the weather forecasters had made a huge mistake. We took a Dunkin’ Donuts break in Wisconsin Dells, and from there, drove through two counties I’d never seen before: Monroe County and Trempealeau County before arriving at our destination at 12 noon.

Trempealeau, Wisconsin, is a tiny, tiny town of about 1600 people and three decent-sized buildings. The park is right on the Mississippi; driving up to it, we raced the train running along the road. I saw a sign that read “fee area,” so we parked near a small restaurant and walked into the park, stopping to read about Perrot’s Post. We met some bikers who showed us a map and several different hikes we could do, each about 45 minutes. They recommended Brady’s Bluff, but we were right at the trailhead for the Perrot Ridge Trail so we started on that one.

The trail was sunny, muggy, and buggy. Early on, we found a fallen tree suspended beside the trail, and Rahul went and walked across it. I was not so courageous, since my shoes were older with less traction. I got up on the log, which was covered in moss, and let go for barely a second before I came crashing down. Fortunately, I have good balance so I landed on my feet. I tried it one more time but ended up just doing the sloth thing and hanging off the log.

The rest of the hike was pretty steep uphill, but the reward was plentiful. At the top, we were greeted with a view of the Mississippi floodplain on one side, and on the other, the river and the town of Winona, Minnesota in the distance. I hadn’t had any cell phone service since Wisconsin Dells, but atop the mountain I got enough bars to FaceTime my dad in Ocean City. On the way down, we carved our names into some sandstone. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail, it was starting to get ominously cloudy, so I left it up to Rahul to decide whether we were done after a little under two hours of hiking, or if we wanted to do another trail. He voted for another trail, but we didn’t make it very far before it started pouring. Fortunately, we were at a juncture where the trail went back down to the road, and we missed most of the storm due to being in the dense, aromatic forest. It was a long walk back to the car though, and we were just about out of luck, resigned ourselves to getting soaked when I flagged down a truck. A friendly local couple named Rob and Robin, who had seen us arrive at the park earlier in the day, gave us a much needed and appreciated lift back to the car.

We still had plenty of daylight left (well, more like day-mist-fog-cloud cover), so I decided that since we were so close to Minnesota that we could see it from the mountaintop, we should drive over the border just to say we were there.

So we did, and now I officially have been to 40 states. Wahoo!

Over the border, the first town we ended up in was Winona. Winona is a pretty little town, there was not that much there, but it was a Sunday afternoon and kind of gross outside so maybe people were just chilling elsewhere. I looked for a geocache or two but couldn’t find any (boo 😦 ) but we got to enjoy lunch at a lovely little cafe, the kind you expect to find in a small town, probably one of the few local survivors of the Great Burger King/McDonald’s/Wendy’s/KFC purge of the 1990s. We happened to walk in at the start of a violin/ukulele concert by some local kids and teenagers, so we enjoyed that while we ate. The kids were really good on the violins, and this one girl did an awesome rendition of “So Happy Together” by the Turtles on ukulele which was really something else. I recorded most of it and sent it to my mom, who loved it. After we finished lunch, we were briefly caught in the rain, but it was an otherwise uneventful ride back to Madison.

Oh, and next time I go to Minnesota, I will be highly disappointed if there are no ukulele players heralding my arrival.

“welcome, to minnesota…we’re not north dakota…”