Monday, August 24, 2009

White Water State Park, August 17-20. 2009

We left Wisconsin and made our way back in the direction of home with a stop at White Water State Park in the blufflands of southeastern Minnesota.

We always feel at home in a Minnesota state park. We have visited so many of them so many times we are always comfortable with the surroundings.

We had a nice shady spot with room for the rain fly.

"George" our wooden egret found his usual spot next to a rain fly stake to discourage tripping in the campsite.

Paul uses recycled music to further mark the lines.

Nick was free for two days from the restaurant so joined us. The three of us last visited Whitewater in August, 2007. A week later, a terrible flash flood went through the park and surrounding area damaging much of the park's infrastructure and causing terrible damage to the river valley. This was our first visit back and we were glad to see the campground back in good shape.

Nick has been bitten by the golf bug this summer.

He gets out as often as he can.

He and Paul had golfed at the nearby St. Charles Golf Course during our last visit and so they planned a trip back to give the course another try. They talked me into joining them.

Those who know me are aware I do not golf. The last time I played a round was about 20 years ago.

But, I did agree to go with them because:
Neither Paul nor Nick intimidate me.
The golf course was empty of other golfers. Seriously, empty.
They would allow me to play my style of golf:

No score keeping for me.
I use three clubs: a fairway wood, a nine iron and a putter.
I pick up my ball if I am tired. I will only putt twice per green. That's enough.
That way, I don't hold up the game and find it fun.
I recommend this to other people.
No need to get angry and fume over one's golfing ability or lack thereof. Ahem.....

Considering my lack of practice, I did just fine, actually. I even hit over the water in this shot.

And, when you play once every 20 years, people are quite complimentary of your game.

That evening, we enjoyed a good meal with our son.

And a great campfire.

The next morning Paul and Nick played golf again before he went back to work. I read in their absence.

After Nick left, we experienced an afternoon of heavy rain.

The fact the flood was exactly two years ago on that date did enter our conversation. So, to keep our minds occupied otherwise, out came the Scrabble board.

It was fun playing the old-fashioned way.
Usually we play this game online.

We came home to a lawn in need of attention.

Obviously it had also rained at home while we were gone.

The maps and the calender are out. We are making plans. It doesn't look like we will be home much during the month of September. Where will we be next? We'll keep you posted!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tunnel Trail Campground, August 14-17, 2009

We left Governor Dodge State Park and drove about an hour northwest to reach our second destination,
Tunnel Trail Campground, near Sparta, Wisconsin.

Tunnel Trail is a private campground situated conveniently on the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, our reason for visiting this location. The trail, built on the bed of an abandoned railroad, is 32 miles in length.

We don't camp in private campgrounds very often. The sites were very close together and it was a weekend, so we were right in the middle of groups packed in having a good time. Let's just say we heard the word margarita mentioned a few times during the weekend. There was an apple tree in our site and the ground was littered as the tree dropped its fruit.

I mentioned to Paul I thought the staff should clear the apples from our site. He told me that was a very "Republican" attitude. What is that all about? I advised him:

I wanted to experience a Wisconsin Friday night fish fry. So, we drove to the town of Sparta and sampled a local restaurant's "Oh, My Cod" special washed down with a glass of Wisconsin beer.

It was so hot outside, it was nice to sit in air-conditioning and let someone cook for us.

The next morning we set out for a day on the bike trail. What makes this trail unique is the experience of walking one's bike through tunnels blasted through the limestone.

The trail was great, with very gradual elevation changes as it climbs to a tunnel at the top of a hill and then drops away only to climb up to the next. We planned to see two of the three tunnels that day, for a round trip of 26 miles. I was doing fine,

although I did notice my legs were pedaling twice as fast as Paul's as we rode along. Hmmm. I wanted a bike that was simple to operate with only seven gears. Maybe I should have gone with 24 gears..... And then, there was a detour in one town hosting a tractor pull, adding to the length of the ride.....

It was hot and very humid,

so the tunnels were a welcome walk through the cooled air.

The first tunnel we walked through was 1/4 mile in length.

The second tunnel was 3/4 mile long.

I was doing fine, except now we had to turn around and go back to the campground. By the time I had climbed back up to the last tunnel on our return trip, I was feeling the heat.

The down hill glide into the last town on our route was much appreciated, but the four miles uphill to get back to the campground were quite grueling.

For the record, I did not say "On your left" once to anyone on the path. I was the one everyone passed by and some folks even gave me words of encouragement. I would like to say I appreciated their kind words, but that would be a lie.

That shower in the camper was so wonderful! We even turned on the air conditioner, so you know it was warm!!

The campground was hopping that Saturday evening. It's amazing how many people can crowd into one little site. An Amish buggy drove through, I suspect just to see what all the hollering was about. Or maybe they wanted some apples......

Fortunately, everyone observed quiet hours and by 10:30 the campground was silent. That night it rained heavily. Sunday morning most of the people packed up their soggy tents while Paul and I headed back out on the bike trail

to experience that third tunnel. It was so foggy in the tunnel (another 1/4 mile in length) that the other entrance was not visible.

The day was much cooler and the length of our ride was much shorter, so no problems. I learned the heat and humidity of August on the bike trail must not be taken lightly!

Paul didn't want to head home quite yet, so he lobbied for one more campground. We talked to Nick and learned he had two days off from work and wanted to join us. So, we packed up on Monday morning and headed off to our next destination. We are vagabonds.

I've always liked that word. Maybe I should start telling fortunes!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Governor Dodge State Park, August 10-14, 2009

Today I feel "under the weather."

I don't often give in to feeling funky. Today is different.

Seems like a good time to catch up on organizing our latest trip.

Our first destination of this camping trip was Governor Dodge State Park, in southwestern Wisconsin. This is a large, 5270 acre park
with deep valleys and high bluffs. The park is a popular destination.We were surprised to see so many people in the campground during the middle of the week.

We had a big, open sunny campsite, so we were glad to have a spot to set up the rain fly to lend some shade to the picnic table.

Queen Anne's Lace, also known as Wild Carrot, blossomed around the edges of our site.

We toured the New Glarus Brewing Company on Tuesday morning.

This brewery has been in existence since 1993 and just recently moved into a new facility built to resemble a Bavarian village on a hill overlooking the town. The new brewery is built to accommodate touring patrons and is a very impressive operation.

Their beers are sold only in the state of Wisconsin.

By far their most popular selling label is an ale called "Spotted Cow."

Their "Wisconsin Belgian Red" is also a very popular ale that has won awards world-wide. It is brewed using cherries from Door County, Wisconsin.

I believe a few examples from this brewery have made it home to Inver Grove Heights. I can't be certain of their storage location in our house, however (in case Nick and his friends ever read this post).

We came back to the campground after doing some local food shopping and fired up the Weber "Q" and enjoyed a nice alfresco dinner.

On Wednesday we met Jayne and Tom at the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin. This organization was formed in 1973 on the site of a horse farm and is the only place in the world where one can see all fifteen species of the world's cranes.

The Gray Crowned Crane from Africa was very beautiful and one of our favorites of the day.

However, watching the Whooping cranes was impossible to top.

I am so thankful Jayne and Tom recommended we meet there. Awesome.

Our primary reason for visiting this area with Jayne and Tom was to tour Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin 600 acre estate near Spring Green, which includes his home and School of Architecture.

The tour began at the Visitor Center, located across the highway from the acreage.

Our first stop was at Unity Chapel, which was one of Wright's earlier designs. The grounds around the Unitarian Chapel include the family cemetery, including Frank's grave. Oddly, his remains were moved from this site by his third wife.

The estate includes the School of Architecture. A rather odd combination of public and private use exists at Taliesin, as there are architecture students and faculty living on the estate during the summer months while tours are led through the preserved national historic site.

We actually stood and watched architecture students at work in this facility.

Much of the estate is in extremely poor repair and the preservation process is slowed by a serious lack of funds.

We walked by the famous Romeo and Juliet Windmill, designed by Wright when he was a teenager. It helped to provide electricity for the school his aunt's ran on the acreage.

Next stop was the barn which now houses people instead of animals. Someone even sleeps in the tower.

But the true gem of the tour is the house.

We were able to walk through the interior but were not permitted to take pictures.

Despite the poor condition of the building, it is still incredible.

Taliesin translates as "shining brow" which refers to the hillside into which the house was designed.

The house has a tragic history, being the site of multiple murders committed by a deranged servant in August, 1914. Included in the seven who died that day were Wright's mistress and her two children. The murderer set the house on fire.

I read several book before the tour about Wright's life leading up to this tragedy. "Loving Frank" was my favorite book on the subject. I appreciated the tour much more with the background the readings provided.

Wright rebuilt the home immediately after the fire. It burned a second time in later years and he again rebuilt. The entire structure now is in danger of collapse unless major repairs are completed within the next decade. Millions of dollars are necessary to preserve the estate. We all had the impression there is much more work than is possible to keep this historic site open and available to the public. I am glad we were able to see it before it is gone forever.

Jayne and Tom joined us after the tour for dinner at the campground. The next day they headed back home and we broke camp and moved to our second destination.

Look for another posting soon!