When we broke camp in the Chippewa National Forest on Tuesday morning, the condensation on our tent fly froze instantly. Time to head south to Wisconsin!
Our destination was Bayfield and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Along the way, we stopped at Amnicon Falls State Park. The river was high and rushing mightily, churning up tannin-colored water into thundering root beer cascades.
We told the WDNR ranger that we were thinking of heading towards the western section of the Nicolet-Chequamegon National Forest to camp and to Bayfield to visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. She directed us to the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center for more information. Now, you might not get excited about Visitor Centers, but this one is truly amazing. First of all, it’s a quality museum facility featuring interactive exhibits, a National Park Service film, an historical archive library, a bookstore, and an observation deck – three floors of cool stuff! Outside, there’s a nature trail and research nursery. I’m pretty sure the building itself is LEED certified. BEST OF ALL, it is a collaborative effort of the local community (Friends of the Center), the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and University of Wisconsin Extension – which means that staff members from each of those entities are present to answer questions and amplify your understanding of the area. The two we talked to spent considerable time with us, giving us numerous maps and tips and sharing the vision of the Center, its history and unique features. If it hadn’t been so late in the afternoon, and if we didn’t have the urgency of finding a campsite before dark, we would gladly have stayed until closing. Did I mention that admission is completely free? Your tax dollars at work. I took a picture on each floor before heading out with an armload of information.
We camped at an old CCC site in the forest and planned our Bayfield outing. We rose to temperatures in the 20s and headed out for the Grand Tour of the Apostle Islands. The sun was shining, the air was cold, the eagles soared overhead, and I couldn’t have been more invigorated and elated!
We headed southeast from Bayfield to revisit a favorite dispersed camping spot in the town of Three Lakes, WI. Across the forest service road from this site is the Headwaters Wilderness, a true, federally designated wilderness. We first camped in this private paradise seven years ago. It’s in National Forest, so the site is “first come, first served”. I was leaning over the dashboard hoping no-one else was there. We were in luck, and this glorious day had a perfect ending.
The weather turned damp and drizzly the next day, so we only stayed one more night. Our privacy was disturbed once by a sole fisherman who had been tipped off to the spot and came to check it out. We had a pleasant conversation, and he left. We walked the fire service roads and revisited another spot where we’d camped one year when our favorite place was “taken”.
By this time, we hadn’t showered for eight days. I began to picture Steve as Sasquatch emerging from the forest… …which he found rather funny. On our way back to camp from our after-dinner walk, Steve suddenly told me to hold very still. A skunk was foraging at the side of the road. We waited. He crossed the road and began to forage on the other side. We waited. Then, he turned and headed straight for us. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I was barely breathing. The skunk stopped four feet from us and looked up. He turned tail and hustled away from us as fast as his short, furry legs could go! What a relief…what a delight!
Our sojourn in the forest was punctuated by encounters with wildlife of many kinds besides the skunk: beaver, deer, bald eagle, red squirrel, vole, grouse, spider, leech and slug, to name a few. Also hunter. Gunshots rang out near our campsites occasionally. Road hunters in blaze orange cruised by. We found the remains of a grouse at one trailhead. I am almost entirely ignorant of gun culture, mostly by choice. The relationship that Steve & I want to have with the world is non-violent, following the Buddhist koan “do no harm”. Our culture is, however, complex. There’s a lot that I will never understand, and I don’t want to judge. I am grateful that we were able to experience long stretches of silence and peace on this trip, in which we could contemplate our place in the cosmos. Perhaps we are atypical of Wisconsinites, or of Americans. “What do you do out there in the wild if you’re not hunting, or fishing, or riding a motorized vehicle?” We sit. We walk. We sleep. We listen. We look. And I take pictures.
I am very grateful for the land around me and for the people who work to protect and preserve it. I do my best to join in the work. I invite you to as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my photo journal.
Steve and I spent the last 8 days traveling through the North Woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin. We camped the first night at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the western end of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Here’s Steve modeling his fashionable Aussie outer wear (an estate sale find) against the cold and damp. This was the night of a truly extraordinary moonlit hike. I awoke at about midnight to find that the sky had mostly cleared and the moon was full. A pink ring of vapor circled the bright light, and although devoid of color, the landscape was clearly visible without a flashlight. I woke Steve up, and we walked for about two hours, through the campsite and down to the river. Luminous surfactant foam floated by, and we could tell that the water level was extremely high. The next morning, we stopped by the Visitor Center to learn more about the area. We then continued northwest into Minnesota to find a camping spot in the Chippewa National Forest. On the way, we found Lake Emily. I had to take some photos for my youngest daughter.
The ever-helpful National Forest staff person at the Deep River ranger station gave us an armful of maps and great tips for exploring the forest. We found a dispersed campsite by an unnamed lake (labeled M13) on Orange Lake Road. This lake was our home for 4 days. It was also a more permanent home for beaver, red squirrels, bald eagles, and deer. It changed constantly in color, light, temperature, water vapor, sounds, inhabitants, surface, and semi-submerged “furniture”.
On Saturday, we explored “The Lost Forty”, a 144-acre area that was mistakenly marked as a lake by surveyors in the 19th century and spared logging. Old growth white and red pines dot this virgin forest. The sun came out spectacularly, and we could see why this remote area attracted so many weekend visitors. One hiker greeted Steve with “you old hippie!”. I admit I hugged a few trees. I was awed to be in the presence of these Ancients.
The following day dawned foggy and damp. We decided to explore the area just around our campsite and have a no-drive day. Minnesota is truly the land of 10,000 lakes. Every bend in the path seemed to lead to another one. We found sunshine at Littlehorn Lake, just down the road. Sunshine is a definite mood-changer!
On Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day, we hiked a golden path for 7 miles in order to explore the remains of a non-indigenous settlement along Trout Lake. The Joyce Estate was constructed from 1917-1935 as the retreat of a wealthy Chicago family. I imagine it was a roaring 20s bootlegging Gatsby-type scene, with guests being flown in by seaplane to play on the shore. In recent months, it was severely vandalized. I feel sorry for the Forest Service – managing land on a tight budget is tough enough without having to deal with unruly citizens as well.