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.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
I was 9 years old and seeing the mountains of Colorado for the first time the last time I was here. Frankly, the only thing I remember of it from back then is the name. It kind of scared me.
It is a National Park, a deep gorge, a wild river, a cross-section of geography, and a wilderness where humans are temporary visitors at best. From the Visitor Center parking lot, a glimpse of the scale of its depth is merely a tease.
After a good night’s sleep, we walked the canyon rim from the campgrounds to the Visitor Center and got a closer look.
The early morning silence, the delicate frost in the shadows, the warm fragrance of juniper and sage, the glimmer of rushing water at the canyon floor…I had stepped into a holy sanctuary that Sunday morning and wept with awe and joy…and sadness.I feel the threat to wild land as a pain deep in my gut. The river that carved this place is running high this year and being “managed” and diverted and manipulated to provide irrigation and recreation and serve a host of human needs. I don’t know how all the demands are weighed on this issue. My desire is to listen to the place itself, to let it simply Be, and to learn what I can with my brain, my heart, and my soul.
A volunteer guided us on a wildflower walk later that afternoon and introduced us to Western species new to us. Many of the Gambel oaks had just budded when that late snowstorm hit, and their tiny, crisp, shriveled leaves looked woefully sad. They are a hardy bunch and will hopefully recover, but the acorn yield in the fall will likely be diminished. The colorful blooms along the trail seemed to be not at all harmed.
This plant tour proved very useful. We saw a lot of Oregon grape, which is quite common and looks a lot like poison oak when it shows up as just three leaves with a reddish tinge. However, it does get additional leaves and yellow flowers which make it obviously distinct.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 established a means for our nation to set aside large parcels of land where the human presence is temporary. Among other valuable things, this provides for “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined experience” for those temporary visitors who enter its space and leave it “untrammeled”.
Why is wilderness and solitude important to the human soul? I would argue that it is vital to our perception of our place in the Universe, a place of humility, not dominance or mastery….
…and a place of natural social freedom.
Solitude is instrumental in developing self-knowledge and strength of character.
When we seek solitude, it is often because we are looking for a greater level of honesty,……a greater level of awareness.
To defile these areas of wilderness and solitude is an act of violence that attacks our own freedom and causes us to be unnaturally enslaved. I think it’s imperative that we protect the places in our country that still exist as wilderness and to restrict the encroachment of human development and over-population that threaten them, not only or even primarily for our own benefit, but because any real understanding of humility demands it.
Untouched, virgin wilderness is perhaps an impossibility on Earth these days. Are there any places that haven’t been touched with acid rain, air pollution or light pollution? Not likely, even if they have never been trammelled by human footsteps. Still, wilderness is an idea worth supporting and fighting for. Pure may only exist in our imagination, but it can have an impact there. What would the silence of machines, the darkness of the night sky,
I am pleased that Joshua Tree National Park and Jeff Sinon were both mentioned in this challenge. I happen to be fans of both! And of Wilderness, of course. (There’s a page dedicated to Wilderness above – please take a look!)
Landscape has been an inspiration for me from a very young age. My father used to take me for walks in the Morton Arboretum in the far western Chicago suburbs. I was overjoyed to be set free running across open expanses of rolling lawn dotted with dandelions and trees. Suburban landscapes are quite domestic, though. I longed for something wilder.
I would stare out my second floor bedroom window towards the west, imagining that the frontier started just beyond the GAR Memorial Forest Preserve and the Des Plaines river. I finally learned that there were just more suburbs on the other side. Then, when I was 10, we went to Colorado to visit my cousins, and I saw a mountain for the first time. It was like all the magic of a fairy tale come true, more majesty than I could take in with my arms spread wide and my feet clambering tirelessly upward!
When I was 14, we moved to California, and I discovered a diversity of landscapes to love – the shore, the deserts, the redwood forests, the foothills and the Sierras.
By my 30th birthday, I had moved back to the Midwest to raise my four children in a less dramatic but safer environment. I fell in love again with the prairie.
But Wilderness calls me to the North Woods and the West whenever I can travel, and these landscapes are the ones I want to photograph with more care and passion (and better equipment!) in the future.