Driftless in Wisconsin

P1120914Wisconsin has always been close to my heart. My family is fortunate to own property in the Driftless Region, a 4 hour drive from the Chicago burbs.

So what exactly is “driftless”?

driftless-glacial-smallThe Driftless Area is sometimes referred to as the Paleozoic Plateau. The area was by-passed by the glaciers as they advanced and retreated during the last ice age, thereby avoiding glacial drift.

This has resulted in a steep, rugged landscape, high quality springs – good for trout I’m told – and many interesting features and creatures.

Heron on the Kickapoo:

Kickapoo_heronMorel mushroom harvest:

P1140032Sneaky little devils:

P1140021For all my friends who follow this blog, or have expressed interest in visiting – Jose and Odile, Bernie, Chicago Bob, Mary, Linda – the house sits on the ridge top. You can see Shaw Road snaking it’s way through the hollow below. We own no road frontage but have an easement that allows access. My late husband thought it was remote enough to be a command post for NORAD until the Fire Dept came along and added a flag.

DSC_0926There is something about the inaccessibility that makes it even more desirable, almost as if it has even more value. How can that be?

My latest obsession has been to make the property “horse friendly” and I have to thank my dear friends Karen and Esther, and neighbors Chris and David for helping me make that happen.

DSC_0810This past week Karen and I hauled our two trusty steeds up – Molly and Chappy. Chris allows us to drop the horse trailer at his hunting camp in the valley. We are accompanied by the “music” of a fresh water spring as we unload the horses. We give them a good drink in the creek before we ride up. My neighbor even has an outhouse there.

Esther thanks you, Chris!

Here, Esther rides while leading – or ponying Chappy – while I drive the truck with all our groceries and gear. A braver person with a bigger truck might be willing to attempt to haul the horse trailer up, but no thanks, I’ll take the easy way out.

DSC_0783 Neighbor’s dog, Ozzie, has adopted our horses.

DSC_0798This year I have added interlocking horse panels that can be arranged to make adjoining outdoor stalls or a corral. Prior to that we used a tie line.

Next? Pasture fencing for grazing I think.


This area is well known for canoeing, biking, hunting and trail riding. LaRiviere Horse Park is in Prairie du Chien. Wildcat Mountain, and Kickapoo Valley Reserve are about 40-50 minutes away and I’m eager to explore them all. My riding neighbors Tim and Leanne recommended Duck Egg for a day ride.

IMG_3664Duck Egg is a 707 acre property that was acquired by Vernon County as part of the installation of a large flood control dam. While the dam was completed in 1990, equestrian and hiking trails were opened just a couple years ago.

IMG_3881The park is small but it is exceptionally well developed with both horseman and the fisherman in mind. I REALLY want to know why it’s called Duck Egg!


IMG_3861The Chaseburg Saddle Club was instrumental in developing much of the trail and oh what a difference that has made! Periodically we would come across well crafted mounting blocks, picnic tables and hitching posts – all with amazing views. Bridges criss-cross the creek allowing hikers and fishermen to keep their feet dry.

IMG_3665An Amish buggy pulled in behind us when we stopped for gas in Viroqua on the way home.

IMG_3902 The following day Karen headed off to Minneapolis to visit her daughter and, alas, chilly rain moved in.

DSC_1047 Horse corrals turned into a mud pit and leaves began to drip rain too.

DSC_1034Mist began to rise from the valley and this is where I needed to snuggle up with a good Steven King novel, says Bob.

DSC_0913 With Karen gone I drove around hopelessly trying to pick up cell phone service, finally ending up at a café in Boscobel with WIFI. I visited neighbors Tim and Leanne and lusted over the 4-Star trailer with living quarters they had for sale.

DSC_0930 Sun broke through and I stopped to admire the local herbivores.

And nearly caused a stampede!

DSC_0931When Karen returned from her visit we next headed to Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge. This is an enormous park – 8,600 acres – with the Kickapoo River meandering through the middle of it.

DSC_0960Kickapoo is an Algonquian word meaning “one who goes here, then there,” a fitting name as the river is very crooked, frequently doubling back on itself as it flows through the Wisconsin landscape. In the 1970’s a dam was proposed at LaFarge as a means to control flooding in the region. Ultimately 140 farms were purchased mostly from unwillingly local property owners.

BottomlandHardwood1From the beginning the dam was controversial and plagued with problems. Conflict between dam opponents and proponents, coupled with property owners who did not want to sell their property—but were forced to—set the stage for a controversy that would last for almost 20 years. There were the inevitable cost overruns and environmental studies that spelled doom for over 400 archeological sites, rare plant and animal species and, of course, the dangerously lovely Kickapoo. The dam project came to a halt in 1975 but not before they had spent nearly $18 million, transferred out a third of the High School and disrupted the economy of the town. The community was left embittered and divided.

1370_5It took a long time for the community to pick up the pieces of this debacle, but in 1993 citizens proposed to keep the land, which had remained fallow for many years, public, and develop it for low impact ecotourism. Out of citizen initiatives, grew the beginnings of The Kickapoo Valley Reserve, now owned by the State of Wisconsin and the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of the Winnebago tribe. What’s important is that these initiatives immerged from desires of the local community and not from outsiders, as well intentioned or as profit seeking as they may have been.

This place is certainly impressive.

Karen and I stopped by the Visitor Center to pick up our trail passes — $4 for a day pass – and would have stayed longer if we were not so eager to saddle up. Armed with maps and good advice, we parked on a broad meadow that allowed for easy maneuvering, saddled our ponies and set off. The trail led us down to the Kickapoo River and old Highway 131. It’s hard to imagine that this road was ever a state highway. Now it serves as a multi-use trail – bikes on the asphalt and riders alongside the mowed edge.

DSC_1009They even provided horse mats for crossing the asphalt – first time I had ever seen that!

DSC_1011Both horses thought those mats – same ones they stand on inside the trailer – were just frightful things and stepped AROUND them!

We left the old highway trail at Bridge #16 and began to climb up into Hemlock, Pine and Birch, Witchhazel in bloom everywhere. So lovely!


DSC_0992We stopped for lunch along Hanson Rock Trail where there was a handy tie-line set up and a beautiful view to enjoy. Although we had been warned that this place is huge and you can easily get lost, we found the trails well marked. We only encountered one other person – a solitary hiker.

DSC_1002We watched illusive warblers flitting about Hackberry and Elderberry brush at this trail junction.

DSC_09967180111018_cd49476cc3_zThursday Karen returned to her job in Naperville.

Friday Natalie and Bill arrived.

DSC_1053 Daughter Natalie is on the last leg of her summer journey from Tuscany, where she manages the kitchen for a Vineyard and B&B called Castello di Potentino, to her home in San Francisco. While there she was able to travel to Istanbul and stay with her friend Clare, an artist and textile designer. We shared pictures and adventures via our iPhones!


DSC_1064The following day son Bill lent his expertise on the troublesome tractor. I had been texting him in the previous days while he was sitting in his class at UIC. Name of class was “Internal Combustion Engines” – HAH!

He has one more semester of grad school.

DSC_1049 That evening Bill made Beef Wellington. Natalie assisted with the crust, while Judy Garland snored in front of a rip-roaring fire.

IMG_3914I do love autumn!

DSC_1055 My adventuresome children,

DSC_0907and The Driftless.