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.


Wet Saddles and Teeny Tiny Ticks

Always looking for trail riding opportunities, horse pals Linda, Mary, Esther and Pat (that’s me) concocted a horse trip to the Shawnee in Southern Illinois. Alas, a trip to the hospital for Mary’s husband resulted in Linda and Mary staying behind. Despite several set backs – should we REALLY be doing this? – Esther and I decided nonetheless to set off for the Shawnee with trusty steeds Chappy and Olivia.



Last minute confusion – and believe me it truly WAS confusing – resulted in us having LOTS of food and NOTHING to cook with. Jim lent a hand by preparing delicious sandwiches for travel and lending us a box of camping utensils. Riding pal Chicago Bob who was to meet us there, provided all the missing tools, grill and firewood.


Chicago Bob, his neighbor Jenny and husband Mike met us as we pulled into the Double MM Campground. Esther and I unloaded our gear into a charming, rustic cabin. Horses got themselves acclimated in open stalls nearby. Is there time for an evening ride, asked Esther. Of course! says Bob. At dusk we were grilling steaks outside with a roaring campfire courtesy of Bob.


The Shawnee National Forest contains 415 square miles of horseback riding heaven. Many riders come back with stories of getting lost so having a guide like Bob and Jenny to take us around eliminated the anxiety of getting ourselves back to our camp after a long day of riding. The trail system down there can be confusing with many camps, trail riders or groups lending their opinions and expertise over the years leading to a conglomeration of trails and designations.  In 2010 the Forest received nearly $4 million of stimulus funding for the purpose of rebuilding and reorganizing this vast network.


We were fortunate that Bob and Jenny knew both trail systems plus all the short-cuts in between so we got to see the best that you could see by riding out of the Double MM.ImageImage

Bob’s trail savvy mare, Shawnee, endured the indignity of her adlib fly mask.Image

Bob, Jenny and Shawnee led us down secret trails, crossing cool waters, and into ravines with amazing rock features.



You could feel the temperature drop as we descended into the “hollers”.

ImageNative ferns and Heuchera (Coral Bells) grew lushly from rock walls.

ImageJenny’s faithful dog, Willy, knew how to beat the heat.




Always on the look out for interesting foliage, I had Esther stand next to a Paw Paw tree.


One of the best parts of trail riding is coming back into camp and sitting around the campfire at night, chatting with old friends and new neighbors.



As we shared camp and trail stories it didn’t take us long to learn that cabin neighbors Linda and Mike had been camped next to us last fall in Indiana.



Each evening we shared stories and experiences around the fire. If I could remember the one Bob told about the circle flies I would tell it here!


ImageAt a place called Dead Horse Canyon, Jenny watched our steeds while Bob took Esther and I climbing into the amazing rock formation above our heads.

ImageEsther never stopped telling us she was afraid of heights. Onward and upward, Esther!.

ImageIt’s called Dead Horse Canyon for a reason. Yep, you guessed it, the horse spooked while standing a bit too close to the edge above. The rider bailed and was uninjured. 

ImageThe horse remains.

ImageThat evening we came back to camp with ticks galore.

After showering I joined the others by the fire. “Found two more — one behind my knee”, I announced. Just as Esther and Bob were standing up pulling up their pant legs, Jenny and her husband show up laughing. “What is this, the tick dance?”


We missed you, Mary!!!


We missed you, Linda!!!

Here are some more pictures of the camp and the Shawnee so you can see all that we enjoyed. Can we all go this fall? Sure hope so!

ImageMy favorite of the many cabins, trailers or prefabs in the Double MM. They are all privately owned. Lessors pay $95 per month for a space to set up their camp for the season or permanently.

ImageThere are many overhanging cliffs or caves, some that you can ride into. This is one we saw last fall near Lusk Creek with Lorraine in the picture.


ImageThe Stone House we rode to last fall out of the Double MM. 

It’s for sale!

ImageChicago Bob on Shawnee.

ImageView from Hurricane Bluff.

ImageThe copperhead snake that Bob killed — with a BIG stick!

ImageAlmost every day we rode, there was a chance of showers or thunderstorms. On the last day our luck did not hold out. We got caught about an hour out of camp and boy, did we get drenched!


The trails turned into churning masses of mud and water including the spillway that separated our trailer from the cabin.

ImageThat meant packing up wet the following morning.


I’m still drying out at home as I write this.

Driving through Marion, Esther and I stopped at a fabulous tack shop where we both garnered some bargains, me — a used Tucker breast collar, new reins and an extra halter.

ImageWe first unloaded at Esther’s house. Out came the wet saddle blankets, gear, food not consumed, suitcases. Oh yeah, Olivia, too! At Pat’s house I got to repeat the process. I seem to be missing my wet laundry bag, but I do have Esther’s wine coolers. Good deal!



















Florida Part II — The Bowling Ball House


Such is life’s journey, on the way to one destination you discover something else entirely.

Old college roommate Trina Meyer knew that Karen and I were ripe for new adventures and so recommended an artist and studio called The Coral Reef in New Port Richey that she had long heard about but never had the opportunity to visit. Googlemaps guided us there, and a good thing too.

Much to our disappointment the owner (former deep sea diver) was out of town so we rambled about the small, decrepit, but utterly charming, community where we got to see an eagle’s nest, chat with fishermen and, of course, take pictures of yet more Real Estate for sale/rent.

This bird posed for us alight the shop.


We made our way to Tarpon Springs, shopped, bought goat milk soap and ate a most delicious lunch at Mama’s. Can’t help but see our old friend Ivi Diacou — god bless her — in the face of the shop owner who delighted us stories of goats, sponges and exotic aromas.



Back on the highway my sister spots the exit for Safety Harbor.

T U R N    O F F     H E R E

ZOOM – made the turn!

Years ago Karen had tripped upon the home and art studio of a group of three artists who have created


Well, I’m not so sure what to call it.


Locally known as the “bowling ball house” for the hundreds – thousands? – of painted bowling balls that adorn the premises.

Along with . . .


Old Bicycle Wheels


LOTS AND LOTS of bottles

All manner of re-purposed refuse from a modern world.


Todd was generous to allow us to wander around in utter amazement, with every turn we saw something to make us laugh


or stare in puzzlement


Since my sister last visited 15 years ago, Todd, Kiaralinda and Heather have expanded into a house across the street which they lease to visiting artists. Todd rattled off names – Jeff Daniels, Black Taxi – along with the songs that were written in residence.


While Todd and Kiaralinda worked on this new sculpture – made from recycled steel drums – Karen and I toured through the house. Not an inch of space was spared from being “adorned” – jello molds on the ceiling. I had to remember to look up.

P1130310P1130323P1130328P1130339So . . .

Wanna get high?

P1130334P1130329Eventually we made our way over to an adjacent garage and workshop.

P1130305A second Y2K bug had been auctioned off as a fundraiser for a local charity.

P1130304P1130315These pieces use old candy dishes garnered from thrift shops.

Bought one!

And, yes, they ship.


Todd recommended Green Springs Bistro for lunch where I ordered Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps with roasted red peppers, fresh basil, kalamata olives and goat cheese.


My mouth was agape at the massive limbs of an ancient live oak that grew across the street.


And another that graced the town square.


Todd proudly told us that they secured a $50,000 grant from Pepsi to build an Art and Music Center, located across from City Hall. An anonymous donor has more than matched that amount and construction is underway.


Do not miss this gem – Safety Harbor Art and Music Center

P1130318Next . . .

St. Augustine, meeting old college pal Trina,


Sea shells!

Florida Part I — The Bachelor Pad

Florida Part I -- The Bachelor Pad

Hi all!

After WAY too many years, I at last made it down to Florida to visit my brother Danny where he now lives — in St. Pete.

Always clever with tools and absorbed in all sorts of manly toys, I was anxious to see his new digs.


After surviving a devastating fire on his 2 acres in McAlpin, Danny moved into this modest little place hauling the detritus from the fire and making room for all his hobbies.

Clever fellow that he is, he immediately created some curb appeal by installing a bay window rescued from McAlpin, a new door and a deck where he can entertain himself by feeding — and taming — the many squirrels that live in the massive live oak squeezed into his teeny, tiny front yard.

Wings on both sides of his home house his antique autos.


As befitting any respectable bachelor pad, the living room is outfitted with a generously sized hobby table complete with a bench grinder and a bi-plane hanging from the ceiling.


In the evening we watched “Two and a Half Men” while Danny tinkered with toys.

What more could a guy ask for?


The pantry is adorned with all manner of nuts, bolts, widget and gadgets and, of course, a Bench Press.

Food? What food?


Geez — I remember when he used to do this to me when I was 5 years old!

W A A A A A ! ! ! !



This side of the home USED to be a bedroom.

But now, as is much more suitable, it functions as storage for his autos — a 1938 LaSalle coop he has yet to restore.


Behind that, tools, tools and more tools.

The other wing USED to be the Living Room. A Living Room — who needs THAT?


Danny ripped out the floor so he can house yet more tools, pull his 1949 Ford Coop inside, with room for a lift so he can work on his cars.

What you are unable to see from the picture, is that he cut a hole in the ceiling — yes a HOLE — so he can lift the car and work under it.


My sister Karen arrived the following day with my promise that we would be able to play tourist during our stay there.

Hooray — TWO against ONE!!!

Danny gave us a tour of the premises including this skeleton of one of the airplanes rescued from the fire.

BTW the airplane skeleton and two of his antique cars are for sale. So is the property in McAlpin located on a private runway.



Karen and I LOVED tooling around in his cars, the 49 being our favorite, all squeezed into the front seat with no seat belts. Since the manufacture of these cars preceded seat belt laws it is perfectly legal to do so. And, what is critically important to my brother, is authenticity.

Okay, he does not like seat belts either.


Danny generously offered us one of his cars to drive — an older Toyota truck with a cracked windshield, a hulu dancer hanging from the rear view mirror


interesting bumper stickers.

But no way was my sister going to ride around in this thing, so off we go to the local rental agency. We ended up with a Ford Fusion, a great little car to drive.

Karen took me around to all her favorite Florida haunts from years back when she and her late husband Dick owned property down here and vacationed.

What a great tour guide she was!

My new iPhone 5 (gift from son Bill) helped us to navigate. Awesome!

While I marveled at all the fabulous Florida foliage, Karen enjoyed watching sea birds, soaking up sun, S H O P P I N G, finally ending up at one of her favorite bars where years ago she fished off the pier.


In the evening we returned to the Bachelor Pad where we dutifully prepared dinner for our host — Pig-in-the-Blanket that our Mom used to make, and Trigger Fish that we tracked down at a fish market called The Reef in Indian Shores.
Since all the places we had been to as children visiting grandparents, had disappeared or morphed into Disney-like parks, the three of us decided to take a nostalgic trip to Sunken Gardens.

Stay tuned for Part II when Karen takes me to the MOST AMAZING PLACE I’VE EVER SEEN in Safety Harbor.


More to come . . .