Category Archives: Ice Age Trail Chronicles

Ice Age Trail Chronicles: Turtle Rock

Ice Age Trail Chronicles:
Turtle Rock Segment, Lincoln County
October 10, 2016

Another Federal holiday, another day to hike the Ice Age Trail. The Turtle Rock was our destination on this beautiful fall day. Kevin parked his truck on Burma Road, where we met that day. I picked him up and off we went to start on Highway E. When hiking a longer segment like this, it works best to have two vehicles. As it turns out though, we would only need one.

We started into the south, planning to complete the approximately four mile segment, and end at Kevin’s truck on Burma. Simple enough in theory, as long as you follow the clearly marked trail. Bright yellow spray paint illuminates the path thanks to Ice Age Trail volunteers.

A small creek, with a series of old beaver ponds, paralleled our route as we began. Rounding the corner, a wood duck took flight from his hiding spot. Here the creek crossed our path. Up the hill we went through my favorite portion of the trail. Young white birch trees grew thick on both sides to create a tunnel-like effect. Up ahead, the familiar sound of a ruffed grouse could be heard, trying to avoid us intruders. The creek, now on our left, created a deep, scenic ravine. Before long we arrived at it’s final destination. Flowing into the Wisconsin River, we paused for a moment. Another wood duck swam along the shore. Everything was familiar, yet different. As we glanced across the river, we looked at Hwy 107 where we have both driven dozens, if not hundreds of times. During those drives, we stared out across the water to the place we now stood. Same water, different perspective. On we went.

Here, the trail followed the river downstream until we reached the upper portion of the Grandfather dam system. Overlooking this area sits a Leopold chair, perfect for a midway break, thanks again to the faithful volunteers. The river diverges at this point, between the original riverbed and the carefully constructed waterway that now leads the water to two giant tubes, producing power at the lower portion of the Grandfather dam system. Here the two bodies of water converge once again to continue their journey downstream.

The water roared as it navigated the numerous boulders of the original riverbed. Our route followed this path. Before long we headed back into the woods, but paused shortly after we did. There was no sign and nothing indicating that this was the spot, but it was clear. Another one of boulders was located next to our trail, clearly the reason for the trail’s namesake – Turtle Rock.

After admiring the beauty of this mysterious creation and pondering awhile, we continued. Here, the trail was a well groomed network of old logging roads and snowmobile trail. That’s also what got us in trouble. For awhile, we watched for the yellow markers on the trees, but soon we were deep in conversation. Following the path of least resistance, we continued. Finally, Kevin stopped. “This area looks familiar and I don’t see any yellow markers,” he said. Sure enough, our original trail was right in front of us. Somehow, we had lost the path. We clearly missed an arrow, directing us off our nicely groomed trail. But, we made another discovery that we would have missed. At this point, we noticed a pond through the trees. We ventured to take a look, always wondering what is over the next hill. Ducks were everywhere – mallards, mergansers, and more of our wood ducks. It was a beautiful site. Amazing, how life is often like that. Go down a path you didn’t expect and find something better than you imagined.

At that point, we followed the path back and arrived right where we started. Kevin had to complete the segment and finished it that day. For me, that adventure awaits.

Published: April 28, 2017

Ice Age Trail Chronicles: Eau Claire Dells

Ice Age Trail Chronicles:
Eau Claire Dells Segment, Marathon County
January 18, 2016

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I want to do everything. I guess I’ve always been that way and I’ve learned to love it over the years. One of the things on that list of everything is to hike/bike the entire 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail. With a busy life and missing my family way too much, I’m not able to drop everything in the spirit of Eat, Prey, Love and spend months hiking. Instead, I plan to do it in smaller chunks, an afternoon here, a weekend there, as time permits. It may take 20 years, but that’s okay, even better maybe, because it makes the adventure last.

Last year, my friend Kevin and I got started hiking the Ice Age Trail at Eau Claire Dells. The great thing about having a flexible schedule and a friend that works for the federal government, is that every month or so they get a random day off for an adventure. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was crisp, clear, and extremely cold. Both of us had our snowshoes but quickly saw they were not needed. Well beaten paths could be found throughout this popular destination. That was probably a good thing because at this point we had no maps, and were just winging it. Isn’t that how all good adventures start though?

We started through the woods, linking up with the downriver side. A slight breeze rattled some oaks leaves that have surely seen their share of explorers.  Deer had scraped the ground bare searching for acorns. As we stood on the impressive bluff, we could see the frozen river below. Tracks of the foolish and daring showed that they tempted fate and won, making it across. This time. Upstream was the breathtaking dells. We’d save that best part for last. Our first destination was to head downstream where the river was flowing and still open. It wasn’t long before we came to a bridge spanning the river and connecting to the south side. Here we disappeared into the woods. To our left was mixed forest and to our right we could still see the river flowing through the trees. The conversation was lively as we reached a fork in the road. We continued downstream, coming to a fork in the river, where the water circled an island on both sides. The secluded island was enticing, just as secluded places always are. What would we find there? Pondering we vowed to return and find out one day, maybe on another adventure. At last we came to a sign that we were entering private property. One of the many great things about the trail is the amazing generosity of landowners to open their property for the trail. Without them, the trail would be a patchy mess.

It was here we turned around, working our way upstream to the dells. We weren’t disappointed. Finding an scenic overlook, we sat in silence soaking in the beauty. Large rocks comprised the dells with water flowing every which way as it tumbled over the boulders. The temperature caused the water to freeze in a variety of ice creations. Shelves of ice formed everywhere. The water kept flowing, causing additional sheets to form with a magnificent layering effect. Closing my eyes, I could hear the power of the water rushing through. But, I didn’t want to keep my eyes closed anymore. I wanted to see the beauty one more time before we continued upstream.

Across the highway that split the park, there is an old dam. A small lake is formed above where summertime campers no doubt have their picnics and swim. Today the otters are the only ones swimming with their trademark slides crossing the ice and disappearing into the icy water below. We cross the dam back to the north, meandering back through the park. Finally, we head back to the truck, our journey almost complete. But before we do, we are drawn back to the dells. Jumping across the rocks, we now find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the dells. For a few blissful moments, we remain, captivated once more. Then our journey had to end, but only for a while. Soon, we would return to our adventure once more.

Published: March 10, 2017