I always look forward to the sense of wonder and anticipation when going to a new place; entering Interstate State Park did not disappoint!
The ranger at the park office quickly and pleasantly checked me in to my reserved campsite and even offered Charlie a treat - dog friendly, yes! As we drove the scenic winding road to the South Campground at the back of the park, views of the St. Croix River and Dalles peeked out through the foliage and rejuvenated our excitement after hours of driving. I wanted to start hiking right away, but first we had to set up camp and get the dogs settled. Since it was already late afternoon by the time we arrived at the campground, I decided to stick to trails in the vicinity rather than driving back to the much anticipated Pothole Trail.
After setting up camp, Charlie and I walked through the campground to the trail head for Eagle Peak Trail, a .8 mile linear trail, to stretch our legs and get familiar with the terrain. It was a challenging trail full of switchbacks up the hill and we were followed by a persistent deer fly the whole way. About halfway up I was lucky enough to notice a tiny spotted fawn sitting absolutely still in the tall grass. Charlie seemed to be on a mission to get to the top as quickly as possible and didn't even notice the fawn as I took several pictures. We were both pretty exhausted by the time we got to the top but the view was worth it! Oh, and did I mention that I LOVE these rocks!
On our way back down to the campground, we met another hiker who I later learned is an Ice Age Trail volunteer! What are the odds? Back at camp, my "assistant" was hard at work making dinner - mac n' cheese! Well it's always good to load up on carbs before big hikes, right?
Charlie found a good "lookout" rock on the edge of our campsite which she used to keep an eye on the birds and chipmunks just over the hill at the back of the campsite where the Dalles Creek flows up into Lake O' the Dalles. We were having a difficult time acclimating to the campground because there is little privacy between the sites and the campground was full of campers on this Saturday night. People were up late talking loudly and drinking, music drifted in and out on the wind from some music event in St. Croix Falls and at 10 p.m. there were fireworks booming in the distance. Charlie and I had been in the tent since 9 p.m. and I was trying to get her settled down since all the noise was making her anxious. But when the fireworks started and literally vibrated the ground we were sleeping on, she completely freaked out. I had to grasp her in a big bear hug, holding her tight to my chest, acting as a human Thundershirt to keep her from ripping the tent open. When the fireworks stopped and Charlie calmed down, we drifted into a light sleep.
I was exhausted the next morning but off we went to hike the St. Croix Falls Segment of the Ice Age Trail (previously reported in Part 1). The majority of our hiking needed to be done today - Sunday - since we were headed back to Wausau the next day.
I may have been a little over-ambitious with the hiking plans because after hiking through the morning, I realized there was no way we were going to get all the trails done in the state park. I had to decide which ones were a must-see. Rachel, the Ice Age Trail volunteer I had met yesterday, had recommended the Echo Canyon Trail, so after lunch and a quick nap, Charlie and I headed over to the trail head. Somewhere along the trail I think we took a wrong turn and ended up on the River Bluff Trail. There were several rock climbers in the area practicing on the rock outcroppings and as we neared the river, there were more rock climbers on the bluffs below us and across the river. This is definitely a hot-spot for climbers!
After checking out the superb views of the river from here, we turned back because the trail became extremely steep and was mostly rock, which Charlie kept slipping on. I don't take chances with her safety so we back-tracked. There are three trails in this area that are all inter-linked at some point (River Bluff Trail, Echo Canyon Trail, Summit Rock Trail) and I'm pretty sure we hiked on all three of them because they are not well-marked once you get on them. Eventually we made it back to the parking area and I could tell Charlie had had enough hiking for the day.
We took a break and drove around the park instead, taking in the views from the car - Charlie with her head hanging out the window and catching a breeze. After checking out the Pet Picnic Area, we spotted a doe with her fawn grazing alongside the road. I stopped the car to get my camera out of the backseat and they never even looked up at me! I hurried to take pictures, afraid Charlie would start barking and scare them off, but she sat calmly watching them and the deer just went about their business, taking no notice of me or my dog.
Back at the campsite, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, I began to worry that I wouldn't have time to see the Pothole Trail in the morning. With little energy, I hopped back in my car and drove up to the trail to scout it out; there was no way I was going to miss this trail! I thought maybe the setting sun would interfere with my photos and was hoping the rising sun in the morning would be better lighting. But after seeing the views from up there - both afternoon and morning - I don't think there's such a thing as a "bad time of day" for taking pictures here. It's breathtaking.
Normally this is a very busy trail, but on this Sunday night, I had it all to myself. I was in awe of the beauty and history surrounding me. This is one of Wisconsin's oldest trails in the state's oldest state park. You can't get any better than that. To sit there and think of all the people who have come and gone through this site and the sheer force it took to make these wonderful landmarks: the volcanic rock rising straight up out of the river bed, the volume of water it took to break loose boulders big enough to carve the Dalles, the force of the flood from Glacial Lake Duluth causing gravel and sand to carve the potholes. It's simply astounding.
I highly recommend visiting this trail on a weekday when the crowds are smaller and you have a little more room to contemplate the magnitude of what you are seeing. Sit quietly on these rocks, listen to the water below, watch the turkey vultures soar overhead and let your mind wander. This place holds stories of great power; absorb that energy and refuel your nature-loving soul.
Heather Burt documents the ongoing journey with her dog as they play, hike and road-trip around Wisconsin in her blog www.HikingWithHeather.blogspot.com. Burt hopes to bring awareness to our state's bountiful natural beauty while encouraging people to enjoy nature.