The gray, cloudy morning gave way to sunshine and white fluffy clouds by early afternoon when we arrived at the trail head for Turtle Rock Segment for the second time this year. On this last day of summer, fall colors were beginning to develop along the highway as we traveled north from Wausau on this short road trip. The alternating sensation of cool air from the open sunroof and the warm air from the heat vent was exhilarating and I couldn't wait to have a second chance at hiking this segment!
Earlier this summer, when Charlie and I hiked the entire Turtle Rock segment, the hot, humid weather prevented me from enjoying the last half of the trail because I just wanted to be done hiking! The terrain was difficult both from the rocky landscape and the jungle-sized ferns towering over me, making it impossible to run from the mosquitoes.
I feel lucky to live so close to this segment and have the chance to experience it in different seasons. No trail is ever the same: light, wildlife and weather make every hike a unique experience. And since the weather has cooled off as the days drift into autumn, bugs are no longer an issue.
Today we started at the trail head on County Hwy E in order to experience what I consider to be the best and most scenic part of this segment along the Wisconsin River ending at Grandfather Falls. At 1:30pm the sun was shining, fluffy white clouds scuttled across the sky and a strong breeze stirred the leaves all around us. The 60-degree temperature was cool and refreshing.
With the sun at a lower angle and the leaves beginning to change color, the forest had a soft yellow glow as the light filtered through the canopy. Beautiful white birch trees formed an ethereal tunnel as we made our way into the woods. Charlie became distracted when the trail reached the stream that eventually flows into the Wisconsin River. She frequently sniffed the air and paused to listen, as if she sensed wildlife nearby. I made sure to talk loudly and clap my hands to alert any forest-dwellers that were nearby. Charlie took a swim break when we arrived at the Wisconsin River above Grandfather Dam where the water was calm, reflecting the electric blue sky above.
After a short break, we continued down toward Grandfather Falls, carefully picking our way through the rocky terrain. I absolutely LOVE this part of the trail because of its obstacle-course qualities. Climbing up and down and all around these rocks makes me feel like a kid again. We found several piles of scat on the trail but were unable to detect what kind of animal left them there. Some were fairly fresh so it's obvious that something had been through here recently, proving Charlie had been correct in her earlier wariness.
Upon arriving at Grandfather Falls, I took the opportunity to lie on the sun-warmed rock slab while having a snack and let the roaring water clear my mind and relax my spirit. Charlie was content to sit next to me, watching the water flow all around us and have some treats too. After catching our breath and having a nice break, we continued on a little further to a calm spot in a narrow inlet between the shore and the raging rapids where Charlie could explore the rocky riverbank and play with sticks. I rock-hopped around as well, exploring with her and trying to stay dry! The reflection of the clear blue sky in the water was mesmerizing and we spent more time enjoying the scenery than I had anticipated. It's a lovely luxury to have time to slow down and enjoy the scenery, absorbing the landscape that surrounds you.
As we made our way back, I realized that the shorter days and the lower position of the sun caused the woods to seem almost dark in this late afternoon light. The sun-dappled trail we had enjoyed earlier was now a bit spooky. I was relieved to exit the woods and transition onto the wide, grassy path where the sunshine illuminated flying insects and glowed golden on the late-summer grasses.
Charlie slept peacefully on the way home while I made a quick stop at a roadside stand to purchase some camp wood for our backyard firepit. With the harvest moon waning and crisp, cool evenings looming, I'm looking forward to snuggling up around the campfire with some hot chocolate and enjoy this fleeting season before winter arrives. The fall colors are just starting to arrive here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, but they'll be in full blaze in just a week or two. It's a great time to plan a fall color road trip and explore this beautiful state!
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.