Category Archives: Midwestern Appeal

Romance in the Everyday: The Bridges of Madison County

A light at the end of the tunnel: the Holliwell Bridge. Built in 1880, it spans 110 ft.

“There are images that lie within my heart…images with the power to recall the warmth of a summer’s night, the stillness before a storm. Reminding me of the first time I ever saw him…there was nowhere else to go except towards love.”  Meryl Streep as Francesa in The Bridges of Madison County.

When I hear these words spoken in the movie I just get chills. So incredibly romantic. It was filmed among the fertile farmlands and rolling hills of southern Iowa as a backdrop.  One of the underlying themes of the film is that romance can flourish suddenly in everyday moments.  If you have not seen the film, or read the novel, this is a timeless love story filmed in Winterset Iowa  including the historic and iconic covered bridges located throughout…you guessed it: Madison County.

The peaceful view of a quiet countryside: Holliwell Bridge

I am an Iowa girl, born and raised in Des Moines. After moving away from Iowa, I always come back to visit, but had never journeyed to Winterset (very close to Des Moines) to see the covered bridges until recently. I went on a delightful day trip there with my Mom, aunt and cousin. We discovered that there are six covered bridges in Madison County. That is the highest concentration of covered bridges, in one area,  west of the Mississippi River.  It’s interesting to note that the eastern state of Pennsylvania boasts the most covered bridges of any state with the a whooping total of 219 covered bridges.  Now that’s an incredible amount of history preserved; if only those bridges could talk….imagine the tales they would reveal.

The practice of covering bridges developed out of a need to protect the interior wooden trusses and floor boards, which deteriorated quickly in the severe weather of the plains.  It was easier, and more economical, to replace boards and roofing then the interior trusses. Many of the bridges were lost to floods, ice jams, fires and just the procession of progress.   Starting in 1884, many of the older bridges were replaced with steel. In 1933, the Madison County Historical Society began a campaign to save the remaining bridges. Of the original 19 bridges than spanned across the county, six iconic bridges remain. The bridges have been lovingly restored, maintained and span across creeks and streams in the county.  They dot the landscape as an architectural reminder of a by-gone era.

Our first stop was at the Madison County Welcome Center (Chamber of Commerce).  It is easy to find: right across the street from the impressive and quite tall courthouse in the town square of Winterset, Iowa. The address of the center is 73 Jefferson Street.  The folks are so helpful there and it is a terrific place to get your bearings and the complete back story about this interesting community. Come to find out, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne. There is a museum with an impressive bronze statute of the famous cowboy and also a small home designated as his birthplace.  When we were there, there were no true John Wayne fans in the car, so we drove on to see the bridges.

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, built in 1870

One of the easiest bridges to find is located right inside their city park: Cutler-Donahoe.  The bridge was built in 1870 over the North River in Bevington, but was moved to the city park location in 1970. This was the very first bridge we saw and it does have a “wow” factor. Even though it is not very long, it is beautifully built and it easy to allow yourself the time to become immersed in admiring the craftsmanship.

The Holliwell Bridge spans across the Middle River and was featured in the movie. It is the longest of the bridges spanning 110 feet. It was exciting to see this particular bridge and then see it featured in the film. It’s so delightful to have one of those “Oo, Oo! I have been there!” moments. Out of the six bridges in Madison County only two were featured in the film, however the entire film was filmed locally, so many Winterset locations are recognizable. The town square, Northside Cafe and the Pheasant Run Tavern were all sites in the movie.

Imes Bridge, Built in 1871

The oldest of the remaining bridges is the Imes Bridge. It was built in 1871. Like all of the Madison County bridges, it has been placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can understand why this is the case, admiring the covered bridges brings a certain sense of nostalgia. As you walk thru the bridges the sturdy timbers under your feet are worn yet strong. The cross beams not only support the walls and roof , but create a unique, cross hatch design element characteristic of these timely structures. No wonder they were used for the back drop of a romantic love story. Sometimes it’s the simple beauty in everyday things that warms our hearts. If you are in the Des Moines area…I highly recommend a trip to Winterset. Put your traveling shoes on.  Julie E. Smith

A Cultural Icon: Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Throughout Wisconsin, there are approximately 260 supper clubs…give or take. The number is frequently changing because the clubs change hands and/or close and re-open again later. The restaurant business is fluid and subject to change. Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota, also has supper clubs….but not nearly as prevalent or pervasive on the landscape as Wisconsin.

Cozy, Table for Two- Indianhead Supper Club, Balsam Lake, WI.

So  herein begs the question that keeps on popping up: “So what is a Supper Club, anyway?…just another restaurant? Oh Nooooo! Don’t speak of such blasemphy. It is hard to explain, and I had this discussion with my son. We discussed the history of prohibition, the establishment of the speak- easy and how supper clubs, to some extent anyway fit in that part of history. I believe that you just have to experience supper club dining to appreciate them and to know the difference. My son and I did however come to the conclusion that: “A Supper club is a restaurant, but not every restaurant qualifies as a supper club.” Kind of simplistic in nature, but I think it helps to drive the point home: Supper Clubs are in a category of their own.

I was prompted to write about the uniqueness of Wisconsin supper clubs after attending a fund raiser dinner and presentation by our local historical society: The Polk County Historical Society. The event was entitled: Celebrate Wisconsin Supper Clubs and celebrate I did!  I really enjoyed learning about the diversity and amazing history behind  this fabric that makes up the Wisconsin landscapes and in many ways is the pride of many a Wisconsinite.  The two presenters at the event helped to expand those definitions and help to explain what makes a supper club a supper club?…and not just another restaurant?

Mary Bergin, a Midwest features writer, discussed the inspirations that led her to publish a cookbook of over 60 recipes from 40 different supper clubs. Mary is the author of several books, many of which focus on adventures in Wisconsin. The cookbook she published is entitled: “Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook”. The book includes not only tasty recipes, but also interesting tidbits of historical content about particular clubs and why loyal customers help to create each supper club as a local treasure. She explained that the popularity of the supper club has sustained because of their predictability; you know you can expect great service and food when you walk through the door. That predictability gives them lasting quality. Some may call it “stuck in a rut”, but others view it as the comfort of tradition.  Her books are currently available on Amazon and you can follow Mary on some of her adventures at: www.roadstraveled.com

Holly L. DeRuyter, a documentary filmmaker, presented her video entitled: “Old Fashioned-The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club”. The film took a delightful tour of several clubs at locations throughout the state and portrayed why these iconic clubs have remained popular and a staple in many Wisconsin communities. The video not only highlighted the supper club “culture”, but also helped the viewer to grapple with the continuing question of how a supper club differs from a restaurant. The supper club patron is welcomed to a slower pace where one can relax and connect with family and friends. One of the club owners summed it up well by stating: “ Dine Leisurely, Dine Well.”  Most supper clubs are in rural places and usually open for dinner only. The supper club includes a bar and a separate dining room. Even after prohibition was repealed, many women felt uncomfortable going to a tavern for a drink. (Some taverns were considered “seedy” and not the place for a lady…) However, women felt more comfortable having drinks if the bar was located inside a supper club. This helped to make all the patrons feel comfortable for both eating and having cocktails together. For more information on Holly’s film, you can check out her web site at: http://OldFashionedTheMovie.com

The “Brandy Old Fashioned” a staple cocktail in Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Speaking of cocktails, the classic cocktail of the supper club is the Old Fashioned. The drink itself dates back to the 1700’s, but was revived during the Prohibition days. With the preponderance of “rot gut liquors” and “bathtub gin”, these tonics were made more palatable with the addition of fruit slices and/or cherries to garnish the drink. A taste for something sweet just evolved the Old Fashioned into a staple cocktail at many of the supper clubs.

Another staple of the supper club is the Friday Night Fish Fry. Wisconsin is the perfect place for the popularity and success of a Friday Night Fish Fry. First, the fact that Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes filled with delicious perch, walleye and trout to provide an abundance of fresh and local fare. Second, there are many religions that abstain from eating meat on Fridays, so the Friday Night Fish Fry quickly became a family tradition for many Wisconsin families.

One of my favorite books…..right there on the bar at Indianhead Supper Club

When I first moved to Wisconsin, my realtor gave us a wonderful gift to welcome us to Wisconsin: a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola.  It became a great resource and also soon evolved into a journal for documenting my trips to the many supper clubs in the state. Since there are so many, I added my own entries and photos for the clubs that were not listed. It has been fun to document the memories of special meals, but also makes me feel a little like a restaurant critic. Yet, most of the things I document are good food and great experiences. I rarely have negative criticisms. Imagine my surprise when a copy of “my” book was there on the bar when I visited a supper club close to us. As you can imagine, that club had “made the cut” and was featured in the book.  Good job guys.

Put your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

 

Just Because its FREE, Doesn’t mean its Lame

We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.

So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!

In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.   Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War.  There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.

The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.

Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin.  The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269

Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior.  Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.

They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of  Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles.  Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org

 

My son Dan in seventh heaven @ the Spam Museum: Austin, Minnesota

Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them.  Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum

So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.

Let the Season Begin!…Fall Colors in the Midwest

    So we are just on the brink of Fall and the beauty of the season is just beginning. Many of the trees in my neighborhood are still mostly green, but there are splashes of amber and dark red here and there.  Like it or not, the cooler nights and the changing of the leaves are coming.  If you live in an area that Mother Nature presents to you all four seasons, the trees are just starting to show a little color and all the pumpkins in the fields are being gathered up and making their way to the grocers and people’s porches. The sunny days are making way to cooler nights as we ease into Fall.  As the summer flowers are also saying their last hurrahs, the petunias, lilies and geraniums are making way for the golden tones of mums and purple asters.

Living in the Midwest, the colors of autumn can put on quite a display.  Sometimes right in your own backyard. However, sometimes a weekend trip this time of year is not only a great way to get away for a “mini vacation” but also a great time to soak up the splendor of the colors before the snowflakes fly.  There are so many great places in the Midwest to visit that have the perfect backdrop to display fall foliage. Residents in the northeastern states also have a bounty of colorful landscapes this time of year.  Living in the heart of the Midwest, there is always an array of colors to enjoy as the season gets underway. The Ash and Locust trees start the transition followed by various fruit trees and the spectacular displays put on by the Maples.  The mighty Oaks are usually the last to go and generally not as vivid a display as the Maples.

It is amazing that there is even a web site dedicated to fall foliage: www.foliagenetwork.com/ It is a delightful diversion to visit this site and even if you can’t have a fall trip away, the photos on the site are beautiful. It covers all areas of the United States and separates it by region. The site also provides information for travel planning for viewing the colors of autumn with information such as lodging and suggested routes for scenic drives in the area you have selected. They even have web cams of the various locations. It is a great place to be inspired by the changing of the seasons and saying good-bye to summer with a smile. Check out this interesting site at: www.foliagenetwork.com/ 

 

My home state of Wisconsin, full of beautiful Maples I might add…..has a terrific site to plan those leaf viewing travels in the state. Check out the site at: https:   http://www.travelwisconsin.com/fall-color-report

The beauty of the Fall season is an inspiration to photographers and artists as well. Yet, also an inspiration for poets. Here is an ode to Autumn penned in 1896 by Emily Dickinson:

 

So embrace the beauty of the changing season, enjoy the palette of colors and say good-bye to summer with a smile. No Regrets. She will return again.

 

The Diversity of the Apostle Islands

“Sea stack” in the Apostle Islands

Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the 22 islands above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.

Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles.  Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate.  Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.

It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.

NPS Visitors Center

When visiting a National Park, my mantra has always been: “Let’s go to the Visitor’s Center first!” A visit to these islands is no exception to that rule. The Visitors Center is in an old courthouse; a historic building in it’s own right, but gives you a real overview of the islands and any information you my need while visiting.  The Visitors Center Park Headquarters is found at 415 Washington Ave. in Bayfield,  north from WI. 13 near 5th street. It resides in an old courthouse building that has been beautifully restored.  It was constructed from Brownstone mined from the Apostle Islands. Inside the center, are numerous displays of historical and also present day features of the park. The folks that work at the information desk have an abundance of information to help with any questions and suggestions about the surrounding area and lakeshore.  There is also a terrific film, 20 minutes long, explaining both the geology and human history of the area surrounding the Apostles entitled: “On the edge of Gichi Gami, Voices of the Apostle Islands.” Most people are familiar with Longfellow’s spelling of Gitche Gumee from his Hiawatha poem (1855). However, today in Ojibwe language class, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.

Bayfield Wisconsin is a lovely town right on the south shore of Lake Superior and hails itself as the gateway to the Apostle Islands. Bayfield is the smallest incorporated city in Wisconsin, but it is brimming over with activity near the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding hillsides. The area is known for an abundance of recreational pursuits like hiking, kayaking and of course sailing.  When we were there, the town was host to a sailing race. Many of the sailing teams congregating at the local restaurants…you could just tell by the snippets of overheard conversations. Some of the sailing terminology that was bantered about is completely foreign to me, but the great thing is you could tell they were having a terrific time sailing among these beautiful islands.  Also, fruit and apple crops are abundant in this climate and area restaurants highlight locally grown produce. The Bayfield Apple Festival, always starting on the first Friday in October, is a weekend filled with farmers markets, fish fry and culminating with a parade. It’s quite the event in Bayfield. For more info. about Bayfield, check out: http://Bayfield.org

Lights of the Apostle Islands

Having an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site. There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor. On the map here, you can see how the lighthouses are positioned among the islands. We only viewed the Raspberry and Devil’s Island lights, so perhaps another trip would be warranted.  After speaking with boat tour personnel and others, I found out that those two lighthouses are perhaps the most photographed and visited of all the lights.  Perhaps due in part to their easier accessibility to the mainland, but they are also possess their own unique characteristics. The building of the lighthouses between 1857 and 1915 ushered in the rise of modern shipping on Lake Superior.

Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island light opened in 1901 and sits atop the island that is the northernmost point of land in Wisconsin. I thought that alone was an interesting bit of trivia! This lighthouse is an impressive 80 feet high and is found above the beautiful sea caves that undercut the shoreline. The sandstone cliffs make a picturesque view with hardwood forests as the back drop. The incredibly rocky and treacherous shorelines, especially by Devil’s Island, make one realize why the lighthouses marking the way were so very important to the early mariners.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse

The Raspberry Island Lighthouse opened in 1862 with a height of 42 feet. The light was installed to mark the west channel in the islands. It is said to be one of the few remaining wood framed lighthouses on Lake Superior. Even though it is rather large, by lighthouses standards, it has a certain charm to it and has been lovingly restored in recent years. The property includes the attached lighthouse keeper quarters, a fog signal building, barn, brick oil house, two boathouses, two outhouses and a dock. When we were there, we saw a few people ascending the huge staircase from the shoreline and dock to the top landing: wow there’s your workout for the day.

There is so much beauty in the Apostle Islands to experience that one visit there will not suffice…looking forward to my next trip there. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Cabin Fever Cures

Sub-Zero temps, arctic blasts and record-breaking snowfalls have started out the New Year with a bang, and it’s not just the folks in the part of the country who are used to typical January weather. Many parts of the country, even in typically warmer climates, are experiencing drastically cooler temperatures accompanied by snow and icy conditions. cabin-in-snow My son in Dallas the other day,  said it was 20 degrees with some icy roads. Dallas. Wow. This kind of puts to rest the argument of climate change; something is definitely different. Nevertheless, as the cold marches on I think it is good for the soul to get outside, even for a short time, for some of that crisp fresh air to help ward off cabin fever.

Most of us have to face the elements anyway for work, school or errands. However,  modifying your perception of these tasks really helps lighten the load. If you can add a little something special to your trip, it makes even the most mundane task that much better. For example, treat yourself to a specialty coffee or make a stop at that place you have driven by a million times and have always vowed to stop in and check it out. I did just that yesterday with surprising results.

On a routine trip to Walmart, I went a little further down the road to a shop that I have always been curious about called the “Taylors Falls Bead Store”. I always thought it was basically jewelry making, but come to find out it was that and more! Like many women, I enjoy jewelry but this store has a dazzling array of not only semi-precious stones, bead work and jewelry making supplies but they also have amazing rocks and fossils for you rock hounds out there. Who can’t helped but be amazed when viewing the crystal formations inside a geode or amethyst.  It also adds to the fun that the staff is really enthused and knowledgeable about their products. They also offer of a variety of classes if you are interested in pursuing various arts involved with stones, metal and leatherworking. You know those little charms you put on wine glasses? They can even teach you how to make those! I may have to look into that class. If you are interested in checking this place out, it is located in Taylors Falls, MN. They are about 1 hour northeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Yet, they also have a website that is fun to check out:http://www.taylorsfallsbeadstore.com

Another sure fire way to cure cabin fever is start planning your warm weather get-away trips.  It’s always fun to looks at green grass, flowers, mountain trails to hike and perhaps sandy beaches to languish on.  Whatever floats your boat.  It may not help with shoveling the driveway, but it may take some of the sting out of the north wind biting your face.  If all else fails, stay home and watch some videos of dogs playing in the deep snow…like this one.  (Shared by my cousin Kay in Syracuse New York….currently dealing with  quite a bit of snow! Thanks Kay!) This is sure to warm your heart and bring you a chuckle.

Stay Warm, Stay Safe–then…Put your traveling shoes on. JES

North to the Namekagon

Walkway to the riverfront: Namekagon River (near Visitor’s Center in Trego, WI.)

The Namekagon River (pronounced: Nam-uh-Kah-gun) , in addition to the St. Croix River, make up 255 miles of protected riverway as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The National Park Service manages the riverway and Visitor Centers at both the St. Croix  and the Namekagon sites and both provide ample opportunities for discovering all the natural beauty in the area.

The St. Croix Visitors Center is open year round (see my post dated: July 11,2017), however the Namekagon River Visitor Center is only open Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Since my husband and I recently visited Namekagon Visitors Center, I guess we got there just in the nick of time, they will be closing for the season after the Labor Day holiday. It is worth the effort to go there: they have many interesting displays, educational materials and a short video about the history, geology and beauty of the rivers that are part of this conservation effort. Both the St.Croix and the Namekagon were among the first rivers protected by Congress under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The diverse and rich history of these rivers tell many stories of both human inhabitants utilizing the resources of the river and the abundant wildlife that call this area home.

Map showing both Namekagon and St. Croix rivers (National Park Service Map)

The Namekagon gets is name from the Ojibwe language meaning “river at the place abundant with sturgeons”. The Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwe (Chippewa) were the first inhabitants in this river region.  The resources of the river provided ample fishing and the harvesting of wild rice. The Namekagon River is a 101 mile tributary of the St. Croix.  It’s source is in northwestern Wisconsin in Bayfield County. It meanders southwest and joins the St. Croix River south of the city of Superior, WI. Here is a map detailing both rivers and the location of the visitors centers and boat launch sites. Opportunities abound not only for fishing, but kayaking and canoeing as well on these beautiful waterways that meander thru the northwoods.

The fascinating history of the area is also documented here at the visitors center.  The logging era started in the 1800’s by these rivers and had a profound impact on the geology and economy of this area. The rivers were used to float the logs downstream to the mills for processing.  During the peak of the logging industry, lumberjacks cut down 450 million board feet of lumber. Frequently there would be log jams on the river that were so dense that the loggers had to use dynamite to free the logs. Forests at the time seemed endless and were over harvested, so logging methods changed and the last log drive on the St. Croix was in 1914.

The beauty of the woods and the two rivers that run through them is wonderfully chronicled in the Namekagon Visitors Center. The Rangers there can provide historical and geological information on the area, as well as recreational information if you are planning an outing on the river. The center is easy to find: just off of Hwy 53 in Trego, 22 miles south of Hayward.

Put your traveling shoes on.  JES

Don’t let this be “The One that Got Away”

Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, Hayward Wisconsin

Throughout the ages, fishermen have told their tales of “the one that got away”. Yet, in the north woods of Wisconsin there is a place that one can view the biggest, the best and the world records in fishing.  The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin pays tribute to fresh water sport fishing and truly is an interesting place to visit.  Even, if you are not an avid fisherman, which I am not….it still is well worth a trip to see all the varied fishing artifacts and well over 300 mounted fish. The 7 acre complex boasts over 100,000 visitors annually.  And YES…you can climb the staircase inside the giant Musky and take a picture from his gaping jaws…Ahhhh! The ultimate photo of your visit here!

Their website clarifies that it is more than just a museum showcasing trophy fish but also on a mission to promote the sport: “The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is the international headquarters for education, recognition and promotion of fresh water sportfishing.”

Also among the giant fish statutes, is a rather large and interesting museum with thousands of antique rods, outboard motors, and publications. Throughout the hallways are dedications of anglers, both living and memorialized,  in the Halls of Fame who have brought many records to the sport of fishing. Some of the records are not just for the “biggest and best”, but also many anglers are remembered for their contribution for educating and promoting the sport of fishing.  I really don’t pursue fishing as a hobby, but you can’t help but get a little sentimental when reading some of the dedications in the Hall of Fame.

The giant Musky statue is the landmark feature and is quite impressive. He was built in 1978-79 and is an impressive 143 feet long and is 50 feet high. When you ascend the staircase to reach the top of the Musky, along the way are amazing facts and figures about fishing and additional highlights covering anglers’ achievements.

When in the North woods of Wisconsin, The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is definitely worth checking out. For more information you can check out:http://www.freshwater-fishing.org  So what tales of fishing adventures do you have to tell? Tall tales or otherwise, I love to hear them.

So head on out and “Put your traveling shoes on.” JES

How about a “Staycation”?

There really is something to be said about the joy of finding rest and relaxation in your own little neck of the woods and partaking in a  vacation in your own area…a “Staycation”, as it has been called in recent years.  Frequently budget demands require this, but there is much to be discovered when you change your view from that of a local to that of a tourist. Opening your eyes to new possibilities can be very rejuvenating even for close, local delights.

What a Welcoming Welcome sign!

A recent move to Wisconsin, has brought this to my mind and made me realize there is so much to discover just within a days drive of our new home. I recently drove back to Iowa to visit my Mother. When crossing the border back to Wisconsin,  seeing this welcoming sign brought to me not only a welcoming home, but also memories of dozens of trips to Wisconsin when we were Illinois residents. Seeing this sign makes me want to shout “VACATION TIME! ” But now that Wisconsin is my home, I feel like I am perpetually on vacation. **Sigh** Life is Good.  My apologies to the working people out there that only get 2 weeks vacation a year, but I feel blessed to have 52 weeks. Even though I am still working as a writer, it does not feel like work. I enjoy it so very much. ( I Digress) So back to the Staycation concept.

If you are visiting locally, you probably already know the interesting places in your area and your favorite restaurants, but for extra pointers I would recommend a visit to the local Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Center.  You can visit either online or the building itself.  I personally think it is great to go and “collect” brochures and also talk to the staff there about highlights of the area. Depending on the area, many Visitor Centers are organized by what type of activities you are pursuing: hiking, biking, shopping, trying a new restaurant, local museums, etc….. There probably is a whole lot more to do than most folks realize. For example, in my own little neck of the woods, I really did not expect to find a terrific vineyard. Wisconsin is a Dairy state after all, but vineyards are found in many areas. Even in these northern climates, some of the most terrific “cold crop” grapes produce fantastic wine! If you happen to be traveling in Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Winery Association at: www.wiswine.org to find a local vineyard.

Besides the obvious advantage of saving money on a Staycation, there are additional numerous advantages about the simplicity of a Staycation. If you don’t have to deal with airline travel you don’t have the hassles of cancelled flights, overbooked flights, crowded seating and adjustment to time changes. Granted, flights are great for quick travel that would take so much longer by car, but it is nice sometimes to do without the hassles of flying. When you travel locally, another perk is having the luxury of sleeping in the comfort of your very own bed. You don’t have to worry and wonder what the hotel will be like.

I love to travel, both near and far, yet there is alot to be said about the joy and simplicity of a Staycation.; defiantly worth a try.  Share with me here your Staycation adventures. And then…..Put your traveling shoes on. JES

A Tribute to a true lover of the Parks: Theodore Roosevelt.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park– South entrance near Medora, N.D.

As  one drives through the rugged terrain of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you appreciate the beauty of the rugged cliffs and eerie colors formed by the diversity of minerals found in this land. Land that has remained untouched by plows or backhoes for centuries, only modified by the wind, the sun and torrential rains. Included within the park are a diversity of landscapes and geological formations, such as the Petrified Forest and Painted Canyon.  The park consists of three separate units: the South unit (right off I-94), the North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch Unit.  Each portion of the park offers an abundance of  things to explore and opportunities for viewing wildlife.  Since the South unit is easily accessible (Exit #24 and #27 from I-94) near Medora, ND and also has two Visitor’s Center to help plan your adventure within the Park, it has a tendency to be the more frequently visited area of the Park.  The Visitor’s Center also has a really interesting museum about the man, the legends and some of the “naked truths” about this fascinating man who became our  26th President.  I was saddened to learn that Roosevelt lost both his mother and his wife on the same day: Valentines Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine the overwhelming grief.  He did seek solace in the lands that he so loved in the hills of North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located on the western side of North Dakota, is a more low-key National Park and does not boast huge mountains or erupting geysers, but nevertheless it is an amazing landscape that has been called “The Badlands of the North”.  Not only does it help to protect this unique area of land, it also pays homage to a man who played a huge role in the development of the National Park Service that we know today.quote-i-have-always-said-i-would-not-have-been-president-had-it-not-been-for-my-experience-theodore-roosevelt-105-74-46 It is fitting that North Dakota was chosen as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This land truly inspired him and helped him grow and toughen his resolve, both physically and mentally. He first came to North Dakota in 1883 to “bag a buffalo” and later become involved in ranching.  Through a series of both bad luck and severe weather killing the majority of his livestock, he gave up the ranching life. However, the lessons he learned in the wilderness and with cattle ranching helped to strengthen his resolve and also helped to solidify his conservation ethic. He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

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Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite

Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes referred to as the “conservation President”.  He was responsible for establishing five National Parks and also created a system for the President to preserve lands and monuments by the creation of  The Antiquities Act of 1906. Roosevelt signed the act into law, which gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation,  create national monuments, protect public lands and to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. Roosevelt’s first use of the Antiquities Act was to declare the unique feature of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming a National Monument. The Act has been used over a hundred times since its passage. Its use occasionally creates significant controversy, usually instigated by differences of opinion between Congress and the President.

Recently, President Obama used his Presidential power through The Antiquities Act to proclaim  87,000 acres in Maine as a National Monument in north-central Maine. The area has been christened as: the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  I believe that you can’t help but be inspired and uplifted viewing this video and thinking of the preservation of this beautiful tract of land in Maine.

 

So here’s to those that help to preserve the beauty of our America and hopefully we can all get out there and  “Find your Park”.  For more information on the Find Your Park program, check out the National Park Service website at: https://www.nps.gov/index.htm

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

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