22 July 2018
Tom Friedman’s 33.3-foot Looking Up, made of baking pans and other aluminum goods, attracts attention on the south lakefront in Chicago at 47th and Lake Shore Drive.
I had to do what almost every passerby does, sooner or later.
J. wanted to go to northeastern Wisconsin to see family, so I went along. The trip didn’t begin well, as he was delayed by a protest and closed exits along the Dan Ryan. I should pay more attention to local news.
Traffic wasn’t bad the rest of the way, and the weather was perfect — clear sky, sunny, about 74ºF when we left and at Port Washington. I noted that I prefer a summer sky with interesting clouds, although later the cloudlessness would prove perfect for part of the plan.
We arrived in Port Washington (80ºF) at 3:40. I remember the time precisely because it was 20 minutes to closing at Bernie’s Fine Meats, where I promptly spent a small fortune. (I’m not a big meat eater, but, oh, the garlic summer sausage.)
We stopped for a bit at Smith Bros. Coffee for the namesake beverage and a sandwich. It’s one of those places where I could people watch all day.
Finally, we hit the road again, passing through Green Bay and continuing north.
I’m not sure when we arrived in Crivitz, perhaps around 7. We continued northwest toward the family tree farm. Along the way I noticed many stands of conifers planted in regular rows, but what struck me was how dark the interiors of these cultivated “woods” appeared. In places it seemed almost black between trees, across from the sun low in the sky.
After arriving at the tree farm and looking around, J. saw he’d gotten a message earlier that the family had gone to a fireworks show with “Boat Landing 3” as the destination. After heading out from the farm, we asked a man for directions (no mobile phone coverage in the area) and with his directions found Twin Bridges Park on Boat Landing 3 (a road). Earlier there’d been a waterski show and fireworks were also advertised. Now we just had to find the family. Someone in the huge parking lot pointed us toward a sandy path through the darkening woods to the spot for the main event. We found a crowd in a clearing, along with concessions stands.
J. sought his family while I waited in the line for the facilities. By then I was tired enough I couldn’t tolerate the crowd (or the smoking). I went back through the woods to the car, where I took several videos of the fireworks through the trees along the Peshtigo River while countless mosquitoes feasted on me.
After a surprisingly good display, we headed toward an inn, 20 to 30 minutes away. The front serves as a bar and pool room (with one table) and the back as a restaurant. Everyone there seemed to be part of an extended family, friends, and neighbors group.
Next morning we passed Dirty Joe’s Laundry on the way to Java Lodge Coffee. Is there a Joe? Is he dirty? Does he launder? We may never know.
When we walked outside at midnight, the sky that had been so clear during the day had exploded with stars in a way that urbanites don’t experience without getting out of Dodge. Despite the lights around the building, there wasn’t much surrounding light pollution. We could the outline of part of the Milky Way. I wish I could see that every clear night. When I wasn’t soaking up the firmament (as the mosquitoes drained me), I was watching a few bats flying back and forth overhead (dealing with some of the little blood suckers, I hope). And so back to Crivitz for some rest.
I’d love to show the coffee shop, but the proprietor told us photos aren’t allowed due to the vendor works displayed. It had a north woods vibe, with bear and moose artwork and goods featured. Lovely place. We spent more time there than we could afford.
We returned to the tree farm, where we were given a tour of an addition, in progress, to the house, and I was offered a ride on a four wheeler (passed). My plan had been to head to Veteran’s Memorial Park afterward, but J’s brother talked him into a visit to Dave’s Falls, also a county park.
Nothing but a click happened when J turned his car key, and he realized he’d turned on the lights and left them on — don’t ask why as it was sunny and cloudless again, about 88ºF.
If you’re going to drain your battery, do it in the front yard of a family of mechanics. His brother appeared with a charger and clipped it on, then scraped and rinsed off years’ worth of corrosion. He advised running the engine for at least a half hour to 45 minutes — just about the amount of time it would take to get to Dave’s Falls.
Dave’s Falls, at least from what I could see from where I could get to, reminded me of a more open version of Parfrey’s Glen near Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, where a small waterfall splashes into water suitable for horsing around. The river seemed to run pretty fast with some foam. I wish I had felt steady enough on my feet to get closer to the falls, but the ground was rougher and more angled than I could handle at that moment.
Too soon it was time to head south without looking back. We stopped at a Marinette County historical marker about Wisconsin forestry with a forest overlook. Next was a pullover at Half Way North marking the 45th parallel halfway between the equator and the North Pole. It seems this is marked in only a few places in Wisconsin, so I’m happy I landed at one of them.
It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we reached Karvana south of Green Bay, one of J’s favorite coffee spots. The mac and cheese was pretty good, and the yam fries were amazing. Because I dislike the idea of bottled water and the massive amount one-use plastic it consumes, I loved their filtered water tap. I could fill my 32-ounce bottle with cold water before setting out again.
The final planned stop in the area was Fonferek’s Glen, a county park with a barn and other farm buildings. My objective, though, was the waterfall a short distance from the parking lot. When you first drive up, it looks like a serene meadow. Soon you notice, however, the many warning signs, especially once you pass the waterfall overlook.
The trail, as they say, is not maintained. Hidden behind the buildings is a creek that you drove over that’s carved out steep cliffs with unstable edges. On this day, we didn’t see the waterfall — the creek bed was partially dry. So was the grass, we noticed later. We passed the overlook and walked on the unmaintained trail along the creek bed to the top of the waterfall. I’ve never done that before. Fenforek’s Glen is not far from the highway and is well worth the little detour.
Time flies when you’re having fun. It looked like we’d run out of time to enjoy dinner at Twisted Willow in Port Washington. I had an idea — stop in, order dinner to go, and have a drink at the bar while waiting. I ended up with a great drink and enough Twisted Willow dinner for two meals. Another well-worth-the-detour moment. And getting back later than planned.
And so back to a routine work week under stars obscured at night by city lights.
The adventure began with an email from Openlands about “Paddle the Lake Michigan Water Trail” events in the far north suburbs (Ray Bradbury country). JB and I had gone to one of these a couple of years ago in Jackson Park. Wilderness Inquiry owns the canoes, and they bring paddling to people who wouldn’t have much opportunity, like city kids and the disabled (which I am when it comes to getting into and out of a canoe). They had a life preserver large enough for me (impressive!) and were patient with my difficulties.
We paddled around the lagoon, seeing a great blue heron take off from shore at canoe level. It’s a different world from a canoe, where you’re less of an outsider/intruder and more one with the water—even if you can’t swim. You’re almost like a bird yourself, maybe a loon bobbing on the water.
The Jackson Park paddle was cut a little short by choppiness coming into the lagoon from Lake Michigan, but we were out for a while, probably at least 45 minutes, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if some of the kids (and maybe an adult or two) were paddled out. We’re not hardy voyageurs, after all.
On Sunday it took about 30 to 40 minutes longer than it should have to get to Illinois Beach State Park thanks to a 4th of July parade in Waukegan that had closed down an extensive stretch of Rte. 137, which is the only practical way into the park. By then of course I had to find a restroom.
After those preliminaries, a conservation office pointed us toward Openlands’ tent by the lake, but we discovered we should have followed the “free canoe rides” sign pointing mysteriously inland, as it turned out the lake was too choppy for beginner paddling. We hightailed it west across the parking lot and down a service road and found the canoes at a pond by the campground.
We were just in time for the last paddle of the day. Wilderness Inquiry’s largest life jacket still fits me. Yippee! Enough people arrived after us to fill a canoe. I even managed to get in without too much struggle, thanks to the setup. So far, so good.
Just as we were scootching around to balance weight side to side and settling in, it started to rain, slowly at first, but soon with bigger drops coming down faster. That’s okay, they told us. We can go out in the rain as long as there’s not lightning. They asked if anyone wanted out. To all our credit, no one moved (not that I could!) or spoke up. Soon the cloud either moved on or emptied out because the brief downpour ended as abruptly as it had begun.
This pond, which I had not known about, is big enough to paddle but not too big for beginners or small children. We went around it perhaps three times, giving us a chance to practice turning and stopping (JB and I are pretty good at this by now). As we started out, a fish leaped out of the water and fell back before I could get a good look. Our trip leader told us the pond is full of bass. It was also surrounded by male red-winged blackbirds on slightly better behavior than they’d shown earlier in the spring. I mentioned that in Chicago frustrated residents have been known to call the police on the territorial birds. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “wing cuffs.”
Meanwhile, I was keeping an eye on the darkening western sky, even as the east remained bright. We returned to shore, and I got out with some extra time and a helping shoulder to lean on. (I feel pressured because anyone forward of me has to wait for me, although they were patient, too.) We chatted with one of the Wilderness Inquiry guys, who is hoping to go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then finally left.
As we walked down the service road, we stopped to take a few photos of the flowers and a monarch who was landing selectively on a couple of butterfly weed plants. I still watched the “gathering gloom” and suddenly decided an expedited march to the car might be warranted just as thunder boomed. Moments later the temperature plummeted dramatically from the low to mid 90s. We made it just as the skies opened up with a thicker, more sustained downpour accented by sporadic thunder and lightning. We joined a lot of beachgoers in fleeing the park. What perfect timing all around, despite the late start, the parade detour, the pit stop, and the mini-hike to the pond.
We rewarded ourselves with coffee and a brownie at It’s All Good, but the restaurant we wanted to go to had no power. Plan B was a family Mexican restaurant and so home. My kind of day.
When the sun sets, sandhill cranes return from area fields to Goose Pasture at Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana. Turn your sound up. Taken Sunday, December 3, a peak time during migration.
And what a sunset.
It was still overcast with on-and-off rain in Maumee, Ohio, where, still reluctant to return, we visited Georgette’s Coffee and Gift Shop (which carries, of all things, Solmates socks). We couldn’t leave without a walk around Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, which is closed on Mondays. Curses.
When Fort Meigs was built in 1813, it was the largest wooden walled fortification on the continent. As with Fort Massac in Metropolis, Illinois, Fort Meigs is a replica — for different reasons, wooden structures seem to be doomed to an early demise. Fort Meigs looked interesting, but its location and layout was no match for my favorite, Fort Niagara on the Niagara River at its mouth on Lake Ontario.
Back in town, J. spotted a purveyor of vintage candy that carries variations on the traditional Mallo Cup, so he picked up a lot — the Mallo Cup is a rare sight in the urban Midwest, or at least in the Chicago area.
At last we left the Maumee/Perrysburg area and drove through more on-and-off rain, with breaks at rest stop or two. At one we were able to get Hershey’s ice cream one last time (reminder: not affiliated with the candy company). Finally, we collected Petunia at the Hyde Park Animal Hospital. During her lengthy stay, she’d developed symptoms of feline herpes, a chronic respiratory illness, so we picked up L-lysine for her. We should have gotten a poncho for me, given how many times she was going to sneeze wetly on me in the next ten days. Home, sweet home. Chicago.
After a comfortably warm and mostly sunny week, the weather had taken a turn for the chilly. With a little more time available in Erie, we fueled up at Tim Horton’s, then visited the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, where we got lighthouse and park stamps plus goodies from the gift shop.
Next we drove farther out onto the Presque Isle State Park Peninsula, far enough to get to the beach with the Presque Isle light. J. made it to the light, but after crossing the in what felt like gale-force winds and having sand driven into my mouth and pebbles into my bare calves, I decided I could live with a slightly more distant view of the light.
By the time we tore ourselves from Presque Isle, it was time to make tracks if we wanted to get to Maumee, Ohio, at a reasonable hour. There wasn’t enough time for a detour to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I wasn’t too disappointed given the gloomy, wet, windy weather, which softened the pain of returning from a wonderful trip just a teeny bit.
Because we’d been to Cherry Springs, we had to get our state parks books stamped. At the park, though, the ranger told J. we’d have to go to Lyman’s Run State Park a few miles away for the Cherry Springs stamp. Getting there involved a narrow, winding road around mountains, constrained on one side by a guard rail unprotected by more than a couple of inches of shoulder — J’s favorite kind of driving conditions. Just as we found Lyman’s Run, a deer crossed the road well ahead of us, then, to our surprise, a fawn on spindly legs appeared and stood in the road, confused for a few moments before wandering off in Mom’s direction.
At the Lyman’s Run office, we told the ranger about the deer. A few moments later, she asked where exactly we’d seen them — a couple desperate to see deer had just come in.
At a beach below the nearby dam, a family or two was splashing about in the water. I always hope that when these children grow up they will want their own children to enjoy the same kinds of outdoor experiences they had.
At breakfast someone had told of seeing elk in Benezette and of a motorcyclist who’d feared for his bike’s life when a big bull elk eyed it. Benezette had been a possible destination, but now it became a must-see. I’d never gone there from the north, and we found ourselves on the narrow, twisting road to Galeton, then on more narrow, twisting roads post what seemed to be a lot of state parks and recreation areas. We had to hustle to get to the Elk Country Visitor Center before it closed at 5 — we just made it, at about 4:40 or so. I was surprised I found it as easily as I did.
We hadn’t seen any elk in town or near the visitor center, so I steered him toward the overlook where the bull elk had looked upon the motorcycle. Nothing. Seating had been added, and a man sitting there told us he’d seen some animals earlier, so we sat down to wait patiently.
Within about 10 minutes a female showed up at the edge of the woods and tucked into the field vegetation. Soon she was joined by a second and then a third, who also seemed to materialize from nothing. None of them strayed far from the wood’s edge.
We’d seen elk, if only a small number, if only at a distance. J proclaimed himself content.
We returrned to Benezette, driving around for a bit and spotting the top of a deer’s head among the high grasses along the river. Even the picnic area, jammed with elk during my December visits, was populated only by a few people and vehicles.
After eating at the Benezette Hotel (where J got an elk burger to go), we called it a day, knowing we had a long way to go. On the road out of town, however, elk began popping up in front yards, including three bulls in velvet. By now the residents of Benezette and beyond must have given up on any kind of garden or landscaping and let the elk have at their yards.
We stopped at length in front of several houses, sometimes in awkward spots ahead of road curves. I worried about being rear-ended, but the few times we saw cars, they slowed down and stopped too. The elk are hard to resist.
On the way back we noticed several popular fishing spots and some vintage bridges. Oh, to have a creek nearby to visit every day . . . preferably an uncontaminated one. In Pennsylvania, you never know.
For the last leg of this day trip, Google Maps helpfully steered me toward a long gravel road overrun by creatures that, in the growing darkness, could have been toads or chipmunks or something else — they scooted across so fast it was hard to tell. After two to three miles we came to the main road to Frosty Hollow, where a sign invites you to detour four miles up the gravel road (the way we’d come) to Jackson’s Bargain Barn & Gift Shop (open Thurs., Fri., and Sat.). When we’d passed the sign earlier, J had pointed it out and wondered if anyone (like us) would ever choose to go up that road. Ooops. Thank you, Google Maps (and for trying to take us down a footpath at Chestnut Ridge Park). We got back as rain began — no need to debate a return to Cherry Springs. Sitting on the barn porch, watching the rain come down, ended the day in the country perfectly.
After breakfast in the barn, we turned toward Pine Creek Gorge at Leonard Harrison State Park (the eastern overlook). Before we could get there, however, J. had to stop at an unexpected Harley-Davidson dealership in Galeton (Larry’s) for t-shirt gifts. After looking around for a bit, I returned to the car and watched two older men lust after a bike parked a few spots down. The owner appeared and shared the specs and some of his adventures on it (I heard “Tennessee” among others). The one man never stopped moving around the bike, drinking in its details like he couldn’t stop. To me it seemed unremarkable, but he looked like an art collector sizing up a reputed da Vinci.
The drive along country roads always seems longer than expected, especially when their condition isn’t great and there’s the ever-present threat of deer and/or trucks. We made it, however, and found a long, deep, curving gorge, the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” the green of the forest nearly unbroken except for the creek.
Pine Creek Gorge wasn’t always so verdant. After we took many photos and J. wandered a short way on a trail down (I wasn’t up to it), we watched a video at the visitor center that showed the voracious cutting of the gorge’s old-growth white pine and eastern hemlock. Where men of the time saw money and profits, I saw only destruction and devastation. First the white pine was cut, then the eastern hemlock, then the hardwoods. Clear cutting replaced selective harvesting, leaving denuded hills behind. My heart broke to see the “Grand Canyon” reduced to the “Pennsylvania Desert.” Did no one foresee the result of clear cutting, or care?
Today, thanks partly to the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, second-growth forest covers the gorge, and wildlife has returned. This north central part of the state, including Allegheny National Forest, has been branded the “Pennsylvania Wilds,” which attracts outdoorsy tourists such as hikers, cyclists, fishers, skiers and snowboarders. The men who profited from destroying the forest are long dead, their best legacy a reminder of the foolishness of benefiting in the short term at the expense of the future. I hope the Wilds can be sustainable as a tourist attraction because there are so few places like it left.
We picked up a couple of Pennsylvania State Parks and State Forests Passports, the state’s answer to the National Park Service’s stamp book program. You don’t have to be a kid to get a kick out of filling your book with stamps!
On the way back we stopped at an unusual church (United Methodist Congregation) and took photos. Later we realized it was featured on postcards we’d bought.
We visited Wellsboro, which is an impressive old town with impressive old houses lining the streets, and stopped at Peggy’s Candies and Gifts for Hershey’s ice cream. If you’re thinking of the Hershey Company (1894), you’d be as wrong as I was. Hershey’s ice cream (also 1894) is a different company with a different history. I thought there have to be trademark attorneys itching to tackle that, and I wasn’t wrong.
The weather looked better than I expected for the visit to Cherry Springs State Park — the long-term prediction had been for clouds and rain. We left around 8:45 p.m. so we’d have some light to see on the unfamiliar roads with their ubiquitous deer. When we arrived at the parking lot, a man ensconced in his car pointed us toward a nearby field with some picnic tables for regular folks.
For a long time we weren’t sure we were in the right place, probably because no one else appeared. We wandered over to the astronomers’ field, but there was no one there, either, and J. agreed we probably weren’t supposed to be there (it’s set up for professionals and amateurs with telescopes and has better restrooms).
The reason there were only a few people, mostly near the parking lot and usually for a short time, wasn’t the weather — it was surprisingly good. It was the moon. The bright, bright quarter moon.
The first few years of my life were spent near a pretty dark field (by Chicago standards), but I had forgotten how painfully bright even a quarter moon is. We could see a lot more stars than anywhere else, but the moon’s reflected glare obliterated most of the less brilliant stars, leaving some familiar planets and constellations in view. It was quiet, peaceful, and comforting to see the night sky in a way I haven’t been able to for decades. Many Americans have never experienced the magic of the night sky the way our ancestors did, and that is awful and sad.
J. took some photos, and we stayed until about 1 a.m. (If only we could have held out until 3:30 or so, the moon was due to set, although then the light from the dawning sun would have followed soon after.)
Before we left, J. said, “What’s that?” and in the cold moonlight I saw what looked like a weasel shuffling among the uncut grasses. I shone the red flashlight on it and discovered I wasn’t far off — it was a skunk, a member of the mustelid family. It seemed unconcerned, so I got closer than I should have, given a skunk can spray up to 10 feet accurately. I didn’t see any warning signs, and when it wandered off I didn’t follow. It’s not often I get to see a skunk that’s not flat and covered in gore.
Again I was relieved to get back to base without hitting Bambi, his mother, or any of his millions of relatives.
I started the morning out with a bang by falling hard in the Jacuzzi bath that I’d enjoyed so much — I knew I’d brought those spa shoes with treads along for a reason.
As this was the last day at Temple Hill, our host gave us a peek at the pool and garden area, complete with a Japanese tea house under renovation.
After saying goodbye, we took ourselves to a nearby laundromat to freshen the wardrobe and killed the waiting time by going to Wegman’s, a favorite of some of my friends (who wouldn’t love a place that carries Uncle Ralph’s Magic Sauce?) and Yoberry Yogurt. After the laundromat we made what I was sure was our final stop at a Tim Horton’s.
Temple Hill is across the road from an old cemetery that is still in use, so we walked through for a bit, long enough for me to spot the grave of a former New York governor. I also found a child’s grave marked by a flat, broken, worn tombstone at the base of a tree, half covered by dirt. Others had fallen over and broken. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust indeed.
This time we didn’t go through Letchworth but along its western edge. We spied a place where it looked like maple syrup might be available, but when we went in, we found a very musty old barn that seemed to be a half-abandoned disordered mess. I imagine it’s haunted at night by wheezing asthmatic ghosts. No one at the nearby house came out, but a neighbor pulled into the driveway across the road and tried not to give us stink eye.
This time I went into the Glen Iris Inn gift shop, relieving them of more postcards than was necessary, then we explored the museum, which I remember vaguely.
Although it was a little out of the way, I had J. return to the Wolf Creek picnic area so I could regret leaving it a second time, this one for good.
We settled in at the Glen Iris Inn for a leisurely dinner followed by farewell visits to the Middle Falls and the old railroad trestle, around which ground has been cleared of trees for construction of the new bridge.
Reluctantly, as always, we turned southward toward Coudersport, Pennsylvania, and Frosty Hollow Bed and Breakfast. Along the way we stopped at a grocery store where I asked one of the shoppers the way to the facilities. She pointed toward the back to my right, but a few moments later ran after me and said she was wrong; it’s near the deli. I couldn’t find it there, so I asked a woman working there. Next thing I knew, she was leading me into the “back of the house” to the room the employees use. I thanked her, adding that I could never have found it on my own. She smiled brightly, saying, “Always ask an employee!” I began to feel like I was in a disjointed dream.
When we passed through Belmont, J. asked me to make a note — he liked it. Small-town New York retains a certain quaint vintage look that, if it ever existed in Chicago, was likely destroyed by the Great Fire and suburbanization. We crossed back into Pennsylvania, passed through Coudersport, and arrived at Frosty Hollow Bed and Breakfast at around 10 p.m. for the final leg of this eastern adventure. We were in the Pennsylvania Wilds.