Wild Wisconsin

Recently bought a cabin in WI so will now have to expand posts to "wild Wisconsin."

Recently bought a cabin in WI so will now have to expand posts to “wild Wisconsin.”

Last summer I camped at Apple River Canyon State Park near Galena and posted pictures of swallows flying in and out of their mud nests under a bridge. I identified them as barn swallows at the time but decided to double check that identification today.   Here’s my most identifiable picture.

And here’s a picture of Cliff Swallows from the Encyclopedia of Life.

Clearly I could use a little work on the photography thing but let me partially redeem myself by recommending the Encyclopedia of Life.  Here’s the link http://eol.org/

If you’re interested in any kind of life of earth, go there.  It’s a great site to browse even if you’re not trying to identify anything.

A quick shout out to the Department of Natural Resources and its Becoming an Outdoorswoman program. (Actually every state has one but I live in Illinois and have attended our program almost every year for the past five or six years).

Want to learn to backpack?  Fish? Kayak? Hunt?  Want to make nature crafts or learn about medicinal herbs, or  cook outdoors?  If you’re a woman, Becoming an Outdoorswoman is for you.

BOW sessions occur twice a year, usually in June and September.  I’ve included a link in the Blogroll.  The instructors are great and communal meals are a good time to hear about classes you couldn’t squeeze in and pick up some pointers anyway.

The next session starts Friday afternoon June 8, 2012 and ends Sunday about noon on June 10, 2012.  You’ll sleep in a dorm with accommodations for “Morning Glories” and “Night Owls” so everyone gets enough sleep.  The June session is near White Pines in Oregon, Illinois.  If you wait till September, you can enjoy Pere Marquette State Park near East St. Louis.  Either way, there’s no better value for the $175- 200 you’ll spend for lodging, meals, instruction and materials.

Geared towards women who like the outdoors but are beginners in the various activities, the instructors are patient but not condescending and fellow participants are a font of encouragement and tips.

What the brochure doesn’t tell you but could be an event highlight— after the classes of the day there is usually a special session for anyone who wants to participate.  Once it was an owl walk under a full moon.  Owl callers got the owls hooting deep in the woods while we hiked quietly in the light of the moon.  Another time a young herpetologist spent weeks collecting Illinois snakes to show us.  Once hunters demonstrated techniques for cooking wild game.

Registration opens tomorrow.  Don’t be left out.

Morton Arboretum, West Side

Morton Arboretum, West Side

March 2012

About 45 north of Chicago, Volo Bog is another good place to walk with your dog.  On an almost 3 mile trail around the bog, you can experience “woods, wetlands, fields and prairies.”  Yesterday I encountered a little garter snake lazily sunning on the trail and a ways later in a wooded area, found what I think was an avian kill site.

The weekends that I have visited, I encountered at most three or four other hikers on the trail, but for the most part, the place is peaceful, quiet and almost deserted.   The visitors center is staffed by knowledgeable volunteers and populated by exhibits that explain the unique topography of the area and folklore about bogs (think bogeyman).

For a day without the dog, check out the half mile interpretative trail– a board walk– which goes out into the marsh.  The first time I visited the bog, I saw a heron perched only a few yards from the trail.   The overhanging tamarack trees are a rare treat, highlighted here in a fresh snowfall last month.


If you are coming from outside the area,  take the opportunity after your visit to head over to Long Grove (about 1/2 hour away) and visit their historic shopping area complete with old covered bridge.

I have a young, active Shepherd/ Lab mix.  Shiloh’s a great dog, very smart, good with people, but not so great with other dogs.  So, unfortunately no dog parks for us.

I deliberately got a larger dog because I like to camp and be in the woods and I want a dog that’s not coyote bait.  If her appearance deters anyone who might be inclined to bother me, that’s ok too.

But meanwhile, I have to figure out where to exercise her.

Today I’m going to write about one of my favorite trails within say 1/2 hour drive from my home in Oak Park (near Chicago’s west side) where we can get away and forget for a while that we really live in one of the largest urban areas in the country.

Bemis Woods South is part of the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

One dog walking problem is that we have to share the “trail” (usually a gravel or macadam road) with bicyclists and joggers.  I walk Shiloh on a short leash in our neighborhood, but in the forest preserve I have her on a longer, retractable leash.   So I’m always on the look out for paths and deer trails through the woods where we can walk in relative peace.  Bemis Woods is great.   There are extensive dirt paths along Salt Creek that circle through the woods and across a field.  A more attractive macadam trail on the other side of the creek keeps most bikers away.

Path to Salt Creek

As always, be on the look out for cool things.  Here are some vertebrae I found stuck in a tree.


The camp sites are large and well screened from other sites by trees. Excellent for those who crave privacy and peace.

Apple River Canyon State Park is an out of the way gem, about 45 minutes from Galena, and perfect for those who crave peace and quiet. There are few amenities– no showers, no electric hook-ups, and outhouses instead of toilets– which is probably why it doesn’t seem to attract the crowds seen in the more popular parks.

I spent an hour watching these swallows fly to and fro from their nests.

Great for camping, hiking, fishing, lazing in front of the fire at night, stargazing. It’s about 15 minutes from the nearest town, so it’s not difficult to make a run in if you forget something important.

When I was there in August, the gnats were fierce. The park ranger told me about Absorbine Junior as a gnat repellent. Never heard it before and haven’t met anyone since outside the area who knew about it, but the local grocer was sold out and the local pharmacist was hoarding one last bottle behind the counter. She sold it to me and told me she swears by it. Gotta agree. It was great.


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