The Driftless Area

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May 2nd 2018
Published: May 2nd 2018
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Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo, WI

By the time I finished yesterday’s post, the clouds had definitely arrived and it was spitting rain. We hurriedly finished up breakfast and then dishes. I packed up the chairs and outside gear and readied all the equipment to hitch-up. Although we’ve become well versed in hitching and unhitching, it still takes at least 30 minutes, and more the longer we’ve been there since we have more junk to clean-up and pack away. So by the time we actually rolled in the slider, lifted the stabilizing jacks, and started to attach the trailer to the car, it was raining. Hitching up in the rain isn’t one of our favorite activities, but we’ve become accustomed to it and now have towels waiting in the car to dry off.

It was relatively late when we finally pulled out. (Had to dump the sewer tanks in the rain too, and that is always a lot of fun.). But we didn’t have a long drive ahead of us, just a hundred miles pretty much due East. We drove up to Marquette and crossed the Mississippi there, saying goodbye to the river we had admired over the last week, and to Iowa. (I still have the bottle of Templeton Rye, though, to bring back fond memories.)

At Prairie du Chien, we caught a two-lane road, Wisconsin 60 which pretty much parallels the Wisconsin River. That river, too, is flooding right now so wide expanses of the flood plain are soaking in water. And it frequently comes right up to the edge of the road. It rained off and on most of the drive, although it seemed to ease up some as we moved east. The drive is a green-dot route and is simply gorgeous. Besides the river views, there are also bluffs on both sides covered with trees. National Geographic says this is one of the best spots in the country to view fall colors and I can definitely understand that. In spring, there is still a lot of brown and grey, but you can see green buds starting to pop on the trees so there is a kind of expectation in the air, which gives it great energy, and a more subtle beauty.

The road, much like the Great River Road along the Mississippi, goes up and down with some surprising grades. The areas around

Campground at Devils Lake State Park
these rivers have been eroded into deeply cut valleys, so the road has to navigate through them. At other times, when the highway is further away from the river, you find yourself in Wisconsin dairyland country. The cows look happy, the soil is deep black, and the farms seem meticulously maintained. It is telling, I think, that Frank Lloyd Wright was born in this area. It is clear where he gets his motivation to blend architecture and nature.

Since it was a short driving day, we decided not to stop for lunch, but move on to our campground and then go out for a late meal at a local town. Probably a good thing we did that, because setting up camp turned into a much bigger deal than we expected. Devil’s Lake is a huge and gorgeous state park built around a lake that was formed some time ago by formations left over from the ice age (More on that later). It has multiple campgrounds, but the one for RVs (with electrical hookups) has 100 campsites. Our first problem was finding our site - we were number 100 and our spot was at the very end of the last

At the Distillery/Restaurant
road we turned down.

Then I had to turn the rig around in order to back into the angle we were given. Then Joan begins her leveling process. Sometimes the layout of a site is deceptive. This one looked fairly level, but in reality, it slanted steeply on the lateral dimension. What that means is Joan has to build up a series of blocks and I have to try and back up over those blocks to position the tires at the top. When the tilt is substantial enough, that can become a real challenge. After working with it for several tries, we were about to give up, but we noticed that on one side of the gravel spot there was a slight trough, and, we reasoned, if we could get the high-side tires of the trailer into the trough, that could lessen the tilt, requiring fewer blocks. So I tried that, but it took more than a few attempts to get those wheels precisely in that small little trough. I think we spent almost an hour trying to get the damn thing level.

For those readers without RVs, a little note - The reason you try to get

Joan Struggling through Dessert
the trailer approximately level is not purely so you don’t roll out of bed. Unfortunately, refrigerators don’t work so well if they aren’t nearly perfectly straight. And, even more importantly, is that if the trailer frame is torqued, meaning sort of bent out of being aligned, then the slider can bind on its way in and out of the trailer body. And a binding slider causes all kinds of headaches, potentially keeping you from traveling. So, like it or not, we spend the time to level every time we make camp.

After working for an hour to get camp set up, we sat down with a drink in the shade of the awning and planned the rest of the day. Although it was fairly overcast here, it wasn’t supposed to rain until night, so we decided to head into the nearest town, Baraboo, for a late lunch/early dinner. In the park brochure, we found an ad for the Driftless Glen, a distillery that makes their own whiskey, gin, vodka, and other things and also serves food. So we decided to try them.

The food is good, but I think the drinks were even better. Joan had a couple of gin drinks, while I sampled a couple different versions of the Wisconsin signature drink, the Brandy Old-Fashioned. Not only were they tasty, but they looked very good too, dressed up with cherries and orange slices. They offered, and I purchased, a kit to make my own brandy old-fashioned drinks, that contains not only their local brandy, but also a black cherry balsamic vinegar, special Washington state cherries, and bitters. So I can now make my own Brandy Old-Fashions, at least until the Brandy runs out. Since I still have Templeton Rye, I can partake of either Iowa or Wisconsin as I feel like.

For food, Joan had the walleye, which she had never had before, and I ordered a very tender steak. Unfortunately, they didn’t offer any bratwursts and sauerkraut, but we’ll find that later. During the meal Joan discovered three tigers, including a beautiful white one, roaming the grounds next door. Turns out Baraboo is where circuses originated and they still have some animals and other properties here in town. The restaurant is also right on the banks of the Baraboo River which was also near crest-stage and made for some interesting sights.

So, what is it that makes this the ‘Driftless Area’. The term is actually used a lot to describe this region. Not only is it the name of the distillery, but it is also the name given to this area by the ecologists. It can be described as a transition zone between the eastern temperate forests - the hardwood forest zone that covers most of the eastern United States, and the Northern Forests, which are more fir and spruce and were covered by glaciers in the last couple ice ages. The larger Mixed Plains zone contains both kinds of forests and spans across the Great Lakes Region and into New York.

This particular sub-zone, though, is known as the Driftless Area, and occupies both sides of the Mississippi River Valley and tributary river valleys (like the Wisconsin). In addition to the mixture of tree types, it is also characterized by the large bluffs along the rivers, and a more rugged land topology than the plains to the west, south, and east. It gets its name ‘driftless’ because the glaciers didn’t get this far south - they didn’t drift here, although there are ample signs of large piles of rocks that may well have been left here by glaciers. It is a more rugged zone, but because the soils are intact, undisturbed by glacial erosion, the area is a very fertile and a good place for dairy farming. Hence, Wisconsin’s love affair with cheese!

After returning home, we were exhausted and hit the sack. Shortly after, the thunderstorms arrived and it rained and thundered all night long. Smooch really doesn’t do well with thunder and she spent most of the night shaking up on my pillow by my head. It is sopping wet outside - more rain than we get in New Mexico by far - but the forecast is for more rain over the next couple of days. Good day to do laundry!!


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