Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 - Fall in Northern Wisconsin

End of September, temperatures dropping, football in full swing, and the leaves changing colors. That means only one thing - time to head to the North Woods of Wisconsin for some hiking and biking.

Day 1 - Biking Lac du Flambeau

The timing of this year's trip worked out perfectly. Although I wasn't able to make the 49th Annual Beef-a-Rama in Minocqua, I did arrive the day after (September 29th), with clear blue skies, temperatures around 70 degrees, and the leaves at their peak color change. My plans called for two bike rides and one hike along the area forest roads and trails, before heading back home on October 2nd.

I arrived in the Minocqua area about 12:30pm, which was perfect for a bike tour around the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation. Since the drive from Waterloo, IA was approximately 6-1/2 hours, plans were for a nice 18 mile bike ride on the roads shown in red in the in the photo. However, when you are enjoying the sights more than the route you are traveling, you end up with a 30 mile bike ride, and only riding a portion of the intended route. But that was ok.. I got to explore some of the back roads and lakes of the area. 

My journey started and ended at the Lake of the Torches Resort and Casino (good place to leave my SUV). Although my thighs and rear end were "feeling it", I couldn't resist a few slots before heading to the hotel in Minocqua. More good news... I came out even!

Day 2 - Hiking along the WI/MI Border

Monday morning I loaded up the SUV with my back pack and camera equipment, and traveled North on Hiway 51 thru Manitowish Waters and headed to the Wisconsin/Michigan (UP-Upper Peninsula) border. The area had several forest roads and ATV trails which looked perfect for exploring. My planned route would take me into the UP around Hook Lake, and then South around No Mans Lake and Bena Lake. 

The initial portion of the trip was on ATV trails - gravel and sometimes grassy paths, This wooded area also had wetlands, which made some of the trails impassable. It was clear that the ATV riders knew this and made several alternative paths thru the woods. You'd think after missing turns on my biking route yesterday I would have looked my hiking route over a bit more closely to avoid missing the right trail. LESSON #1 - Make sure you know your route! (Yes, I ended up taking a different route, adding an extra couple miles). No problem... I had plenty of time to wander on the beautiful Wisconsin day.

Upon completing the 1st half of the hike I headed out on the southern portion of the route. This was mainly on gravel roads which property owners used to get to their homes and cabins. Should be a piece of cake completing this portion. LESSON #2 - Verify the Google Maps routes do still exist! About 3/4 of the way around No Mans Lake, the road I was on came to an end. Fortunately, there was a cabin, and a gentleman chopping wood. After showing him my "planned route", he pointed me to "the road" I wanted (see photo to the right). He informed me that the current property owner "wouldn't shoot me", but that the prior owner "probably would have. Time for about a half mile of cross country hiking to get to the main road. 

After 10 miles of hiking, this added adventure took a bit of effort, but I made it to the road heading back to my vehicle. Along the cross country hike I came across an old Model T frame, obviously abandoned many, many years ago.

4-1/2 hours and 11.6 miles later, I made it back to my car. A successful hike completed!

Time to head back toward Minoqua and relax a bit. But not before a stop at Mann Lake, and a check of the old family cabin. 

This cabin, built in the 1940's has been abandoned for the last 15 years... and it still stands prominently on a point of the lake. 

Day 2 is in the books. Tomorrow brings one more bike ride, this time around the Boulder Junction area.

Day 3 - Bike Ride around the Boulder Junction area

The final day of my trip was to explore the roads and trails around the Boulder Junction area. The planned route would take me Northwest out of Boulder Junction, along forest roads, around Jenny and Sanford Lakes, back to the South to near Upper Gresham Lake, and then back East and North, returning to Boulder Junction. Boulder Junction has several paved bike trails along Hiway M, providing leisurely riding for those visiting the town. Leaving the bike trails I headed into the forest. Following some ATV/snowmobile trails, I once again found my planned route "disappearing". Using my phone's GPS, I was able to find the route, but it appeared that the portion I was on was no longer used as a trail (see photo). Not wanting to back track, I ventured on, and came upon a trail system which appeared to be a mountain biking trail system. Thinking I was back on track, I headed out... 1st thing I learned was I AM NOT IN SHAPE FOR TRAIL RIDING MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS! These trails had tons of hills to ascend/descend, and several alternative "trails" you could take. Not having this trail system on my map, I continued on, thinking I would soon intersect with the road I would take back to the South and West. 

After probably an hour of following these trails, I came upon Sanford Lake. A small but beautiful lake, run by the Park Service for recreational use and fishing. I stopped to enjoy the view, and recheck my map on where to head next.

I hopped back on my bike and headed out, and shortly came to Jenny Lake. Like Sanford Lake, this is also a great spot to camp and fish. OK, now its time to get serious and find my route... besides, there was only one other way to go. I finally came upon a paved road. This must be my road.. so I followed it... ANOTHER DEAD END! The road lead onto some private property, which I was not about to attempt. Assuming this paved road must be here for a reason, I headed back the opposite way. Now into about 20 miles (~ 4 hours) of riding to this point, and my legs (and rear end) beginning to wear out, I decided it was time to find a way out and head back to Boulder Junction. 

I followed the paved road back to the North, eventually running into County Road B. I began my 8 mile trek from there back to Boulder Junction. 33.4 miles and 5 hours later I made it back into town. A GREAT ride, but not the one I had planned. Suffice to say, by now, after three days of biking and hiking, my legs were telling me its time to call it a day. 

The 2013 edition of my Fall escape to Northern Wisconsin was in the books. The beauty and tranquility of the North Woods is like nothing else. It so makes you appreciate how fortunate we are to have areas like this to enjoy.  

As I write this, I am already exploring Northern Wisconsin and the UP with Google Maps for possible adventures for next Fall, or maybe even this upcoming Winter, using snow shoes!

If you would like to see more photos taken during my journeys, click on the link below. Feel free to share this blog and the photo albums with other who you think might be looking for an outdoor adventure in Upper Midwest!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2013-Exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota

The Summer of 2013 found my Midwest travel in a new area -the Black Hills area of South Dakota. This hidden gem of the Upper Midwest is often missed in vacation plans due to its location in the SW corner of South Dakota. However, once here, the sights and activities available could make for a complete week of enjoyment.

Our Summer 2013 Dakotas Trip included the following plans:
Day 1 - Waterloo to Deadwood
The trip across Western Iowa, and South Dakota took over 11 hours, with the sights consisting of those you typically see in the Great Plains. Opting to not take the Interstate hi-ways from Sioux City to Rapid City, we enjoyed the sights of rolling plains, with long straight roads, and smaller communities every 15-25 miles. Surprisingly, this drive was relaxing and enjoyable to see (and imagine) life "on the plains" now, as well as when the settlers traveled here for the 1st time. 

Deadwood, SD was our home base while exploring the area. The Bullock Hotel is in the heart of Main St. and still has the rustic charm of the olden days, but with remodeled rooms and lobby. It turned out to be a great accommodation for our stay. Deadwood still has the charm of an old West town, but has embraced the casino industry, with slot machines found all throughout the town. Of course, the Deadwood shops all accommodate the tourists. You can get just about any souvenirs and t-shirt you can imagine... and with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally only a few days away, you could also get some pretty eye opening apparel as well!

We finished our 1st day of vacation taking in a "gunfight on Main Street." Not the most exciting attraction in town, but hey, "when in Deadwood...."

Day 2 - 1880s' Train and The Badlands
Day 2 started early with an hour drive to Hill City, We decided to start the day with a hearty breakfast at the Hill City Cafe. Some good local cookin' and a couple cups of coffee, and we were ready to go.

I had my doubts about the 1880's Train Ride, whether it was worth the time and money - it was! We boarded the 10:00am ride to Keystone and back. It was a 2-1/2 hours journey through the hills and valleys of this old mining area. We chose the open air cars, and with a clear blue sky and temps in the low 70's, it was a perfect way to start our exploration of the Badlands. TIP: if you plan on taking this train ride, book an early morning or evening ride. The temperatures during the day can get hot!

After finishing the train ride, it was time to take the drive to the Badlands Scenic Byway. As we headed out of town, we came upon the Prairie Berry Winery, home of Red Ass Rhubarb wine. Just had to stop and check this out. Situated just outside Hill City, this winery also had a great view of the Black Hills countryside from their patio. 

From the winery, we headed east to the Badlands. The Badlands Scenic Byway provides a driving loop thru the hills and valleys of the Badlands. The drive from Hill City was about an hour. But once we came upon the Badlands National Park, the sights were amazing. The park has many spots to pull off the road, and get out to enjoy the view. Additionally, there are hiking trails the more adventurous can take. With the afternoon temperatures approaching 90, we opted to skip the hikes... for now. 

The Scenic Byway loop ended near the town of Wall, SD, home to the famous Wall Drug. No trip to this area would be complete without a stop to check it out. The town has a population of less than 800, but the main street with Wall Drug encompasses a full city block, and then some!

By now it was 5:30, and time to make the journey back to Deadwood, but with a stop in Rapid City for dinner. We chose the Firehouse Brewing Company, located in the heart of downtown Rapid City. Its situated in the old Rapid City Firehouse, built in 1915. Great burgers and beer here! I should also note that this area of downtown Rapid City was bustling. Several great restaurants and many interesting stores and boutiques along Main Street. With an hour drive back to Deadwood, we opted to head back to the hotel and pass on the Rapid City shopping (I lucked out there!).

Our route back to Deadwood took us past the turnoff to Sturgis, SD, home of the annual motorcycle rally (which the start was only 3 days away). We had to go check it out. Although it was 7:30 at nite, vendors were hard at work, setting up, motorcyclists were checking out the bars and souvenir stands, and people like us were lining main street, taking in the site. It was hard to comprehend what this same street would look like in a few more days (see photo from the 2013 Rally, taken a couple days afer our visit).

(Click Here to see more photos of Day 2)

Day 3 - "The Monuments" Day
Day 3 started with a early morning drive to Custer State Park. About an hour from Deadwood, the
drive took us thru the town of Custer, and past Stockade Lake. The morning view of the lake was spectacular. 

Hiway 16A, which is also referred to as the "Wildlife Loop", took us past the lake, and down a winding wooded area. Rounding one corner we came upon several cars stopped in the middle of the road... surrounded by buffalo. Some were on the road looking at the cars, and many others were grazing in a grassy spot amongst the hills. It was a pretty amazing sight (and some
interesting sounds). 
The road finally cleared by County workers, we continued on.

The wooded, hilly terrain turned into an expansive, rolling prairie. For the many motorcyclists who were also on the drive, it was an ideal touring road. Unfortunately, we were unable to spot any more wildlife until we were almost out of the plains. That's when we came upon the "begging burros". And that they were. Several sightseers were out amongst the burros, petting and feeding the animals. As we approached them, they leisurely wandered up to our car, looking for handouts (don't think they'd enjoy the coffee were had in the car).
I mentioned the motorcyclists who were also driving thru the park. On one of the final stretches of road within the park, where there are VERY tight hairpin turns, we came across a motorcyclist down, on the side of the road, with several people attending to him. Upon leaving the park we asked the attendant about it, and she indicated that unfortunately, that happens quite frequently.
From Custer State Park, we headed back West to check out the Crazy Horse Monument. The monument is easily seen as you drive North of Custer. We started the visit by watching the movie in the Welcome Center, which shares the history of the Monument, and the goals to continue the progress on the world’s largest mountain sculpture, and carving a memorial to the spirit of legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse and his culture. 
Some amazing facts about the size of the Crazy Horse monument - Unlike Mount Rushmore, which is just a relief sculpture, Crazy Horse will be fully three-dimensional, being made of the entire mountain. And in size comparison, Mount Rushmore would be able to fit on Crazy Horse's outstretched forearm. A five-room house will be able to fit inside a nostril the warrior's stead. It will be taller than the Washington Monument and nearly twice as big as the Statue of Liberty. To date, about 8 1/2 million tons of granite have removed to make the sculpture, sometimes employing as many as 100 people.

I won't go into the details about the history of the monument and its construction, other than to say the effort is totally funded with donations. They have chosen to continue to build it with the original vision, despite efforts by the Federal Government to offer financial assistance.

It was time to move on to Mount Rushmore. You've seen images of it a million times on tv, in books, and in movies. But the sight of the Monument as you walk in the entrance is incredible. I have to say the US Park Service has constructed a wonderful memorial, that blends right in to the surroundings, providing spectacular views of the monument. We chose to take the "Audio Tour" (Highly recommended) which allows to listen to a recorded guide, incorporating narration, music, interviews, sound effects and historic recordings. There are over 30 locations along "The Presidential Trail"  where you can listen and learn about the history of the view you see.
After leaving the Mount Rushmore Memorial, we headed to Sylvan Lake (located near Harney Peak). This allowed us to drive the famous "Needles Hiway", a narrow two lane road that curves and winds through 14 miles of magnificent rock formations called 'needles.' Along with some beautiful views, you also experience two "unique" tunnels.

Sylvan Lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch. It offers picnic areas, rock climbing, small rental boats, swimming, and hiking trails. It is also popular as a starting point for excursions to Harney Peak and The Needles. This was another one of those amazing photo opportunities we found while in the Black Hill (and a great hike)!

Time to head back to Deadwood for the evening, but not before grabbing a bite to eat in Hill City. By now, the town was swarming with motorcyclists, but we were able to grab a burger at the Slate Creek Grille.

Arriving back at the Bullock hotel for our last evening, we decided to end the visit by playing some slots and enjoying their "Foreign Beer Thursdays" special. Things were quiet in the lobby, and even had the bartender providing Sue "advice" on her slot machine... and wouldn't you know it, she ended up ahead! A good time to call it a night!

(Click Here to see more photos of Day 3)

Day 4 - Devils' Tower and Fargo
Our final tourist stop in the Black Hills area was Devil's Tower (Wyoming)  After checking out of the Bullock Hotel we headed West for approximately an hour to the National Monumnent. Being the "earlybirds", we were able to view Devil's Tower with its top in the clouds. This is another amazing sight of nature. You cannot comprehend the enormity and structure until you are standing at the base. The National Park Service also runs this attraction, and has provided a paved pathway around the base (~ 1.3 miles). While hiking the trail you can clearly see the hexagonal columns in the Tower. 
Geologists cannot agree on exactly how the tower was formed. In 1907, scientists Darton and O'Harra decided that Devils Tower must be an eroded remnant of a laccolith. A laccolith is a large mass of igneous rock which is intruded through sedimentary rock beds without reaching the surface, but makes a rounded bulge in the sedimentary layers above.
Other theories suggest that Devils Tower is a volcanic plug or that it is the neck of an extinct volcano (Some pyroclastic material of the same age as Devils Tower has been identified elsewhere in Wyoming). The igneous material in the Tower intruded about 40.5 million years ago. (OK, enough geology for the Trip!)

As we finished our hike, the Park was filling up fast (3 tour busses had arrived). Time head out on the next part of our journey - the drive to Fargo, ND.

Although not on the direct route back to Waterloo, we wanted to experience the vast plains of Western South and North Dakota, and briefly visit the city that the movie "Fargo" was based upon.

Our drive followed Hiway 85 North thru the Western end of both states. The sights were few and far between, but the vastness of this rangeland was impressive. Hundreds of rolled hay bales literally everywhere (even in the ditches of the hiway) along the route. Herds of cattle also appeared along the route. Given the lack of farmsteads and towns, I suspect these rolls of hay were the cattles' food source for a Winter in "The Dakotas".

The drive was approximately 10 hours, arriving in Fargo around 6:30pm. Our hotel was located on the West side of the city, and given the time of day, we opted for dinner and a couple beers to unwind from the long day on the road. But before wrapping up the day, here's some info about Fargo.

Fargo is a core city of the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area. Fargo sits on the western bank of the Red River of the North in a flat geographic region known as the Red River Valley, which is some of the richest land in the world for agricultural uses. Interesting fact - The Red flows northward, which means melting snow and river ice, as well as runoff from its tributaries, often create ice dams, which cause the river to overflow. With the flat Red River Valley terrain, flooding is frequent. The Red River flows through the heart of the metro area, which does not have flood protection in place.

The Fargo-Moorehead area is also home to several colleges. North Dakota State University (NDSU), Concordia College, Minnesota State University-Moorehead, Rasmussen College, and University of Mary all have campus' in the Metro area. Finally, as we travelled thru the area, it was clear that Fargo-Moorehead has been and continues to be a major transportation hub - Interstate Hiways I-29 and I-94, the BNSF Railway & Amtrak, and Hector International Airport.

(Click Here to see more photos of Day 4)

Day 5 - Leech Lake & Minneapolis
Day 5 started with a drive across the Northern portion of Minnesota to Walker, MN and the Leech Lake vacation area. We passed thru several smaller communities (Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids- Start of the Mississippi River) which serve the tourists and residents of many lakes and resorts in Northern Minnesota.

Walker, MN is located on the southwest corner of Leech Lake, the third largest lake in Minnesota. The town has become a destination for tourists, featuring several boutique shops, four hotels (including Chase on the Lake), and outfitters to provide for all your outdoor sporting needs. The area is located mainly within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, and completely within the Chippewa National Forest.

As is custom during our travels, we always check out area casinos. Northern Lights Hotel and Casino is just outside Walker, and provided us with an hour of entertainment. Fortunately, my wife came out as a winner. Unfortunately, she didn't win enough to pay for all the purchases she made in Downtown Walker!

From Walker, our travels took us Southeast, passing around Mille Lacs Lake (Minnesota's second larges inland lake), and home to our 2nd casino stop of the day at Grand Casino Mille Lacs. Our luck continued, with us also leaving this casino ahead.

Another hour and a half drive to Minneapolis, and our hotel - Le Bourget Aero Suites. Located in Bloomington, MN, the Le Bourget Aero Suites is a unique European style hotel situated near the I-494 and I-35W interchange, with very modern rooms, at a very reasonable price. After checking in we made a stop at Joe Senser's Sports Theater Restaurant for dinner and drinks. On the way back to the hotel we found a Trader Joe's Neighborhood Grocery Store. Having never been in a Trader Joe's, we stopped to check it out. We picked up some dessert (and some good chuckles from "people watching") and headed back to the hotel.

Day 5 is in the books!

Day 6 - Minneapolis to Waterloo
The drive from Minneapolis to Waterloo is normally a 3-1/2 hour drive following I-35S and Hiway 20E. We opted to follow the old Hiway 218 from Austin, MN, thru St. Ansgar, Osage, and Nashua. There's something enjoyable about traveling the countryside, and passing thru the small towns that makes you appreciate life in the Midwest. 

As with any vacation, the last day is mostly about getting home, and thinking about getting back into the daily grind. Our trip to the Black Hills, the Dakotas, and Northern Minnesota was a great getaway. 
The natural sights and historic locations are a "must see" for anyone who enjoys exploring all that the United States have to offer. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

2013-Snowshoeing in Northern Wisconsin - Day 2

After a great "1st time snowshoeing" experience the previous day hiking Mann Lake North of Minocqua, I was ready to venture out to a new spot in the North Woods. 

Thanks to some great resources I found on Facebook and the web, I  had several spot to choose from. Theresea at the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce suggested 
Van Vliet Hemlocks area, or the Catherine Wolters Wilderness Area.

The Minocqua Chamber of Commerce suggested checking out Minocqua Winter Park, west of town.

Michael Crowley, author of "Life in the Northwoods" web site and Facebook  site is a premiere photographer of the North Woods, and recommended checking out areas along the Manitowish River, as well as Bond Falls, just across the Wisconsin border in the UP of Michigan. 
Given the choices, I decided to venture further north, and check out the Bond Falls area. I headed out Tuesday morning at about 8:00am, knowing I had about a 90 minute drive, and knowing that an additional 2-3 inches of snow fell overnite. Amazingly, the roads were great to travel on, even when taking some of the county back roads after crossing into Michigan. It might have been that I probably only saw 6-8 vehicles on the roads to Bond Falls too, that made the driving easy! 

The countryside was amazing.. This is what you imagine winter in the North to be - trees covered with snow and frost, with snow at least a foot deep, So many times I was tempted to stop and take photos... but I knew it would take forever to get to Bond Falls if I did.

I arrived at Bond Falls about 9:30am. Other than a couple passes by the snow plow to clear the County road, there had been noone in this area this morning.

Bond Falls is a waterfall on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River, and part of the Bond Falls Flowage. The Michigan DNR manages this 90 acrea area, and requires a recreation passport to visit and view. Noone was at the site when I arrived, so I donned my extra apparel and cameras, hooked up my snowshoes, and headed out. The 1st thing I noticed was the additional snow. The snow depth in the Bond Falls area were at least 12-16". The area also required traversing some paths which had some substantial rise/fall in them. For a "2nd time snowshoer" this took a bit of getting used to, to avoid falling on my butt.. or even worse, into Bond Falls!

The area around the Falls has been improved with some walkways, to accommodate  access by all, including special needs.

Te following photos are a few of the views I was able to enjoy on my snowshoe hike.

After visiting the falls, I head back out the path leading to the DNR entrance. Fortunately, this road and parking area was closed off.... The road was incredibly steep, and I know I would have been able  to drive in, but likely not drive out! Even the walk up the hill, in snow shoes, and with 12-16" of snow, required a substantial bit of huffing and puffing on my part (ok, I'll admit it, a couple stops along the way, to catch my breath).

I made it back to the main road, and before heading back to the car, I decided to "off-road", and try wandering free style into the wooded camp area on along the flowage. You can see, by the photo to the left, there was ALOT of snow to walk thru. After about 15 minutes, the adventurist in me disappeared, and it was time to head back to the car. It was during this time, I kept thinking, why didn't I consider snowshoeing when I was 20 years younger!

My adventure to Bond Falls had come to an end. So glad I made the drive from Minocqua. Its absolutely beautiful up here in the Winter. I can only imagine what areas further North (Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula, Bayfield area and Apostle Islands, and the many, many forest trails throughout the North Woods). This is definitely a "must do" for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and the amazing sights of Winter in the Northern United States.

Before I end, I would be remiss if I didn't list my recommendations and "lessons Learned" from these two days of exploration (I know, the "engineer in me" does not go away).


  • Find connections thru the web (or Facebook) to areas you are interested in exploring, and ask for their recommendations
  • Check out State/National Park requirements - many/most will require parking pass and hiking pass
  • Plan hikes to your level of fitness - snowshoeing requires MUCH MORE effort than regular hiking!


  • Find a friend or organization who will loan (or rent) snowshoes to you. Stores in the areas you are going will likely rent equipment. This will let you decide if investing in snowshoes is something you want to do.
  • Use ski poles! These help with stability in areas with branches, rocks and enbankments. (it also amps up the workout to include your arms and upper body ... I know this 1st hand!)
  • Wear a backpack that includes extra outerwear (jacket, gloves, mittens, stocking caps), and emergency supplies (whistle, flashlight, matches, compass)
  • Carry a smart phone. It provides emergency contact capability if needed. 
  • Download apps on your smart phone that provides gps location and tracking, as well as compass (Cary an extra phone battery if possible) 


  • Dress in layers - its better to add/remove layers and store extra in backpack
  • Bring both gloves and mittens - gloves work best with ski poles, but if cold, the mittens will work best for keeping hands warm
  • Use "gaitors" to minimize snow on your pants and boots


  • Take a camera. You'll want to capture the experience
  • Take some snacks. The workout in cold weather burns alot of calories
  • DON'T RUSH -  take time to enjoy the beauty and mother nature at its finest!
Most of all, have a great time! 

I have loaded many of the other photos I took during the Bond Falls Trip into a Picasa Album. If you are interested in viewing these, Click Here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

2013-Snowshoeing in Northern Wisconsin - Day 1

Living in the northern climate of the United States, you either have to embrace the Winter weather, or plan many trips to Florida, Arizona, or the Caribbean between November and March. This year I decided to embrace it, and experience winter sports in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Not owning a snowmobile, or cross country skis, and having this insatiable desire to explore the forests, I opted for checking out the world of snowshoeing. Being a lifelong runner, and more recently, a walker and hiker, snowshoeing seemed to be a perfect way to experience my 1st Winter in the North Woods.

The Minocqua, Boulder Junction, and St. Germain areas of Wisconsin are mecca for Winter sports in the Upper Midwest. In fact, The day I drove up to  Minocqua, the latest "Cruiserfest 2013" was wrapping up on Lake Minocqua. Literally hundreds of snowmobiles and people were traveling South on Hiway 51 Sunday, heading home after a weekend of fun in the snow.

I loaded up my Santa Fe with a bunch of warm clothing, a pair of borrowed snowshoes, a backpack, all my camera and video equipment, and headed out at 5:30 Sunday morning. The early departure was to avoid a potential winter storm predicted for portions of Northern Wisconsin in the afternoon. Of course, that meant driving on roads coated with some freezing rain until I reached Madison, Wisconsin. Once there, I checked in at my "go to" hotel - Americinn of Minocqua.

Monday morning arrived with temperatures at 30 degrees, but with a forecast for the temps to drop all day and winds up to 30 mph. Not having gone snowshoeing for an extended distance before, I brought all my winter wear to make sure I was warm... and safe. The drive to Mann Lake took about 15 minutes. Thanks to a friend who lives on Mann Lake, I was able to park at his cabin, and begin the journey from there.

To make sure I stayed warm, I had four layers on top, and under my jeans I wore my winter running pants. I wore a stocking cap, a neck gaitor, and used my running gloves (worked well with ski poles). To play it safe, I also carried in my back pack an extra running jacket, my heavy duty winter mittens, an extra stocking cap, two "space blankets", binoculars, a safety whistle, and a trusty bag of licorice. Time to head out.

The 1st step onto the lake was a bit unnerving... I'd never been on a frozen lake like this. I had been assured there was "at least two feet of ice" on the lake. As I ventured out from the shore line, I started feeling the slush I had been told about that had formed between the snow and the ice, as a result of the warm weather the past week. Each step felt like stepping in "mush". As I moved along the shoreline, I noticed open water underneath a boathouse. Two feet thick, huh?? Time to move out away from the shore, where the ice has to be good and solid! Sure enough, the "mush" disappeared, and I ventured on. Gaining my confidence that I could do this, I began to head back toward the shoreline so I could check out the landscape for animal tracks. Once again, the slush became more pronounced, and in one spot, I took a step that resulted in me sinking down, feeling like I stepped in a "weak spot" in the ice! This cannot be good, I thought. After surveying my surroundings, the "engineer in me" kicked in, and I surmised that this area was protected from the wind, and likely was prone to melting. Therefore, I should head out away from the shoreline once again. Of course, if my hypothesis was wrong, and I were to break thru the ice, I would be even further from safety! As I ventured away from the protected area, the slush went away... whew!  Onward!

I was walking with the wind for the 1st half of the hike, so after about 20-30 minutes, I was warming up pretty good (looked as though my clothes selection plan wasn't well thought out)... But I knew it would be changing soon, when I began the trek back into the North winds. The day was overcast, so with all the white snow surroundings, and the gray skies, the scenery was limited... however, the landscape of the lakeshore provided some neat views. At one point, where the lake turned into a marsh area, I ventured back into the grasslands. Several animal tracks could be seen along the shoreline, but no animals. By now, I was starting to feel my confidence building, so I ventured off the lake and into the wooded area. The snow depth increased, not to mention the hidden objects (branches, trees and rocks). So what seemed like a leisurely walk in the woods had turned into alot of work!

I worked my way back on to the lake, and began the trek back to west, along the south shoreline... The wind had picked up, and my path was directly into it. The snow also seemed deeper along the south shoreline (or maybe it was my legs were starting to get tired??).

Part of my journey was to visit the Titus cabin on the south side of the lake. The cabin, used for many, many years as a getaway for our family, still stands proudly, albeit a bit run down due to having not been used in over 20 years.
I took some photos to document the condition of the property, and pressed on.

The "slush" was back... 6-8 inches of snow, and 1-2 inches of slush on the ice made the going a bit tougher. I worked my way across the cove, toward the "old rock" at the west end of the lake. This was always a "go to" spot as a child, when we were old enough to take the boats out on our own. Sure looked alot bigger 50 years ago!  Once again, I headed up into the woods to explore the shoreline. The fresh snow from the night before was untouched. I looked up into the rustling trees, and caught a glimpse of two eagles flying over. Sight and experiences like this make you appreciate just how lucky we are!

Time to head back to the car, so I started my journey along the north shoreline, where all the homes and cottages on Mann Lake are grouped. I couldn't help but think how nice these places would be in the middle of July.. but right now they were quiet, and no activity whatsoever. My arms and legs were definitely "feeling it" by the time I made it to my starting point. Although glad I had finally made it to the end, safe and sound,  I couldn't help but think how neat this snowshoeing experience was!

I was able to track my adventure using one of the apps - MapMyHike. Its great for tracking time, location, elevation, and estimated calories expended. The bad news was that my smartphone battery, in the cold, would only allow it to work for half of the hike. So the trip was recorded in two segments (2nd segment was with a new phone battery).

The following is a Google Maps 3D recording of my journey around the lake.
  • The 1st Half of the Hike

  • The 2nd Half of the Hike

My 1st snowshoeing trip is in the books!  I took several photos along the way. They can be viewed in my Picasa album (click here to view).

Stay tuned for the 2nd day of my snowshoeing adventure - Bond Falls, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!