Retzer Nature Center … in Wisconsin

Thanks again to people bequeathing their land! In 1938 this land was once the 90 acre home of John and Florence Retzer who restored the land with over 26,000 trees, flowers and shrubs. In 1973 it was given to the Waukesha County “to conserve the scenery, natural life and wildlife, leaving the land unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”. In 1974, plans to develop a nature center began and in the 1980’s the site expanded to 335 acres. I walked the trails under gray skies, but no rain, and really enjoyed the area. It is a place to return to and for anyone with children wanting an environmental education experience. I saw 16 different species of birds and photographed some despite it not being the best light for photography.

After hours of hiking at the center, I stopped at a laundromat to wash and dry cotton towels, eat a bratwurst at the Elegant Farmer, known for apple pie baked in a paper bag, before heading back to the campground. I needed to organize everything in my car since it was easiest to do when it is not raining. All things need to be in their place for ease in finding them. At times I think I packed to much, but then again it could have been colder and I would have needed the heavier clothing layers! Just as I had wondered if the silk liner for my sleeping bag was necessary, I discovered it was best to use it alone in the heat at night when sleeping. Glad I packed it!

In June 2020 I had hoped to bicycle ride and camp north of Madison Wisconsin. Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic thwarted that travel plan! But I am now realizing this area around Milwaukee has wonderful places to visit too. I may be back some day!

Here are some photos:

Wehr Nature Center & Squeaky Cheese

Rain to arrive by 8am so I am up, eating my breakfast quickly so I can drive to Franklin, WI to visit Wehr Nature Center. Fortunately the weather cooperated for my visit there!

I saw plenty of birds and was mosquito bitten despite being slathered with Deet for insect and tick protection! This nature center is really impressive and worth a visit if you are in the area.

Today’s photos:

I stopped to buy cheese curd, ate and loved all that I did eat, but wondered why it is squeaky when eaten fresh? Now I know. The elastic protein strands of the fresh cheese rub against the enamel of our teeth to create the sound … and now you know too!

Day 28: Schlitz Audubon Center & Lynden Sculpture Garden, Wisconsin

The first place I wanted to visit in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, just north of the city, was Schlitz Audubon Center. They have numerous trails for all abilities, including physically handicapped. Informative, educational programs for children of all ages and resources within their facility to entice everyone to be more aware of the environment and wildlife! I thought their paper towel challenge of only using one towel was great too!

I spent time wondering around the ponds and walking the trails to see the butterflies, wildflowers and birds. I saw 17 different species of birds, four are new to my life list: red-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, Eastern bluebird and red-bellied woodpecker … don’t believe it’s name, it is not red-bellied! You should also walk the trail overlooking Lake Michigan or go right down to the shoreline! People were walking along the beach. I spent hours at the center, loved it, and would recommend all to visit it.

Photos taken at the Schlitz Audubon Center are below and then I went to the Lynden Sculpture Garden where you can walk around the garden’s grounds as you wish and see the sculptures. Photos from there are included here too! Quite an enjoyable day despite the gray skies, but no rain!

Photos from Lynden Sculpture Garden, a short drive west of Schlitz Audubon Center.

Highway Driving … 2 Days Across 4 States

I just had to do it. My goal to visit my mom and friend, plus the joy of seeing siblings and other friends, was wonderful. My drive east, because of this pandemic keeping me off airplanes at the moment, only resulted in a nail in one tire and no other concerns … unless you count the rain!

I left Binghamton, NY in the early morning, and had two different sprinkles of rain by the time I made it to Perrysburg, Ohio later in the day. Excitement in seeing no rain while I set up my tent was short-lived. It began to rain 15 minutes later. 

The next morning I was so mosquito-bitten and wet as I threw my wet tent fly and groundcloth into my car and headed out. I was driving from Perrysburgh, OH to Milton, Wisconsin which means through Illinois. The Illinois toll system had some places where I could pay cash and other places they photo your license plate. That is fine, except creating an account on their website and seeing what tolls to pay is a nightmare. Supposedly you are to pay it within 14 days. I’ll see what shows up.

My best observation today was in Ohio seeing 2 bald eagles in a tree! I always have to remember I am driving and cannot simply stop and pull out my camera. The campsite I ended up at for the night was a good one, with nice neighbors, and I was here 4 nights to visit the Milwaukee area. (I am getting into the rhythm of KOA Kampgrounds and discovered they are booked most nights. They are safe, clean, mostly family-oriented, but overall easy to get to and leave from while on the road. So glad I planned ahead!) Days 26 and 27 completed!

One of my favorite campgrounds … Milton, WI.

Days # 19 & 20 … Upstate New York Travel

I loved backpacking in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. From 1970 to the 2000’s it was my world to escape when wanting, and probably needing, stress-free time away from people. Nature heals the soul and I was to benefit. I loved the area so much I bought an old hunter’s shack in the Big Moose Lake area. I remember calling my parents to tell them of my purchase: a place on 2.5 acres of land bordering state land. I knew the place had 4 walls, a floor, and a ceiling … for a backpacker this was heaven to have no tent to set up each night! I knew it had no water and I would need to carry it in, no problem. When they asked if it had electricity, I did not know … but yes it did!

My father helped me install a larger window in the front so I could see the lake across the street, build an outhouse, and set up a gutter system to collect rain water and/or snow melt off the roof into a 55 gallon drum for all uses except drinking water. I eventually put another roof on and fiberglass insulation underneath the 23 by 24 foot place. Since I had no parking on-site, I hiked everything up in my backpack and carried gallons of drinking water up the hill in all seasons. I quickly learned to keep a snow shovel indoors so when it snowed I could shovel my way out. Lesson learned after opening the door to three feet of snow with no shovel available! I loved my retreat and friends who visited were never as enamored with the place as I was! In some ways that was fine since it was my place to be quiet, think, and decompress especially during the years with my school administration job responsibilities. I knew I always went back to work recharged.

Day 19: I drove NYS Route 8 toward Utica, NY. If a photojournalist is looking for a project this is a road to write about. There is so much history here. The old cemeteries, buildings from 1803, new businesses and the increased number of dairy farms. Chobani is now in the area. Very, very few billboards and no political signs. The small towns and varied landscapes all there to take in and enjoy! Life should always be so simple and without distraction. It had been a long time since being on this road and I wished I could stop and talk with people, but my day’s destination was to take a walk at the Utica Marsh Wildlife Management Area. I spent time walking what is also a bike trail paralleling the Erie Canal Barge Route. It was hot, humid with few birds to be seen, but I certainly heard their calls and singing. An observation tower overlooks the marsh.

Day 20: A day I looked forward to, to visit my old hunter’s shack or to see what the new owners had done with it. The place was on a skinny 2.5 acres of land with a natural spring in the far back corner, an apple tree in the middle of the field and the shack just back from the road, however with a hill few people would want to climb. Because my place is within the Adirondack Park’s “Blue Line” there were certain things I could or could not do to the structure; however, I was part of the 6 million acres of land and the largest park in the lower USA (3x the size of Yellowstone National Park).

I drove past Moss Lake and my old place since it was raining. I decided to visit Stillwater Reservoir with hopes the rain would stop by the time I returned to take a closer look at my old place and to hike at Moss Lake. Everywhere more cottages had popped up, even along the dirt road to Stillwater Reservoir. Despite the rain the ten mile dirt road was graded so well I could drive it at 40mph which was not possible back in the 1970’s when we, a friend and I, came out to the reservoir to canoe to an island, camp on the island of our choice for a few days and listen to the loons at night. Now there was a dock and many buildings not looking like the backcountry I once knew. Some may call this progress. I would call it loss of the natural environment … part of me felt sad.

I drove back to the Big Moose area, stopped at the old train station, the Big Moose Community Chapel, Glennmore Hotel, Big Moose Inn and finally my old place. I talked with a few people in the area to discover many people now own these places and only spend just a few weeks per year. My place had a renovation and quite honestly I think they did knock down the old and build new. Within the “Blue Line” I think it is necessary to stay within the original building footprint which they did. However, I had wanted to move it back closer to the apple tree but probably not allowed. I also never had a place to park my car on property so would do so about a quarter mile away. It only was a challenge to carry gallons of water in during the winter since snow piles high on the road and the hill I climbed up to my place. But once in, who cared, surely not me!

The trees across the street had grown so tall there is no longer a need for a large front window. I do not know their water source and the old outhouse is surely not being used. Now there is a driveway around the side and to the back of the place. I saw no trail to the field with the apple tree, nor to the old outhouse we once built and used. I suspect there was a land exchange as a way to put in the driveway. Unfortunately the people who now own the place were not there for me to ask and know for sure. I decided to not leave a note because it no longer looked like the place I would ever return to since it was now cut-off from the back acreage I had loved. 

I stopped at Moss Lake where first-come, first-serve tent camping sites are now available and noticed all trailheads are well established. Years ago we had no designated camping sites. The history of this 600 acre area is interesting.  In 1924, a 3 mile bridle path was built around the lake. In 1929, there were three separate camps designed for girls of different ages each with an archery range, dance studio, tennis courts, waterfront for swim and boating activities, fencing equipment, craft shop, and at the oldest girls camp a rifle range. Centrally loaded to the 3 camps on this lake was a riding facility with 40 horses! What a fantastic experience for those girls who could afford to attend! In 1973 the property was sold to Nature Conservancy. From 1974 – 1978, the site was occupied by the Ganienkeh Mohawk Indians who eventually moved their settlement north near the Canadian border. I knew of this when I bought my place down the road in 1976 and for a few years I heard of potential lawsuits. In 1979, the Department of Environmental Conservation razed the remaining buildings and returned the lake to primeval condition. 

In the light rain I drove to the towns of Inlet and Old Forge. Tourists were flooding both towns, especially at Enchanted Forest – Water Safari, but no longer at Inlet’s garbage dump where people used to watch the bears! As a backpacker this always unnerved me to see bears there and to see people enjoying the spectacle. No way did I want a bear wanting my food while I was out in the woods tent camping. Even with tying food up in a tree each night, and now available bear canisters, bears should be foraging their own food, not our waste. 

I stopped at the Od Forge Hardware Store. This 1922 store has everything and I noticed through the years has expanded! I also noticed few people wearing facial masks as we are still in the Covid-19 pandemic with variants on the rise. I wore my mask and quickly noticed people would move out of the aisle I was in, no doubt thinking I was unvaccinated and therefore required to wear a mask. Little did they know, I am fully vaccinated and wanted to take the additional precaution to protect them and me! 

I ended the day in Utica, New York and had a fantastic meal at a Middle East Bakery and Restaurant named Karam’s. If you are in the area, check this place out, delicious fresh food! I also bought a cell phone mount for my car after making enough wrong turns. Someday I will have to figure how to undo the adhesive, oh well! Overall these past couple of days were an interesting revisitation of my past. I had wonderful times with many great memories!

I hope the people who now own the place are enjoying it! I will always love the Adirondack Park areas. If you have not traveled to the area and the High Peaks, plan a trip and visit … not mid- May through June as that can be black fly season. Fall is beautiful with the leaves changing colors. Winter is fun if you cross country ski; however, watch out for snow mobile drivers as there are trails all over for them to use. Do visit the Adirondack Park!

Travel Days #5 & 6 … On The Road Again!

Day 5: Granite City, Illinois: 5:30am, I rolled out of my tent and said good morning to my wet tent fly; it was quite the thunder and lightning storm last night! As I was counting how far away the storm was I felt comfortable. But when it was overhead I reviewed in my mind: is my tent in a good position on the ground, did I still feel the overhead tree branches were okay in this wind, should I have trenched around my tent to handle the downpour? Fortunately, my tent was okay and I slept comfortably and dry the entire night and with a shake of the tent fly and some drying time it was good to go for the next night in a tent.

Today was a long day, driving to Connellsville, Pennsylvania … located in the southwestern part of the state. I actually drove through five states this day: started in Illinois, then Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and finally Pennsylvania. I wanted to stay at this PA campground since it was by a river and bicycle path. I finally arrived at 7:00pm in pouring rain which had been the case the last couple of hours while driving backroads. No birding or bicycling was to happen, bummer!

After much thought, I made the decision to book a local motel room. The rain here was falling better than any shower I had personally taken and there was no need for me to be sopping wet to then sleep on my bed platform in my car. I arrived at the motel and tried to get tickets to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, built 1936-1939 supposedly over a waterfall. Unfortunately everyone else was looking for a rainy day activity so no available tour for me the next day. Another time I wish to check out his house construction!

Day 6: Off to visit my sister and her husband who live in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania. For the first couple of hours I was again on the smaller roads before finally driving on any interstate. If I stopped at every place of interest I would never get to visit my mom and friend. But I did see signs for where if I veered 15 miles away was the Flight 93 National Memorial, Wall of Names, built to honor the crew and passengers, 40 victims, of that flight. Those heroic people stopped the terrorists from achieving their goal and stands as a reminder of how horrific the entire day, September 11, 2001, was and will never be forgotten by me. Historical signs were about the Great Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 were more than 2,000 people died because of a dam failure. (It was also the time of Clara Barton’s first domestic relief effort and the start of American Red Cross.) I was always aware of that flood but I just discovered two other floods having an impact on Johnstown. March 17, 1936 the town had a devastating flood caused by heavy runoff from melting snow and 3 days of rain. A couple dozen people died with many building buildings destroyed. The third Johnstown flood was July 19, 1977. Again, heavy rainfall causing flash flooding.

Along the highway I saw some message on the back windows of two cars. These people were letting everyone know they are on a road trip and if others wished to donate to their adventure, then you could send them money via Venmo or PayPal. Wow, that really is taking a fundraiser on the road. I will wonder if anyone actually sends them money!

I have arrived at their alpaca farm. No rain! Life is good! (My preoccupation with rain is in the fact that where I do live we have not had any substantial rain in 2 years. Thank goodness I packed a raincoat!)

Covered bridge. Good time to relax during my drive.

Day #4: Horseshoe Lake State Park in Illinois

Today was “take a break from driving” day! I am so glad I included this non-driving, relaxation day. It’s been so hot at night, I slept in my tent with side tent flaps wide open wishing for a breeze, any breeze! Last night we had a severe thunderstorm and thankfully no tree branches fell on my tent. I do like counting the seconds between lightning and thunder to know how far away a storm is, although somewhat disconcerting when it is crashing overhead, but all was good!

For this relaxation day I needed an escape to some cool place, beyond my air-conditioned car. Purposely avoiding the hot city heat of St Louis, Missouri and thankfully remembering years ago already having visited Gateway Arch National Park, I drove a few miles to Horseshoe Lake State Park in Illinois for a change of pace.

The 90 degree weather, which my weather app reported “feels like 100 degrees”, had a heat advisory and was only bearable thanks to the 12 mph wind! While relaxing, reading and wondering where I could buy more gallons of water, I heard the Illinois State Wildlife officials were tracking a wandering black bear, at about a 9 hour human-powered walk southeast from where I was sitting. A bear would like this park but will not reach it. I wondered, how is that bear handling the heat?

I saw and heard many birds, but with the heat, humidity and thankfully a breeze I was not inclined to pull out my camera. All of it seemed like work and this was my relaxation day! Unless I saw a bird new to me, the camera with a longer lens was staying put. I did observe some mud-daubers on the inside of the pavilion and butterflies enjoying nearby white clover flowers. I walked in the large fields to a more shaded, but buggy trail, and walked roadside by the lake, saw geese with their young, and escaped back to the shade and breeze at the picnic table pavilion.

As I sat there in the breezy shade, people who stopped by were very friendly. One guy was fixing his drone when I arrived. He is a local person, seen most of the world during his career in the Army, and now enjoys photography. We had plenty to talk about. A few hours later two guys from St Louis on their Sunday drive arrived at this park to escape city heat. Interesting conversation. All of us agreed on this: doing close to nothing and staying hydrated was the best plan for the day!

But, typical of my travel I saw a place to visit and decided to stop by: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Some of the mounds are quite large and have archeological ruins from an ancient 13th century Native American settlement. Researchers started excavating in 1988 and after 2 years of work discovered evidence of 80 houses and hundreds of storage places. I walked some of the grounds and did not have enough time to visit the museum, but many people were there visiting it.

I had to leave this area, return to the campground for a shower, dinner and be ready for an early morning departure. I loved the breeze blowing across the thousands of acres of land. I didn’t want to go, but then again, my car was air-conditioned, and my final destination was still hundreds of miles away!

Travel Day #3, Costco?

Today’s travel was from Oklahoma through Missouri, passing by The Gateway Arch in St Louis to the east side of the Mississippi River as I located a campground in Granite City, Illinois. These all have been long days of driving! (The arch would have been another place of interest to stop but not this trip. Fortunately I had visited it about 50 years ago!)

Before I left for this trip I was contemplating a membership at Costco, to purchase gasoline for my car at a less expensive price since I will unfortunately be burning through plenty of fuel on this trip. (Only in my dreams do I own a Tesla, or any electric car for that matter.) The Gas Buddy app often indicates Costco with the least expensive gas in an area. Also, people talk about Costco and their savings. But why not consider Sam’s Club or any other membership? And haven’t you wondered if the least expensive gasoline has additives to stretch it? Who knows?

My decision had been made, soon reinforced these last 3 travel days with at least 1500 miles completed so far as I travel to NYS. I am glad I did not get a Costco, or any, membership. There has been enough of a challenge finding gas stations near the interstate highways. Today I pulled into a gas station to discover no gasoline was available at any pump and then it happened, my yellow warning light popped on to indicate I should get gas soon!

Suffice it to say I did not see a Costco from any highway now or the last couple of days, nor would I go looking for one now with my warning light on. Yes I know I have plenty of miles I can travel with the warning light on. I saw a gas station down the road and head for it. Mission accomplished, drive on! Get to the campsite with all its trees! I think my site had the largest pavilion so I sat and ate my dinner there. This campground is near an industrial area and no major road so it is quiet. I had time to set up a tent, listen to the birds … robins, sparrows and numerous cardinals … no wonder they chose cardinals for St Louis Cardinals! As I walked around the campground, a thing I will do at every campground, I also saw fireflies! How cool is that! I haven’t seen them in a long time! The pavilion is so helpful the next morning since during the night we have a torrential thunderstorm.

My campsite this night.

Travel Day #2 … Trains and Trucks, Oh My!

Today I had many hours and miles on the road from New Mexico through the panhandle of Texas to the middle of Oklahoma. Do you know how huge Texas is, and I am only going through the panhandle! Everything is big in Texas. My billboard reading tells me I could get a free 72 ounce steak … I am guessing it is free at the restaurant only if you eat the whole thing in one sitting … I’ll pass! The beef lots are huge too and I could tell one was coming up before I got even near it because of the smell. No housing developments near these properties. I wondered what they did with the old wind turbine blades and sure enough there was property where they stored them. What can one do with an old wind turbine blade?

Thanks to road construction built during President Eisenhower’s administration in 1956, the Interstate Highway System parallels much of the railroad system in western USA and, as I learned yesterday, the billboard industry was booming. I have seen many a train and many a very, very long train. Our country depends on moving freight by trains and trucks. Hundreds of trucks are on the road using the highway system just as I am doing. 

Motorists, like myself, and truck drivers must look quizzically when driving under some of the highway bridges. Are the engineers providing accurate info and are community leaders listening and getting the necessary repair work done? We’re seeing buildings, bridges and roads in disrepair, so let’s not wait for any of them to collapse before we act. We need to care about all construction and realize there are factors affecting their structural integrity as years go by. No highways, bridges, tunnels, support beams last forever.

While driving hundreds of miles per day I am beginning to see the variety of road surfaces. I don’t mind paying a toll on certain roads. Those areas where I paid a toll had amazingly smooth surfaces! One road actually had a speed limit sign: maximum 80 and minimum 60! Wow! Everyone drove fast on that road and it was nice to know I had no worry of an upcoming pothole. 

I hope by the time I post this our federal government approved an infrastructure bill. There is work to be done in our country and people looking for work with good pay. Our interstate highway system is important for us all … do you know how many Amazon, FedEx, UPS and freight-carrying trucks for various businesses are on the road? Thousands… let’s keep them rolling … we do want to receive our stuff on time, right? Aren’t we still paying a gas tax for road repair? Hmmm….

My campsite tonight is in Choctaw, Oklahoma just down the road from Tinker Air Force base. We are still in a pandemic and people may wonder why I am wearing a mask, and even though I am vaccinated I have no idea if others have been. It is easy for me to wear a mask, so I do.

Tonight’s campsite I have a picnic table by the tent and one under a huge pavilion that becomes instrumental in the morning rain as I take my tent down.

Drive, eat dinner, walk the campground, then sleep … my day.

Eastward Ho! … as a Bird May Fly!

My bags are packed, I am ready to go! Traveling east by vehicle, my Honda Element is again on the road! I chose this method of transportation to visit family and friends on the east coast of the USA and to camp along the way.

You may ask why would I choose to travel with so little luxury and drive long distances? After watching television news about unruly behavior from people while flying in an airplane and unvaccinated people in an airport remaining potential carriers of the coronavirus, I decided to make my own circles around such and aim to arrive at my destinations with less stress. (Yes, there may be rain, tornado, bugs, etc, but such is life.)

Just think of the pioneers who traveled westward not knowing where they were going each day and where they would end up. I am in better shape than all of that! Campgrounds are chosen, plenty of rest stops available, easy access to food and drink and some landscapes new to me, especially as I look for birds in an area!

What I am doing to see family and friends, after 15 months of remaining in a personal/home bubble, is travel to them! What else, got vaccinated! With compassion and love for our fellow human beings, I have done my part and look forward to seeing everyone down the road! Stay healthy and happy America! An American kestrel is in the air!