Life on the Open Road

Life on the Open Road

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Eau Claire, Wisconsin 

I made a stop in Black River Falls which was cool. It has a neat downtown and beautiful view.  That's just a mention because I stopped there first and this is about Eau Claire. I really enjoyed Eau Claire. There were a lot of young adults here and, even though I didn’t really interact with them, I felt and noticed their presence and it was awesome.
I drove around the downtown. I went to Phoenix Park one night and got a spot right by the water. It was a lovely park! There is a labyrinth and I saw a large group doing yoga on the grass even at 9pm. There is a long trail going through here and I walked part of it. This bridge was beautiful to be on and I love this panoramic shot I got.
I visited Carson Park and could spend days there. More days than I did. I walked a bunch and also decided to visit the museums. The Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum was really excellent. I loved it! There is a video in one room that includes actual clips of logging back in the day, a history room with lovely displays about the experience of the loggers, a game or activity room geared towards kids but seriously fun for anybody, and the actual camp outside. The game room is pretty much the only area where Paul Bunyan is highlighted. This museum is not about him and I don’t recall seeing anything written about him specifically. He is said to have been a real man who was taller than average back then and his stories got exaggerated over time and rather fanciful. Anyhow, I felt it was sort of assumed I knew who he was and that seemed a bit weird. Maybe I just missed it. Either way, I loved visiting!
The camp is very neat. You can walk through the different buildings and hit an audio box to hear from someone who would live or work in whatever part you were in. I loved learning about the cooks and meals they’d eat. It was also neat to learn that logs from back then are still being found coming up out of the river. They’d fell the logs and use the river to get them downstream. A company was started, I think in the 1990s, using those logs. Pretty neat.
There was a chipmunk in the wanigan with me and, on my way back to the shop after I’d walked through, there was one on the pathway. It kind of did a dance as if it didn’t know which way I was going and ultimately moved to the side. Interesting and I’d guess the same chipmunk.
I totally recommend this museum. Really great. I'll add that this and a conversation with the people working there gave clarity to me about the Sawdust Days Festival I'd seen in Oshkosh. I now understood Sawdust Cities were during the logging days and how and why they got that name.
Next I went to the museum next door. Wow, I thought this was a small local museum and it was like a huge warehouse! There are two historic buildings outside you can ask to see and I did that as well. The people working there were very nice. While it wasn't really my cup of tea, I did buy ice cream before leaving. There is an old-fashioned parlor there which was cool. Another hot day so this was a welcome treat.
Remember Abe, the famous bird? Apparently this was Old Abe's home and there are markers and info around about him. What a life he led, in battle, traveling, and whatnot.
After that, as I was leaving, I could hear the blues night concert at another park in town so I went to check it out. I mostly heard it from the RV, only leaving to walk around as it just ended. I thought it might end at 9pm and think it ends at 8:30. Anyhow, I saw vendors closing up, the blues car, and had a nice walk on the trail around the water there.
Eau Claire was a neat stop. It was refreshing from the vibes of other places I’d been a lot and I spent a couple of days exploring it. Cool stuff. Probably a favorite of the places I visited in Wisconsin.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Cranberries in Warrens, WI

I thought cranberries grew mostly in Maine. I also knew they grow in Canada. I had no idea that 2/3 of the cranberries produced come from Wisconsin! Less than 10% of those are harvested to be fresh, the rest being for a variety of processed foods. They have different ways of harvesting them using different tools depending on if they will be fresh or processed, and they use sprinkler systems in the Winter to protect the crops during a frost. Very cool.
So, when I learned there was a Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, WI, not far from where I was, I jumped on it. There, I sampled various foods from salsa to dried cranberries with different things like pomegranate and citrus. They had ice cream and wines as well. I didn’t try those. I bought a bag of dried cranberries and opted to visit the museum in the downstairs of the center. The center is free and the museum has a little fee to enter.
In the museum, there is a video about cranberries. Did you know they were called Cranberries because of the resemblance to cranes? Somehow it got changed to cranberry. As this is such a prominent location for them to grow, many of the local families and workers have developed a lot of what has progressed, changed, and improved the process. They have displays and pictures of growing and harvesting, tools used, and a workshop that a tool-maker had used to create a special tool for it. There were a few activity areas great for kids, too. Overall it was interesting and I learned a bunch of things I hadn’t known before.
Shop of a local man who made a tool for cranberry workers. It took him a week to make one. This was a neat set up.
My favorite part of visiting, however, was the 22 mile driving tour I did after that. I was given a map and told it’s basically a loop (a square, sort of) around the area. I had not known cranberries grew in marshes and learning about the sprinkler systems also helped me because, as I drove, I was able to figure out what was simply land and what had cranberries in it. I saw signs for various places, some connected to Ocean Spray, and many family owned and operated for generations. There were animals like deer and such, too. This was really neat and I loved seeing it.
You can see how these are built- notice the sprinklers popping up.
Apparently every year there is a big cranberry festival here. Now this is a small town yet it hosts over a hundred thousand visitors during that time. I think it’d be neat to attend and I also think visiting around harvesting would be cool. There is a place that offers tours and you can go out into the marshes yourself. That takes more advance notice to set up (a day or two, I was told) so I didn’t end up doing it.
This was fun for the day, too. I love learning new things and this was something I really didn’t know about. Very neat.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tomah and Sparta, Wisconsin

Tomah is pronounced "toe-mah" and this was an evening visit to Winnebago Park.
I started in Tomah, having checked out a park, the downtown, and spent the night here. I stopped at Humbird Cheese and tried the Gouda Parmesan which tasted just like the name suggests. I didn't buy anything there.
I went to nearby Sparta soon after and stopped at an Express Lane for an oil change, tire rotation, and alignment check. I’m really glad I did because they noted something with my brakes that they were able to fix right then with a bit of rust removal during the tire rotation. Nice people, good prices, and I was back on the road. When I learned that Sparta has the largest bicycle in the world, I couldn’t not stop to see it. Why would I pass that up?
That's it - the world's largest bike. It is made of fiberglass.
I also had very poor cell service here and wanted some maps of the area so I could explore more. I went to the chamber of commerce and got some information for the area, including maps. Very useful! I stopped to see the bike and look around. Beautiful spot. Then I went to some parks. I spent a night in Sparta and decided to visit the local museum the next morning. It is right at the downtown so I also walked around, seeing the farmer’s market, stores, shops, and more.
The museum was cool. Free and worth checking out if in the area. I liked the downtown photos especially. Basically a then and now photo series of nearby Main Streets. It’s very interesting to me that these photos did not show a hub like I usually imagine with downtowns. I think that is because it was Main Street and not all downtowns have the hub on the street with that name.
There is a bike and space museum above this one in the same building. I originally thought I’d do both and decided I’d taken in enough in the one. That’s when I went outside to walk around.
A funny thing happened here. A man walking by as I was outside the RV says, “Florida?” And then says something like, “Oh, those are peaches, you must be from Georgia.” Well, my plate does say, “Florida” on it so…I went to the back to see the license plate and noted that they were supposed to be citrus and maybe didn’t look so much like it. Ahem. He then told me how a van comes up with peaches from GA and sells out. Cool. This was a brief and light encounter I still find kind of funny.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Baraboo, Wisconsin 

Home of the Ringling Bros. Circus, I enjoyed a visit in Baraboo, WI. The downtown had shops and cafes and people out in it. The town building in the center(I'm pretty sure it was the court house...) had a pictorial history in the building’s exterior walls themselves, which was neat.
There was a parade and some sort of festival or event coming up. It was farther out than I wanted to hang around for. I'd imagine the parade would be amazing, given the circus aspect.
I liked the design here. It kind of pops, if you will.
I went to Ocshner Park and Zoo which is a nice park that has a free zoo in it. This was a really nice zoo and I am pretty sure the first time I saw prairie dogs live. I remember seeing a prairie dog in a museum display as a young kid and thinking that the dog was missing or left out or something because that was a little rodent of some sort. Well, I was probably a teenager by the time I learned that was actually what prairie dogs look like! These prairie dogs here were rather full bodied and bigger than I thought they’d be and bigger than what I’d seen in that display, from what I recall.
Anyhow, I am not a huge circus person and just wasn’t interested in checking out the circus related stuff at this time here. So instead, I walked at parks, the downtown, and this zoo. I put together a video with clips from the zoo including another original tune I recorded earlier this year. It was a very hot day and the animals were showing it. I loved seeing a black bear in the water. It growled just before I started filming but I did get video of it climbing out of the water. It walked around and ultimately climbed back in.
Zoo in Baraboo video   You can click this link or view the video below. This is my first time setting up a scheduled video on YouTube and I hope I've done it correctly.
If in the area, this park and zoo are worth checking out. The animals seemed well cared for and it is a nice size for a visit. It also has a playground plus trails and a walkway along a river and is connected to other parks nearby.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mackenzie Center, Portage, Merrimac, and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Since this website keeps a record of some of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, I want to add these few places together as they are worthy of mention yet there's not really much for me to share of each on their own.
First, the Mackenzie Center. While I enjoyed the campsite in Poynette, I really wanted to walk around more and this place was nearby so I stopped for some time here to explore on my way out. There are several trails and all sorts of beautiful nature to see. It’s well maintained and was a very peaceful place to be.
Next, I stopped in Portage. I walked around bit and went to a pet store that sold raw food, ending up buying some canned because they didn’t stock the preferred brand and I wouldn’t be around if they ordered it for me. Nice people, cool store. I got Chinese food for lunch and walked around this park.
Now I am jumping around slightly for the sake of including these. I drove through Merrimac, too. This was a very small town and I stopped at a park here on the water.
I drove by Devil’s Lake and eventually found myself in Wisconsin Dells. OK folks, I had envisioned the Dells as beautiful nature sort of like what I was driving through so I was completely amused and surprised when I found a big tourist trap! It reminded me of Lake George, NY and St. Augustine, FL where there are strips with mini golf and “believe it or not” types of museums, restaurants, games and amusement park places, ice cream and candy shops, and the like. I drove through different parts, knowing I did not quite desire to stop here at this time, yet being excited enough by it to wander around some. I was grinning during this and I am not criticizing at all. Seriously, Wisconsin has a bit of everything! I bet this would be a fun place to go and I recently met a family from Minnesota who traveled here for Spring break to an indoor waterpark (and then the weather caused the way back to MN to be closed so they “had to stay longer and what a shame that was”, they told me. :p LOL.) I didn’t really take pictures here. There were a lot of crowds, many foreigners, several bikers and a good bike path for them, and it was a happening spot. I love discovering unexpected, fun places along the way.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jamieson Park in Ponyette, WI

A great website I use to find campsites is called and it was from this site that I discovered Jamieson Park in Poynette, Wisconsin. It is a free campground with a bunch of options for sites. There is one covered area, a porta-potty, and a water pump I couldn’t get to work. There are trails, however, they weren’t really clear when I was there so I didn’t go far. There are some fire pits and some grills, too. It is patrolled regularly with police driving through. It was so nice to have a natural setting like this where I knew I could stay for more than one night and just relax. I was so thrilled and so was my cat, who was outside in her tent a whole bunch during our stay.
One of the spots I considered parking at. I wasn't sure if someone was coming back here. Eventually someone else took it so I think it was open.
I went into the town to use the library wifi (from the street, in the RV) and to the smallest Piggly Wiggly I’ve ever seen to get a bit of food.
It became very hot and humid during this visit. I did run my generator during my stay, and I waited until late morning to do so. I didn’t learn of any guidelines on things like this, still wanted to be respectful of the other campers. I parked in the far corner so wasn’t too near them anyhow.
One night I heard what I thought was some growling outside. There is a light and one that seems to come on with a motion sensor, still it was pretty dark once folks put their fires out. Anyhow, when we headed to town and then back, I felt like I wanted to stay at a different site. I went back to the one we’d had, surprised it was still open since it was a great spot, and I got out to walk around. I found the head of a young opossum right there being eaten by flies. OK, definitely a different site. So we went to one in a different area, not right by the woods, and covered by trees more. This worked well and was enjoyable.
I totally recommend this place to campers, tenters- whoever wants a nice place to spend the night like this. It was my kind of camping, dispersed, close enough yet private enough, and free in nature. The folks were respectful of others, too. Lovely. It would be great if more options like this were created. To some, camping means full hook ups (electricity, water, sewer) and cable, pools, and activity centers and whatever else. That's all fine and good. To others, like myself, enjoying being outside in a safe and intentional space like this is where it's at. I appreciate the places like this and the areas they are in. Simple, beautiful, peaceful.