Sunday, June 8, 2014

Wisconsin has a different vibe...

Wisconsin feels different to us. Having spent the last couple of weeks in Minnesota, it was a little bit of a cultural shock to drive over the bridge from Duluth and enter Northern Wisconsin.

After crossing over on the bridge from Duluth into Superior, Wisconsin the mood and infrastructure of the surroundings began to change. The town of Superior is gritty and industrial, quite a contrast to the cosmopolitan city of Duluth just across the Saint Louis River. Where Duluth makes it's mark as a tourist destination and gateway to the Boundary Waters; Superior is the complete opposite, a hard edged port city with little or no airs. It's like night and day once you cross over. At the eastern edge of Superior we turned off of Highway 2 and took Hwy. 13 northeast towards the Apostle Islands. We went from strolling the boardwalks of vibrant downtown Duluth to driving past one and two hundred year old farms on little used country roads. On top of that, it seemed like the roads just started dissolving under our tires the minute we hit Wisconsin, with ruts and potholes peppering the asphalt making for less than ideal driving conditions.
We left the forests of Minnesota behind and replaced them with upper Wisconsin's farm fields and scrub trees. Where Northern Minnesota seemed to be all about sporting opportunities and camping by a lake, Wisconsin is all about private property and fenced pastures. As we headed north the landscape became more and more rural and was dotted with pastures and farm land; most of it lying fallow with tall uncut grass and sagging fencing.
This was a much less prosperous looking state after having just passed through Minnesota. There seemed to be a sense of desperation in the little towns we passed through, with several of the businesses closed and boarded up out of the few buildings that made up the little villages.
Here's one called Herbster.
 Cornucopia (who named these towns?)


We briefly saw Lake Superior and then the road turned inland and it seemed a long slog around the peninsula. With one quick stop over at one of the most unkempt State waysides we had encountered during our travels we finally arrived at Bayfield, A charming lakeside town with beautiful late 19th and early 20th Century architecture.
This was by far the most appealing area we had seen since arriving in Wisconsin and was obviously a vacation destination. Restaurants, vacation rentals, and gift shops lined the town center, and a immense stone building sitting atop the hill housed a huge National Forest Service facility.
We had thought that we might be able to take a ferry out to the Apostle Islands but those hopes were quickly dashed when we learned that the parks were first come first serve, and almost certainly full, and the ferry servicing the Islands was too small to hold our RV. Well were nothing if not adaptable. We bought some smoked trout and whitefish at a little stand and just kept driving. No time to wander around for some reason. Some days you just want to get down the road.
We wanted to find somewhere on the water to have lunch and finally found a wonderful beach called Sioux River North Beach. We got out and took Max to play. Erley hates wide open spaces like beaches so he stayed behind. Max played and ran and swam and all in all had a glorious time. We did too as there were only a few people there.




Getting a little tired now...



We had lunch of smoked fish, olives, cheese, crackers, and fruit in the RV and I held Max swaddled in a towel and we drove onward. He was completely soaked and dried out slowly as he slept there and the next time we stopped I ran a comb through his fur and he was perfectly dry. Can't imagine what people do with bigger hairier dogs that play on the beach and then get back in the RV. As we are loath to do we continued driving and driving and driving, with hope upon hope that a campground worth staying at would emerge from the slim pickings dotted out in one hundred mile increments along our route. Many of the parks in Wisconsin do not offer camping facilities, and almost none of the parks in Northern Wisconsin provide full hook-ups. Now we are more than happy to rough it a little, had in fact traveled through most of  Minnesota with little or no perks, but the difference in Wisconsin was that there were very few places to stay. Even the parks with campgrounds had unusually small numbers of sites, and now that it was getting on towards two in the afternoon we feared they would be full. We set our sights on Copper Falls State Park, and after a quick grocery shopping stop in the town of Ashland we arrived close to three in the afternoon.
The good news was they had sites available, the bad news was this park had more rules than all the previous parks we had stayed in combined. First off the rangers asked us for our animals proof of vaccination for Rabies, quickly followed by copious things you were NOT allowed to do while visiting Wisconsin State Parks. NO DOGS JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE AT ANYTIME! I'm not sure if that was the exact wordage, but it's close enough. NO OUT OF STATE WOOD! NO WANDERING OFF SET PATHWAYS! NO TOUCHING WILD ANIMALS! NO LIQUOR OUTSIDE DESIGNATED CAMPSITES! On and on ad-nauseum. OK, we get it, but do you really have to suck every bit of the spontaneity of camping in the first five minutes of arrival. On top of this they just LOVE signage. All intended to correct any behavioral deficiencies not addressed at check-in. They are soul killers, all those little "DO NOT..." signs. Wow, this is gonna be fun, huh!?!
The park was heavily wooded and we found our rather boring site nestled in a mosquito laden growth of scrubby birch. I know I've bitched about this before but I still would love to know why it is that with all the magnificent vistas and landscapes available to the people who were given the authority to initially lay out these campgrounds, why is it that the campsites are all located in dark humorless fourth growth wooded areas with little or no concern given to making it little more than a tree covered parking lot? You might as well be in the woods in Georgia, or Michigan, or for that matter Bulgaria for as little as one campsite differs from another. For Godsakes is it asking too much to allow those of us who actually visit these parks the ability to differentiate one from another?
We parked the RV and had a beer at the picnic table while Erley and Max explored, (hence the discovery of said mosquitoes), and decided to go for a walk.
We headed towards the park's namesake, Copper Falls, on a pretty wooded trail. The trail took us across several wooded bridges and down a couple of fairly impressive wooded stairwells. (Impressive going down, shitty coming back up)
The stairs ended up in a clearing with a multitude of rough log buildings set around it along with a playground and restroom facilities. What looked to be an old log lodge was at the far end of the clearing and we ambled over to it after a brief respite in the bathrooms.

We noticed a sign that no pets were allowed on the trail to the falls so we never did go see the falls as a protest. We went back to the screened comfort of our RV and had a nice dinner. Later we were sitting on the picnic table in our site (wrapped in blankets) and a couple walked up and said they had the site reserved for tomorrow and wanted to know what time we were leaving. We said pretty early and they seemed happy. They were there to stay for 10 days and the thought boggled us. Why in the world stay 10 days in scrubby woods with no view and no hookups?
I had read that the Perseid Meteor shower was suppose to start up this week so after it got really dark we grabbed a couple of flashlights and Jerani wrapped a blanket around herself to help ward off the insects and the cold and we set off weaving down the darken road towards an opening in the tree cover where we could see the summer sky. We found a large meadow near the road and stood quietly looking up at the stars waiting for a magnificent light show. Fast forward twenty or so minutes and all of three meteors later and we decided that the showers must still be a day or two away. It was nice though reconnecting with the stars. Man it was dark, without the flashlights we could barely see our hands in front of our faces. We were just about to head back to the campsite when there was a loud snap of a branch coming from the tree line across the meadow from us. Now bear in mind that this IS "bear" country. We stood very still with Max growling softly between us listening. There was another rustle of branches and another startling "snap" which seemed much closer than the first; and that's all it took for both of us to light up the tree line with our one million candle watt flashlights revealing two shocked little deer. Whew!
We made our way back down the road with well timed bursts of light from our flashlights to the RV and turned in for the night, happy to be getting on the road in the morning with plans to head south towards Green Bay. We were looking forward to finding more smoked fish, brats, beer and delicious cheese curds.
 But alas that wasn't to be...

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