International Crane Foundation

Photography ExhibitFor the past year, photographer Tom Lynn has been busy documenting the restored prairie at the International Crane Foundation. His work is published in the book “Bloom” The Story of Ecosystem Restoration, which will be available for purchase at the ICF gift shop. Check out your current issue of Wisconsin Trails, which features his awesome photos in the portfolio section.

His work will also be on exhibit at the Donnelley Family Education Center at ICF, with an opening on Saturday June 23rd at 3:00 pm. I’m very excited to see his exhibit, check out the ICF and meet the baby cranes this weekend. If you can’t make it on Saturday, the exhibit will be up until October 31, 2012. This is something everyone needs to add to their bucket list!

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Chocolate craving cure

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Burlinton’s ChocolateFest is a great little hometown festival in Wisconsin – similar to Wisconsin’s many other summer festivals, with music, entertainment, carnival games, rides and an assortment of fried foods. The chocolate, however, kicks this one up a notch.

The main attraction here is the 12,000-square-foot Experience Chocolate tent, featuring dozens of vendors and numerous chocolate-themed events such as cooking demos, chocolate pudding finger painting and the Chocolate Olympics. Then there’s Project Yum way, in which teams created pret-a-porter fashions made out of candy wrappers. Visitors can buy a Taster’s Ticket for $6 then get a sample from 10 participating vendors. All proceeds to to area charities and samples range from cake pops to truffles to homemade fudge.

Kids will enjoy Granpa Cratchet and roving carnival acts like jugglers and unicyclists. My 2-year-old most enjoyed the carnival rides and the animals in the petting barn next to the carnival.

All in all, a few hours’ worth of great fun on Memorial Day Weekend.

Have you been to ChocolateFest? What did you think of it?

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Rookie mistakes at Devil’s Lake

No matter how much you plan,  most camping outings are rife with gaffes, oversights and lapses in judgment. Our four-day trip to Devil’s Lake State Park had all that.

But the great thing about camping is that you kind of expect the bumps and it’s never really enough to put a damper on the whole thing – even if the whole thing is literally quite damp. In all my planning, I never even thought to check the weather forecast. When we arrived at DLSP on Thursday, we were greeted by 50- to 60-mile-an-hour winds. 

A fallen tree knocked out all the power in the park, but it wasn’t a big deal for us since we were in a non-electric site. We set up the tent in a small clearing at the back of our site on the Lower Ice Age loop. It went up easy, and has some room to spare after putting in the two queen-sized air mattresses, a pack-and-play and our suitcases. It rained quite a bit – which is how we found out the tent leak. Over the next few days, we learned several other things, among them:

1) Don’t leave your cooler out at night.We covered the basics for keeping critters out of our site: picked up any food scraps that had fallen from the table, Clorox-wiped the tablecloth to get rid of any lingering food smells, threw away all the garbage in the big dumpsters each night before going to bed. But, the first night we broke a cardinal rule of critter prevention: We left the cooler out. There was a case of water on top of it, but that did nothing to prevent the beastly brawl that began at about 11 p.m. I had no idea what could possibly be making that ferocious growling just outside the tent. Turns out, that is the sound of two raccoons fighting over a sleeve of a dozen frozen hamburger patties. After one raccoon took off with the burgers, the other consoled itself with a six-pack of Hershey’s chocolate bars and some string cheese.

2) Don’t try to take a stroller on a medium- or difficult-level hiking trail.When we asked about stroller-friendly trails, the DLSP staff said none of the trails were that great for strollers. We mistook the “not great for strollers” warning for a “it’s not easy but a go ahead and try” tip. If you are like me and need a clear a directive with no room for interpretation, let me be very clear: You absolutely cannot take a stroller on most of the hiking trails at DLSP.  Seriously, does this look appropriate for a stroller?

Devil’s Walkway (my term): not stroller-friendly

Later when I checked the DLSP website, it mentioned a total of 2.5 miles of trails that are wheelchair accessible but we didn’t know about them at the time. About 1/8thof the way up the “difficult” Hanging Rock Trail, we ditched the stroller and Jerimy started carrying Charlie. About 2/8ths of the way up, I insisted on taking Charlie back down. The trails can get kind of treacherous – narrow, steep, and if the least bit wet, very slippery. Between a toddler and his very adventurous Nana, it was too much to worry about. I gave Jerimy and my mom my camera so I did end up getting some nice shots of the dangling rock, Devil’s Doorway and panoramic views of the park.

3) Don’t forget your own raingear. Two-year-old Charlie was set with rubber boots, rain jacket and slicky suit for inclement weather. I didn’t even have an umbrella or a water-repellant jacket. Oh, and I forgot the screen tent, so we didn’t have a cover for the picnic table, so Friday we all got into the tent for the night at 7 p.m. to get out of the rain. Luckily, all these situations could be remedied. The park has two small stores, one of which was in our camping section and a 5-minute walk from our site. All the essentials are for sale here, including ponchos. The Baraboo Wal-Mart Super Store is a mere 10-minute drive from the park and they had a great sale going on EZ ups ($50!).

4) Don’t drive into the fire pit. We all woke up soggy and cabin-feverish on Saturday, so decided to drive into Baraboo for breakfast and to find a laundromat for our dirty/wet clothes. We were getting ready to head out when my mom went to turn her car around and drove right up over the fire ring and into the fire pit. In case this ever happens to you, here’s how you get out: jack up the car and build your campfire wood up under the wheel and then just back right out. This should only take about an hour.

How to get a Prius out of the fire pit

Still a great trip
There was so much more good than bad, though, over the weekend. Devil’s Lake State Park is beautiful and there is a lot to do there to keep campers occupied over the course of their stay.

It’s a nice drive from Milwaukee – figure about 2 hours to get to the park and another 45 minutes to wind your way into it on S. Lake Road from Hwy. 113. For a straighter, faster path, take 90/94 to Hwy 33.

The good:

1) Our site It was deep and wooded, set back off the road and not right on top of the neighboring sites. The trees helped shield us from the winds and rain.

Site #336 on the Lower Ice Age loop, looking out toward the road

I liked most of the sites in the Lower Oak Leaf loop; I did not like the Northern Lights section; there were very few trees and no privacy – or protection from the elements. The Northern Lights and Quartzite sections are the closest to the lake and within walking distance.

2) Our timing It was a good idea to go on Thursday, before the crowds arrived. As of noon on Thursday, there were still more than 20 non-reservable sites available in the park. That is good to know since I may never have my act together far enough in advance to reserve a spot in the future. The whole place – park and town of Baraboo included – seemed like a resort town that hadn’t opened for the season. Some of the bathrooms were locked and the garbage cans weren’t out yet. For us, that was just fine; we got a chance to check out the park before it got too crowded. On Thursday, there were less than a dozen people at the beach. On Sunday, there were so many people, the five northern shore parking lots were full and visitors were being directed to the south shore.

The beach on Thursday

The beach on Sunday

3) Proximity to Baraboo The town is just 5 minutes from the park, so easy to run into for anything. We ate breakfast there one day at Fat Man’s Food and Spirits (138 3rd St.), a limited-menu place with super-friendly service and had a big, juicy burger at Monk’s Bar & Grill, a lively sports bar on the square.

4) Circus World Museum Located on the banks of the Baraboo River, the Circus World Museum opened in 1959 on the site of the Ringling Brothers Circus winter home. The museum is spread out over several buildings, where adults can get caught up on the history of the numerous circus families, acts and accoutrements. The younger ones will get a kick out of the small-scale circus acts that perform in the Hippodrome, where the Kids World Interactive Circus gives them a chance to act out their own circus performance.

Antique circus posters

Circus wagons

Eggregious circus museum apostrophe error

Have you been to Circus World Museum? What did you think of it?

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Getting Ready and the Ghost of Nick Adams

I talked a couple of blogs ago about gearing up for camping, and my slight obsession with the packs, tents, and stoves that go with us into the woods. The gear is very important, but I go through another gearing up, a different getting ready.  As late spring leans towards summer, I begin to load the backpack of my mind, finding things I always put in from the past even as I load a real backpack in the present.

For a few decades now, in late spring before I camp for the first time, I re-read Ernest Hemingway’s short story Big Two-Hearted River. Nick Adams is the only character in the story and in it he is by himself on a camping and fishing trip.  I was a junior in high school the first time I read it and I’ve read it every spring since.  It gets my mind ready to camp, to see and smell, to be, as Hemingway writes of Nick,  ” in the good place.”

Here is a taste of Big Two-Hearted River:: He started a fire with some chunks of pine he got with the ax from a stump. Over the fire he stuck a wire grill, pushing the tour legs down into the ground with his boot. Nick put the frying pan and a can of spaghetti on the grill over the flames. He was hungrier. The beans and spaghetti warmed. Nick stirred them and mixed them together. They began to bubble, making little bubbles that rose with difficulty to the surface- There was a good smell. Nick got out a bottle of tomato catchup and cut four slices of bread. The little bubbles were coming faster now. Nick sat down beside the fire and lifted the frying pan off. He poured about half the contents out into the tin plate. It spread slowly on the plate. Nick knew it was too hot. He poured on some tomato catchup. He knew the beans and spaghetti were still too hot. He looked at the fire, then at the tent, he was not going to spoil it all by burning his tongue. For years he had never enjoyed fried bananas because he had never been able to wait for them to cool. His tongue was very sensitive. He was very hungry. Across the river in the swamp, in the almost dark, he saw a mist rising. He looked at the tent once more. All right. He took a full spoonful from the plate.

“Chrise,” Nick said, “Geezus Chrise,” he said happily.

The writing is taut yet so descriptive I can taste Nick’s experiences as he makes his camp and then flyfishes in a cold northern river.  Gets my blood going.  Every year.

 Big Two-Hearted River is about more than camping, but scholars seem to agree that a lot of it is about the restorative qualities Nick finds within nature.  I, too, feel restored by the woods, by the deliberate making of a camp, by the simple cooking of food over a fire.  A couple of weeks back we set up a camp for a photo shoot going in the July/August issue of Wisconsin Trails.  As a cast iron skillet full of beans began to steam over the fire my editor Kristen said ” Those look good! “ I grinned on the outside, and on the inside I said to myself ” Yeah, Nick would think so, too.

Some good lookin’ beans!

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Bucket runner-up: Devil’s Lake

Memorial Day weekend is finally here. It seems so long ago that I made our camping reservations at Devil’s Lake State Park. But, in the world of Wisconsin State Park camping, three months is just a quarter of the time you need to plan in advance.

Now, Devil’s Lake is not technically on my Bucket List, which originally included just one camping destination: Governor Dodge State Park. But, as I found out, three months out is laughable for Memorial Day weekend at GDSP. Any weekend at GDSP, really. Way back in February, I was able to secure a spot there in August. I can’t say this enough: if you want to camp at a Wisconsin State Park, reserve early!

I was lucky to get a spot at DLSP this weekend. There were only non-electric sites left, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I’m packing lots of batteries.

Coleman Max 13′ x 9′ Family Tent

We are taking our 2-year-old son and my mom. Last year, after about a month’s worth of research, we settled on the Coleman Max 13′ x 9′ Family Tent so we could take Nana camping with us.

Because last year I waited until April to reserve a spot, we didn’t go camping on Memorial Day weekend and just set up the tent in the back yard.

Our new Coleman Max only made it as far                             as the back yard last year.

Of course, I couldn’t get the tent back in the original bag (why do they make them so small?), so I split it up between two bags. I have notes all over to remind myself to bring both bags!




Schedules and lists
We’ve got a lot to do and see on our trip, and to make sure we get it all in, I made a schedule. Yes, I am one of those vacationers. I also have a list. I keep a generic camping list of the basics on my computer that I update for each trip. Here’s our DLSP list:


  • camera/charger
  • tent (2 bags!)
  • 2 sleeping bags, pillows
  • 2 air mattresses, sheets, air mattress pump
  • coolers (hard and soft)
  • radio/batteries
  • Coleman lantern, flashlights
  • mallet
  • Coleman 8-pc. enamel cooking set (8-cup coffee pot, 3.5-quart stockpot with lid, 9.5-inch fry pan, 2-quart saucepan, long-handled spoon, fork and slotted spatula
  • 2 small plastic basins, small dish soap, dish rag/towel
  • stick matches
  • garbage bags
  • tablecloths
  • Bounce sheets (this because of an e-mail that’s been forwarded since 2003, that claims, among many other things, that Bounce sheets repel ants, mosquitos and bees; it’s worth a shot and packs easily)
  • whisk broom, Clorox wipes, garbage bags
  • first aid (bandaids, antiseptic)
  • clothes line
  • mat for entrance to tent
  • games: cribbage, cards, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Farkle (from Wisconsin company Patch!)
  • paper, pens


  • water (bottles, jugs with spigot)
  • paper goods: plates, bowls, napkins, toilet paper, paper towels (all to be burned in the fire)
  • utensils
  • plastic food bags
  • fire-pit grate, charcoal
  • foil
  • potatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli
  • fruit
  • burgers/buns
  • hot dogs/buns
  • ground turkey
  • tortilla shells
  • baked beans, refried beans, corn
  • chips, crackers
  • for s’mores
  • cheese soup, broccoli soup (frozen)
  • eggs
  • cheese (slices, shredded, sticks)
  • yoghurt, granola bars, Cheerios, goldfish
  • wine/beer
  • ketchup, mustard, relish, butter, salt and pepper, olive oil
  • can opener, corkscrew


  • shampoo, soap, towels
  • toothbrushes/paste
  • allergy medicine, Ibuprofin
  • sunscreen, Solarcaine (because I will burn eat least once), bug spray

For the little guy

  • little blue seat for picnic table
  • pack-n-play
  • stroller
  • sheet/blankets
  • sleepers/pajamas (warm- and cool-weather), long pants, long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirt, socks, rain boots/jacket
  • toys, coloring books, crayons
  • diapers, wipes, swimmers
  • PFD (personal flotation device)
  • sand toys
  • Brewers hat
  • t-ball set, soccer ball, football, kites

A hatchet also comes in very handy when camping, but that’s not something I want to be carrying around, or even owning. Bringing a grill grate is a tip I picked up on a recent Wisconsin Trails photo shoot. We spent the day at Kohler-Andrae State Park getting shots for the huge camping section in the July/August 2012 issue of Wisconsin Trails (check out our new website!). Our photographer Jerry set up a grill in the fire pit so we could cook faster (with charcoal) and didn’t have to put any of the food on the crud-coated grate that is welded to the fire pit ring. See behind-the-scenes shots from our Kohler-Andrae photo shoot at the bottom of this post.

With all the stuff we have to take this weekend, you’d think we have a van or a camper. Nope, just a Prius and VW Golf. We could probably use a pull-along trailer, but it hasn’t come to that yet. It’s a bummer that we need a State Park sticker for each car, but luckily, my mom gets a senior discount ($10 for unlimited State Parks visits in a year). Ours will cost $12.50, half the regular $25 annual fee because we already have a sticker for our other car.

While we’re there, we’ll spend most of our time exploring the park and will probably rent a rowboat one day ($10 to $12/hour). I’d also like to stop at Parfrey’s Glen, located four miles east of DLSP. I was here about ten years ago, and hear that the area, including the walkways and stairways have been damaged in flooding in recent years, but I’d like to see how far we can get with the stroller.

Devil’s Lake is about four miles from downtown Baraboo, so we’ll head there one afternoon. One sure stop: Circus World Museum (admission doubles during “performance season” – AKA, non-winter months – to $14.95, $12.95 for seniors, free for History Lovers members), open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., May 19-Sept. 3. No times are listed on the site, but it should be easy to catch “skilled acrobats, horses, jugglers, dogs, clowns, aerialists and elephants in 10 shows daily.”

Also on the agenda: Baraboo Farmers Market, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

Still holding out for Devil’s Lake this weekend? There are about two dozen sites available in the area. Find up-to-date last-minute listings.

Now you tell me: What’s on your camping list? If you’ve been to Devil’s Lake, what are your recommendations for young kids? What is the one thing we should be sure not to miss this weekend?

Wisconsin Trails photo shoot at Kohler-Andrae State Park:

Setting up camp at Kohler-Andrae

Bring your own grate for shrimp on the barbie

Franks and beans! Good to shoot, good to eat.

Posted in Camping, Devil's Lake State Park, Governor Dodge State Park, Outdoors, State Park, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments