Ignoring the Signs

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Michigan Ice Festival, 2016

Signs often give direction, suggestions, information needed to get from point a to point b. In my case, the signs I encountered on my way to the sheet of ice I was about to attempt to ascend at the Michigan Ice Festival in Munising said run the other way.

It started with my travel buddy being sick. She alerted me the day before and while it would have been easy enough to cancel the trip, we decided to go anyway. It was sunny skies and temperate weather in Iron River. A few hours later, as I drove over the Michigan border, visibility was deteriorating quickly. Within an hour, plows had abandoned all hope of keeping roads clear leaving us nothing but marginal trail tracks, rumble strips and snow covered signs guiding us through the UP. By the time we hit Marquette, even my well-trained winter driving skills were maxed out.

We fueled up at a UP favorite—Donckers. Walking down Main Street headed to get our fill of chocolate, I couldn’t help but question my sanity. The road was shutdown and packed with several feet of snow in anticipation of an evening sled dog race scheduled to take place in sub-zero temperatures. We didn’t hesitate to tromp over the barricades and snow piles for our caramels.

wroadclosedBut, perhaps the biggest sign was the one I almost hit (literally) on our final leg of the journey. MI-28, the main interstate between Marquette and Munising, was closed. Somehow, I missed the sign notifying me that this main artery was no longer passable. The barricades, while barely visible, were hard to miss. Did I mention they were placed nowhere near a detour as well?

Did we turn around? Absolutely. Did we head home? Absolutely not. Instead, we navigated our way through the back roads of the UP. At first, we thought the steady stream of hazard lights approaching us was a funeral procession. We later learned, this was common during white out conditions in Big Snow country.

The signs didn’t stop here. Once in Munising, temperatures plummeted. Even the hardcore climbers were talking about how unforgiving a cold, winter day in Munising can be for folks heading out. Rather than wimp out, I just put on another pair of pants. There was of course the embarrassing gear check-out moment where I had to point out that my supersized ass would not in fact fit in the harness designed for the normal climbers body type. After several attempts and a lot of wriggling around, I was told I was equipped with straps that’d withstand me falling from a cliff.

And then there was the trek -in. Did I mention there would be an uphill climb in a snowy, ice-covered trail full of steep ledges? Or, that I wasn’t aware of said trail and had an extremely top heavy backpack on me that was packed with shoes (yes plural), coffee, snacks, extra clothes, 3 cameras and other miscellaneous outdoor gear.

This is what was below us when we climbed. Lots and lots of hill.
This is what was below us when we climbed. Lots and lots of hill.

The first time I fell over on an uphill incline, I questioned whether I’d get up. Like a turtle straddled on its back, I somehow waddled my way up the hill. There was of-course the embarrassing and somewhat frustrating attempt to secure my crampons while sporting 4 layers of clothing. But somehow, despite all of these signs, I soon found myself at the base of a 40-foot cliff with only one way to go—up.

We were handed some pick axes and given some basic instruction on how to ice climb. It seemed as though the ice hated me. If I swung hard, the ice shattered. If I swung delicately like our instructor, the pick ax ricocheted back at me, threatening to take my eyes out. This didn’t seem promising. But again, I ignored the signs.

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One of our instructors giving us some tips on how to climb. That is what it looks like to get to the top. This was not me.

My girlfriend and I were in an intro teaser course. Our instructors were awesome. One was from Salt Lake and a rep for Black Diamond. The other, a world cup ranked speed climber. (Yes, that’s a real sport and she is an amazing athlete). They made climbing look so easy. They provided serious encouragement and didn’t scoff as I fumbled about like an idiot.

Given the time limitations of our course, we only got two chances to climb. And, despite the our class title has intro in it, most of the guys in our class had climbed before. The gals, while less experienced, were primarily rock climbers. I am neither. We lined up like little soldiers, each taking our turn at the base. When it was finally my turn, I clipped myself to the rope and climbed. And fell. And climbed. And fell. Even though I knew that each time I slipped off the icy rock or my pick ax gave way, I wouldn’t in-fact plummet to my death, my survival instinct screamed what the F**** do you think you are doing? I managed to ignore that voice and kept trying. Progress was slow but progress just the same.

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This is me early on. It did not get better as time progressed.

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Did I make it to the top? Absolutely not. Did others? Absolutely. But, I’d be willing to bet our experiences were equally as scary, exhilarating and frankly fun. There I said it. Despite all of these signs and obstacles, ice climbing is a pretty big high. If given the opportunity, I definitely would have kept trying to get to the top. And, knowing the stubborn Fin in me, I would have at some point made it. In hindsight, I wish I had taken two days of classes so that the second go around I’d maybe experience more success. Who knows, I might even go back next year. It is unlikely the weather or road conditions could be any worse.

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After my climb. Did I mention it was cold out there?

For everyone curious to know how high I went… I honestly don’t know. The Go Pro was stopped about 10 seconds into my first climb and I later realized I had nobody take shots on my second climb. I don’t want to pull a Paul Ryan on his half-marathon time or a angler’s tale of the big fish by exaggerating my climb, so suffice is to say, let’s just say I went high enough. The second time, I climbed even higher. But, by far the hardest part of the climb was getting to the base.

Crampon Casualty 2016.
Crampon Casualty 2016.

And, I’m just happy that in total, the only real casualty of the day was my snow pant leg that got shredded by my crampons when I tripped attempting to pose for a group photo.

That evening, I had the opportunity to listen to keynote speaker Tim Emmett. An athlete for Mountain Hardware, he redefines adventure. I loved his presentation and the photos and videos to accompany it were spectacular. In his presentation, he mentions that life is what we do before we die. It sounds stupid but it is so true. So much of life is about the unknown day-to-day stumbling we make trying to navigate this thing called life.

Afterwards, Aaron Peterson premiered The Michigan Ice Film. It was an enduring combination of extreme ice climbing and the people and culture known as the UP. Peterson did an awesome job intertwining the two to create a solid story line amongst a backdrop that only Michigan ice can provide. Two thumbs up for sure.

At the end of the day, I loved my experience at the Michigan Ice Fest not because I was good at ice climbing, discovered a hidden talent or because it changed my life. Instead, I love that this festival and instructors opened my eyes up to the fact that I can in fact climb, even though every sign along the way said I couldn’t.

Future ice climber in the making! Watch-out Michigan Ice Festival 2025...
Future ice climber in the making! Watch-out Michigan Ice Festival 2025…

Predator Round-Up, Sea Cave Mayhem, Playing Hookie and an Unwarranted Pity Party

Newsflash: Last week I had an unwarranted pity party. It started during my 5-hour drive home from the UP after a weekend of bonding with women at a 3-day Becoming an Outdoor Woman camp (more on that experience in a different post). I left the camp recharged and excited about life. But then, I had a bout of road rage with an irrational SUV somewhere in God’s country. In the heat of the moment and cursing him out for almost running me off the road, I missed my turn. It was an important turn that resulted in my 5-hour drive being more like 6.5 hours… in a place where there is no coffee. Seriously, look at a map of coffee shops (or any shops for that matter) in the route from Big Bay, Michigan to Iron River, Wisconsin. It is dismal at best. (Although Mount Huron Bakery in Ishpeming and Marquette makes up for it… almost).

About this time, I came upon a small town where trucks lined the highway on both sides for as far as the eye could see. My heart jumped for joy believing that any winter festival that draws this many visitors, must be stocked with some fabulous food and a well-kept porta potty. Imagine my surprise when I learned at the epicenter of this UP traffic jam was dozens of dead animals hanging from a poll. It turns out this winter festival was in fact the Kenton Predator Round-Up in which sportsman harvest as many bobcat, coyote and fox over a 3 day period as possible. Despite my curiosity, I opted to not stop at Hoppy’s Bar in Kenton.

It was about this time, something in me snapped. A full-fledged pity party began. I was irritated. I missed my son. I wanted to be vacationing somewhere warm, drinking something indulgent, and sporting cute summer sandals instead of oversized fishing boots. By the time I got home, my mood had only lightened somewhat. Then I logged onto Facebook and saw friend after friend posting photos from somewhere other than here. I was instantly jealous.

This sour mood continued for a few days. And then this happened. A co-worker was connecting with me on a project and mentioned she was taking the rest of the day off to hit up the Apostle Island Mainland Sea Caves. The sun was out. Temps were above freezing. I had no pressing deadlines. So, after a few logistical phone calls, I crashed her party and checked out of work a half day early. For those of you who know me, this is unprecedented. I’m a planner. I don’t randomly use my precious vacation time for spur of the moment events. This was huge (my life is in fact this boring).

Yes, the Sea Caves were busier than they’ve ever been when I’ve been there. Yes, I was a bit appalled by the number of folks I saw talking on their cell phone or shooting selfies even though I’m totally guilty of doing at least one of these things. But, somewhere along the way my mood lightened. I discovered that my life doesn’t involve cocktails on the beach…. right now. But man I’m blessed. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, crabby pants was squashed by the blessings in my life.
Looking back, it frustrates me that it took a day on a frozen beach to put things back into perspective. But then again, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten these great shots. And for those who missed the memo, the caves are now closed for the season. So for all those folks sipping margaritas in the blistering sun, I’ll see that margarita with a locally made mead and Mother Nature’s glory.

Apostle Island Sea Caves Set to Open this Weekend!

The latest from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore… Sounds like the mayhem could start-up again in northwest Wisconsin again this Saturday! PS If you are looking for some tips on what to do while visiting, be sure to check out my post from last year… 

Apostle Islands Ice Caves Open for Winter Viewing

seacaves1Bayfield, WI – For the third time this winter ice has formed along the Apostle Islands mainland ice caves.  This time it has formed with enough thickness and extent to allow viewing of the ice caves along the mainland unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  If conditions remain as they are or improve, the Ice Caves will open on Saturday, February 28th.

The Apostle Islands mainland ice caves feature some of the most spectacular cliffs and sea caves found in the Great Lakes.  The features are different every year, as is the route to see them.  This year there is very little snow and a lot of glare ice, making the route exceptionally slippery.  Ice cleats (e.g., stabilicers) will be a necessity this year and ski poles are highly recommended.

Ice conditions can change rapidly, so it is important to keep safety in mind at all times.  High wind speeds, such as those forecast for the near future, is a factor that can quickly change conditions and cause decreased visibility.  Visitors must prepare for cold conditions and possible extreme wind chill.  Beware of ice formations falling from the cliffs.   Because of such slippery conditions, bringing your pet is not recommended.  However, if you do, pets must be on a leash and under control at all times and pet owners must properly dispose of pet excrement in trash receptacles.  Finally, don’t forget a camera to take home a tangible reminder of this spectacular landscape.

The sea caves can be reached from the end of Meyers Road, 18 miles west of Bayfield off State Highway 13.  There is a $5/person/day fee for those 16 and older for visiting the caves, regardless of access point or method.  Please bring cash.  There will also be an annual pass available for $10/person. The annual pass is only available at Park Headquarters in Bayfield (415 Washington Ave.) during the Ice Cave Event.

For the most up-to-date information, visit the park’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/apostleislandsnationallakeshore or call the 24-hour “Apostle Islands Ice Line” at 715-779-3397 ext. 3. Information can also be found on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (www.nps.gov/apis), Bayfield County Tourism (www.icecaves.org), and Bayfield Chamber of Commerce (www.bayfield.org) websites.

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2015 Apostle Islands Sea Caves Update

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Photo Courtesy: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

This post is a general public service announcement for those who are stumbling across this site due to my posts last year about the Apostle Islands Sea Caves. As of today, February 4, 2015 they are not open to the public. In fact, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore posted this shot of the Sea Caves on Monday.

Again, I’m just posting this because I’ve noticed a spike in traffic of people reading posts about my Sea Caves experience last year and I don’t want anyone coming up here thinking the caves are open. Should they open, please note there will be a $5 parking charge. This is a great deal and would help cover the costs that come with having so many people visiting this national treasure. While the Sea Caves aren’t open right now via walking on Lake Superior, you can still access them from the top via a great walking trail. There’s also plenty going on in terms of the Apostle Island Sled Dog Races coming up this weekend, along with the infamous Bar Stool Races and Book Across the Bay on Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend time with your sweetie.

Meantime, I’m looking forward to an upcoming expedition that’s going to include the Eben Caves in upper Michigan. Expect to see plenty of photos from that adventure in early March.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas…

claregreenhouseLast January I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with my good friend Clare Hintz of Elsewhere Farm. While I always enjoy hanging with her, this encounter was particularly special because I was drilling her about her year-round greenhouse for Northern Gardener Magazine.

For years, Clare has inspired me with her passion for local food production. She is brilliant, funny and the hardest working woman I’ve ever met. Conversations with her often result in me imagining abandoning my small lake lot for a spacious hobby farm in the woods where I can let my Little House on the Prairie dreams of collecting chicken eggs and wildflowers in the wind come true. The only difference, I don’t actually want to do the work. Clare does. And, she does so everyday through her efforts as a farmer, PhD student and all-around awesome friend.clarehintzgarden

The article came out this November. I’m attaching a pdf of the piece here for any northern gardener that has the desire and drive to create her own winter greenhouse oasis. In the meantime, I think I’ll reread the Little House series, buy some locally laid eggs and perhaps plant a few microgreens in my windowsill. Realistically, that’s what this struggling mama can muster up in terms of farming.

claregarden2 This year, winter hit extra early. I already find myself feeling vitamin D deprived and dreaming of warm summer nights. Instead, I’ll have to make due this winter crashing Clare’s greenhouse oasis in the wonderful Herbster community. As we enter this season of giving, I’m just so happy to have folks that have found their true passion in life a part of my life. It makes me genuinely happy and inspires me to keep pursuing my passion in life… even if it isn’t abandoning life on Moon Lake.

PS We’re soon to be proud landowners in Cable. Turns out we won a land auction last month after the person who outbid us discovered he couldn’t in fact afford to outbid us. Pretty excited to be adding land in the southern part of Bayfield County to our mix!

 

The World’s Oldest Table

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Kahiki Table. Made from Kauri wood. Priced at $100,000. Photo credit: http://www.ancientwood.com

I must admit, I’ve become somewhat of a wood working snob over the years. In part, this is because my husband turns bowls and other treasures. Often times, the wood is local and has a story behind it. Or, not local with a story behind it… like the time we had to call TSA to see if we could bring a stump on the plane since there was no way our luggage would make the weight limit otherwise. Turns out, while you cannot bring a rolling pin on an airplane, they have no problem with you bringing a 50 pound stump that you found discarded near Gettysburg. But I digress.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Robert Teisberg. Teisberg is the owner of Ancientwood, Ltd. in Ashland. He also happens to be a craftsman and distributor of Kauri wood. What makes Kauri wood cool? Well its claim to fame is that it is in fact the oldest wood in the world. To me, while this is an interesting tidbit, the unique grain is what I love most about this wood. Photos don’t do it justice. But, if you’ve ever seen a finished Kauri wood product up close, you cannot help but be drawn in by the enchanting reflection that occurs when the light hits it. I can only compare it to that of a gentle wave rolling off of Lake Superior.

While I am mesmerized by this wood and even bought my hubby some for his birthday, I haven’t thought much about it lately because the oldest wood in the world costs quite the premium. But, that’s part of what makes the email I got this past week pretty amazing.

Teisberg just finished a work table. Not just any table, but a table made out of 50,000 year old Kauri wood that is listed for a mere $100,000. I, unfortunately, won’t be buying this artistic masterpiece anytime soon. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t salivate over amazing art… that was crafted right here in northwest Wisconsin.

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Kahiki Table. Made from Kauri wood. Priced at $100,000. Photo credit: http://www.ancientwood.com

If you are interested in learning more about Anceintwood, LLC, visit their website. Also, here’s a bit more on the company in the story I wrote for Business North in late 2012.

 

 

 

 

Ashland Company Monopolizes Oldest Wood Market in the World

(first ran in Business North Magazine in late 2012)
Sitting at a desk in the depths of the Ashland Area Enterprise Building, Robert Teisberg is never quite sure what to expect to hear when his phone rings.

“I was sitting at my desk yesterday and this guy from Beirut called me interested in my product,” Teisberg explains. “After talking for a while, it turns out their climate isn’t that much different than ours. It’s pretty neat, actually.”

These types of calls might seem unusual, but then again, Teisberg’s product isn’t exactly mainstream. You see Teisberg is the only licensed distributor of Kauri wood in North America and one of a handful of sellers in the world. For those wondering what Kauri wood is, its claim to fame is it holds the title of the world’s oldest wood.

In a “Splintered History of Wood” Spike Carlsen explains that Kauri wood comes from New Zealand’s North Island. Carbon dating indicates the wood was buried in a peat swamp about 50,000 year ago and has remained perfectly preserved since. So, how does 50,000-year old wood go from being in a New Zealand peat moss to being manufactured into impressive finished products in Ashland, Wisconsin?

Teisberg, who used to spend a lot of time sailing, learned about the wood during a visit to the region during the Millennium. Teisberg says this “was about this time, Timeless Timber in Ashland was getting a lot of recognition. They were being featured on CNN and their wood wasn’t nearly as old.” Recognizing the product’s market potential, he started doing some research only to discover a huge void in the North American market. He had the skillset (he’s a trained woodworker) and the ambition to make a deal as the sole distributor in North America. By 2004, Ancientwood Ltd. was up and running.

Fast forward to today and Ancientwood, Ltd. employs 5 employees in Ashland. The company’s reach has expanded beyond North America with sales in 27 countries worldwide and sales approaching $500,000 a year. Their most recent sale—two tables from a single, 40 foot piece of wood that when attached will make a table 40 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 5 inches thick. It’s destination—Colorado. The price tag on a finished table of this magnitude is approximately $100,000.

Part of the appeal to Kauri wood is its mammoth size. Many of the trees grew for more than 1,000 years creating massive pieces of wood that can grow to be 40 feet around and 200 feet high. Teisberg says the wood also has an “active grain” that in some pieces creates an impressive shimmering white effect off the wood. In addition, Teisberg says as the oldest workable timber, there is also a finite quantity making it comparable to liquid gold. Currently, the only way the trees can be harvested is by extracting them from below the ground—often times in farm fields. The Kauri tree does still grow in parts of New Zealand but these trees are protected.

The combined appeal makes Kauri wood a natural fit for woodworkers looking for something different. Teisberg compares the wood loosely to Basswood but says each piece varies greatly. From a wood workers perspective, it is worth noting the wood is not petrified, allowing for the wood to finished with normal techniques.

Despite the appeal, the wood has yet to catch-on with major distributors. Part of the issue is major distributors aren’t necessarily comfortable with how the wood will react. Skeptics have questioned the authenticity of the wood’s age, even with the carbon dating conducted by independent organizations. This combined with the recent recession have made times tough for Ancientwood Ltd. but Teisberg remains committed to making this company work.

“We have several routes we’re looking at right now,” Teisberg says. The product seems to be a hit with guitar players that has resulted in one national guitar maker expressing interest in buying their wood. There’s also the potential of making something for the Smithsonian.

The company has yet to make a profit in part because he needs a private investor to help boost his buying power. In a perfect world, Teisberg says a “$2.5 million investment would allow for pre-purchasing 10-year supply of wood, driving the overall price of the wood down and turning a profit.”

In the meantime, Teisberg will continue selling finished and unfinished pieces of wood, never knowing what the next phone call might bring.

The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County, Wisconsin – Part III

The tough ones.

I’m using tough in a generic sense. The falls I was able to find weren’t necessarily difficult to access or remote in terms of mileage on foot. However, they either involved fleets of steps, vague directions, or a lack of signage making it a bit of a hit or miss in terms of finding. That said, each of these falls is definitely worth visiting. Each ones presents an impressive view and in many cases an opportunity to enjoy the falls in complete solitude. Despite it being fall peak, these falls were not overly packed. In fact, with the exception of Potato River Falls, I was a lone hiker at each of these falls.

Potato River Falls
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This falls barely makes this list. The primary reason is the falls involves at least 150 steps to and from the parking. The waterfall is a 90-feet drop on Potato River near Gurney. The falls is located within a town park that has rustic picnic campsites. I also found the outhouse to be particularly photogenic among the golden leaves. Once in the park, you have two main options. The first is to head to a nearby observation deck where you can see the river valley. This does not provide great views of the falls, though. From there, you can take a footpath to the dramatic descent down. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing worth noting on this staircase, the step sizes vary dramatically depending on the steepness of the grade. In some areas I felt I could skip two steps each time while in other areas, a single step was the height of three. This is something to watch if you are use to uniform stair steps. In terms of finding the park, it is relatively easy. Take Highway 169 South from US 2 through Gurney. Turn west on Potato River Falls Road and drive approximately 1.5 miles. The park is clearly labeled.

Peterson Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeterson Falls was my first stop of the day. At first glance, I thought this waterfall would be simple to find. To be frank, it ended up being way more complicated than it needed to be due to false directions. Both the Iron County website and Travel Wisconsin provide directions that reference an Ero Nasi Construction sign. I’m not sure at what point in time this sign existed and/or if I’m blind but after multiple drives along Highway 2 outside of Hurley and never noticing this large construction sign, I finally veered off highway 2 in frustration at Stoffel’s Country Store. It was here I noticed a dirt road heading the approximate direction of the falls. At the intersection of 2 and this road, a white TODD sign indicating Peterson Falls. Once you find that road, you drive approximately .3 miles. Directions imply a small turnaround. Highlight the word small. I missed what is the turnaround and ended up driving on what I can only describe as an ATV trail. Keep in mind this is literally 1 mile from a major state highway. Regardless, it definitely felt remote. Once parked, the rest is easy.

A spacious footpath through a dense forest leads you directly to the East Branch Montreal River. From there you follow the path and river upstream to Peterson Falls. It is a 35-feet drop and takes about 5-minutes to walk to. From there, you can continue along the footpath for additional views of the river. I followed the path for approximately 25-minutes before turning back due to a mixture of rain sleet. In addition to a couple of waterfall snapshots, I also enjoyed the side pools of water filled with swirling fall leaves.

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Spring Camp Falls
Since several folks have written about this waterfall, I have to believe the falls does in fact exist. However, despite my best intentions to find this remote waterfall I certainly could not find it. It doesn’t help that the Travel Wisconsin website cuts off its directions mid-sentence. My secondary source from the County was more helpful but I was unable to find East Branch Road. Or, if I did, I didn’t know it was East Branch Road and the rustic path signs never came into my view. After more than an hour of driving up and down gravel roads in this approximate area I gave up. Next time, I may have to use a GPS.

Foster Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the flip side, finding Foster Falls was a walk in the park compared to Spring Camp. The falls is somewhat remote in the sense that you are once again driving on unmarked roads. However, this waterfall has just one dirt road you travel down making it easier to navigate. Also, the road abrubtly ends when it intersects with the Potato River. From there, you just put your car in reverse until you see a dirt road on your right. You travel down this road right into a remote riverside campsite. Once parked, you can hop out and hear the falls. Follow your ears to Foster Falls. The 25-feet falls is the only thing you’ll hear in this country. Not much for traffic, homes, hikers, anglers. I was not only the lone sightseer on this fall Saturday afternoon but the only car on Sullivan Road. To get there, go north from Upson on Highway 122 for 5 miles. Turn left on Sullivan Road (this was not marked when I drove so be sure to use your mile gauge) and proceed 2 miles until the road abruptly runs into a raging river. When you get there, you’ll know you’ve gone far enough.

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Wren Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf all the waterfalls in Iron County that I visited, this was my favorite. I’m not sure why. Perhaps, it was the drive in. It was particularly picturesque. It was also the most adventuresome portion of my journey. My 10-hour journey took place immediately following a solid 12-hour rainfall. Many of the roads were muddy and at times had standing water that I was never quite sure about. Each time, though, my trusty Subaru plowed through… except this time. During my drive to Wren Falls, I hit a particularly muddy patch of road. Unfortunately, my car halted. I’m confident, with a little acceleration motivation, I would have continued along my journey. However, it was during this time that a lone truck drove around the bend. In it, a man determined to rescue the damsel in distress. As someone who has watched a few too many after school specials, not to mention my remote location, it caused me great angst. Once standing in the muddy waterhole knocking on my car window and gesturing he could help, I decided to accept his help. In addition to being quite nice, he was very effective in getting my Subaru back on dry land. The timing was odd given he was the first and last truck I saw in this portion of my journey, but sometimes that’s how life works. I continued along until I hit the hairpin turn where a center road would take me to the entrance of the trail to the falls.

To my surprise, when I hit this turn, a large sign summoned me to the falls. The only downside – it was a rusted out sheet of metal, filled with bullet holes and spray painted Wren. It didn’t exactly scream pristine waterfall but at least it verified the directions. Once parked, I hopped out my car and made my way to the falls. The falls, which is located on the Forks River, is 12-feet. While this may not sound large, the vantage point from where you can see the falls makes if feel much larger. While there isn’t much in terms of a footpath to walk along the river, the natural rock formations lend themselves to scrambling up and down over ridges providing a number of angles to look at the river. In every case, the view doesn’t disappoint. I ended up spending nearly an hour taking in the sites of this waterfall and wandering through the woods. For those wanting to spend even more time exploring, a primitive campsite positioned just a hop, skip and jump from the falls await. To get there, head 5.5 miles south on US 2 on Highway 169. Take a left turn on Vogues Road. Travel about 3.5 miles until a hairpin turn. From here, take the center road for about 1 mile where the road forks. You can hike up the hill to the primitive campsite and waterfalls from there. (I missed that part of the directions though, and drove which is also a possibility. In all honesty, it is very easy to mix up ATV trails and dirt roads in this country).

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The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County Wisconsin – Part II

The easy ones.

Iron County has no shortage of water. The county boasts 300 crystal clear lakes covering 34,000 acres. To the north, the county line is Lake Superior. This creates the perfect storm of waterfalls—some easier to access than others.

Upson Falls:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpson Falls is located within a well-maintained town park. The falls is a mere 18 feet drop along the Potato River but has picturesque river views that you can access via a rugged walking trail. In terms of amenities, there are a couple of shelters, grills, camping spots and a permanent out building with bathroom facilities. To access the park, take Highway 77 into Upson. Turn north at Upson Town Park. This particular waterfall is well signed.

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Gile Falls:
In full disclosure, I did not photograph or see this waterfall due to torrential rain. However, I did find the parking area and view the nearby Gile Flowage. Given its proximity to Upson Falls, I thought this was worth mentioning. This is a beautiful flowage with a modern park, boat launch and amenities. According to the Iron County website, the falls include a 15 foot drop on the West Branch of the Montreal River. To access, take Highway 77 into Montreal. Turn left of Kokogan and then right onto Gile Falls Street.

 

Superior Falls:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuperior Falls hugs the Wisconsin/Michigan border. It is an impressive waterfall and at least during my viewing, a popular spot for anglers. The waterfall itself is a 90 foot drop of the Montreal River. It is the final drop the river makes before heading into Lake Superior. The falls is located next to an Xcel Energy dam. There is a dirt parking lot. The walk down to the falls is a bit steep and rather than stairs, it is a mix of cement, dirt and gravel along what I imagine service vehicles could drive down. There is a rope you can grab as a hand railing. Once at the bottom, go behind the Xcel dam along a trail and head upstream. Within minutes you’ll be at the falls. If you head the other direction, you can enjoy an expansive and untouched view of Lake Superior and its shoreline. There is not much in terms of picnic benches, rest areas, etc. To access the falls, take Highway 122 north off Highway 2 in the Saxon area. Travel approximately 4.7 miles and then turn left on a gravel road. This falls is marked with an Xcel sign.

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Kimball Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’d be difficult to find an easier waterfall to access. Kimball Falls is located within a town park in Kimball, Wisconsin. The park has paved roads, gorgeous picnics areas, a small playground and restrooms. It is also next to the West Branch Montreal River. The Kimball Falls is small—a mere 10-feet drop. But, the park marks the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. Little to no hiking is needed to enjoy this waterfall. And, it is just minutes off of Highway 2. To access the falls, turn south on Park Road just 3 miles outside of Hurley. The park is clearly marked. There is a small one land bridge that goes over the river. Those wishing to hike can follow the footpath upstream for additional scenic views of the river. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read more about my adventure touring Iron County’s northern Waterfalls.

Amnicon Falls: The Unassuming State Park of the North

Amnicon Falls is one of those often overlooked but beloved state parks near my home in northwest Wisconsin. The park is small compared to nearby Jay Cooke State Park. It is often lost in the hype and marketing of the North Shore and the countless parks and waterfalls that dot the shoreline. By some respects, it falls on the wrong side of the bridge. I have a hunch, if it were 15 miles northwest, it’d trump Gooseberry Falls in visitor counts and poised family waterfall photos.

Lucky for me, it isn’t. Instead, this unassuming park provides meaningful moments of reflection and an opportunity to pause in life. This past month was no exception. I awoke early on a Sunday morning to meet a friend for coffee in Duluth. As I pulled out of the driveway, I discovered I was ahead of schedule and had an extra 20-minutes to kill before breakfast.

As a new mom, these moments of unexpected solitude are prized possessions that compare to winning the lottery. I immediately knew I’d find myself at Amnicon State Park. I arrive at the park just before dawn. Despite the park being open for over an hour, the parking lot is empty. This is often the case when I visit these falls. I hop out of the car and take in what the park has to offer. By many definitions, it isn’t much. But for me, it is everything.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe park has no extensive trail system. There isn’t a single set of stairs to an expansive overlook of Lake Superior. The state hasn’t invested in a multi-million dollar interpreter center or deluxe restrooms. Instead, it is a simple park that encompasses an impressive portion of the Amnicon River. Within seconds of getting out of your car, you find yourself staring at a series of small but picturesque waterfalls. A few moments later, a wooden canopy crosses the river framing a set of lower falls that is a photographer’s dream.

amniconbridgeAccording to the Wisconsin DNR, the bridge is a Horton or bowstring bridge, named after Charles M. Horton. Horton patented the bridge structure while working in Duluth. In its prime, it was one of several highway bridges that allowed folks in northwest Wisconsin to connect to the west. Today, only 5 of these Horton bridges remain. The bridge moved the park in 1930. During the height of the Depression, the Brule CCC constructed the wooden roof that covers the bridge.

One can’t argue the park’s beauty. But what I love most about it is its simplicity. To me, parks exist for people to reconnect with nature—a simple time-out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In some cases, this means wilderness areas that can take days to explore or hikes that are measured in miles not footsteps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI snap photos for a few minutes and then pause to take in the silence. Despite being just moments from Highway 2, the only sound is that of thundering water. I wander across the bridge and upstream to another set of falls. Snap, snap, snap. I have photographed these various streams of water countless times. I pause on the riverbank and take in this untouched beauty. I admire the neat line of pines and the golden needles that are starting to fall from their branches. After another few moments of pause, I make my way back to my car. As quickly as I arrived, I leave knowing this park will wait for me until next time.

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Herbster Home for Sale

Update: On Monday, October 27 we sold this home and thus this chapter in our lives. The new owners seem wonderful and I hope they enjoy the house in a way we were never got a chance to. While I am happy that it sold, I can’t help but wonder about all of the “what ifs” that went with the property.

The backstory behind how we ended up owning a 3-bedroom home near Lake Superior in Herbster, Wisconsin is a whole different story. But, today, it is with mixed emotions that we’ve decided to sell it.

The view from the road.
The view from the road.

I still remember that crisp fall day when we walked the property for the first time. The former hobby farmer in me was fascinated by the outbuildings and aged barn. Next to it, a spacious back yard, 30 acres of woods to explore and winding ATV trails that intersect with deer paths satisfied my curious side. While an artisan well watering the field out back with water from Lake Superior’s Basin reminded me just how close we were to the greatest of great lakes, Lake Superior.

A second story deck provides the perfect spot to read, write or dream.
A second story deck provides the perfect spot to read, write or dream.

Glancing upward, I notice a second story balcony overlooking the property providing the perfect writer’s nook and I couldn’t help but wonder if this unexpected purchase was a glimpse into my future. As we toured the home, the word character kept coming to mind. It was clear the previous owners had a vision for this renovated farmhouse. In the kitchen, new cabinets and flooring, along with new windows provided the floor plan for a modern day, functional kitchen. The gorgeously crafted tongue and groove ceilings, spacious family room and open floor plan provided plenty of room for a growing family to run around. Upstairs, the bedrooms were simple but large, with access to newly finished deck. Standing there, I could almost taste my morning coffee. There were snippets of wonder and vision as I toured the property. An unfinished loft space that was designated for a second story hot tub seemed to be more appropriate for a second bathroom. The previous owner’s love of blue, including blue carpets and a blue first story bathroom was a bit extreme for this gal’s love of neutral. But these cosmetic differences were easy fixes in the grand scheme of things.

As we left the house, Steve and I had a moment of pause. Could we leave our life in Iron River to start a new life in Herbster? Our immediate response was absolutely. I could already envision roasting coffee from the outbuilding, planting a pear orchard and having my own 1-acre vegetable garden. I could see our kids exploring the woods, chasing deer and harvesting mushrooms without ever having to leave our property. I could see our family biking the mere couple miles to the shores of Lake Superior to enjoy a summer filled with sand and sun. It could in fact be the perfect life. But, life is a bit more complicated than that. The realities of our jobs and the life we’ve built on Moon Lake topped our dreams of starting a new life in Herbster. We’ve sat on these dreams for a few years as we rented this property out. But, at this juncture in our life, we’ve decided to sell. So I write this post with mixed emotions. If you or someone you know of is looking to start a new life away from the rat race, near the shores of Lake Superior in some of the most gorgeous country around, this property is worth checking out. Here’s the nitty gritty details: Escape the rat race in this for sale by owner 3-bedroom, one bathroom home (1,900 sq. ft) just 2 miles from Lake Superior in Herbster on a beautiful 5-acre wooded lot. Option to buy an additional 30 acres of prime hunting land adjacent to the proerty. Highlights include Internet fiber optic wired to the home, new windows, newly remodeled kitchen, tongue and groove ceiling, second story deck off master bedroom, 4 car garage, maintained trails on backside of property, large yard, an outbuilding and an option to buy up to 30 additional acres of prime hunting land. Closing and title insurance will be professionally handled by Wisconsin Title. Priced to sell at $104,900 or $134,900 with the additional 30 acres. Private showings available starting in late-May. Call Steve at 218-269-6776 for additional information or to set-up a showing. At this price, this home won’t stay on the market long. I’ve also included the PDF of our poster for you to share as well. South Shore Property For Sale