Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge

Steve and I love visiting National Wildlife Refuges, there is something about the “possibility” of seeing wildlife that keeps us visiting every one we find.

While out for an afternoon drive, we stumbled on the Trempealeau NWR. We hadn’t planned to do any hiking, so we opted for the Prairies Edge Loop Tour. This self-guided, 4 mile drive takes you through sand prairies, backwater marshes and hardwood forests. This year, spring made a late appearance in Wisconsin and we’ve had copious amounts of rain, so our early June visit was filled with wildflowers high water.

We picked up a brochure at the entrance and began the drive. I was amazed by the riots of yellow and purple flowers…

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The brochure pointed out a number of invasive species which have found a home in the refuge. One of these plants is called Leafy Spurge and while it looks pretty, it is taking over large areas…

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Wild prairie roses and berry bushes compete for space…

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When we saw a gentleman with a very large lens on his camera, we stopped to see what he was looking at. High up in a dead tree was a red-headed woodpecker…

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The rains have flooded low lands and the calm winds that day ensured lovely reflections…

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We stopped at the visitor center and talked for quite a while with one of the rangers. She was incredibly knowledgeable and gave us ideas for other places to visit while we are here. Afterward, we walked to the observation deck and I knew, we would have to come back one day with our kayaks…

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It was neat to try and identify all of the turtles we saw, this plaque was a big help…

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I think we saw at least 4 of the varieties!

As we rounded a bend in the road, we were happily surprised to see a deer grazing in the field…

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And a thirteen stripe ground squirrel bid us adieu at the end of the loop drive…

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It was a peaceful way to spend the afternoon and thanks to the ranger, we now have lots of suggestions for places to explore!

Do you like visiting NWRs? What is the most exciting animal you’ve encountered?

A Visit to the Wegner Grotto

When Paul and Matilda Wegner emigrated from Germany in 1885, I doubt they envisioned their retirement years building what would later become the Wegner Grotto. It all started in 1929 after Paul retired from owning and operating a Ford garage. Neither Paul nor Matilda had any formal training in the arts, but they definitely had a vision. Their “grassroots art” started on their small farm outside of Cataract, Wisconsin. They were no longer living on the farm full-time, but spent summers there. They began by building a fence around the property. Concrete pillars decorated with thousands of shards of broken glass…

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Little by little, special pieces were added, a prayer garden…

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A birdhouse and other decorations…

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I was bummed the skies were threatening to drench us as we walked along marveling at the artistry. I can only imagine how brilliantly the shards must glint in the bright sunshine. Glass flowers adorn the top of a pillar…

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The grotto began to take on a life of its own. Perhaps the crowning achievement, is the glass church. Paul wanted to represent all “mainline denominations”. And did so in stunning fashion…
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And a peace monument…

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Later he built a replica of their 50th wedding anniversary cake…

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And the very symbol of the country he loved…

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Paul died in 1937 and is buried at a little cemetery just up the road from the grotto. His gravestone, as well as Matilda’s, are a tribute to the beauty he created…

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Other family members’ graves are also decorated with glass shards…

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I wondered where they were able to find so much broken glass. I doubt colored glass was an inexpensive item to own in the early 1930’s. Some of it appeared to be carnival glass, shiny and still lovely, though only a shard…

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Have you ever been moved by “grassroots art”?

Working in Wisconsin

We loved our time in Georgia, but we had a commitment to keep in Wisconsin. We were expected to arrive the first week of May, so it was time to pack up Waldo and motor on. We drove the 1380 miles in 3 days, not a marathon, but the last day was long.

As we drove through Black River Falls, we got our first look at the town which will be home for the next several months. I love the small town atmosphere and the outdoorsy feel of the area. We drove past farms and fields soaked with the late spring rains. It’s common to see Amish folks with their horse and buggies trotting down the road next to a monster trucks towing 4 wheelers heading for the state forest.

Usually, we find our jobs on the Workers On Wheels website, but this one came via referral from a couple we worked with in Texas. Don and Barb worked here last year and knew our skill set and work ethic would fit in perfectly at Lost Falls Campground. The campground, nestled on the shore of the Black River, has 36 RV sites, 7 cabins and 18 tent sites. My first thought when we turned into the park was “I’m gonna love it  here!!!” Don greeted us with hugs and happy to see you before showing us to our site. Many times, workampers are given not so great sites, shoved out of the way, saving the best ones for paying guests. Not so here! First of all, every site is wonderful. And they are huge, most are at least 35′ wide! Our site comes with a bonus shed for storage…

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Plus the use of the golf cart. Score!

Once settled in, we didn’t waste any time and got right to work. Don knows about my construction background and asked me to take a look at the bathroom floor in one of the cabins. He said it has a “soft spot” near the shower. I bounced on the floor a bit and told the owner, Aaron, this couldn’t be fixed with a band-aid. The floor needed to be pulled out and replaced. Once I assured him the repair could be completed before Memorial Day, he said “Have at it.” Steve removed the toilet and sink while I decided how to best remove the shower. Whoever installed it, didn’t want it ever coming out. Hmmm. Let’s tear out that wall. The next thing I knew, this had become a complete remodel…

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Once I got into it, I knew the vent pipe needed to go in the wall, not a foot out into the floor and all the old horse hair plaster had to go. Yep, that 1950’s ceiling has to come down too.  And what’s with that floor joist cut in 2? Geez, who built this? Replacing the plaster with sheetrock gained almost 5″ of floor space. At this point, Aaron’s wife Shannon was brought in to discuss her ideas on the remodel. I talked her into a new corner shower and a smaller sink. Once everything was decided and ordered, I got to work putting it all back together…

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It wasn’t all work and no play by any stretch. There were comfortable nights at our firepit…

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And turning Waldo into a birdie buffet…

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Speaking of birds, we had 2 really neat encounters since we’ve been here. First we found an injured Great Horned Owl…

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Sadly, we were unable to rescue it. Our second encounter has been ongoing. A mating pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers has built a nesting cavity in the tree right behind our shed. We’ve watched as the male excavated the nest and have seen a bit of birdie porn so we are hoping for babies in the next 25 days or so…

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One morning, when I was working on the bathroom, Don came in and said he had something to show me and I should grab my camera! While making his rounds by the river, he came across a doe giving birth to twins…

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It was one of the neatest things I have ever seen. The next day, Steve found a baby western painted turtle…

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So dang cute!

When I wasn’t remodeling or taking pictures of local wildlife, I became the official sign painter for the campground…

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Yep, I’m getting paid to be creative too. Speaking of creativity, I got out my Lensball…

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Memorial Day brought lots of guests, all of our RV sites were full, 5 of the cabins were rented and there were quite a few tenters. One of the main reasons people stay here is we rent canoes, kayaks, SUPs and tubes. We shuttle folks to one of 3 landings and they float/paddle back to the campground. We even rent cooler tubes so your float can be complete with beverages! The rentals might be the reason they come to begin with, but I think the awesomeness of the campground and it’s owners and staff are what bring them back time after time!

If you find yourself near Black River Falls, Wisconisn make sure you have a night or two to spend with us at Lost Falls Campground!

Up next, Atlas Obscura come through again!

Bare Bones Beauty

We are heading to Wisconsin to work for the summer, but needed a few adventures first. There are quite a few places on the Georgia coast that have been on my “must see” list for, literally, years. We stayed at Walkabout Camp and RV, just south of Woodbine, Ga because 1) it is a Passport America park, saving us 50%, and 2) it is centrally located to so many great places.

Jekyll Island has been a destination for more than 3500 years. The Muskogian Tribes hunted and fished there, the Spanish and the English fought over it and the richest men in American played there. In 1886 it was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club.

Munsey’s Magazine called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world. . . .” For those who represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth at the turn of the century, the Jekyll Island Club became an exclusive retreat. Families with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Baker built the elegant Clubhouse and “cottages” in Victorian architectural styles. Read more history here

While the history is incredible, our destination was Driftwood Beach. Since it came so highly recommended by several people, I didn’t do any research before we went. What I pictured and what we found were worlds apart. I had conjured up images of little pieces of sun bleached wood scattered over the beach, brought in by the tide. Isn’t that what driftwood is? What we found can only be called a tree graveyard.

Near the north end of the island is a small parking area and a path leading to the beach. Walking along, I stopped to photograph a dead tree. I’ve always loved the bare bones beauty of skeletal trees. Their up-reaching branches naked for all to see…

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When we reached the beach, I was shocked by what we found…

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Skeletal trees, some standing, some fallen in tangled masses, littered the beach. I later learned this is due to the fact the north end of the island is slowly eroding. The uncharacteristically small waves have enough strength to carry grains of sand, but not enough to carry the mighty oaks and gnarly pines out to sea. What was once the tree line, is now the beach. Since trees can’t live in the salt water, they die, leaving behind twisted sculptures…

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It was low tide when we arrived, but it was easy to see how far up the beach the water would be in a few hours. Several of the stumps were covered in barnacles…

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And hiding in the hollows of many of the logs were critters waiting for the tides to return…

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I was pleasantly surprised by how few people were on the beach, perhaps because tourist season hasn’t really begun yet. Between the lack of people and the otherworldly appearance of the trees, the beach has a lonely, haunted feeling…

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When the returning shrimp trawlers appeared on the horizon, they could have been easily mistaken for winged leviathans coming to reclaim the beach…

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There were a few people scattered along the beach. Some getting their morning exercise…

While others were planning a relaxing afternoon…

Along with the scattered tree, hundreds of washed up cannonball jellyfish lay dead or dying on the beach. I found a great website which allowed me to identify it and let me know what other jellyfish one could expect on Jekyll Island…

Not everything was dead, sign of life could also be seen, like the tiny common spider crab that scared the bejezzas out of me when I almost stepped on it…

And the nesting area for the Wilson’s plovers…

And atop a surviving (for now) oak , a woodpecker found some lunch…

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The incoming tide swallowed the beach while sun baked seaweed waited to be drenched again…

And shorebirds scrambled for a last minute meal…

Across the inlet, the St. Simon’s lighthouse stands sentinel over the tides…

Walking back to the trailhead, I was mesmerized by the patterns of the tangled roots, imagining all sorts of images…

Steve was kind enough to go back to the parking lot and get my lensball before we walked on the southern end of the beach…

The main difference heading south is all the rocks strewn on the beach…

When we ran out of trails, we returned to the Jeep to continue our drive around the island. If we had more time, we might have stopped at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or taken the tram through the historic district, but it was time to call it a day. Jekyll Island offered me one last photo op as we headed back to Waldo, a raccoon scurried into the marsh as we passed…

We really enjoyed our time on the island and have the picture to prove it…

 

My World Is Upside Down

Back in December, I was stalking checking on my Facebook friends when I saw a really neat picture. It was the Eiffel Tower, but it was upside down and appeared to be inside a glass sphere. What is this devilry? I immediately reached out to my best friend Google and, in no time, learned this sorcery comes from a contraption brand named Lensball. Now, we all know, I’m not much for brand names. Come to find out, lots of companies produce crystal glass spheres for photography (or meditation or sorcery). I had to have one!! I mentioned it to Steve, in passing, asking his thoughts. “Wouldn’t it be fun to play with?”

A few days went by and I couldn’t stand it any longer, I HAD to have one! So, I ordered one off of Amazon. Little did I know, my most thoughtful husband also ordered me one. Well, now they’ve arrived. What can I do with them?

First, I took it into the back yard at my dad’s house, looked around and thought, “Gee, what can I take a picture of?” Oh, I know…daddy’s neighbor’s house…

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Or, maybe just the landscape…

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These pictures were “ok” but nothing like the ones I’d seen on the internet. It must just take practice. So…I’ve been practicing!

First I drove to a local beach at sunrise to try and capture the moment…

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I edited this, rotating the sphere image, so both appear right side up

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Shameless brand awareness

 

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I rotated the entire image 180 degrees

 

Then, I took it with us on a long weekend. We went to Ponce Inlet Lighthouse…

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I took it to the park with my friend Dawn from Random Bits of Trial and Error

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Then, back to the beach…

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I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but it sure is fun playing with it!

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What do you think? Should I keep experimenting? Do you prefer when I rotate the sphere image or leave it upside down? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!