Tales from the Road: The Lake and Leopold, Part 1

So I had finally made a journey around Lake Michigan, and it was wonderful. But owing to insufficient time, not to mention the rain my last day out, I had missed a lot of the “wrong side”–that is, Wisconsin. I wanted to go back and see more of the western shore and some of fabled Door County. An opportunity arose when I was invited by the Aldo Leopold Foundation for an inside tour of my hero’s Shack near Baraboo. I had discovered Aldo Leopold decades ago, when I found A Sand County Almanac at a library sale. The title intrigued me. (I now have several copies–I dip into the book regularly–and it was required reading for my Environmental History class in graduate school. Most of it was written at the Shack.) Yes, that lies pretty far west of Lake Michigan in the central part of the state, but I reasoned I could take the day before along the shore, spend the night, and leave for Baraboo the next morning.

Choosing to dash through Chicago straight to Wisconsin proved surprisingly easy, a quicker trip than I thought. I bypassed Racine, as I had driven through it on my previous trip, and skipped Milwaukee again, although this time I took the interstate that sliced through it and was intrigued by its historic buildings––ah, another time! It has been decades since I visited there. And––Lake in view!

Looking east from Lake Church, Wisconsin

Once past Milwaukee, I got off and headed straight east to the Lake through a crossroads called Lake Church, the land around pleasantly rolling and the day, glorious. 

Lake Michigan near Lake Church

Before me rippled the vast freshwater sea from a different vantage point than usual. So odd to be on this side. Sand, but no dunes here; they are formed through the actions of the water and the prevailing westerly winds across the Lake. Ah, the swoosh and lapping of the waves does me much good. 

Amsterdam Dunes Wisconsin

From beach to beach I hopped; my next stop Amsterdam Dunes––I almost want to put quotation marks around that! There is a small park, perhaps a 20-foot ridge of sand, and then a lovely little beach––but nothing I would call dunes. Still, it is the Lake and it caresses my soul.

Intriguing ruins of a barn near Amsterdam Dunes

I follow Sauk Trail Road and wonder if it references the same band of native Americans as does the road of that name in Indiana. Might it even have been a continuation of the same trail? Or perhaps a southward leading route to a meeting place at what became Chicago? I vaguely mull over these things but lose myself in the beauty of the day. I reached Hika Park near the village of Cleveland, about halfway between Sheboygan and Manitowoc; it’s a flyway stop for migratory birds and boasts a wealth of habitats typical of the ridge-and-swale topography once common along the Great Lakes––and all with appropriate interpretive signage. We must better understand this beautiful world of ours! And what a delight to discover a Leopold bench on the beach here! Such a simple design, it requires only six boards and is surprisingly comfortable. Leopold built several of these around the Shack and wrote many of his essays while seated on them; the design makes it easy to turn and rest a notebook on the corner.

Leopold bench at Hika Park

I passed through Sheboygan, which I had seen on my earlier trip, but stopped and took a brief walk around Manitowoc. Its historic downtown was not devoid of occupants and interesting shops but largely empty of people. Well, it was late in the day. 

downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin

I needed to move on myself; I was hoping for a diner or drive-in (not likely in early May in Wisconsin) but spotted none. I came upon what was––up to that time––the largest solar array I had ever seen, taking over what surely had been several farms, going on for miles! Oh sure, once the power companies could get their greedy hands on it, solar power is in. And all that farmland lies fallow (unlike that beneath wind turbines, I note.) 

downtown Algoma, Wisconsin

It was growing late and I had still not quite reached Door County, which was my goal, but I was hungry and, happily, came upon a little diner in Algoma. The town was filled with beautiful historic buildings, but the sun was descending and I was determined to watch it set at Sturgeon Bay, an inlet off Green Bay, so, onward northward. I could not help but celebrate the fact that I was experiencing spring all over again. Here the forsythias and daffodils were still wildly blooming. long gone back in central Indiana.

Observatory of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society

I reached Sturgeon Bay, crossed it, and wandered the area a bit, delighted with discoveries of an observatory and, for my historian’s soul, an 1857 Norwegian farmhouse, all within an area called Crossroads at Big Creek. Most of its 200 acres comprise nature preserves––a place worth exploring further!

1857 Norwegian farmhouse at Croosroads at Big Creek, Sturgeon Bay

But now I needed to find the bay, and finding the town with which it shares its name proved a bit tricky. I found a small park near the mouth of Sturgeon Bay looking west toward Green Bay, and laughed with the tulips still blooming there.

tulips at Graham Park, Sturgeon Bay

Sunset beyond the open drawbridge was stunning, and I lingered long. 

sunset, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Darkness was rapidly descending as I hurried south toward Green Bay (the city), which seemed to take forever. Knowing that the next day’s destination was in the center of the state, I continued on to Appleton until I found a motel. I’m sure these cities have their attractions, but urban areas held no appeal this trip and all I wanted to do was settle in to dream of the Lake and Leopold.

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2 Responses to Tales from the Road: The Lake and Leopold, Part 1

  1. Eric Grayson says:

    Of course *I* know Leopold, but first timers won’t necessarily know who Leopold was, much less his famous bench design. Please elaborate for newbies. Great pics!

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