PCT – Paradise Lake Trail to Tahoe NF Road 86

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The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) winds through the Tahoe National Forest for almost 40 miles in Nevada and Sierra Counties between I-80 and CA-49 near Sierra City.  For this hike I covered a little less than 8 miles of trail as an out-and-back hike, starting at a road crossing of Forest Road 86 (Meadow Lake Rd) and turning around at the junction with a jeep road to Paradise Lake.  I had previously hiked (before I started this blog!) from the Paradise Lake junction to I-80 so the intent of this hike was to fill in the next small section to the north.  In terms of official PCT mileage, the hike was between mile 1167.1 and mile 1174.7.

Although there were many beautiful wildflowers in season, I think my favorite view from the hike was from a viewpoint overlooking Tom’s Valley down a fairly precipitous rock wall.  The valley floor was gloriously green, with a ring of trees around the perimeter.

picture of view toward Tom’s Valley

View toward Tom’s Valley

I started the hike at Meadow Lake Rd, Tahoe National Forest Rd 86, where the PCT crosses it about 6 miles south of Tahoe National Forest Rd 07, which is a good paved road that travels west from CA-89 at Little Truckee Summit to Jackson Meadows Reservoir.  Meadow Lake Rd is a gravel road, but it is of sufficient quality that I had no trouble getting in and out in a regular passenger car (a Prius).  On the GPS track the starting point is shown as an orange dot.  The route crosses jeep roads 3 times, in addition to passing the Mt Lola Trail and crossing White Rock Creek.

GPS track

GPS track

As shown in the elevation profile the elevation gain was moderate: the range of elevations spanned only 600 feet or so, with a total of just under 2300 feet of elevation gain for the round trip.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Much of this section of the PCT passes through pretty forest, like this example view.

picture of PCT passing through Tahoe National Forest

PCT passing through Tahoe National Forest

I encountered numerous wildflowers during the hike, including at least two types of arnica, several types of buckwheat, and three species of monkeyflower, to list a few.  One of the first flowers was waxy checkerbloom (Sidalcea glaucescens). Although many of the blossoms I came across in the early part of the hike were nearly closed, this one was open, showing off the contrasting white reproductive parts.

picture of waxy checkerbloom

Waxy checkerbloom

Most of the mule’s ears (Wyethia mollis) were finished blooming for the season, but there were some clusters of plants nicely illuminated by the sun.  There were several dense cobwebs covering what appeared to be burrows for spiders that live underground.

A wildflower I found throughout the hike was sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum).  In the early part of the blooming phase the flowers are bright yellow, as shown here.  Later in the blooming phase the flowers turn to a burnt orange color, almost red or brown.

picture of sulphur buckwheat

Sulphur buckwheat

Also there was plenty of mountain, or western, pennyroyal (Monardella odoratissima), mostly past the peak blooming period.  In a few places I found scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata).  Between forested areas there were intermittent views of nearby ridges.

I was interested to find what I think is broad-scaled owl’s clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus).  In some references this wildflower is called Copeland’s owl’s-clover.  I particularly noticed the rounded bracts, the upper ones with light pink-purple tips.  I thought this was an especially pretty plant, simultaneously robust and delicate.

picture of broad-scaled, or Copeland’s, owl’s clover

Broad-scaled, or Copeland’s, owl’s clover

Related to other types of owl’s clover are many types of paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), with two shown here.  As with Copeland’s owl’s-clover, the noticeable part of the paintbrush plant actually consist of bracts.  In some species of paintbrush, the reddish-tipped bracts are single lobed, while in others the bracts have three lobes.  The plant on the left is earlier in the growth phase, while the plant on the right is actually blooming; the light yellow-green pointed structures are the flowers.  Although these pictures may not show clearly, the bract color was definitely different between these two examples.

picture of paintbrush


There were several clusters of meadow penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii), with whorls of relatively small-sized blossoms in layers up the stem of the plant.  This is a fairly common type of penstemon in the Sierras, though others are more dramatic.

picture of meadow penstemon

Meadow penstemon

In addition to sulphur buckwheat I found some white-colored buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.).  I had some trouble making an identification of this one, based on the leaf type, but I thought the flower heads were pretty when viewed up close.

picture of white buckwheat

White buckwheat

About 3 miles from the trailhead I arrived at the viewpoint mentioned above, with the spectacular view across Tom’s Valley.  Just as I was leaving this area a through hiker approached from the south and, as is my custom, I asked where he was headed.  His reply: “Canada, of course.”  Then I asked where he’d started hiking, and learned he’d started at Donner Summit, less than 15 miles away – it turned out he was just on his second day of hiking, and he was proud/amused to point out how clean he was!

Over the next 2 miles the trail makes a small dip, then climbs again to about 8000 feet elevation before descending 500 feet with a nice, comfortable 6% grade.  Near the highest point I was surprised to find some monkeyflowers.  I think this is called larger mountain monkeyflower (Mimulus tilingii), or Tiling’s monkeyflower.  The bright yellow petals are plain except for some hairs.

picture of larger mountain monkeyflower

Larger mountain monkeyflower

A short distance farther I found some fan-leaf cinquefoil (Potentilla flabellifolia).  One thing that is interesting about this picture is that the flower only has four petals!  But I have other pictures of the same plant and all of the other blossoms are 5-petaled.  I should note that some plants do characteristically have variable numbers of petals.  The details of the blossom really look like cinquefoil, especially the small structures that look like round paddles.  Note the sepals showing through in the gaps between the petals.

picture of fan-leaf cinquefoil

Fan-leaf cinquefoil

Not far away there was a pretty meadow with numerous moisture-loving plants fed by Snowbank Spring: bright yellow arnicas, lavender wandering daisies, puffy white flowers, crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa), and big-leaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), among others.  Across the trail from the meadow there was an 8500-foot elevation hill with a patch of snow.

picture of meadow near Snowbank Spring

Meadow near Snowbank Spring

During the descent mentioned above, the trail returns to forest, then emerges into clearings.  In a clearing there was a notable pair of nearly car-sized boulders.  Here I found what I think is a pale dandelion (Agoseris glaucus). A small bug paid a visit as I took pictures.

picture of pale dandelion

Pale dandelion

There is a short section of trail marked by a couple of 4×4 wooden posts etched with PCT logos.  I presume the posts are to assist with way-finding, but I didn’t have any trouble determining where the trail was supposed to go.  In this damp area there were obvious seeps along the northeast side of the trail.  There were also more monkeyflowers: first musk monkeyflower (Mimulus moschatus), with delicate dotted stripes on the lower petals.

picture of musk monkeyflower

Musk monkeyflower

There was also what I think is primrose monkeyflower (Mimulus primuloides).  The pattern of red dots on the lower petals, plus the white reproductive part, are distinctive and guided my identification.

picture of primrose monkeyflower

Primrose monkeyflower

There were more wandering daisies (Erigeron glacialis var. glacialis) and a related, more intense purple, flower.  I’m not sure if the latter is an aster, a daisy, or another similar species.

picture of wandering daisy (left) and a more intense purple aster-like flower (right)

Wandering daisy (left) and a more intense purple aster-like flower (right)

This damp area continued until the trail crossed White Rock Creek on a nicely constructed wooden bridge, about 5.3 miles from the beginning of my hike.  The creek is descending from White Rock Lake at 7800 feet elevation to North Creek, which empties into Fordyce Lake at 6400 feet elevation.  These two lakes are only about 5 miles from each other.  Barely 0.1 mile past White Rock Creek there is a trail junction with the Mt Lola Trail.  Next to this trail junction I noticed several tall alpine lily (Lilium parvum) plants near another large boulder.

picture of alpine lily

Alpine lily

Past the Mt Lola Trail junction the trail climbs again, gaining 400 feet on the way to a saddle.  Along the way the trail passes right through a nice patch of Sierra larkspur (Delphinium glaucum).  This is a relatively tall plant, about 5 feet tall, with large leaves somewhat reminiscent of maple leaves and with beautiful, tall flower spikes.

picture of Sierra larkspur

Sierra larkspur

There was miniature lupine (I’m not sure of the species) and pink Lobb’s buckwheat (Eriogonum lobbii) nearby.

At the top of the climb there was a saddle on the side of a rather bare hill, where I found some Leichtlin’s mariposa lilies (Calochortus leichtlinii).  The contrast between the white petals, dark maroon chevrons, and hairy yellow nectar glands is stunning.  I was pleasantly surprised to find these beauties still blooming in early August.

picture of Leichtlin’s mariposa lily

Leichtlin’s mariposa lily

After passing the saddle and beginning to descend again I came to one of several places where I saw Anderson’s thistle (Cirsium andersonii).  There are many types of thistle in California, and this one is notable for the nearly cylindrical shape of the bracts and flower head, essentially without bulges.  It is mainly found in the Sierras.

picture of Anderson’s thistle

Anderson’s thistle

Several minutes later I noticed a couple of butterflies flitting around the trail, so I paused to determine whether one of them would land on a flower and stay still long enough for me to get a picture.  This butterfly, later identified as a Lorquin’s admiral (Limenitis lorquini) apparently decided that my pants leg was a good place to land!  It stayed there for more than long enough for me to take pictures – the challenge was coaxing my camera to focus at that unusual distance, and I didn’t dare bend over to get close enough to use the macro setting.

picture of Lorquin’s admiral visiting my pants leg

Lorquin’s admiral visiting my pants leg

About 7.8 miles from the beginning of my hike I arrived at the junction with the jeep road to Paradise Lake, clearly marked with a rock cairn.  Since I didn’t recognize the trail junction from my 2010 hike I decided to hike a little farther, just another 0.1 mile or so.  I found a nice rock to sit down on and enjoy a lunch break.  Part of my view included some more impressive boulders among the trees.

picture of impressive boulders at my lunch spot and turnaround point

Impressive boulders at my lunch spot and turnaround point

On an out-and-back hike I enjoy re-visiting views and wildflowers I’ve already seen on the outbound leg of the hike.  I also enjoy discovering new views, since sometimes an interesting view is behind on the outbound leg and then in front on the return leg.  This is one example, approaching the saddle where I’d found Leichtlin’s mariposa lilies.  There was a wonderful view to the northwest, with an impressive tree appearing to watch over the vista.

picture of Sierra view with a tree keeping watch

Sierra view with a tree keeping watch

On the return trip I noticed fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and a type of bottle grass (Elymus sp) that reminded me of eastern bottle grass I’d seen in Wisconsin a few weeks prior.

Shortly before I reached White Rock Creek I encountered a pair of backpackers hiking southbound.  Since most long-distance hikers hike the PCT northbound, I asked them about their destination, then their starting point.  It turns out that they were on their way to Mt Whitney and had already hiked about 150 miles.  They still had quite a distance to go before they reached the beginning of the John Muir Trail in Yosemite Valley to begin the famous 215-mile-long high Sierra trail that eventually goes to Mt Whitney.  Clearly they were focusing on the high Sierras for their adventure, and their comments demonstrated that they were excited to be on the journey.

picture of hikers on their way to Mt Whitney

Hikers on their way to Mt Whitney

The remainder of my return trip was uneventful but very pleasant.  Just past the place I’d parked my car next to Forest Rd 86 there was another pretty meadow, and I spent several minutes exploring before driving home.

Posted in Nevada County, Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra County, Sierras, Tahoe National Forest, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

University of Wisconsin Arboretum: Greene Prairie

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The University of Wisconsin-Madison operates a 1260-acre arboretum that includes areas of prairie, savanna, marshland, and deciduous and coniferous forest.  Much of the arboretum has been restored with some 300 species of plants that used to be prevalent in the area before the arrival of European immigrants, including my own ancestors, in the mid-19th century.  In my childhood years, annual grandparent visits frequently included a visit to “the arb” – probably for short walks from the Visitor Center in some of the nearby gardens.  This time, during a visit with my brother, he suggested a walk in the southern section of the Arboretum, just south of the beltway, with a primary destination of Greene Prairie, a 50-acre prairie planted by prairie expert Henry Greene in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Although only a relatively short section of the walk was actually in Greene Prairie, the multitude and diversity of the wildflowers made up for the short distance.  One of my favorite wildflowers, found near the edge of the prairie near a savanna, was the dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata), which featured swirls of delicately colored, spotted blossoms.

image of dotted horsemint

Dotted horsemint

The primary access point for the southern section of the Arboretum is a small parking area immediately next to the beltway: the Grady Tract parking lot, located on land that had previously belonged to the Grady family before the University acquired it.  Several walking trails wind through the areas that have been restored to deciduous and coniferous forest, oak savanna, and prairie.  Our 2.1-mile loop path is shown in the GPS track image, where the orange dot denotes the parking lot.  We traversed the loop clockwise.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation changes are quite gentle, with only about 100 feet separating the low and high elevations and less than 200 total feet of ascent and descent.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As is typical for July in Wisconsin, the day was warm, though I think both the temperature and humidity were below average.  Nevertheless, the forest areas were shaded and pleasant to walk through.  The trail angles away from the beltline and, although traffic noise was apparent initially, it faded surprisingly quickly as we walked.

image of walking trail through a restored forest at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum

Walking trail through a restored forest at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum

Quite early in the walk we encountered a bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), with blue-purple petals and a characteristic yellow “beak”.

image of bittersweet nightshade

Bittersweet nightshade

Our next find was some flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata).  The white petal-like structures are actually bracts, with the tiny flower in the center of the bracts.

image of flowering spurge

Flowering spurge

In the same area we found some showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense).  The picture shows the blossoms, which are indeed showy.  It turns out that there is another tick trefoil that looks very similar.  I have made the identification on the basis of other pictures that show details of the leaves, which have three lobes as suggested by the term trefoil.  The showy tick trefoil has stipules – the small structures that occur on some plants at the base of the leaf stem – that have a lanceolate, or pointed, shape.  And the leaf stems, or petioles, are shorter than in the other species.  This is the first time I’ve made a species identification based on this kind of detail about the plant’s structure – and had the photograph(s) to support my identification!

image of showy tick trefoil

Showy tick trefoil

Near the edge of the forest we encountered a few woodland sunflowers (Helianthus strumosus).  It is a wondrous mystery that these flowers, which thrive in a woodland habitat, can find areas that have just the right amount of sunlight.  This one was like a bright beacon in a patch of sunlight in the shaded woodland.

image of woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Also near the edge of the forest we found some common yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  I have seen the same species numerous time and places in California, and it is always interesting to me to find the exact same species thousands of miles away.  The Latin species name, millefolium, means thousand leaves.  It was also interesting to note that the feathery characteristic of the leaves (see upper right of the picture) was much more pronounced than the yarrow plants I’ve seen on the West Coast.

image of common yarrow

Common yarrow

Other fairly common flowers found in the forest include common St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), which was also prevalent in the prairie.  We also saw some goldenrod, which I think may be Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis); this is a rather tentative identification since there are something like 24 species of goldenrod found in the area and several look quite similar.  However, Canada goldenrod may be the most common and widespread of the goldenrod species.

After we had covered about 1 mile we emerged into Greene Prairie and found a wonderful open area chock full of beautiful wildflowers and tall grasses.  In this picture the nearby forest is in the background.

image of Greene Prairie

Greene Prairie

Almost immediately I spied a group of Japanese beetles feasting on an unsuspecting, unidentified young budding plant.

image of hungry Japanese beetles

Hungry Japanese beetles

A common prairie wildflower, noted on several walks during my visit, was rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium).  The round, compact flower heads are quite distinctive.

image of rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master

Another unusual flower that was prevalent in Greene Prairie is prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya).  I had been getting used to seeing flower stalks that bloom sequentially from the bottom to the top, but in this case the flowering proceeds from the top to the bottom of the several-inch-long stalk.  This plant belongs to the aster family, which characteristically means the flowers are composites, with ray and disc flowers.  The blazing stars – there are several species in Wisconsin – have no ray flowers, only disc flowers.  But the most surprising thing is that the wildflowers I have seen in California parks – and also called blazing stars – tend to be bright yellow and look very different from Midwest blazing stars!

image of prairie blazing star

Prairie blazing star

A fairly common prairie wildflower is lead plant (Amorpha canescens).  The leaf pattern suggests that it is in the pea family, and it is.  In fact, it is actually a shrub.  Many of the plants we saw seemed to be nearing the end of their blooming cycle; this one was not quite as far along.  The individual flowers are quite small, only about 1/8 inch long, with orange anthers.

image of lead plant

Lead plant

Along a short section of trail we found several nodding onion (Allium cernuum) plants.  With the long naked stems and blossom structure it was easy to identify them as onion, and nodding was a particularly apt description of the flower head cluster.

image of nodding onion

Nodding onion

Nearby and close to each other were two types of prairie clover, both of which bloom from the bottom to the top of the elongated flower head.  One was purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea).

image of purple prairie clover

Purple prairie clover

The other was white prairie clover (Dalea candida).  Both specimens I photographed had nearly perfect tutus at the base of the flower head.

image of white prairie clover

White prairie clover

In the prairie area we also saw a couple of giant, or great, St John’s wort (Hypericum ascyron) and at least one, if not several, types of phlox.

To our delight we found some turk’s-cap lily (Lilium superbum).  I seem to especially enjoy the bright color of the recurved petals and sepals (3 each), as well as the fat brown anthers dangling below the petals and sepals.  Of course the spots vary from individual to individual flower.

image of turk’s-cap lily

Turk’s-cap lily

As we approached the edge of the prairie and the transition to savanna area, we found quite a few dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata).  The first characteristic I noticed was the distinctive pinkish bracts that occur in several layers up and down the main stem.  It was only after I had taken numerous pictures, more or less top-down views, of the bracts that I noticed the rows of smaller blossoms almost hiding between the layers of bracts.  These blossoms are shown above, in the first picture in this post.  The plant is, indeed, in the mint family, and the blossoms are reminiscent of other mints I have seen elsewhere.  I thought this was a fantastic plant.

image of dotted horsemint

Dotted horsemint

Near the dotted horsemint there were a few small, bright yellow flowers.  I think they are evening primrose (Oenothera sp) though I was unable to make a species identification; there are at least 10 evening primrose species found in Wisconsin and I did not find descriptions for more than one.  I should note that the blossoms were not much bigger than 1/2 inch in diameter, much smaller than the most common type of evening primrose in Wisconsin.

image of evening primrose near the edge of Greene Prairie

Evening primrose near the edge of Greene Prairie

After leaving Greene Prairie we walked through a forest area at the west edge of the Arboretum toward the parking area.  Along the way we saw a few Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) and some yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta).  Wood sorrel plants often have clover-like leaves: three leaves, each with two lobes and a visible stem up the center between the lobes.  The yellow wood sorrel blossoms are only about 3/8 inch in diameter; the tip of my finger serves as an informal field ruler.

image of yellow wood sorrel

Yellow wood sorrel

For such a short walk, barely over 2 miles, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of wildflowers we saw.  We had seen some of them on previous walks, but several were new finds, which I always enjoy.  As I learn more about the local ecology, I have a growing appreciation for the work done at the Arboretum to restore areas to their pre-settlement state.

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Ice Age Trail – Table Bluff

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Not far from Madison, Wisconsin, and just a few miles from Indian Lake County Park in Dane County, there is a segment of the Ice Age Trail at Table Bluff.  The Ice Age Trail segment is about 2.2 miles long and, in the absence of a car shuttle, is easy to experience as an out-and-back hike.  The trail is partly in open prairie areas and partly in woodsy areas; partly on the Swamplovers Nature Preserve, which is managed by the Swamplovers Foundation, and partly on private property via easements.

The Ice Age Trail is one of only 11 designated National Scenic Trails.  It is a work in progress, envisioned to eventually be over 1000 miles long running mostly along the southern edge of the glacial flow associated with the most recent Ice Age.  The trail passes through a variety of landscape features created by the glacial ice and its retreat.

My visit was in July, and a highlight was the variety of wildflowers, mostly prairie wildflowers, in bloom.  One of my favorites was an isolated find: a turk’s-cap lily (Lilium superbum): a superb lily, indeed.

picture of Turk’s-cap lily

Turk’s-cap lily

The Ice Age Trail runs essentially north-south in the immediate area.  The northern trailhead is along Table Bluff Rd not far from County Rd KP.  A southern trailhead is along Cowling Rd, also not far from County Rd KP.  The route is shown in this GPS track image, with the northern trailhead denoted by the orange dot.

GPS track

GPS track

There are two sections of parallel trail, denoted White-Blaze Trail, near the north and south trailheads.  The Ice Age Trail is marked by yellow blazes, mostly painted on 4×4 posts, while the side trails are marked by white blazes.  The difference between the highest and lowest points on the trail is less than 150 feet, so the overall elevation gain and loss is relatively modest; indeed, the Table Bluff feature is somewhat subtle.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

After leaving the north trailhead, the first part of the trail passes through open area, and just 0.2 mile from the trailhead we passed the north junction with the first section of the White-Blazed Trail.  We had decided earlier to save the White-Blazed Trail sections for the return trip.  Until we reached the next white-blazed junction we would be on a section of trail we would hike only once, though we expected all of the sections to have similar habitat range and wildflowers.

One of the first wildflowers encountered was purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea). In the early part of the blooming phase a ring of tiny blossoms resembles a tutu at the base of the flower head.  These were a bit farther along in the blooming phase.

picture of purple prairie clover

Purple prairie clover

After finding a couple of pale purple coneflowers (Echinacea pallida) we looked carefully to see if we could find one that was somewhat earlier in its blooming phase, and eventually we did.  The ray flowers are much paler than regular purple coneflowers, and they droop more dramatically.  When you can find (nearly) side-by-side comparisons, you can see that the shape and color of the head of disc flowers is also different between these two species.  The pale purple coneflower is considered to be a threatened species in Wisconsin, and this area is near the northern end of its range.

picture of pale purple coneflower

Pale purple coneflower

In this section of trail we did encounter a wildflower that we did not see elsewhere along the trail.  While it reminds me in some respects of everlasting, it is different.  In the absence of an identification, I simply call it white flower balls.  All of the parts of this plant, from the details of the heads to the tiny blossoms to the stem color and structure, are rather unusual and distinctive.  I could not find it in three separate resources that focus on the more common wildflowers found in Wisconsin, so it remains a mystery.

picture of white flower balls

White flower balls

In this sunny area we found Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), with characteristic tall waving plume-like flower stalks.

picture of Culver’s root

Culver’s root

We also found some compass plant (Silphium aciniatum), one of the four types of silphium found in Wisconsin.  The leaves of compass plant are distinctive: large (typically larger than 8 inches long) with deep lobes, oriented vertically.  The plant’s common name is based on the typical orientation of the leaves, with the blade facing east-west and the tips pointing north-south.  It is said – according to one resource I read – that early settlers in the Great Plains could navigate in the dark via the leaf orientation of this plant!  The plants themselves are also tall, up to a few meters in height.

picture of compass plant

Compass plant

About 0.8 mile from the trailhead we came to the second junction with the White-Blazed Trail and proceeded another 0.7 mile or so on the section we would hike in both directions.  Here we came across a wildflower that we only saw once, with a stalk bearing unusual-looking white-green blossoms.  I believe it is Canadian milkvetch (Astralagus canadensis).  The leaf pattern, visible near the bottom of the picture, was helpful to identify the pea family.

picture of Canadian milkvetch

Canadian milkvetch

The central part of the trail passed through a woodsy area.  In several places we passed eastern bottle brush grass (Elymus hystrix) with the bottle-brush-like tips illuminated by small shafts of sunlight coming through the leaf canopy.  This lighting created a pretty effect and made it possible to see the details of the individual blades.

picture of eastern bottle brush grass

Eastern bottle brush grass

We also found some examples of a plant we’d seen several times in the preceding days on other hikes near Madison.  This small (about 1/4 inch across) blossom is at the top of a long stem, perhaps 10 inches tall, and is a brilliant pink color.  My camera does not render this color very accurately, and the actual color is more intense and redder than shown here.  It was rather tricky – and required luck, patience, or both – to get a clear photo with all of the detail on the petals.  It is Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria), and it is quite a beauty!

picture of Deptford pink

Deptford pink

Roughly midway through this woodsy section the trail dips a bit, 50 feet or so, to cross a small tributary of the Black Earth Creek. Within the forest there were other wildflowers, including daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus), white daisies, perhaps ox-eye, American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), and others I neglected to note.

Just before the next junction with the White-Blazed Trail there is a surprise: a pottery bikini-clad alligator – or perhaps crocodile? – right next to the trail.  Although this is mentioned in one write-up of the hike, the origin is neither speculated on nor mentioned.

picture of surprise find next to the trail, in the woods

Surprise find next to the trail, in the woods

After the junction with the White-Blazed Trail, the trail again emerges from the woodsy area into open area, with sun-loving plants and wildflowers.  Here there was hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).  As far as I know, butterfly milkweed is the only orange species of milkweed, at least in the region, and for that reason it is quite distinctive.

picture of butterfly milkweed

Butterfly milkweed

At the fourth junction with the White-Blazed Trail we essentially began the return trip to the north trailhead, omitting a quarter-mile section of Ice Age Trail down the ridge to the south trailhead.  Near this junction there is a picnic shelter, complete with picnic tables, barbecues, and a porta-potty, on a knoll overlooking the area to the south.  I believe this is part of the area that is actually on private property, and it is a privilege as trail users to have access to such a fine picnic area via the easement agreement with the property owner(s).

This segment of the Ice Age Trail is within what is called the Driftless Area, the area just beyond what was covered by the so-called Green Bay lobe of the most recent glaciation (Laurentide Ice Sheet) about 18,000 years ago.  Signage at a vista point is helpful to elucidate this information.  Here is a view overlooking the Driftless Area, now covered by farms, woods, and geological mounds.

picture of view of Driftless Area

View of Driftless Area

As nearly always happens when I visit southeastern Wisconsin, I focused on a typical selection of farm buildings with (preferably multiple) silos.

picture of typical southeastern Wisconsin barn and silos

Typical southeastern Wisconsin barn and silos

The prairie area on the relatively steep slope leading down from the ridge is referred to as goat prairie, perhaps because it was more hospitable to goats than to humans.  In southeastern Wisconsin there is a lot of active prairie restoration in progress: the original prairie was overtaken by trees, shrubs, and other non-prairie flora once the early settlers began to suppress the natural wildfires.  It is interesting to imagine how this view might have looked with original prairie dominating the landscape.

Near the vista area additional signage described the oak savanna habitat, locally including bur oak.  I presume that the oak trees I noted by the picnic shelter were bur oaks, with large, traditionally-shaped oak leaves – unlike what I have become accustomed to in California.

After enjoying the views we began the return trip to the north trailhead, this time hiking both sections of the White-Blazed Trail as alternatives to the yellow-blazed Ice Age Trail.  As we returned to the north prairie area near the trailhead I noted black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia lutea) and some prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) with its exceptionally large (up to 2 feet long!) basal leaves but at this time lacking flowering stalks.  We also found some common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), one of the pale pinkish varieties of milkweed.  This specific plant was almost draped across some other plants just at the side of the trail and seemed to be posing for pictures.

picture of common milkweed

Common milkweed

This segment of the Ice Age Trail samples somewhat atypical geological terrain since it is technically beyond the reach of the last glacier and in the Driftless Area.  However, to a non-geologist, the prairie and woodsy habitats and their associated wildflowers are equally enjoyable whether or not there was previous glacial coverage.

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Indian Lake County Park

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Indian Lake County Park is a 483-acre park in Dane County, Wisconsin, where I visited recently.  The hike described here is a pleasant 3.9-mile loop that passes through woodlands and prairie and passes along the edge of Indian Lake, a remnant of the most recent glaciation in the area.  There are several networks of trails in the park: cross-country ski trails, hiking trails, a large off-leash dog park, and snowmobile trails.  The park also hosts a segment of the Ice Age Trail and, as suggested in a write-up in a Madison-area hiking book, the most straightforward loop basically follows the Ice Age Trail segment through the park, with a short return walk along the entry road to complete the loop.

One of the highlights was the prairie area southwest of the lake.  Especially in light of today’s huge areas of farmland in the Midwest – which play a significant part in feeding the nation – it amazes me that, before farming, there were thousands of square miles of prairie, perhaps much of it looking like this in the spring and summer, with continuous masses of wildflowers as far as one could see.  In this view there are Queen Anne’s lace, gray-headed (or yellow) coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), and wild bergamot (or bee balm) (Monarda fistulosa).

photo of prairie wildflowers in Indian Lake County Park

Prairie wildflowers in Indian Lake County Park

The hike’s starting and ending points were at the main parking area, indicated by the orange dot on the GPS track.  The loop sampled the major habitats of the park: woods, prairie, and lake.  Even with the relatively large number of trail choices, following the Ice Age Trail’s yellow blazes was straightforward.  (Note: in several places the route followed the opposite direction of travel along one-way cross-country ski trails, so it was necessary to ignore the Wrong Way signs.)

GPS track

GPS track

The first part of the hike was on a trail labeled Ski Hill (or similar) and headed south and uphill into the woods.  Although this was not a long section of the hike, the shade was welcome on a day that promised to be in the mid 80’s – both temperature and humidity – by lunch time.

photo of shaded trail through the woods

Shaded trail through the woods

The leaf canopy was sufficiently dense that there were not a lot of wildflowers, but I did take note of red clover (Trifolium pratense), white clover (Trifolium repens), daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus), and heal-all (Prunella vulgaris).  The trail climbed about 150 feet in about 0.8 mile before descending to lake level for the remainder of the hike.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Another wildflower found in the woods was this pretty, small (about 1/3 inch diameter) yellow flower.  So far I haven’t been able to identify it.

photo of small yellow flower

Small yellow flower

About 1.3 miles along the loop the Ice Age Trail emerges from the woods and approaches the edge of Indian Lake, with a band of prairie between the trail and the lake.  What a pretty place for cross-country skiing in the winter!

photo of Indian Lake

Indian Lake

At the edge of the woods area there was some common St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).  I have discovered that I like wildflowers with sprays of reproductive parts extending a welcome to their pollinators.

photo of common St John’s wort

Common St John’s wort

In the more open prairie areas there was Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) with its characteristic and familiar sprays of tiny white blossoms and the distinctive underlayer of long, narrow parts (bracts? – I’m still learning plant parts).

photo of Queen Anne’s lace

Queen Anne’s lace

To the southwest of the lake, the Ice Age Trail skirts the outer edge of the off-leash dog area, passing through a pretty, restored prairie area.  From the interior of a large area of either wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) or possibly golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) came calling sounds of a bird.  Although it was difficult to actually see it among the yellow wildflowers, I managed a few pictures with enough information to identify an Eastern meadowlark (Sturna magna), blending in almost perfectly.

photo of Eastern meadowlark among wild parsnip or golden Alexander

Eastern meadowlark among wild parsnip or golden Alexander

Not far away there was some alfalfa (Medicago sativa), possibly an escapee from a nearby farmer’s field.  In a way it’s amazing that a plant with such pretty flowers was originally imported and planted as food for farm animals.  One source suggests that a winter-hardy form of alfalfa was partly responsible for the development of the dairy industry in the upper Midwest.

photo of alfalfa


A bit farther along there was some pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) in the trail, just as I have found it in the middle of many trails in the San Francisco Bay Area.  At the southwest end of the lake the trail crosses Halfway Prairie Creek on a small bridge.  I could not see water in the creek, but the creek bed was choked with large-leaved water-loving plants.

As the trail again approached the edge of Indian Lake there was some swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) that was being visited by a butterfly.  Although milkweed is famously a major food source for the monarch butterfly, this one had quite different coloring.  Another of my pictures seems to show a swallowtail, suggesting that it might be a black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).  In any case the butterfly did not actually land on the milkweed but rather hovered briefly before flying to a different flower head cluster to repeat the process.  I imagined that the butterfly understood that it was too heavy to actually land on the flowers!

photo of swamp milkweed visited by (possibly) a black swallowtail

Swamp milkweed visited by (possibly) a black swallowtail

Along this part of the lake there were some yellow pond lilies (Nyphar lutea).

photo of yellow pond lily

Yellow pond lily

Near the lake’s edge there was a bit of woodland, including some woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus).  Although most types of sunflower grow in full sun, the woodland sunflower grows in shade or along edges or clearings of deciduous woods.

photo of woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

As the trail continued into a more open prairie area, I noticed several flowers that reminded me of St John’s wort – except that the plants were 5-6 feet tall and the blossoms were nearly 2 inches in diameter.  Until I could make an identification, I mentally labeled it a giant St John’s wort.  When I did make an identification I was astonished to find that the common name actually is giant (or great) St John’s wort (Hypericum ascyron)!

photo of giant St John’s wort near Indian Lake

Giant St John’s wort near Indian Lake

In this area there were also a number of cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum).  This is one of four species of silphium found in southeastern Wisconsin.  They are in the sunflower/aster family, but have somewhat lighter ray flowers and disc flowers than familiar sunflowers.  The types of silphium have very different and distinctive leaves; in addition cup plant has a distinctive stem.  The stem is nearly 1/2 inch in diameter and is square; note the out-of-focus example at the right of the picture.  The large leaves form a small cup at the junction with the stem, where rain water collects.

photo of cup plant

Cup plant

In this prairie area there was some rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), as well as field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).  The latter reminds me of morning glory, but the blossoms tend to be smaller.

photo of field bindweed

Field bindweed

Along the park entrance road there was chicory (Cichorium intybus), which is normally up to 2 feet tall but can grow back and flower just a few inches tall after being mowed.  There were also some pretty, light purple flower spikes that seem to be a type of hedge nettle (Stachys sp): certainly in the mint family.

photo of hedge nettle along the park entrance road

Hedge nettle along the park entrance road

This was a very pleasant, short, and easy hike featuring prairie wildflowers, a lake, and some woods.  After returning to the car we were off to another nearby park and Ice Age Trail segment.

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Devil’s Lake State Park – West side

stats - Devils Lake West

My visit to Devil’s Lake State Park with my brother included a hike to and along the East Bluff followed by this short hike on the west side of Devil’s Lake.  From the trailhead of the first hike it was just a short drive across the south end of the lake to a trailhead for the Tumbled Rocks Trail.  Although we could have gone to a different trailhead to hike on the West Bluff, we had decided it would be more interesting to explore along the lake shore, in a different type of habitat.

As it turned out, one of the highlights of the hike was right next to the trailhead parking area, where we found a cluster of Turk’s cap lilies (Lilium superbum).  This is one of my favorite Wisconsin wildflowers, pretty much never ceasing to delight both my brother and me.

photo of Turk’s cap lily

photo of Turk’s cap lily

From the trailhead it was a very short walk to Cottage Grove Rd, which passes several houses before arriving at the south end of Tumbled Rocks Trail, which then goes northward along the west shore of Devil’s Lake.  The orange dot on the GPS track shows the trailhead parking area.  Since this hike was basically just along the lake shore, the elevation gain was less than 100 feet.

GPS track

GPS track

At the left turn from Cottage Grove Rd to Tumbled Rocks Trail there was a nice view looking across Devil’s Lake toward East Bluff, where we had just completed our first hike of the day.  The easily visible rock field is where Balanced Rock Trail climbs the bluff and passes Balanced Rock.

photo of Devil’s Lake and the East Bluff

Devil’s Lake and the East Bluff

The Tumbled Rocks Trail passes through a short section of woodsy area, where we found some creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides), with the plant showing a range of flowers from buds to blooms to “done”.

photo of creeping bellflower

Creeping bellflower

In this shaded area we also found some pale touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida).

photo of pale touch-me-not

Pale touch-me-not

A relatively short 2/3 mile stretch of Tumbled Rocks Trail brought us roughly to the middle of the north-south expanse of the lake.  Within this short distance the trail passes through the base of two rock / talus fields, somewhat reminiscent of what we could see on the east side of the lake.  These rock fields were created when the most recent glacier retreated at the end of the last ice age.  It should be noted that the Ice Age Trail also passes near the west shore of Devil’s Lake, I believe on the top of West Bluff.  Here is one of the rock fields.

photo of rock or talus field on the west side of Devil’s Lake

Rock or talus field on the west side of Devil’s Lake

Some of the individual rocks were quite interesting.  In this view there are numerous rocks that are pinkish or purplish in color, as well as others, with a layer of lichen, that look almost green.

photo of rocks near Tumbled Rocks Trail

Rocks near Tumbled Rocks Trail

The trail is very easy to follow as it winds around and through the rock field.  These hikers show how impressive the rocks are!

photo of Tumbled Rocks Trail

Tumbled Rocks Trail

In some areas there is actually pavement to mark the trail.  I had been noticing numbers painted on the trail and was trying to figure out the meaning of the numbers and/or characters.  The notation in this picture suddenly made the numbering system clear, as the southern section of trail morphed into the northern section.  We decided to turn around shortly after we had solved the mystery of the numbering system.

photo of trail location numbers

Trail location numbers

Next to one of the medium-sized rocks we found some daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and this pretty, small white flower.  Although the blossom itself is reminiscent of vetch, the leaves were not.  So for now it is a mystery flower.

photo of small white wildflower

Small white wildflower

We noticed a few flowers on the return trip that we’d missed on the outbound part of the walk – we were probably too engrossed with the rocks and the rock fields tumbling down into the lake.  In any case, we did see some white campion (Silene alba) and this distinctive small pink flower with bright yellow tips.  It turns out to be pink corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens), sometimes called rock harlequin.  It grows in rocky areas and is certainly bright enough to acquire a common name like harlequin!

photo of pink corydalis

Pink corydalis

Before long we were back at the trailhead and investigating the Turk’s cap lilies.  The insides of the petals and sepals (3 each) are sometimes quite densely covered with purplish spots.  Even though the plants can be 5 feet tall, sometimes you need to stoop down, or just sit down on the ground, to see the underside of the nodding blossoms.

photo of Turk’s cap lily

Turk’s cap lily

On the other side of the parking area there was a colorful grouping of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva).  The blossoms of day lilies are more trumpet-shaped, rather than the so-called recurved shape of Turk’s cap lily blossoms.  In this picture it is easy to distinguish the slightly ruffled edges of the 3 petals, whereas the 3 sepals have smooth edges.  The white stripes and yellow throat make a nice contrast with the orange color of the petals and sepals.  Each flower blooms for only one day, and it seems evident from the condition of the petals that we found these flowers in the late afternoon.

photo of day lily

Day lily

Although this was a very short hike, less than 2 miles round trip, it provided an interesting contrast to the bluff hike we’d done earlier in the day.  And even though the afternoon was progressing, there was another nearby park we hoped to visit long enough to find a naturally occurring rock arch.

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Devil’s Lake State Park – East side

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Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest and most visited state park in Wisconsin.  It is located about 3 miles south of Baraboo in Sauk County.  The centerpiece of the park is 360-acre Devil’s Lake, which is surrounded by 500-foot high rocky bluffs.  I visited the park with my brother on a warm but pleasant July day.

image of Devil’s Lake

Devil’s Lake

Our visit to the park included two hikes: this one, on the east side of the lake, and a shorter hike on the west side.  The hike on the east side began at lake level and climbed up the East Bluff for a pleasant walk through woodland along the east shore of the lake.  After a short exploration off-trail we abandoned the second part of a planned loop and simply retraced our path to a trail junction where we could pick up a second loop extending to the east and away from the lake.  The orange dot shows the starting point for the hike, which was 4.6 miles long.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation profile shows the climb up the East Bluff.  The top of the bluff slopes slightly downward to the north.  The second loop, to the east, started high and finished at a lower level.  There was about 1000 feet of elevation gain and loss during the hike.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The parking area where we had decided to start our hike is near the lower end of the Balanced Rock Trail, which climbs right up the bluff.  The density of contour lines is evident on the map containing the GPS track.  The trail climbs at a stiff 20% grade.  Amazingly, the intended trail route is actually defined by a strip of blacktop pavement as it winds around large boulders makes its way higher in elevation.

image of family hikers on Balanced Rock Trail

Family hikers on Balanced Rock Trail

There is even a rock a bit over half way up that gives the trail its name.  It almost looks like it was chiseled and placed there, overlooking the lakeside meadow!  In a sense it was indeed chiseled and placed there – by one of Mother Nature’s glaciers, during the most recent ice age.  In fact, a segment of the Ice Age Trail goes through the park.

image of Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

There are sections of the bluff’s face that are quite steep; we encountered a few rock climbers practicing their skills.  There are intermittent views of Devil’s Lake, some views almost panoramic (see above) and others more filtered through the trees.

Once hikers climb to the top of the East Bluff, the East Bluff Trail generally follows the lake shore northward for about a mile.  The top of the bluff is covered in woodland, with pretty trees, roots, wildflowers, and a few rock formations.

image of woodland area on East Bluff

Woodland area on East Bluff

One of the wildflowers we found early in the hike and again later was common St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).

image of St John’s wort

St John’s wort

In especially shaded areas we found some Solomon’s seal and this pretty pink flower that appears to be in the pea family.  In fact, we would see this small flower, which has large basal leaves, on several of the hikes we did during my visit.  Unfortunately we haven’t managed an identification yet.

image of small pink flower, probably pea family but unidentified

Small pink flower, probably pea family but unidentified

About 1.2 miles from the start of the hike we came to a rock structure called Elephant Cave.  Basically it looks like a grotto formed from huge boulders.  It looks big enough to shelter an elephant, but otherwise I do not know the origin of the name.

image of Elephant Cave, on the East Bluff of Devil’s Lake

Elephant Cave, on the East Bluff of Devil’s Lake

As we continued north we came to kind of a vista point overlooking the lake, with a beautiful view looking southwest.

image of view southwest over Devil’s Lake

View southwest over Devil’s Lake

Near the vista point we apparently lost the main trail.  According to a description of the hike, the trail would transition to single track in this area.  However, the single-track “trail” we found turned out to be a social trail and not the intended continuation away from the lake to the East Bluff Woods Trail.  When we realized that we had circled around and were again approaching the lake side of the bluff, we decided to simply follow the East Bluff Trail back the way we had come.  There was a prominent trail junction we’d passed at the top of the Balanced Rock Trail that surely would take us to the eastward loop we also hoped to hike.  When we got back to the trail junction we stopped for a short break before starting on the eastbound loop, still following the East Bluff Trail.

Not far from the trail junction we found some Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  If you look closely at the picture you will see four butterflies busy feeding on the nectar of the blossoms.

image of Canada goldenrod

Canada goldenrod

There was also a bit of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) nearby, though the flower heads looked like they were near the end of their blooming period.

Just a couple of tenths of a mile past the junction there is a small spur trail that leads to another interesting rock formation called the Devil’s doorway.  There is an opening in the jumble of rocks that looks remarkably like a doorway, or possibly a window, to the sky.  It is amazing to contemplate that this formation was created by glacial and possibly other geological forces.

image of Devil’s doorway

Devil’s doorway

As the trail continued along the bluff-top we found several more types of wildflower.  One was lead plant (Amorpha canescens), which has very distinctive leaves and spikes of purple blossoms.  The leaves can be seen in the background of the photo.  It was a bit late in the blooming season for this flower; this was the best example we found on this hike.

image of lead plant

Lead plant

The woodland areas also hosted some woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus), which seems to like to grow in small clearings or other places where there is sufficient sun in the forest.

image of woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

The East Bluff Trail became the CCC Trail, named for the Civilian Conservation Corps which built the trail.  The CCC Trail descends the bluff to near lake level.  At the top of the bluff there is a beautiful view to the southeast across farmland and woodland, with Lake Wisconsin in the background about 6 miles away.  The viewpoint for this picture was at the top of another sheer, vertical rock face where there were several climbing ropes being used for rock climbing.

image of view southeast toward Lake Wisconsin

View southeast toward Lake Wisconsin

At the bottom of the bluff the trail turns to the west and becomes Grottos Trail.  Along the remaining gentle descent through woodland, the trail passes several rock grottoes, smaller than Elephant Cave and located at the bottom rather than at the top of the bluff.

As the trail approaches the parking area it emerges from woodland to meadow, and there were a few more wildflowers to discover.  In addition to purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) we found an impressively large cluster of hoary vervain (Verbena stricta).  The vervain has skinny flower spikes that bloom from the bottom toward the top.

image of hoary vervain

Hoary vervain

Although this was a modest length hike, less than 5 miles, it visited a variety of terrain.  The bluff ascent and descent were rather steep, but also fairly short.  It was a great way to spend a pleasant summer day.  Next we headed toward the west side of Devil’s Lake to explore some more.

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Madison city walk to Picnic Point

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During a recent visit in Madison, Wisconsin, my brother and I went for a short, pleasant city walk to Picnic Point, which is part of the University of Wisconsin (UW) – Madison’s Lakeshore Nature Preserve.  Without question, the spectacular highlight of the day was a display of cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) near the entrance to the preserve.

photo of cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

I have been to Picnic Point too many times to count, beginning with childhood summer visits with my grandparents, who lived in Madison.  In fact, I have visited Picnic Point – or viewed it from Observatory Drive on the UW campus – so many times that I apparently thought the view was too commonplace to photograph.  In order to have a photo for this post I borrowed one from the Lakeshore Nature Preserve web site.  Picnic Point is a narrow finger, less than 1 mile long, that extends into Lake Mendota from the west end of the UW campus.  It is a favorite place for students, residents, and visitors to come to enjoy a nature preserve setting.

photo of Picnic Point

Picnic Point

The walk started and ended in a residential area not far from Madison West High School, which my father attended when it was brand new in the early 1930’s.  On the GPS track the orange dot shows the starting point of the walk and the nearby blue square denotes West High.  The length of the walk was about 4.4 miles.

GPS track

GPS track

Madison is around 900 feet elevation and is somewhat hilly, though the hills are very moderate.  The total elevation gain on the walk was about 240 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

This turned out to be a wildflower walk, since I essentially forgot to photograph anything else – and there were quite a few nice wildflowers, all Wisconsin natives.  Upon entering the preserve we immediately deviated from the main path that parallels the south shore by taking a small loop that climbs a slight hill (the bump on the elevation profile at about 1.5 miles).  As is evident from the aerial photo, the entire preserve is forested.  One of the flowers we found along the side loop – and elsewhere – was pale touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida), with pale yellow petals and a sprinkle of tiny reddish spots.

photo of pale touch-me-not

Pale touch-me-not

Nearby we also found spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis), which is so fully covered in larger orange spots that it looks orange.

photo of spotted touch-me-not

Spotted touch-me-not

We saw several specimens of tall, or American, bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum).  We would see this pretty flower on almost every walk we took during my week-long visit to Madison.

photo of tall bellflower

Tall bellflower

We were expecting to find some milkweed, and soon we did: swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  This flower head was being visited by a (mating?) pair of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus).

photo of swamp milkweed with a pair of large milkweed bugs

Swamp milkweed with a pair of large milkweed bugs

Near the tip of Picnic Point we found some butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which is favored by several types of butterfly and is the food plant for Queen and Monarch butterfly larvae.  It is the only orange-colored milkweed I have encountered.

photo of butterfly weed

Butterfly weed

On the way back from the tip of Picnic Point we found some wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).  I have seen other wild berry plants many times, but for some reason the strawberry looked exotic.  I do enjoy flowers that have a spray of reproductive parts at the center.

photo of wild strawberry

Wild strawberry

Near the entrance to the nature preserve there is a very nice planted area with numerous types of wildflower.  Here we found prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya).  The blazing stars bloom from the tip toward the base of the rather tall flower stalk.  This example, with a close-up on the right, is relatively early in the blooming phase, with only bracts developed, and rayless flowers to follow.

photo of prairie blazing star

Prairie blazing star

There were also clusters of blue vervain (Verbena hastata).  Compared to the similar rough vervain, the blue vervain’s flower stalks have distinctive pointed tips.  And in contrast to the blazing stars, blooming begins at the base of the flower stalk and proceeds toward the tip.  Of course, the blossoms themselves look different, too!

photo of blue vervain

Blue vervain

There were numerous clusters of Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) in this planted area, and we would see it again in other places during my visit.

photo of Culver’s root

Culver’s root

Some of the Culver’s root was right next to cardinal flowers.  The adjacent red, white, and green made an exceptionally pretty image.

photo of cardinal flower and Culver’s root

Cardinal flower and Culver’s root

I must admit that I was completely enchanted with the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).  In my experience it is unusual to find such an intense red color in a wildflower.  These beautiful flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.

photo of cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

As we left the preserve we walked across the road to a nearby area that the University has been replanting in native prairie flowers during the last couple of years.  In this area we found a pretty yellow flower; the plant has opposite leaves and a so-called round cluster of 5-petaled blossoms.  So far I haven’t been able to identify it.  (And I think this picture was taken by my brother after my camera battery ran out!)

photo of yellow flower, unidentified

Yellow flower, unidentified

After making a loop around the edge of a shallow catchment basin, which was full of cattails and other wetland plants, we returned along city streets to the starting point for the walk.  This was my first of six days in Madison, the afternoon following a red-eye flight from the San Francisco Bay Area.  The walk was a perfect way to begin the visit and get acclimated to typical July Wisconsin weather.

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