On a return trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit my brother, I wanted to walk the eastern portion of the Southwest Commuter Path. Last July I walked the western portion of this bike/multi-use path, which is part of the Badger State Trail and the Wisconsin State Park System. My plan was to again access the path at Virginia Terrace on the west side of town, walk to the east end of the path on Lake Monona, backtrack a little and walk north to the shore of Lake Mendota, go west along the lake shore, and finally turn south to complete a loop. I was hoping for about an 8-mile walk, and I managed to hit the distance exactly.
Shortly after reaching the bike path, I encountered a very cute bunny at the side of the pavement. Of course, as I got closer it quickly bounded away to safety.
About a mile after turning onto the bike path I had a view of the State Capitol building dome, which highlights the downtown Madison skyline.
Last year, while exploring the western portion of the bike path, I’d encountered one of the Planet Trek signs, specifically for Saturn. Planet Trek is a seasonal display of a model solar system, with signs for the sun and all planets. The model extends for 23 miles from downtown Madison to Mt. Horeb, with the sign locations appropriately scaled from the sun in downtown Madison. I was looking forward to discovering whether the display was again in place for 2012, and was happy to find that it was! I found Jupiter within the first half mile from where I picked up the bike path; in fact, this prompted a quick excited “Yippee!” phone call to my brother. This montage shows all of the signs I found on this walk (these images are from the web site).
I thoroughly enjoyed finding the planet signs and reading a little about each one. It was interesting that there was a sign for Ceres, which was originally designated as a planet but later reclassified as an asteroid.
As it turns out, the Southwest Commuter path actually ends shortly before I found the sign for Earth. The Commuter path tees into the Brittingham bike path, and the Earth sign was visible from the intersection. The Brittingham bike path tees into the Capital City bike path between Venus and Mercury. I kept following the signs until I reached the Sun, which is located at Monona Terrace.
This portion of the bike path is right along the shore of Lake Monona, one of five lakes within the Madison city limits. The lake views are pleasant, and I even found a water skier out for a spin.
Madison is known as a bike-friendly city, with 46 miles of designated bike paths and over 100 miles of bike lanes. There is a system of city-owned B-cycle stations, where one can rent a bike and return it to any of the stations.
After returning along my original path about a mile back from the Sun, I turned north on the East Campus Mall to walk about 0.7 mile north to the shore of Lake Mendota. The famous isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona is only about 1 km wide, and the Capitol is located here. The East Campus Mall crosses the University of Wisconsin Madison campus near its east end. After arriving at the shore of Lake Mendota I easily found the crushed gravel bike path and headed west. After passing a couple of docks and sailing clubs, the bike path continues in a more natural setting along the lake shore. Observatory Drive, which passes through the heart of the original campus, is just up the bluff and overlooks the lake.
A special landmark along the lake shore is Picnic Point, a narrow finger that extends out into Lake Mendota. A multi-use path goes out to the end of the point and is a favorite biking, running, or walking destination for campus students, city residents, and visitors alike.
After about 1½ miles along the lake shore there is another boat ramp near the west end of campus. In this area I encountered a couple of families of mallards going about their usual activities in the shallow water. Here was a mother and her 4 chicks, almost in formation.
From here I left the lake behind and headed south to complete my 8-mile loop. While walking along Lake Mendota I did get rained on a little bit, but I decided to continue walking and hope the shower would be brief – and it was. The cloud cover probably kept the temperatures lower than they otherwise would have been. I was grateful that the recent 100-degree heat spell had broken.
For the Planet Trek display, I had now found all of the signs from the Sun out to Saturn. The three remaining signs are much more spread out, but I knew I would plan future walks (like this one) to see if I can find the other planets.