Following my recent hike on the western portion of the Military Ridge Trail, I had hiked the entire 40-mile multi-use trail, which follows a former railroad right-of-way, except for about 2.7 miles at the eastern end, between Verona and Fitchburg and just outside Madison, Wisconsin. Two days after that hike it worked out to hike the eastern section of the trail, continuing for almost 1 mile past the end of the Military Ridge Trail on the Military Ridge Path to a major junction of multi-use paths.
My brother, with whom I was visiting, was happy to walk with me. We started at the Old County Rd PB access point, where I’d finished my first hike on the trail a few years earlier, shown as the orange dot on the GPS track.
We continued past mile markers 2 and 1, looking for mile marker 0 (which we never did find, though we explored an alternate route up to County PD). The section that continues north of PD is the Military Ridge Path, which connects the Military Ridge Trail to a local network of multi-use trails. Since the trail is based on a former railroad route, elevation changes are very gentle. The sharp-looking peak on the outbound and return paths represents a pedestrian / bike-path bridge over a busy street.
The trailhead at Old County Rd PB also hosts an access point for the Ice Age Trail. As we walked along the trail we passed some of the wildflowers I’d seen on previous Military Ridge Trail hikes, such as staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) and crown vetch (Securigera varia). The first section of trail is just beyond the outskirts of Madison and its suburbs, so there were intermittent views of lush green farmland.
One of the common roadside flowers is red clover (Trifolium pretense), which is actually light pink. If you look closely at the flower heads, the blossoms are rather delicate and pretty.
A more exotic, though still common, flower is St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), here shown with a visiting insect.
We also passed a small man-made waterfall, which turned out to be a cascade aerator: a water restoration project in the Upper Sugar River Watershed.
Shortly before we reached mile marker 2 we came upon a small cluster of elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), with sprays of tiny white 5-petaled flowers.
Other wildflowers in this area included wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), chicory (Cichorum intybus), and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). One flower that was simultaneously common and not-so-common was this one, which looks a lot like a dandelion flower. However, the leaves are different and the plant is 2 to 2½ feet tall. I’m pretty sure it is yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitorum).
During this hike we passed several species of sunflower-like wildflowers. One was the yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). Here the petals, actually ray flowers, are only partly bent back into the typical cone shape, but the conical cluster of disc flowers in the center help with the identification.
We passed a small serene lake, Goose Lake, about 1.5 miles after joining the Military Ridge Trail. Just before we reached mile marker 1 we encountered one of the signs that make up Planet Trek, a 23-mile scale model of the solar system that reaches from the Sun, in downtown Madison, to Pluto, in Mt Horeb. Prior to this hike I had encountered all of the signs in Planet Trek except for Uranus, so I’d been looking forward to finding it – of course, I knew it was in this section of the Military Ridge Trail, but I’d made a point of finding all of the signs once I found my first one, Saturn.
We were occasionally passing milkweed (Asclepius) plants, and were lucky to find one with a visiting monarch butterfly on one of the leaves.
When we were less than 0.2 mile from where mile marker 0 should have been, there was kind of a spur trail that went up to County Rd PD. Looking for the sign, we went up that way but returned, not having found the sign, and continued along the previous path. Within slightly less than 0.2 mile we found signage that indicated that the Military Ridge Trail was becoming the Military Ridge Path – but still no mile marker 0. Other signage indicated 0.9 mile to Cannonball Path. In any case, we continued ahead.
After the 0.9 mile we arrived at a rather complex junction of bike paths and multi-use trails. In fact, no fewer than 5 trails intersect at this junction! They are not even all on the same level: some pass over others, with a series of ramps joining them.
Fortunately there is a kiosk with a map (including “You Are Here”). And there is a small area planted with some prairie wildflowers, including black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). The central “mound” of disc flowers is quite a bit flatter than in the yellow coneflower.
There were also several purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
After exploring around the trail junction for several minutes, we began our return trip. Along the way we stopped to enjoy a few more wildflowers. One was goldenrod (Solidago), with masses of tiny golden-colored blossoms. There are something like 24 species of goldenrod found in Wisconsin, so I decided not to try to identify this any further.
We also noticed spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Finally, there was yet another type of sunflower-like flower: rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). It turns out that there are 4 types of silphium that are found regionally, and in the coming days I would be introduced to all four of them!
This was a very pleasant walk/hike along a mostly paved section of multi-use trail: quite close to the Madison metropolitan area, yet with at least a partly rural feel. It was nice to complete hiking the Military Ridge Trail, to find the final planet in the Planet Trek exhibit, and to enjoy many wildflowers.