3/26/2015 0 comments

Crawfish River II

Olson Road to Aztalan State Park
☆ ☆

A totally fine but mostly unremarkable trip on the Crawfish River.

03
One of several drumlins off in the distance.

Date:
March 21, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater

Gradient:
< 1' per mile.

Gauge:
Milford: ht/ft: 2.70 | cfs: 400

Put-In:
County A Bridge, Milford, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Riverview Drive, Jefferson, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 10:20a. Out at 1:05p.
Total Time: 2h 25m
Miles Paddled: 10.25

Wildlife: Geese, mergansers, sandhill cranes, one bald eagle, turkeys, one pheasant and whole lot of frisky carp.
Time worth driving to: 20 minutes. Maybe.

I’d scouted a few different sections of the Crawfish (aka the “crawlfish”) last autumn and found myself driving past Milford a number of times. The recommended trip in Mike Svob’s book begins at Milford and concludes at the Rock River confluence, a blasé trip already covered here and remembered fondly by no one I’ve ever known (sorry Crawfish; it’s not your fault what God gave you, or the glaciers.) I myself wanted to do something different but I knew already not to waste my time in the Mud Lake section north of Highway 19. There's a put-in at 19 but parking is a little tricky. Less than a mile downstream is an outstanding boat launch off Olson Road. There’s also a third access half a mile downstream from Olson at a private campground (re: RV park) but there’s a fee to use it. Hence Olson Road as my put-in.

Aztalan State Park itself is a fascinating place and worth an hour of walking around. Downstream of it you have next to no options for taking out until Jefferson. That’s how this trip came to be. I knew it would be slow, wide and muddy, with mostly agricultural backdrops. But I was hoping there’d be something more, something fun, something redeeming. Not so much.

What we liked:
The couple miles or so just upstream and leading to Milford were pleasant with views of drumlins to the east and a couple of undeveloped landscapes to the west. I loved that the 15-mph wind was at my back and the southern sun was kissing my face. I appreciated that the river, while low for where it should be this time of the year, had plenty of volume. And on a stream this huge (over 400 feet wide most of the time) you’ll never have to worry about deadfall. Except for the first mile there’s little housing on this trip; it’s mostly agricultural. The lead-up to the I-94 bridges was something I’ve been curious about for years, since I’ve driven over the river well over 200 times to/fro Milwaukee. And finally the last section of this trip from County Road B to Aztalan State Park is pretty: there’s an undeveloped woodsy ridge on the left (east bank) and glimpses into the park on the right (west bank) of the stockades, mounds, and even a few hollows. Both the put-in and the take-out are excellent accesses, with full facilities and water at the state park.

If you take nothing else away from this write-up, let it be this: If you live nearby or are passing through, stop by Crawfish Junction for a great meal and beer. Located at W6376 County Road A in Milford just up the road from the bridge, the clever combination of Crawfish River with Cajun-themed cooking is a nice touch that’s much appreciated by someone with a soft spot for Cajun culture. Where else can you have deep-fried gator this far north in the Mississippi River watershed?!? Discovering this place probably was my favorite part of the trip (yes, even though it technically had nothing to do with the river itself.) Failing that, since you’re this close to Lake Mills, you should stop at Tyranena for a fine local-made cold one.

What we didn't like:
It’s just disappointing and boring. First, the width alone is preposterous, leaving little to the imagination. Whereas on a meandering creek you look forward to the exceptional straightaway and offer your thanks to rest a moment, here you long for a bend to the left or right and crave a curve however subtle. Otherwise, it’s just a long boulevard of flat brown water. Not very inspiring. There’s nothing to do but slog through the array of RVs lining the left shore in the beginning. I can imagine this campground is a zoo in summer, given that there is a gigantic Dells-esque waterslide play pool. The location is a pity from the paddler’s perspective, because there is an otherwise attractive hill right at the facility hovering above it. The other hills on this trip are off in the distance for the most part, seemingly larger the farther away they are, anticlimactic as you approach closer.

There are two protected prairie state natural areas I was hoping would enhance the scenery – Snapper Prairie State Natural Area and Faville Prairie (the latter advocated by none other than Aldo Leopold himself ) – but had I not known of them beforehand and looking for them, I’d have been none the wiser while on the river. Perhaps this would be different in spring and summer, once the land wakes up from its winter sleep.

Another disappointment was how underwhelming the approach to Milford was. Native fishing weirs are supposed to be in the river near the right bank upstream of the bridge but if they’re there, you can’t see them. The riffles in the rocky shoals just below the bridge are pleasant but little more than that. Come to think of it, you can say that for most of this trip: “pleasant, but little more than that.” There’s potential for this being better, once spring is in full swing, but one probably shouldn’t expect too much.

If we did this trip again:
Unless I lose a bet or am honoring a friend’s questionable bucket list who wants companionship, there’s just no reason to bother repeating this trip.

***************
Related Information
Crawfish River I: Milford to Jefferson
Miles Paddled Video: Crawfish River I: Milford to Jefferson
General: Glacial Heritage Area
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Video: Wisconsin Paddles
Wikipedia: Crawfish River


Map:



Shuttle Information:
10 miles.


Photo Gallery:

01
Put-in at Olson Road.

02
Right, why not a big-ass water slide in the middle of nowhere?

04
Another drumlin in the distance.

05
An unusually pretty pine-lined bank.

06
The I-94 bridges.

07
The Aztalan mound from the river.

08
One of the Aztalan stockades.

09
Looking downstream by the take-out.

09a
The take-out at the state park.

10
The mysterious remains of abandoned Aztalan.

11
Stockade to keep people out (or trap them in)?

12
Just a weird place.

13
hese had to have been sacrifice altars, right?

14
Or not, and people just lived in a peaceful village, who knows?
3/22/2015 0 comments

Waupaca River Video

This short 7-mile section, just upstream from the more popular stretch (County Highway Q to Brainards Bridge Park) has a lot of what you'd expect from the Waupaca. We paddled this in early fall when the colors were just starting to turn, which made for a very pretty day trip. Have a look.

Waupaca River
County Highway DD to County Highway Q
September 22, 2014
3/12/2015 0 comments

Yahara River X

Mud Lake to Lake Kegonsa
☆ ☆ ☆

The river section connecting Mud Lake (via Lake Waubesa) and Lake Kegonsa, this very brief section has a couple of pretty but fleeting moments – fun for a late winter jaunt when open water is a rare commodity, but hardly worth spending your time on otherwise unless you live immediately nearby.

02
Boulders in fun (but short) section of mainstream.

Date:
March 7, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater

Gradient:
1' per mile.

Gauge:
Cooksville: ht/ft: 3.8 | cfs: 170

Put-In + Take-Out:
East Dyreson Road, McFarland, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 3:30p. Out at 5:30p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 4.25

Wildlife: Tundra swans, geese, ducks, mergansers and muskrats.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes

So there I was, gifted with a Saturday promising to be in the 40s and sunny after a month of unseasonably freezing weather while facing this dilemma: the air temp says “go paddle!” but the water temp still says “not so fast!” Once a river and especially a lake decides it’s had enough and just freezes til spring, it takes a lot of energy to thaw the surface of ice. By stark contrast, the air temperature can drop or dart 30 degrees in half as many hours like a flick of a switch.

But when it gets this warm this close to the actual equinox and there’s a warm front, you best believe I’ll be finding some puddle to paddle! That’s how this wee segment of the Yahara came to be. That and I wanted to check out the old truss bridge at Dyreson Road before it’s removed (it’s closed now and on the repair list, which may mean removal). Thus, this is not truly a trip report in the vein that we normally do. Rather, it’s meant to serve as a brief vignette to say, nay declare: “Hurray, spring is arriving! Carpe paddle!” We mostly want to show a few photos to help inspire everyone to dust off those boats in the garage. Warm weather, daylight savings, Canoecopia – come on all y’all, it’s spring! Woo ho!

What we liked:
The very short segment of the Yahara below Mud Lake and just downstream of Dyreson Road is pretty and fun. The water is crystal clear, the bottom a mix of gravelly rocks and sweet sand. A few boulders dot the streambed and the environment changes from marsh to sedge meadow and oak savanna. And as I’d hoped, the truss bridge is quite easy on the eye. Given the time of year, too, the wildlife was pretty wonderful: there were at least a hundred tundra swans out there, plus dozens of mergansers and several mischievous muskrats. Lake Kegonsa itself was stunningly pretty as a series of meltwater pools surrounded by slushy ice enclosures. The contrast in textures alone was worth kayaking out to.

What we didn't like:
Saying nothing of paddling back and forth (which presupposes paddling upstream, which I find perverted and plain wrong), or that both Mud Lake and Lake Kegonsa were inaccessibly frozen, at no point can your imagination pretend that you’re away from it all, as there are houses along the shoreline pretty much the whole time. Connecting McFarland and Stoughton, this is not surprising, to be sure. But it’s a factor discrediting paddling this section of the Yahara in its own right, unless you’re already nearby.

If we did this trip again:
This time next year, sure. But otherwise probably not. As long as the water is open, the best of the Yahara begins below the Dunkirk dam down to the Rock River.

***************
Related Information
Yahara River I: Stebbensville Road to Murwin County Park
Yahara River II: Stebbensville Road to County Road H, Rock River
Yahara River III: Stebbensville Road to Murwin County Park
Yahara River IV: Murwin County Park to Janesville
Yahara River V: Veteran's Memorial Park to Windsor Road
Yahara River VI: Stebbensville Road to County Road H
Yahara River VII: Veteran's Memorial Park to Windsor Road
Yahara River VIII: Lake Kegonsa to Stoughton
Yahara River IX: Stoughton to Stebbinsville Road
Miles Paddled Overview: A Guide to the Yahara River
Miles Paddled Video: Yahara River III: Stebbensville Road to Murwin County Park
Miles Paddled Video: Yahara River VI: Stebbensville Road to County Road H
General: Village of DeForest
Good People: Friends of the Yahara River
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Guide: Yahara Waterways Trail Guide
Map: Yahara Borders Trail
Map: Upper Yahara River Trails
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Wikipedia: Yahara River


Map:




Shuttle Information:
None since this was a forth and back junket.


Photo Gallery:

01
Flock shock on Mud Lake.

03
Handsome truss bridge on East Dyreson Road.

04
"Treeflection" with clear water.

05
Log remains from an old dam or weir?

06
Cohabbing on the Yahara.

07
Tundra swans awing!

08
Punk rock mergansers.

09
Ghoulish ice sheets.

11
Fish Camp County Park.

12
Rebel geese on thin ice.

13
Thawing ice patterns on Lake Kegonsa.

14
Close-up.

15
Muskrat soaking up the late afternoon sun.
2/28/2015 0 comments

Peshekee River Video

The Peshekee River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was one of the bumpiest journeys we’ve had but also one of the prettiest with an incredibly pristine and picturesque backdrop.

Peshekee River
Peshekee Grade to 3 Mile Mark
August 31, 2014
2/28/2015 0 comments

Lake Columbia

Touring Lake Columbia in Columbia County
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A human-made lake containing the discharge water to cool off a coal-fired energy plant, this surreal pool of super-heated water (around 70 degrees warm even in the dead of a Wisconsin winter) provides for an ethereal experience of paddling through endless curtains of wraith-like fog while passing frost-covered plants and rocks. Plus the wildlife is abundant.

01
The put-in below the parking area.

Date:
February 2, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater

Put-In + Take-Out:
Public Access Parking Lot, Dekorra, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 1:15p. Out at 3:15p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 4

Wildlife: 20 bald eagles, 100+ geese, 12 deer, 40+ mergansers and 10 cormorants.
Time worth driving to: 1-2 hours

A brief explanation: the Alliant Energy power plant near Portage draws water from the Wisconsin River near the mouth of Duck Creek at a rate of 10,000 gallons per minute and deploys this water to cool off equipment used when burning coal for power. This superheated water then is discharged into the huge pool called “Lake Columbia” where it will circulate and be reused a second time before returning to the river in a cycle that takes five days. During the process, the water temperature will range from 70-80 degrees in winter to 100+ in summer. Burning coal of course, is awful for the atmosphere but the water itself remains remarkably clean.

I had first heard about paddling here in winter a few years ago from the same beloved friend who introduced me to kayaking in the first place. To wit, there’s a group paddle each New Year’s Day cleverly called the “Fog Bowl.” I'm usually not in Madison or the area during New Year’s, so I continually miss the interesting event. This year was no exception. But it’s been itching in the back of my head for a while now and I thought the time was nigh to check it out. With a weekend weather forecast in the single digits, where else could a paddler expect to find open water than on a body of water artificially heated? And what could be more romantic than kayaking during zero-degree wind chill the day after Valentine’s? Warms the cockles of the heart, no?

What we liked:
The landscape is surprising intriguing. I was expecting little more than a concrete-lined pool with little else beside industrial buildings to look at. I was expecting that the novelty experience of paddling through wispy fog in February would be the only thing capturing my attention, or affection. The bar was set somewhat low, believe me, I don’t care much for paddling lakes, let alone unnatural ones in front of mounds of coal to feed the insatiable gluttony of a gigantic energy plant! But as soon as I stepped out of my warm car, the cold air on my face like a harsh compress, I could tell that this was going to be something special.

First, because there is constant fog/steam rolling off the water (warm water + cold air = fog, and in this case, a whole lot of fog) and the warm, wet air hits the frozen rocks and plants and freezes on contact, usually in the shape of delicate crystals and feathery hoar frost filigree. If you like natural fractals – and really, who doesn’t? – this is your landscape! It’s worth coming out here just to walk around the shore and comb through the rocks and tufts of grass and weeds. Rather than color bombing something, it’s like ice-frosting, hot breath from the throat huffing onto an object, coating it instantly in something essentially ephemeral.

OK, enough mystical gibberish. The “lake” is almost entirely bisected into left and right pools by a thin strip of land that I guess is a dike. If I understand it correctly, the water comes from the river on the west and is drawn into the plant via the “left” pool. It’s then discharged into the right pool (east) where eventually it will circulate clockwise back into the plant. As such, the right side will be warmer and thus produce more fog.

The feeling of paddling through huffs of fog is mostly mental/spiritual (if that’s not too grandiose), not so much physical. Maybe your eyes will tear up a little but the fog doesn’t provide a whole lot of warmth. You want to be smartly dressed, especially if you paddle this on a windy day when the lake gets wavy (which by the way, I definitely don’t recommend whatsoever) and thus your potential for capsizing greater (It’s winter in Wisconsin, the cold ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, so why not wait to do this trip when it’s not windy?).

I wore wool leggings, wool socks, waterproof boots, snow pants, four different layers for my torso and a waterproof jacket, plus a wool cap. I didn’t wear a balaclava, but you might want one. Altogether, I felt fine, but I did begin to feel a bit chilly at the end. The effect of the beer? Who knows?

Being a lake, you can go in any direction your heart desires. I chose a counterclockwise itinerary for no particular reason. Looking out west from the right side of the lake allows for a few pretty views of the Wisconsin River bluffs. It’s a distant vista, but pretty nonetheless. About midway on the right is a large island where I saw four bald eagles in the trees, the first of at least 20 during this trip. One of the highlights was watching two still immature and speckled birds joust in the air, locking talons at one point and swirling in the air like two swing dancers joined at their elbows.

After the island you’ll see the train that I assume transports the coal, for just after it is a huge mound of coal at least 50’ high and very black in contrast to the white colors of snow, ice, clouds, and fog. From there you’ll see the conveyor belt taking the coal to the main building, below which the water is released into the lake. On a small hill to the right I had to do a double-take to make sure I really was seeing a herd of a dozen deer munching on the grass. Sure was. There’s not too much to see at the plant itself unless you have a wild hair for engineering or industrial architecture. Rather than paddle south to then make a U-Turn around the dike, I just portaged over it and continued into the left pool.

Paddling south now, away from the plant, you’ll see a separate holding pen on the right-hand side. It was mostly frozen at the surface but at the northern end of it, where there is a lip like a lowhead dam, the water was open and spilling down into the lake. If you follow this pen to its southwest corner and get out of your boat to walk up the levee, you’ll see where the water from the Wisconsin River is drawn from. (Incidentally, you can explore the backwaters of Duck Creek to see this or if you paddle the Wisco from Portage to Dekorra you can find this as well.)

Let me be the bearer of bad news: you cannot directly paddle from the river to the lake. First off, it’s physically impossible, as earthen dams separate the connection. Secondly, it’s all private property and signs are posted all over the place lest you got any ideas. That said, there’s a second point of interest just south of this. From the lake you’ll see a concrete ramp of sorts on the right where it’s easy to take out. The ramp plateaus at the top of the levee, then lowers down into a marshy meadowland where you could paddle into the Wisconsin River. For point of reference, this access is just north of where Rocky Run Creek enters the Wisco.

The surroundings are wild in the southwest quadrant of Lake Columbia. At one point I spooked a giant flock of over 100 geese that shot out at once, barking berserk, flapping frantically, a loud, dark, wide net of wings made its way across the horizon hidden through wisps of fog. Of course by that time my camera had stopped working, which will happen in extreme cold. No matter; the moment could never have been conveyed anyway. A pleasant way to finish this min-trip was the 30’ levee hill on the south side of the lake, just a pleasantly beveled line of ground coated in frost, encased in ice.

Lastly, on the subject of difficult to convey, I’m at a loss of how to describe the unique effect of paddling through the fog, particularly when just for a moment the sun peaks out of the clouds to pierce through the wisps. The water was gray, the cloudy sky slate. Curtains of fog move sideways on invisible tracks. Then suddenly the sun comes out, a streak of light like a golden lance from the firmament. It radiates silhouettes in the fog, dapples the surface of the water. And then mergansers fly low like flung darts, or two appear from out of the fog shockingly close to you and freak the heck out. The experience is simply exquisite and totally worth the short-lived experience of being a little chilly.

What we didn't like:
For what this is, there was nothing I disliked. Given the tropical temperature of the water, some flamingos would have been welcome, maybe a tiki bar for a quick mai-tai, but I realize that’s unreasonable.

If we did this trip again:
I’d definitely do this again, though maybe not in the single digits!

***************
Related Information
Article: Wisconsin Lake Is a Slice of the Tropics
Overview: American Whitewater
Paddle Report: Nathan Williams: April 2006
Photos: Kayak Quixotica
Video: Fog Bowl 2011 on Lake Columbia



Map:




Photo Gallery:

02
Hoar frost crystals.

03
The warm, wet fog together with the wind casts great ice and frost on the landscape.

04
Rocky ice globules.

05
Close-up.

06
Almost like molten wax.

07
Now on the lake.

08
Looking west at Wisconsin River bluffs in distance.

08a
Panoramic of above.

09
First of many bald eagles.

10
More cool hoar frost coating the banks.

11
Same.

12
Gorgeous effects of the fog and air temperature differential.

13
Yup, a herd of deer munching on the tundra near mounds of coal!

14
Boiler buildings on west side of the plant.

15
Conveyor belt and discharge gates on east side of the plant.

16
Paddling through frozen foam with dyke on the right (looking south).

17
More cool frost effects.

18
Semi-frozen holding pen of water drawn from Wisconsin River.