it’s strange to me that i haven’t yet visited this site for the series. atlas pit (it was re-named ‘kiwanis pond’ but i can’t bring myself to call it that from long and early association) is a former gravel quarry a couple blocks from where i grew up in janesville, wi (rock county).
the old story goes that atlas sand & gravel dug until they hit a spring and then it filled in. i haven’t been able to fact-check that to my satisfaction, but the pieces of confirmation i’ve found have lined up with the general story. sounds like it filled up in the ’50s.
my childhood neighborhood was at the top of the quarry, and the pit was down the hill in a green corridor near a large wooded park, another pond, and a golf course. i learned in my research on wisconsin natural history during the pandemic that my hometown sits atop one of the outwash fans of the last glaciation, and my neighborhood above the rock river is at the edge of the fan. so it actually makes very good sense that there’d be a gravel quarry here, and there are other quarries in the area.
we used to come down here to play frequently, and back then it felt like a forest, a real wild place. it’s not quite so expansive now as an adult, but there are still pockets that feel more remote than it really is. when i visited the wind was blowing on a cloudy morning, and it smelled of childhood and good life.
oliver prairie is a remnant prairie perched on a hill made of dolostone, which is why it’s a remnant—no farming here! for its small size it has a large number of plant species, and is ringed round by trees, which gives being on the hill a strange, you’re-the-only-one-on-earth kind of feel. the sna has some narrow lanes coming off the main parcel, which were a treat to walk down as well with the junipers and the spider-web-bedazzled knapweed.
the fog was lifting by this time, and this was the last sna in green county i had to visit. another county accounted for. (photo credits on a couple of these go to my wife.)
in the morning light
and goat’s beard
dusting the blufftop
still crickets chirping
on dolostone ledge
if you made it this far… here’s the entry to a largish den (maybe a badger’s by the size of it? i didn’t get close enough to get a real good shot…); a finely grass-framed slab of dolostone; and a deer who was very surprised to find us there on her lane.
mayville ledge beech-maple woods is very much what it sounds like, tho’ “ledge” in this case refers very specifically to the exposed niagra escarpment present on the site. the niagra escarpment is the exposed dolostone ridge at the edge of the niagra cuesta that stretches from new york state up thru canada and down into dodge county (and a smaller exposure in waukesha county) here in wisconsin via door county. in some places, it’s dramatic seaside cliffs, in others, it looks more or less like a pile of rocks.
no trail to speak of here, we followed deer paths up the glacial drift-laden section up to the top of the ridge and walked thru the ungrazed woods atop the ledge. with a steady wind blowing up onto the plain, we were able to enjoy a late-summer hike thru beech, maple, and ironwoods, with lots of mushrooms and moss growing all around the glades of tumbled dolostone. american beech grows here in its westernmost limit.
honey creek sna is a widely varying area along honey creek, with different soil types, bottoms, boggy areas, forest, rock escarpments and uplands. the dnr site claims over 500 plant species living in the area. the site was originally protected by the wisconsin society for ornithology, and many bird species nest here. go birds (or, as chaucer would have called them, brids).
i took a leisurely stroll up the creek in the southern section, walking up what’s known as “borns hollow.” (i’m a sucker for any area called a “hollow.”) a lovely creek community with springs and seeps, forbs and grasses hanging all over the banks. oh, and cows and cranes coolly noting my approach and retreat.
my first spot of lobelia this year, and first id of spotted lady’s thumb (heart’s-ease), a kind of knotweed.
took in an invigorating walk on a hot day with my wife and mom, while my brother hung out on the pond-shore.
flax pond is a kettlehole pond formed by a formerly submerged glacial chunk that melted, the ground above collapsing into the depression and water filling in. another pitch pine-oak wood by the looks of it, with lots of sand and, surprisingly to my midwestern eyes, lots of moss and fungus too. a beaut.
and my fond adieu to these fabulous lichen forests on so many tree limbs out there. couldn’t get enough.
first id of a new, yellow species of hawkweed, but not sure if it was new england or meadow…
quivet marsh is a saltwater marsh located along sesuit creek as the creek flows to sesuit harbor and thence to cape cod bay. we’re here visiting family, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to get to know this land i’ve visited off and on my whole life in a more intimate way too.
pitch pines and oaks, phragmites and marsh muck, salt air and snags. found a nice stand of ghost pipes and a first id’s of pinkweed and summersweet.
my first time in a salt marsh and well worth the stop. a shout out to my sister in law for doing the early recon on sesuit creek and the marsh!
a century of state natural area poems! i’ll admit: it felt good to hit this number. and i find it somewhat hard to believe—that’s a lot of visits in a year and a half, even for my determined self.
thanks to everyone who has hiked with me so far—family and friends—to all the creatures i’ve met on these jaunts, and to the all the private and public owners of these lands for tending them and making them available to the public.
oh, also, it recently came to my attention that a wisconsin high school newspaper article about the sna poems did come out a few months ago. it was fun to talk with a very local paper (in stoughton) about the vision and process of what i’m doing here, and i think emma did a fine job writing the piece up. you can check it out here.
the ward/schwartz decatur woods is another site along the sugar river, this a remnant southern dry-mesic wood with large red and white oaks. the understory has many spring ephemerals and is rich in other plants. the woods was one of the sites where baseline data for the burgeoning field of ecology was established in wisconsin by john curtis in the 40s and 50s.
a hard climb up the ridge after four other sites visited that morning, but satisfying to come out onto the edge of the wood at the crest and pause for a moment before a more leisurely walk back down.
first id-in-the-field of bittersweet nightshade—it volunteers in my backyard, but it’s different somehow seeing it out there. credit for a couple of these photos go to my dad who climbed the ridge with me.
logs crumble with footfall
upslope and downslope
movement over land
a hooved pair graze
on the sun-soaked ridge
if you made it this far: thanks for reading/looking. this project was not intended to go on this long, but i’ve learned enough about the natural history of wisconsin and enough folks have liked and responded to this project that it feels worth continuing. my gratitude goes out to you for stopping by.
i’m digging these prairies set on hills out west of me in wisconsin.
muralt bluff prairie lies along a curving ridge in the contact area between wisconsin’s glaciated and drifltess areas. there are fantastic displays of wildflowers from spring till fall, with several rare species represented.
it was a slick climb up (courtesy of the rain earlier in the morning), but the dense stands of wild bergamot and tall bell flower along the muddy wooded trail made up for the effort. the prairie itself and the view of woods and rolling farmland from the ridgetop were fabulous.
first id’s of grey-headed cone flower and prairie rosinweed!
browntown oak forest is a southern dry and dry-mesic forest situated on a st. peter sandstone ridge in the driftless area. the variable topography and soil types nurture a diversity of plant communities. one part of the slope has sandstone outcrops.
the trails (such as we could find) were going feral, which restricted our movement into the forest somewhat, but a jaunt down the ridge to the sandstone was freeing.
first id’s of tall bellflower, st. john’s wort, and knapweed; also first coral fungus spotted since i started these.