Recently I got to looking at a map of the western side of the county since it’s so wild and undeveloped. There are segments of the Ice Age Trail, county forest land, game preserves and other public access areas. Oh sure, there’s lots of private land, too, but for the most part it is wilderness that I can get into. Nearby is the Bill Cross Wildlife Area and I’ve been wanting to get into it for a while so off I went.
There are only snowmobile trails (aka logging roads) so winter is risky, but there’s a cool little pond and I wondered how close it would get me to the Bill Cross Rapids on the Wisconsin. The answer is not very. I could see (and hear) the rapids from up on the high bluff, but the bank was very steep so I didn’t risk climbing down. And the off-trail way that was flatter was also pretty wet and I gave that a miss, too. But the pond was fun.
On my first trip here I only stopped long enough to read a sign in the second parking area. It said something about Ducks Unlimited, a pond and how it was taken over by beavers. I’m not sure how that diminishes hunting waterfowl, but apparently it just isn’t done so the pond is left to its own devices. And the beavers’.
With a blind and lot of bug spray, I bet this could be a really great place for wildlife photography.
But it was mostly a scouting mission for me. If I go again I’ll try the trail from the other parking area down the road and see if it leads me near the rapids. They are where the New Woods River feeds into the Wisconsin and reportedly there’s the remains of an old trading post, run by (you guessed it), Bill Cross and a partner. Nearby is a road called Whisky Bill Road and I wonder if it’s the same Bill. Weirder and weirder.
So I decided to check out another trail in the next town, but it took me relatively forever to drive there. Things look so much closer on maps. It’s a section of the IAT called Camp 27. It goes near a branch of the Copper River and so I went to take a look.
Almost the first thing you come to is this odd little pond –
It might be an old beaver pond since I climbed up on what might have been the remains of a dam. It has in and outflows that look like this –
Depsite that there were tons of little fish in the pond. Being so small and shallow it probably gets too hot for them in high summer. I can only imagine how green it is then. And buggy. Still it’s a pretty spot with a bridge and a bench if you’re tired already. Then it was on to the woods. It was twisty for a while then this –
Probably remnants of a logging road. Next to it were many, many vernal pools. I stopped at one of the for these!
After a lot of research I still have no idea what the second ones are. The first might be wood frog or spotted salamander eggs (both have blueish jelly, but frog eggs have darker centers, the tiny developing tadpole). I guess I’ll have to go back and see what they look like, but since all amphibians go through a similar cycle I still probably won’t have a clue. This little underwater encounter wouldn’t be my last for the day though.
A word about the trail itself – I don’t think many people hike here. If it wasn’t for the blazes you could hardly tell where the path went – it’s that obscured; hardly used and filled with leaves and other debris. Someone was in with a chainsaw not long ago, so there aren’t big obstacles. I will probably go back and venture farther.
And after a few more twists and turns I came to what I found out later was the Copper River. The northern segment I think it’s called. At the time I though it was a stream, maybe Kelly or Wolf creek, both of which are nearby and feed into the river. We looked at buying a house on the Copper, but we’re on the Wisconsin instead.
Bah, sorry for the side track. The light was so harsh I have no photos of the brook itself and I didn’t end up crossing it because I’m a big wuss, but I did spend about an hour with some of these guys –
I’ve watched them before from the dock, but never tried to photograph them. In this case the bright, unfiltered sunlight was to my advantage. Sitting on a rock above their little stage I watched 3 or 4 of them go about their important crayfish business.
It’s hard to tell without taking one out of the water, but I think they are Faxonius virilis – Virile crayfish. I guess they’re more macho than ordinary crayfish. Sometimes they’d get into little tiffs with each other, but mostly it was live and let live. They’re 2-4 inches long I think, it was hard to tell with the distortion of the water.
Processing took some finesse, but I think I finally got it. The water is VERY tannic and so the whole color palette is basically brown. By tweaking the clarity, white balance and using some unusual filters like dehaze in Luminar Flex, I think the colors are more accurate. I could tell their legs were definitely aqua blue and one individual had a more blue carapace than the others. It was a little tricky to focus down into the water rather than on the surface reflections, but I did it. I could have put a polarizer on, but I didn’t want to cut the exposure which would mean using a higher ISO, bigger apertures or slower shutter speeds. A couple of times I had to use manual focus to get the lens to find the right range again. So it worked out.
A fish photobombed that last one and I tried to get some shots of them, but it was much harder since they’re at an angle to the surface. I think they were mostly trout though. Lots of them. No wonder I found mink tracks in the mud just a little way downstream!
Then I leisurely wandered back to the car.
And made a few friends on the way –