Every year I sign up for field trips with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Usually a kayak trip or two and a walk into some remote or difficult to access bit of the state. This year the two walking field trips found me up north – first to the Dunn Lake Pines State Natural area and second to the Porcupine Wilderness.
I picked the Dunn Lake trip because it features an old growth forest and I’m growing to love these rare bits of the environment. This one is even more secluded because it is surrounded by land contained in the state’s largest home ownership association so there is no access except via the Presque Isle River which I learned is very difficult to traverse because so many trees are down along its length which would mean hauling the kayak out and portaging. Bleah. That’s why this outing was special – the DNR worked with the Natural Lakes Association for special passes to park near the trailhead. I really wanted to spend more time at certain places, like the bog we walked through, but there wasn’t time, but I did what I could.
Of course we had to seek out and find the largest white pines we could. Our guides knew roughly where they were and it didn’t take long before we found a beauty –
And here I am looking up the trunk. You can’t even see its own canopy, only that of the surrounding maples. It’s probably 150 feet tall or more and so the branches disappear when you’re right under it. Standing off a ways you can see it’s alive and still vigorous. I wish I took note of the measurement, but I didn’t. Anyway as you can see, it was big.
Mostly these trips are to see and experience areas I might not explore on my own and to learn about the different ecosystems we have here in Wisconsin. That’s why I was excited to join the outing at the Porcupine Lake Wilderness. Not only is it a gem of the northwoods, but our guide would be teaching navigation and orienteering. Something I really need to understand better, especially if I want to explore our State Natural Areas, most of which do not have trails.
Just look at that lake. That wild shoreline. Ah paradise. But so darn far from the road and wheeled vehicles of any kind are prohibited off the actual roads in the Wilderness. That includes canoe and kayak dollies. So you have to carry the thing in on your own steam. Great if there’s more than one of you, but kinda makes solo paddling difficult. Especially that I’m not Hercules. Maybe one day if I get a super light boat I can give it a go. I may go back anyway to hike and photograph the wild streams in and around Porcupine Lake. I really wished for more time to shoot Porcupine Creek and nearby Eighteen Mile Creek. Ah well. I can always go back up.
The Porcupine Lake Wilderness has some trails that are still in use, but because it’s a Wilderness, they are not actively maintained. The ones that get the most use lead to the lake and the many suitable camping areas nearby. Others have fallen into disuse and can barely be seen sometimes. As a matter of fact, we were navigating by GPS to the trail and we stepped right over it before someone noticed that we had. Being designated a Wilderness means a hands-off approach when it comes to forest management. There will be no thinning or controlled burns or any other interference by humans. Even though it’s only had this status since the 1980s, the signs are there if you know how to look. Basically it’s tree density – an actively managed forest has a certain look since foresters routinely evaluate for high quality trees and remove those that don’t make the grade.
We went off trail and did our best to use compass and map to get to the points Ron wanted us to reach. After a bit of getting the hang of it, I did pretty well. Not sure I’ll ever navigate that way again since I use an app now. Even without a cell signal it uses the GPS locator in the phone to connect to satellites. Even the old stand-alone GPS devices are a little easier to use provided you have a way point to walk towards. Say back to your car. But we did it the old fashioned way and walked through some beautiful forest. When we stopped I tried to find some grab shots that worked. Using ferns and logs for leading lines and anchors was a natural.
Then we broke for lunch and I wandered around a little after I was done. It was a perfect fall day. I mean just look at this –
Then while wandering around the small balsam firs I saw the weirdest thing – check this out –
OMG look at this!!
Snakes canoodling in a balsam fir sapling.
Seriously. What? The? Heck?
Those three (I think it’s three) were at the top, about 3 1/2 feet off the ground, just chillin. Then this one was on a lower branch all by its onesies. No idea. It’s not mating season. It was a little early for them to be gathering for hibernation (called brunation in reptiles) so I don’t think that’s what they were doing. I’ve seen a lot of garter snakes over the years, some swimming which they do rather well, but all have been on the ground. They have been known to climb small bushes and trees and evidently these particular snakes seem to like it. Maybe they were evading predators. Or getting off the cooler ground to find a bit of sun. Whatever the reason it was a treat to see this phenomenon. I called the others to come quietly and we all stood around marveling at these gentle creatures enjoying the season as much as we were. None of the others had ever seen anything like this either.
They didn’t get spooked and after a while we left them to it. Whatever it was.
And that’s a wrap. Two interesting outings with the NRF and hopefully some ok photos. As I said, I can’t really take the time to really work these locations, but I still enjoy seeing them and learning more about our great outdoors.
Snakes canoodling in a balsam fir! How interesting! If you have a Christmas tree, that would make for a very interesting decoration — and conversation piece.