Warning: We do not recommend you visit Wisconsin from out of state. Details at end of this post.
September 19 – We drove down to National AP to catch a flight to Milwaukee on Air Tran. I dropped Chris and all the luggage off at Terminal A and proceeded to the satellite parking lot. I have not parked at National in probably fifteen years, so did not know what to expect. There used to be three satellite lots; now there is just one huge one. To get into the lot you have to use your credit card, which notes the date and time. I have never seen a system like this. I caught the shuttle back to the airport, we boarded and had an uneventful short flight to MKE.
Upon arrival we collected our luggage and proceeded to the big rental car parking garage. Chris stayed with the luggage and I went inside the counters. I had to wait in line for twenty minutes and finally got to the clerk. After looking up my reservation she advised that it was for another Hertz location – ten miles down town, with no shuttle to get there. “No problem,” she told me, they had plenty of cars. It took her quite awhile, but she got things worked out so that I had to pay only $9 more than my reservation. Considering the heavy airport taxes, she really took care of me. She told me that she had worked a very special rate that she would have to justify to her manager. What a princess!
Off we went, traveling northwest on US41, then catching State route 10 over to Stevens Point where we connected up with I39. Shortly after Woodruff we took Route M the final few miles in Boulder Junction. It was a misty, overcast day, and we were so late getting off from the airport that it was almost dark by the time we arrived in Boulder Junction. We drove right through to Fishtrap Road — where the albino deer are usually seen — and made the loop around. We spotted a few “brownies” (regular colored deer), but no albinos. I did see the hind end of an animal that could have been a raccoon or a porcupine, but when I got out of the car to try to tree it, it had disappeared.
We drove back into town and checked into the boulder Junction Motor Lodge where we had stayed before. I asked about the albinos and the owner said you mean like that one? He pointed to a very nice mounted buck head on his wall. He reported that a guy from Milwaukee had illegally shot the deer the previous fall, had been caught and the deer confiscated by the DNR. I found out today that the miscreant had only been fined $347 for killing this magnificent animal. I really aggravates me.
We got our things into our room, filled up the car with gas and got some snacks for dinner. The trip up had been 290 miles.
September 20 – Our alarm clock went off at 6. We looked out the window and it was pitch black! But we got up and dressed anyway, got our gear and made a brief stop for coffee before heading back out to Fishtrap Road. Nothing noted except more brownies. I made a couple of images of emerging fall color, including at a small lake at the end of a road that we named “Dam Lake.” There was one maple along the shore there that had turned. We ranged rather widely on local roads, including crossing Route M and traveling along airport road. At Boulder Lake we spotted a couple of young whitetails eating acorns under a single tree.> But the most amusing thing was a sign by the boat ramp. What on earth is going on here? Are the crayfish nibbling the toes of swimmers? Very strange.
After a nice breakfast at the Granary, we asked the owner of the lodge where we might find some fall color. He suggested going north on M until it terminated on Route B and taking that road either east or west. We chose east and did not find much in the way of scenic that lent themselves to good images. We took this road all the way into Land O Lakes, right on the border with Michigan’s UP. Here we spent some time looking for the famous butter factory, but alas, it has apparently been moved to China or India!
From Land O’Lakes we headed south on Route 45. Just north of the tiny village of Conover, we found some terrific color. For whatever reason, the maples along a three mile stretch of this highway had turned to brilliant reds and oranges,while those on adjacent highways were still completely green. Is this due to slight differences in soil composition, amount of sunlight, slight differences in elevation or just what? It all looked the same to us. The whole morning remained overcast, with periodic light rain, but that was just fine because photographs in such light leave colors more vivid than in sunlight. We found two other interesting species, neither of which I can positively identify: A three-leafed, low plant thatlooks a lot like poison ivy, but not exactly. It was growing a large patches on roadside banks and was very colorful. The other was a flowering plant that looked like Butter and Eggs, an invasive from Europe. But not exactly, so who knows? The flowers really do look like sunny side up eggs!
We returned to Boulder Junction for lunch and then a period where I studied the ceiling of the motel room for an hour! Afterwards, we headed out again for the albino deer area. After driving for forty-five minutes, we saw a car stopped by the side of the road. That is almost a sure sign that the occupants see an albino deer. Why else would they be stopped at an otherwise undistinctive roadside spot?
Sure enough, we stopped the car on the opposite side of the road and peered with binoculars into the woods: there was an albino doe, with another one or two probably fawns, that we could barely distinguish. We stayed there for a number of minutes, but the doe never gave us a good look. After probably ten minutes, she and the others simply wandered further back, out of sightlLater we came to the same spot, and the doe was out on the grass, but as we drove up, she ran back into the woods beyond sight. I did not get a single shot of this animal. As the light faded, we drove back to town in a light rain. Suddenly, we looked up and saw a rainbow. Driving a short ways further, we got right into the center of town and there was a full rainbow, appearing right over the edge of the village! Both of us jumped out of the car in the rain and made a number of photos. Then we drove a short ways to the edge of town and made more photos without the buildings. It was a magic moment to end an otherwise rather frustrating day. One of the best full rainbows either of us have ever seen.
We expected to get up the next morning at 6 again, and set the alarm. But apparently the maid had messed with the clock, because when we awoke, it was right at 7 AM. We raced around, brushed our teeth, grabbed our stuff and bolted out of the room! It took us just eight minutes, the fastest that I have ever seen a woman get up and moving. Chris is to be commended. We drove back up to Fishtrap road, and then to HighRoad. There standing by the side of the road was a gorgeous albino doe. The light was low, but I goosed up the ISO to 1000 to catch her. The shot was only at 1/50, and with the camera hand held, one could not expect sharpness. But the VR function on my new Nikkor 80-400 gives outstanding results in just these circumstances.
We watched this doe for 32 minutes, an unbelievably long photo and observation opportunity. She was soon joined by two young-of-the-year fawns. Whether they were hers could not bedetermined, but it is likely. After perhaps 25 minutes she began walking on the inside of a broken down old fence, in the same direction that our car was headed. It became apparent that she want to cross the road, so we stopped moving along. Indeed she did, followed by the two fawns. We were surprised to see her amble along right into the back yard of a house and then almost up to the home itself. I suspect that the owners feed the deer and she was well acquainted with the location. Pictured are the two fawns right in the garden of this house!
After lunch we went looking for color and found bright patches here and there. At one place we found what looked like a slow moving stream that was used as an access by fisherpeople to a lake. We could not see the lake, but saw the two or three boat trailers on a little gravel road paralleling the main road.
Later we were along the west part of Route B, where we found some outstanding color, when we came across a road by the name of Annabelle – our cat’s name. We could not have resisted stopping there even if one of the best scenes from the day was right across the street. Here was a small lake with flaming red trees on the far side, leaving reflections in the water like a post card. After making more shots here and a few at nearby locations, we returned to town for a late lunch. Then following a rest, when Chris did some shopping, we got in the car again for the late afternoon hours. Then the sun came out for the first time on our trip. The sky was blue, the light bright, so I anticipated that the deer would not come out of hiding early like they had the last few days. I suggested we return to Route B and shoot some of the scenes over again in different light. Off we went.
It was amazing to see the difference in how the fall color presented itself when there was bright sun on it. Here is an image of a location on the edge of a marsh. You can see the small tamarack trees below the maples. This shot would not have been possible without a polarizer.
After perhaps forty minutes of color shooting, we returned to our favorite albino area and started cruising the roads again. Lo and behold we saw a stopped car again, this time a Prius, and spotted the albino through some trees on the edge of what looked like a sand and gravel pit. I took some rather long range shots of her through the trees, but did not get a really open shot close by. It was soon too dark to shoot, so returned to town for dinner.
Up the next morning at our desired time of 6, it was bright pretty early because there were not many clouds. And few albinos! In fact, none that we saw. We went across Route M to airport road and tried that location, although we had never seen an albino on this side of M. There was an interesting view of Boulder Lake, which we both photographed with purplish clouds, but finding no other wildlife we headed south for a walk around Fallsion Lake. We had taken this walk in 2009 so decided with good weather to give it another go. Turning east on Route N, very quickly we came upon a flock of wild turkeys right by the road. They tolerated us for long enough to make a few photos, although they were clearly a little nervous. We had seen singles and doubles of turkeys before this, but this was the first flock on this trip. I wonder about mortality rates when I see small numbers of turkeys, as their brood size is usually about ten or twelve. Maybe the wolves and foxes have had a nice summer feast!
We were the first to arrive at the parking lot of Fallsion and soon were on the path around the lake. As soon as we got to where we could see water, I was surprised to see a late Common Loon. I would have expected most loons to be on the way south for the winter. This bird called a few times and then disappeared. That eerie call is one of the signatures sounds of lakes in the north of our country.
The walk around the lake was supposedly just two miles, but it seemed a lot longer, for whatever reason. There were a couple of minor hills, but mostly it was just a regular walk through a wooded area. The only wildlife we saw was a couple of chipmunks and a few birds. The interesting thing, however, was all the mosses, lichens and mushrooms. I stopped and photographed many times in the couple of hours it took to get around. One that particularly grabbed me was a white edged fungi that we found early on the walk attached to a rotting log. I do not know the identification of such things, so cannot produce a species, but it is an interesting creature!
When we were almost around the lake, we encountered an unusual guy from La Crosse who engaged us in conversation. We told us he owned over 2400 cameras and I thought he was just kidding, but he wasn’t! He knew the exact number and also collects and trades such items as dice and “Boy Scout items.” Takes all kinds! But he was kind enough to offer to photograph Chris and I and we took him up on it. We seldom remember to have someone take photos of us when we are on trips. Here we are on Fallsion Lake.
After lunch we headed back out to enjoy the color on a wonderful mild, bright afternoon. We were back on Route B again, but stopped fewer times than before because we had covered most of the best spots. When we got to Annabelle Road, we could not resist stopping for a few more images. Then, on a whim, we decided to travel down this road and see where it took us. After only a mile or two, we came to a place which suggested we turn around. Almost as soon as we did I spied a nice Ruffed Grouse right on the side of the road. We had just passed this spot minutes before and did not see the bird. Was he just crouched down before? I was able to make about ten quick shots as he slowly walked to the edge of the road and then disappeared in the foliage. It was a very nice adult bird.
From here we drove back to our late afternoon-early evening spot, good old Fishtrap Road. I did not expect to see anything in the first half-hour or so because it was so bright out. Indeed, we saw no brownies as we drove up the road. He took the High Road fork and I got to the end of where we had ever seen deer and pulled into a spot on the left hand side of the road to take a U’y. Right in front of us we were dumbfounded to see an albino doe with a brown fawn walk rapidly from a wide open field, cross a fence and disappear into the woods. It had been completely exposed but we did not see it before scaring it off. Darn!
We drove the usual route up and down and around, including the airport road and saw nothing except a few brownies when one hour forty minutes later, an albino appeared in the back yard of someone’s cabin. Unfotunately, there was a fence along the road, so I could not shoot from the car. I got out and slowly moved to the fence, hoping to prop my camera on a fence post. wouldn’t you know it but the only branches at lower level here were right in front of the fence post. So I hand held the camera and shot anyway. It was amazing but that VR function worked well again and I got sharp shots of this deer. After I had made a few shots, she went mostly behind a tree and leaned out as if she thought she was hidden by the tree. Surprise, surprise, white deer stand out like the proverbial thumb! After a few minutes, she got nervous and walked back into the woods. We are pretty sure this was the same deer we had seen less than two hours previously, probably 150 yards away. That was it for Sunday, as it was getting dark.
For out last day we arose early, following our same path, over the same roads along the same route, trying for one last opportunity at the albinos, and hoping against hope that we would find an albino buck. There were no white deer along Fishtrap or High Roads, so we crossed Route M and went down Airport Road, notwithstanding that we had never seen a white deer here. People had told us, including on this trip, that they had seen albinos in this area, however. Big surprise: we found one in someone’s yard! It quickly evaporated into the woods with two brownies. The woods were small however, and all three deer emerged on the grass along an adjacent road and then crossed the street. They moved into the back yard of a house there and I was able to make a couple of long distance images. Then they were gone.
When I looked at the image on the back of my camera, I was startled to see that it looked like both the tops of this doe’s ears had been chewed off! What is going on here? Did a wolf have her in its grasp, but she escaped? Or was this a genetic flaw that she has somehow survived? I reported this to a DNR officer after I got home, so may have some explanation later.
After this sighting we decided to leave Boulder Junction and head south. We stopped at the library in Minocqua for a few minutes to check e-mails and then headed on south on I39. We had more than enough time to get to an airport motel at a reasonable hour so debated taking a detour to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. It looked doable, so we made this fatal decision. We left I39 at route 21 and drove to the refuge.
Here we found an impressive new Visitors Center, where we were two of only a handful of visitors on this Monday. There were attractive displays and knowledgeable volunteers staffing the main desk. We learned that there were two small wolf packs that frequented the refuge and that these wolves predated beavers as one of their primary food sources. I had never heard this. We took a short walk around a adjacent boardwalk, but saw nothing but some Canada Geese. It was another lovely day, however, so it was a nice walk. After about an hour, we decided to head on south, but not before we stopped briefly to photograph some very nice white birches with ferns at their base.
We headed out the entrance road to State Route 80 and headed west to access I94. It was a sunny afternoon, we were basking in the aftermath of a very pleasant trip. That feeling would not last long. I was driving at a speed that I considered reasonable and prudent on a dry, very straight and flat road with no other cars, in a rural area. Suddenly an unmarked police car was behind us with flashing lights. An officer stopped , took my license and provided me a ticket for $175! I told the trooper that I had seen no sign that the speed limit was what he claimed: 55. He told me that in Wisconsin if a road is not marked, the speed limit is 55! He could have given me a warning, explained this fact (how would any tourist know?) and sent me on my way. Instead, he chose to stick it to me, leaving an exceptionally bitter taste in my mouth. Wisconsin will never again have the opportunity to acquire my discretionary travel funds.
So, I recommend NOT visiting Wisconsin if you have a choice and avoiding like the plague Juneau County if you do choose to visit. I also learned of a good friend who was similarly nailed in Racine County. It seems like Wisconsin likes to prey on unsuspecting tourists and hit them with a maximum fine. They don’t seem to realize that there are consequences from such actions.