19-Feb-2006 -- This may not have been the most adventurous or scenic of my confluences to date, but it was certainly the coldest! A President’s Weekend trip to Wisconsin offered the perfect chance to bag my first confluence of 2006, despite the frigid conditions. After poking around the website, I settled for this relatively easy gem within the city limits of Ridgeway. I called up the town clerk’s office and began exchanging emails with the clerk, Marian, a wonderful woman who took an interest in confluence hunting and my visit. Not only did she act as intermediary and secure permission from the landowners for me to visit the confluence, she also provided insight into the “real” story about the infamous Christmas pageant where “Silent Night” was allegedly changed to “Cold in the Night.” This national news item brought attacks from across the country against tiny Ridgeway Elementary School, largely undeserved (in my humble opinion, after reading up on the topic). Marian also introduced me to her son via email, a big-wig employed by the Green Bay Packers. This allowed me to score an unreal, behind-the-scenes tour of Lambeau Field the same day I visited the confluence!
This journey began with a Friday-night flight into Milwaukee, and my arrival was greeted by a minus-forty-degree wind chill. I was sporting my usual shorts and a t-shirt, so my Southern California apparel didn’t last long at all in the “Dairy State.” The entire state was blanketed with a foot of snow a mere day before my arrival! The day before my confluence hunt, Saturday, was extremely busy with touristy activities all over the state. I started with a fantastic tour of Yerkes Observatory, a few free brews at the Miller Brewing Company (though the tour was canceled due to extreme cold!), and a nice drive northwest to Warrens, home of the Cranberry Discovery Center. I just had to stop at the Carr Valley Cheese Factory on the way, though, stocking up on gourmet cheeses for the return to California. Warrens was fantastic; I toured the cranberry museum, sampled cranberry ice cream, drove amongst the berry marshes, and even (inadvertently) drove on a frozen lake! Panicky, I reminded my hosts about global warming and nervously confirmed that this activity would be safe, since it certainly was outside the bounds of my rental car coverage. In a beautiful upper Midwestern accent, one of my hosts said, “Oh, it’s fine. Up here we like to put an old clunker out on the lake. We then take bets on what date it will fall down through the ice.”
After a scrumptious meal at “The Bog” restaurant, I took the interstate down to Madison, checked into my motel, and then hit State Street for a beer. I found it very difficult to navigate around Madison, but I eventually found my motel and checked out the NBA slam-dunk contest (it was all-star weekend) before turning in, preparing to tackle 43ºN 90ºW the next morning. Sunday dawned bright, sunny, and (of course) wickedly cold. The overnight low was -11ºF (-24ºC), so I bundled up for a truly chilly trek to the nearest DCP point. After quick photo-ops in Madison at the governor’s mansion and the state capitol, I was off for the relatively quick trip to Ridgeway. I made good time, but then got a little lost within town, so I found a convenience store and called the town clerk. She met me there with her husband, and they agreed to drive me out to the confluence. According to the car’s thermometer, it had warmed to a balmy 0ºF (-18ºC) by this time, 8:30 am. Oh, joy!
My hosts parked the car about 130 feet (40 meters) from confluence as I used my trusty Garmin GPS in the front seat, and then I set off on foot to the east. This surprised my hosts; the game farm mentioned in the previous write-ups is actually only to the west of the road. Therefore, the prior visitors should be glad to know they actually weren’t trespassing at all, because the property to the east is owned by the city of Ridgeway. In short order, I trekked down the incline, with a solid foot of snow under my feet. The fairly cluttered thicket of oak trees made it difficult to obtain all zeroes on the GPS, but I eventually did so, with a GPS error of about 23 feet (7 meters). However, I had a devil of a time photographing all zeroes on my Garmin. I tried for a good 15-20 minutes, but the twinges of frostbite in my (gloved) fingers eventually forced me to give up. I decided to include the clearest GPS photo here, rather than the one with the highest accuracy. As always, I took the requisite vista photos in the four cardinal and four diagonal directions; I chose to display the cardinal directions here because they made for better pictures. With moderate GPS satellite coverage and a solid five satellites tracking, I obtained an approximate elevation of 1152 feet (351 meters) from multiple GPS measurements. From a topographic map, I estimate the true elevation at 1131 feet (345 meters), so this agreement is not that great, but perhaps that’s not surprising given the lack of satellite coverage.
After my 20th confluence success, I celebrated by warming up in my hosts’ car! We drove back to the town hall and settled in for a quick interview about the flora, fauna, history, and geology of the area. Marian’s hubby, Tom, was an unbelievable resource for all of these points of interest! I wrote down everything he said at a feverish pace while my digital camera battery was recharging (it was quite unhappy with the frosty weather as well). The area of the confluence is a driftless, glaciated area, but the last nearby glacier split in two, with the two pieces going east and west of Ridgeway. That’s why this land is relatively rough compared to the terrain to the east and west. Underneath the handiwork of this last glaciation are layers of limestone and St. Peter’s sandstone. The soil in the Ridgeway area is a shallow silt loam soil, set down in wooded areas. It’s also known as Dubuque soil. The area around the confluence itself is actually an oak re-growth area (mostly white oak, but with some black and burr oak), originally inhabited by pine. Mosses, lichens, and ferns are quite common as well, though copious snow cover certainly masked their presence during this visit. Well-known fauna of this area include white-tail deer, raccoon, badger (the state animal), opossum, wild turkey, coyote (which came in from the west), and snowbird, just to mention a few species.
Ridgeway is a bedroom community for both Madison and Dubuque, Iowa, a mere 55 miles (89 km) away on the Mississippi River. Iowa County, Ridgeway’s home, is punctuated by bluegrass pastures, large dairy farms, and the sublimely beautiful Hyde’s Mill. The county seat is Dodgeville, only 8 miles (13 km) west of Ridgeway. It is most famous for being the home of Land’s End Apparel, and Marian actually works there during their annual Xmas rush! The main crops of Iowa County are corn, soybeans, and alfalfa; lead and zinc mining were also important to the local economy, but the mines are nearly tapped out now. The town of Ridgeway has an interesting history as well. It was a stop on the military ridge road between Ft. Green Bay and Ft. Prairie Du chien, even before Wisconsin’s statehood in 1848. Perhaps more colorfully, local legends abound about ghosts inhabiting the community following wrongful demises of their human predecessors. The “Ridgeway Ghost” is even featured on the town’s stationery and on the sign outside the town hall.
Unfortunately, my time with my wonderful hosts had come to an end, for I had much of Wisconsin left to explore that day. Marian knew how crazy my schedule was from my emails, so she baked me homemade chocolate-chip cookies so I’d have something to nibble during my lengthy drive to Green Bay! Boy, you just can’t beat Midwestern hospitality, can you? I bid Marian and Tom a fond farewell, and then set off for Mount Horeb (home of the world’s largest mustard museum!), Little Norway, and finally Green Bay. After marveling at the National Railroad Museum, I met Marian and Tom’s son, also named Tom, at Lambeau Field. He was a chip off the ole block, just as nice as his parents whom I had met earlier in the day. Four cookies even survived the journey from mother to son. My tour of Lambeau was so special, including checking out the Packers gym, locker room, and even heading out onto the field, buried in snow. He didn’t even give me any grief as a life-long Steelers fan. From there, it was down to Milwaukee for one more round of sightseeing, including the Harley-Davidson tour and a dynamite cheese factory tour in Beechwood. After some great brats, sauerkraut, and knockwurst in the airport, it was time to return to sunny (but sterile) Southern California. I would like to thank all of the people who made my Wisconsin trip so memorable and enjoyable, especially the Strutt family. You’re simply the best!