Apples are ripe and pumpkins have been pulled from the vine. These happenings are sure signs of fall. But the most obvious sign of autumn is the diminishing summer green. And while that may sound disappointing, the colors that substitute those emerald backdrops are even more stunning-at least when it comes to the hues in the trees. So Heidi and I embarked on a fall drive, where swathes of red, yellow, orange and green meshed with old world midwestern structures. At the end of that state highway jaunt was a hill that rose approximately 700 feet from the surrounding terrain. The vista from its peak left me in awe.
Our destination, Rib Mountain, is a state park in Wausau, Wisconsin; being home to down hill ski slopes collectively known as Granite Peak. Friday, despite Rib Mountain’s rep as a winter spot, we learned that one could enjoy the fall colors from the vantage of a ski-lift. So we bounded towards the four mile long heap of high rising quartzite in search of a memorable view.
Before we set out, while checking out Wikipedia, I discovered a fun little fact. According to this well known internet source, Rib Mountain and the nearby Mosinee Hill are said to be the resting places of two American folklore characters. Local yarns have it that Paul Bunyan rests under Rib Mountain and his trusty companion Babe the blue ox lies under Mosinee Hill. Who tells this legend, how popular it is and where it came about are not stated. But heck, it’s a fun little story for the kids. It also lets you know you’re in the Northwoods.
So on with our fall color quest….
I’m driving through the woodlands of the Badger State towards Wausau, Wisconsin. The hour and a half trek is not a waiting game; it’s not even close. Even as our destination will spark awe in us, the drive is just as much the event. Along the rolling hills of Northern Wisconsin, speckled with yellowed plots of corn and bare hay fields, the vibrant fall colors amongst the woodlands dazzles us over every crest and around each turn.
Periodically, I spot an old concrete silo along a sagging red barn. I’m thrilled at such settings, as they seem worthy of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Ok, maybe I’m embellishing a tad. But the quaint remnants of family farms, enhanced by backdrops of vibrant autumn shades, incites a warm feeling. I feel the benevolent spirits of past Wisconsinites relishing the triumph of a successful harvest. I can almost smell the frosty country air, inhale the smoke emanating from the recently relit franklin stove and taste the pumpkin pie made from scratch.
That, of course, is a romantic dramatization of early dairy farmers, because I forgot to mention the stench of cow manure. But having lived on a latter era farm in my childhood, I can imagine much and I’m sure I’m not too far off.
When we make it to Wausau, amidst a network of highway ramps and intersections curving into the sky, Rib Mountain dominates the landscape. The fall collage on its slopes boasts the presence of early October. We’re both pretty psyched.
Finding the road to the hill is quite easy. There is actually an exit, when heading north, called Rib Mountain Drive. When we reach said road, we hang a left and are ascending the mound in no time.
Before we reach its crest, I surprise Heidi by parking on a small side lot. I’m pretty accustomed to Wisconsin State Parks, So, know a small lot in the middle of nowhere means a trailhead is close by.
On the other side of the road, Walkers enjoy the fall colors on a paved path along the street. I observe many a dog walker along this well kept trail.
However, Heidi and I are going to do a little hiking. We study the trailhead map to no avail, throw up our hands and find the closest thing that looks like a hiking trail. I have to say, where we chose to hike was completely covered with freshly fallen leaves. Although the carpeted forest floor was cool, navigating the trails, being that I found no trail markers, was a little difficult. It made for some delightful hiking though.
We found bare quartzite rising from the gradual forested slope, enjoyed the falling leaves as they sauntered towards the earth and delighted in the sparsely populated forest as it made hiking and navigating very easy. We actually deviated from obvious trails, roaming about to find whatever tickled our fancy. It was actually quite fun. Though I really don’t know if we were on any structured trail system at all.
Anyways, with hiking and biking trails all over this area, It should make for excellent outdoors time. It’s also decent exercise, considering that your climbing the slope of a substantial mound of earth and rock.
We hop back in the car, drive through the park entrance and wind up on a bit of an observation park. The view it renders is stunning. Along with a cool platform, I find the ski lift tucked away in the corner.
I’ve read that the ski-lift operates from 3:00 to 6:30 today, yet I see no one riding. Today is quite windy, maybe that has something to do with it. Heidi, who realizes there are no seat belts on the lift chairs, decides that maybe it’s for the best.
She and I both have a slight distrust for manmade devices that course through the sky. So even though the endeavor sounds slightly alluring, I’m struck with a little secret relief. Yet, I would have done it for the adrenaline high. As for availability of ski-lift rides, should you be so daring, Saturdays and Sundays are also available until October 18th, with hours being 10-5.
Instead, we find a platform that allows us a view of the city below. I survey a mural of manmade structures mingled with a collage of autumn colors. It stretches into an unseasonable haze on this warm and windy October day. We enjoy the view and snap a few photos.
I should mention that Rib Mountain is a four mile long stretch of high-rising quartzite. It’s peak is not the tallest in the state, at least when compared to sea level. However, if you take the surrounding terrain into consideration, no chunk of earth stands higher in Wisconsin.
When we finally head back towards Green Bay, I’m pretty satisfied. I’m sure Heidi is also. This popular Wisconsin park significantly highlighted our fall color spectating. Now, despite the lowering sun, we’ll enjoy colors along HWY 29 from the southbound perspective.