Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hills and Hollows, Ridges and Coulees

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Southwest Wisconsin is part of the Driftless Region. When the glaciers retreated, what they left behind was silt, clay, sand, gravel, and boulders. This was called drift. This area of Wisconsin is unglaciated, so it is referred to as driftless.

That’s about enough geology for me. What I do know is that Joann and I love this area of Wisconsin. It is probably why we also love southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa, and Northwest Illinois as they are all part of this unglaciated region. From I-94 in the north, down past the southern border of Wisconsin, you will find a lot of roads with names like Dodson Hollow, Salem Ridge, Kammell Coulee, and Kill Hill Road.

If you drive some of the Hollow and Coulee roads, you will find yourself down in the valleys of the region. Most of these valleys will have a stream running through them and you may find some springhouses. You will also see small farm fields carved out of this rough terrain. We always marvel at the fortitude of these farmers to have carved a life out of this land. But it is beautiful and peaceful, so we do understand their desire to live in this area. It is a place of many streams and wooded ridges where wildlife abounds.

When you drive the Hill and Ridge roads, you will climb to the top of the ridges and look down into the hollows and coulees below. You will see many small farms nestled in the valleys. You can visit Wildcat Mountain State Park and drive along the Ocooch Mountain range. Neither of these “mountains” is a mountain by dictionary standards, but they are some of the highest in Wisconsin, and they help to make this such a special place.

Many of the roads in the coulees travel far back into the valley and then dead-end. Don’t be afraid to drive some of the longer ones. If anyone asks, say you’re looking for your cousin Bill. That’s what we do!

Fall color seems more dramatic in the area, and perhaps it’s because you’re either high on a ridge looking down into the color spreading across the valley, or you’re driving down in the valley with the ridges of color spread out before you. Whatever the reason, it’s worth the trip to view the brilliant colors of autumn.

If you haven’t experienced this area of Wisconsin for yourself, you should take a day or two and enjoy the fall weather. You won’t regret it.

Happy Shunpiking!

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