[landscapephotograph description=”Secret Falls, near Leland, Wisconsin” photoname=”Secret Falls” photo=”http://timmulholland.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SecretFalls-3585.jpg” photourl=”http://timmulholland.photoshelter.com/image/I0000VpKJ6xxiW60″][/landscapephotograph]
Actually, no, we’re still in New Zealand (just got back from a beautiful weekend in Wellington), but I have some photographs from “home” that I want to share. Wisconsin has quite a few beautiful locations (though, not quite as many as New Zealand).
There’s this one special place that I know that’s literally “buried” in the Baraboo Hills and I found it in the strangest way – literally (sonically? aurally?), by keeping my ears open. I photographed a wedding in Sauk Prairie in the spring of 2008. The reception was at the Lake Wisconsin Country Club. It had been a good day, but when the wedding party settled into their suppers, it was nice to take a break. I was sitting at the bar, likely enjoying a gratis soda, when two guests sidled up to the bar, ordered Oddbins Vodka drinks and started talking. A couple of guys… I wasn’t trying to pay any attention to them – really! But, I could make out some of their words: waterfall, wisconsin society of ornithology, and I don’t remember what else. I tucked those few words away and spent the rest of the evening enjoying and recording the festivities (especially when the wedding party borrowed some golf carts and we went around the course and took some memorable photographs!).
After I edited the portraits and presented them to the couple, I started to perform my research on this mystery waterfall that may or may not exist. The bad news is that there wasn’t a whole lot to go on. The good news is that my skills and resources did provide me some good starting points. I contacted a good friend who is a major bird lover – and significant on the state and national level with the National Audobon Society. He provided me some good leads, but didn’t know the land for which I was searching. He did suggest that I do some additional research on the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, which I did. I contacted a friend at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and he did know about the waterfall that I was seeking. In fact, he’d been there! But, he wouldn’t tell me because the waterfall resided on non-DNR lands and he didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. The good news is that he did provide me some basic information and let me know that I was on the right track – the Honey Creek State Natural Area.
So, between weddings and other work, I took some time to do some exploring on at the Honey Creek State Natural Area (SNA), which is just a few miles northwest of Leland, Sauk County, Wisconsin (fyi – Natural Bridge State Park is just a few miles northeast of Leland and Hemlock Draw SNA is just north of town). I took four separate trips to Honey Creek. The first three trips I walked all over the property and found a lot of interesting land, streams, plants, and so on – but no waterfall. Along Honey Creek, there are some beautiful sandstone walls that have been carved out by the Creek. After walking all over the Honey Creek SNA and coming home covered with mud, sweat and scratches, I decided that it was time to get a little smarter.
Based on the information that I had, I also knew that The Nature Conservancy had interest in the Honey Creek property so I made a little research trip down to the Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. I explained to a staff member what I was seeking at Honey Creek and he showed me a map of the area that noted The Nature Conservancy’s property. Lo and behold, it turns out that The Nature Conservancy owned a little piece of land just north of the Honey Creek SNA.Voila! That was the good news. The bad news is that The Nature Conservancy’s property wasn’t contiguous with the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology property, but maybe a thousand feet north.
A few days later, I made another trip to Honey Creek and went further and deeper than I’d ventured before. Now, it was getting later in the spring/early summer and the weather was getting warmer and more humid. And, the mosquitoes were starting to come out! I hiked through the weeds along the stream bank and slogged up stream as far as I’d been before and then went further. There was a reasonably clear property line on the north end of the Honey Creek SNA. Having worked for the Wisconsin DNR for many years, I have some knowledge about the rules regarding property, trespassing, and who owns what, etc. The State of Wisconsin owns all of the water in the State, up to the common high water mark (or something like that). That meant that I could walk in Honey Creek and not trespass on the private property owner’s land, and continue my watery hike north to the other sliver of Nature Conservancy land. Eventually, I came to a small side stream that had a pretty good flow, and some really attractive pink quartzite in its bed. (Yes, I do get excited by some odd things in the beds that I visit!)
Another few hundred feet up the side stream and there it was – the most beautiful waterfall that I’ve ever seen in Wisconsin!!! It was very satisfying and inspiring to have spent these past few weeks searching, busting my butt, coming out of the woods wet and stinking, and then to be sitting there in front of it. I can’t remember how long I spent there, enjoying it, soaking it up, and photographing it. It was relatively small and intimate, but surrounded by beautiful green foliage, and the pink quartzite really set it all off. In some ways, this was quite the highlight of my summer. And, to make for a great autumn, I went to “Secret Falls” in the late September, just as the trees were turning a bit, and as the mosquitoes were migrating south.
And, that’s the last time that I visited Secret Falls until last May. As Memorial Day was approaching, we were thinking of things to do in the area, and heading back to Secret Falls had been on my “to do” list for quite some time. The family was game for a decent hike, and we dragged along a great friend who also loves to hike. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a satisfactory job of adequately describing the hike and conditions to everyone. While I wore long pants and shirt, I forgot to suggest to everyone else that they might want to do likewise. When I hiked to Secret Falls, it usually took me about 90 minutes to get there from my parked car. But, my crew was slower, the weather was quite hot and humid, and they didn’t appreciate all of the stinging nettles along the way. To avoid the nettles and tall weeds, they all hiked in the stream bed for a good portion of the hike. If you haven’t hiked in a stream bed before, it’s not very easy – you’re sloshing through the water, you can’t see your footing very well, there are rocks and cobbles all over the stream bed and they make your feet and ankles hurt. Also remember that some of my victim’s legs were much shorter than mine, so there was another aspect of the death march that wasn’t appreciated. After about three hours of hiking and whining, we finally made it to Secret Falls! My family and friend did appreciate Secret Falls as being a very beautiful waterfall, but they also felt that the price of admission was higher than I had lead them to believe. Below is a small gallery of photographs from this last trip to Secret Falls. After the seemingly never ending hike, I had to rescue my victims by taking them to the nearest lunch stop, which happened to be at a bar in Leland.
My family is now much more wary when I suggest a hike… 🙂
And, here’s a gallery from my 2008 trips:
As an expression of my appreciation to The Nature Conservancy for all that they do, and particularly at Honey Creek, I donated a very large canvas print of Secret Falls to their Madison office.
Finally, if you’re also a glutton for punishment, here’s a map and GPS coordinates that will help you to find Secret Falls – but don’t blame me if you come back hot, sweaty, sore and happy!
46 S EnZed signing off…