Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A weekend trip to Roche-A-Cri State Park

Finally I've been able to sneak away for a weekend and go explore this state park, that for the longest time has been crazy intriguing to me. Following suit with a lot of the recent other trips I've taken around Wisconsin, I'm convinced the smaller, lesser-known parks are easily the best. Visiting tremendously surprising, obscure state park properties like Tower Hill, Perrot, Newport, Aztalan, Natural Bridge have left me everlasting cravings to return.

I clocked out of work at the magazine around 3pm, hopped in the adventure mobile and headed west out to Roche-A-Cri State Park. The second I got on the highway it started storming like mad. Thank the car Gods for all-wheel-drive which kept me sound at 75mph in torrential rain. I arrived in the town of Friendship, about three-hours from Milwaukee just before 6pm with a decent amount of daylight left.

Pulling into the park, I was immediately floored at just how pristine everything was... and silent. I was so looking forward to a weekend to unplug from the daily grind and Roche-A-Cri seemed like the perfect place to make it all happen. On this Friday night, the 41-site campground was only about half-full and it was cool to see people camping from states near and far. License plates on the back of RVs, campervans and Jeeps reading Texas, Florida, Iowa, New York, Colorado, Illinois.

I kept looking up, smiling,  because this park is dotted with masses of strong red oaks and white pines. With a much welcomed gap in the rain, I threw my tent up in a few minutes and cooked dinner. Two of my best friends, Mark and Amie, own land about twenty-minutes west of the park and invited me over for a bonfire and pizza. I couldn't dare pass up that hospitality.

The next morning I woke up around 9am to the chorus above birds singing above in the treetops. I could also hear slow drops of rain falling on the outside of my tent. Thankfully the storms that were originally called for last night, dissipated and I slept uninterrupted.

I spent a few minutes inside the tent scribbling away in my pocket-sized travel journal (that's literally been with me on every trip I've ever done), and laying their snug in my sleeping bag quietly relaxing. Mmmmmhmmm, now I just need to master the art of camping coffee and it'd be even more blissful. Clearly a trip to REI is in order for when I get home.

It was a complete relief to not have to wake to an alarm or the honking of horns. I could take my time and not have to throw on whatever dressy clothes were the least wrinkly, polish up, pack a lunch and dart off to the office. What's the biggest downfall to this trip thus far? The mosquitoes....yep they're aplenty and clearly the 'backwoods' term on my bug spray can is just a marketing sham, because I was applying a thick slobbery coat almost every half-hour. Oh well.

I cooked up cheesy eggs over my camping stove for breakfast then strung my hammock between two trees, where I stayed for awhile reading and staring up at the tree canopy above. Around noon, I laced my boots and set out on the trails for the day.

Roche-A-Cri has a network of scenic trails that take you through hardwoods, between rocky outcroppings, and beautiful prairies alive with wildflowers and buzzing bumble bees. What kept catching my eye throughout my hours and miles of hiking was just how rich and glowing green everything was. Tall trees and a ferny floor. And after a little morning rain, this hike was dreamy. The adjective that just kept playing on repeat in head was lush. Lush, lush, lush. It was as if Mother Nature had swiped left on the most-enhancing, polarizing Instagram filter and clicked save.
The park's Acorn Trail takes you a few miles looping around the tall Roche-A-Cri mound. I deviated off the trail to check out Chickadee Rock, a rock mound in the middle of the woods composed of granite (and I think some sandstone) that rises 30-40ft above the trail. Being obsessed with all things rock climbing, I of course had to scale to the top of it. Views from the top were pretty cool and I could hear thunder continuing to drum off in the distance, but those bright blue skies directly above me were hushing it away.

The southwest part of the Acorn Trail gives way to unique views of the larger Roche-A-Cri mound, then crosses over a muddy rover to connect to the Turkey Vulture Trail. Yep, these sweet birds fly over head here. Don't be scared, they're harmless.
The 605-acre park itself is designated to protect the aforementioned Roche-A-Cri mound, which is actually a state natural area. Before climbing to the top, you have to stop and admire the collection of preserved pictographs and petroglyphs both from Native Americans and some of Wisco's earliest settlers. It's super interesting! I climbed up the 300+ stairs to reach the top of the mound which towers above everything else in the area.

While it's a wee bit smaller, well, a ton smaller, Roche-A-Cri strikes similar resemblance to our country's first national monument: Devil's Tower out in Wyoming. Please, if you have the time make the road trip there, it's mind-blowing. I'm going back this December with a few friends and can't wait to see it in the snow.

The views at the top are killer you can see forever across this part of the state, down onto other tall rock outcroppings jutting upwards from the ground with names storytelling like "Minnie", "Ship", "Doro Couche" and "Rabbit." It's crazy surreal up there and after cooking dinner back at the campsite, I hiked again up to the mound top at sunset to spend an hour watching this masterpiece of explosive colors take over the sky.

It was one of those ideal moments where time just feels like it slows down and stops. If you live in Wisconsin, seeing the sunset from the top of Roche-A-Cri needs to be on your bucket list. It will give you the chills.

Thanks Roche-A-Cri for jumping to my top five favorite Wisconsin state parks list. Onward to Rocky Arbor State Park.