Once more, traveling Highway 12

I did a posting, on July 24 of this year, in which I began thinking about U.S. Highway 12, the road between Baraboo and Madison that I have been traveling my whole life.  I focused then on the magnificent quartzite outcroppings that are exposed in the Baraboo Hills — the remnant of an ancient mountain range that dates from an estimated 1,650 million years ago.

As I stated in my July posting, “The highway is, in fact, a living historical record of places, events and changes that have been an integral part of the region and of my life across these years.”

Traveling north toward Baraboo from Madison, just after crossing over the Baraboo Range, is a spot on the highway with significance to me.  Once, back in the late 1980s, my mother had been visiting us for a few days and I was driving her back to Baraboo.  We had made the long climb up and over the west bluff, had just started to coast back down the other side toward Baraboo, when my car suddenly went ‘dead.’  No response to the gas pedal, no sound of the motor, nothing.  I guess the brake must have worked, because we smoothly rolled over to the side of the road and stopped.  I was totally out of gas.  Never happened before in my entire life.  There was a farm house very near by.  I went to the door and shared our plight with the man who came to the door.  He very kindly filled a can with gasoline, brought it out to the car  and siphoned it into our tank.  My mother had the presence of mind to give him $10.  And we had a story to tell.  I never pass by that farm without remembering that event in our lives.

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Back to heading toward Madison again, looking east across the outwash plain, we come upon the final vestiges of the U.S. Badger Army Ammunition Works, built initially to help provide ammunition to the troops in WWII.  The “powder plant” as we called it was one of the largest in the country.  A village of houses and a school was built on the west side of the highway.  I remember staring out the car window at the guard houses along the highway and being able to see the guard with his rifle silhouetted inside. The plant was reactivated during the Korean War, and. to some extent, during the Vietnam War.  Gradually over the years, the buildings from the massive plant have been removed.  Controversy exists over the contaminated state of the land, and what it can be used for now that the plant is gone.  All that exists at this point is a museum, a rather lonely reminder of another age.  



There are three small towns between Baraboo and Madison.  Prairie du Sac is one of them.  The name means “Prairie of the Sauk;” Sauk refers to a Native American tribe indigenous to the area.  The next town, close by, is Sauk City.  The county where Baraboo is located is Sauk County.  Wisconsin has many cities and towns and rivers that have names reflecting Native American origins.  Prairie du Sac is well known in the area for the large numbers of bald eagles that congregate along the nearby Wisconsin River during certain times of the year.  A viewing platform has been built right downtown, overlooking the river. to enable people to watch for the eagles. You can see the image of an eagle on the left stone pillar of the Prairie du Sac sign; you can also see a sampling of small town entertainment being advertised.                                                                                   



Lastly, moving on toward Madison, driving up and over another of Wisconsin’s rolling hills (appropriately named Sauk Hill), a small gravestone used to be visible close to the highway, on the left, at the edge of a nearby woodsy area.  At some point in our many travels on the highway, we realized the gravestone was no longer there.  Ed and I were intrigued, and finally one day we stopped to explore.  We walked through the brush and into the woods and quite soon found a whole cemetery, with graves dating back into the 1800s.  “Oh, here’s a gravestone.  Oh, here’s another.  Oh, there’s a whole bunch of them!”   We had discovered a ‘secret’ cemetery.   Most of the epitaphs were in German, presumably from an early German settlement.  Such a strong reminder of an earlier time, before Wisconsin became a state, when early European people, in this case immigrants from Germany, were arriving in the area and settling down to make a new home.   I was on Highway 12 recently and was going to stop to once more find the cemetery in the woods.  But I was surprised to find the brush and trees so thick that I found it daunting to try to fight my way through.  A Highway 12 widening to 4 lanes that took place in recent years was obviously respectfully diverted around the area where the cemetery is located.  So, this ‘final resting place’ is presumably still there and still on the survey maps.  Rest in Peace.


Putting Food on the Table

Gone are the days when most people have kitchen gardens from which they can harvest seasonal fruits and vegetables for their daily meals.  I got to thinking recently about the many other possibilities that now exist here in Madison, and presumably in many places, for getting food on the table.  Meals on Wheels, probably the earliest and only food delivery service to people in their homes, is now one of an amazing variety of other services and businesses, many that bring food to the neighborhood or front door.

Probably pizza delivery was one of the first options for home delivery, its arrival signaled by the sound of the doorbell.  Since those early days, many other restaurants deliver meals as well.  In the newspaper last week was an article about two young entrepreneurs who are starting a meal delivery business for a whole list of restaurants — well beyond the pizza delivery model.

Grocery stores now have large deli sections filled with fully prepared salads and pasta dishes and twice baked potatoes, all ready to put on the table.  In addition, there are hot entrees ready to go — rotisserie chickens, pizza slices, sesame chicken, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, etc.  Some of the large grocery stores also offer a service by “personal shoppers;” these shoppers are employees whose job it is to do the grocery shopping for people who can no longer get to the store themselves. These customers submit lists of what they need and the shoppers gather all the items into carts, bag them up and send the groceries to the people’s homes in a van.

If not to the front door, then foods may be brought to the neighborhood, such as the farmers’ markets that are wildly popular — at least in the Midwestern part of the United States.  We have a huge farmers’ market here during spring, summer and fall, all around the capitol square on every Saturday morning.  And there are smaller neighborhood Farmers’ Markets as well on other days of the week.

This past summer, somebody organized a weekly Food Carts night in our neighborhood park, just two blocks away from our house — another alternative to cooking the evening meal.

Recently, friends of mine told me about a “fresh ingredients and recipe delivery service” called the Blue Apron.  They have signed on for 3 recipes a week.  The Blue Apron has videos on line that offer instruction in the preparation of the recipes and the  recipes are never repeated in the same year.  The Blue Apron website declares that it “delivers everything you need to cook incredible meals at home.”

And now I’ve discovered that my son and daughter-in-law have signed on to a non-profit agency– Community Supported Agriculture —  that supports local farms by pairing up households with specific farms.  The farm owners deliver bags of fresh vegetables and fruit, and sometimes eggs, cheese or  herbs, to a household station for pickup weekly or biweekly during the growing season.  I have seen signs for CSA at pick-up points around the city.

All of this awareness of food and meal sources has led me to think about the time spent as rehabilitation occupational therapists, working with patients to help them function in an adapted kitchen — to enable them to prepare, cook and serve meals when they are discharged home.  Such a focus in therapy remains valued and needed, but information about other ways to go about getting a meal on the table can also be helpful and an eye-opener.  At the very least, we as occupational therapists need to be well informed about what all the options are in our home territory. We want to be able to appropriately provide information and guidance on the best way for each person with whom we work to put food on the table when he or she goes back home to resume life in the community.

On the Road Again

I have been traveling U.S. Highway 12 between Baraboo and Madison, Wisconsin, my whole life — literally.  I was born at University Hospitals in Madison and had my first ride home to Baraboo when I was 2 weeks old.  As a child, we came to Madison in my earliest years to appointments with the pediatrician, the eye clinic, and the orthodontist.  Every year, before school started in the fall, we came to shop for new school clothes in the many stores around the Capitol Square. Once in a while we drove to Madison to attend concerts.  (I remember on one occasion, probably when I was 8 or 10 years old, my sister and I came with our parents to hear the world-renowned pianist Artur Rubinstein perform in the Memorial Union Theater. Eleanor and I “split” one ticket —  she attended the first half of the program and I attended after the intermission.   At the time, I worried some about whether or not we were “breaking the law”!)

And so I came to know the 42 miles between Baraboo and Madison well — the contours of the land, the small towns, the farms, the rivers, the bridges, the special points of interest.  Now, in my adult years, I realize that this highway offers much more than a way to get from Baraboo to Madison. The highway is, in fact, a living historical record of places, events and changes that have been an integral part of the region and of my life across these years. The countryside along U.S. Highway 12 offers at least four layers of historical significance to me:

  • Deep geological time including some of the earth’s oldest exposed rock formations, known to and studied by geologists from around the globe;
  • Native American history including the tensions that came with European settlers;
  • The conversion during World War II of some of the most fertile, privately owned farmland in the state into the U.S.Badger Army Ammunition Works during WWII.  At the time, this plant was one of the largest in the country, with operations that continued during the Korean War and, even to some extent, the Vietnam War; and
  • My own personal memories of places and events associated with Highway 12.

I will describe the first of these — geological time — in this posting.  The other three will come in the next blog.


How can I capture the essence of the Baraboo Hills in a few paragraphs?  The Hills comprise about 200 square miles of land, with north, south, east and west ranges forming a sort of oval or elliptical shape. The range is clearly visible in satellite imagery. The town of Baraboo is located within the valley that lies between the high ranges.

The Baraboo range has been referred to as a geologist’s “mecca”, one of the world’s “remaining outstanding ecosystems,” and the “remnant of an ancient quartzite mountain range.”  Ancient — as in really, really old.  U.S.Highway 12 makes its way south through the Baraboo Hills as it heads from Baraboo to Madison.

One of the first obvious signs of the Hills is a rather sharp curve in the highway, just four miles south of Baraboo, a curve that cuts through an enormous stone outcropping of quartzite called “Point of Rocks.”  This prominent outcropping of quartzite is very important to geologists because it has the best exposure known of sedimentary features — features that help tell the tale of the earth’s development over an estimated 2,800 million years.  The Baraboo rocks date from an estimated 1,650 million years ago.  The many features of the outcropping were studied by a University of Wisconsin geology professor in the late 19th century and were used to describe the various phases and layers of the planet’s topographical formation.  Features such as cross bedding, soft-sediment deformation, stratification, and ripple marks were observed and identified at that time by Professor Van Hise, and his methods and findings laid the groundwork for structural geology theory and practice today.

Point of Rocks along Hwy.12, with geology students. Photo by Dr. Diane Kiesel of the UW Baraboo Center.

Can you see the “syncline” of the quartzite?  The rock is inclined 25 degrees to the north, i.e. the layered rocks are downbending toward the north.  Exactly what causes such deformations is unclear.

After completing the sharp curve around the Point of Rocks, the highway immediately begins to ascend the east range of the Baraboo Hills, traveling up and over and then down, down onto an outwash plain. The outwash plain consists of deposits left behind by the rivers that drained the last Wisconsin glacier some 90,000 years ago.  Off to the east can be seen the low ridge of the Johnstown Moraine,also known as the terminal moraine, an accumulation of sediment along the margins of the Green Bay Lobe of last glacier.  Off to the west can be seen the hills of the Driftless Area, a term used to identify areas in the Midwestern United States that were not covered by the Ice Age glaciers.  The highway, in effect, crosses over the outwash plain between these two geological features — the Johnstown Moraine to the east and the Driftless Area to the west.

In recent years, now with at least rudimentary understandings of the geology of the Baraboo Hills,see the Hills and ridges and plains and quartzite along the highway with very different eyes.  The deep geological time exposed in these rocks feels like a visible sign of creation.  And my “respect” for all rocks in the world has increased a thousand fold.

Dott, R.H. Jr, & Attig, J.W.. (2004).  Roadside Geology of Wisconsin. Mountain Press Publishing Company:  Missoula, Montana.

Kruse, H. (n.d.).  Natural Areas in the Baraboo Hills.  Published in cooperation with Goblin Fern Press, http://www.goblinfernpress.com

Lange, K.I. (2014).  Song of Place:  A Natural History of the Baraboo Hills.  Ballindalloch Press:  Baraboo, WI.

Google:  Devil’s Lake State Park Baraboo Hills Wisconsin for spectacular views of the quartzite rocks on the bluffs around the lake.

(To Be Continued)