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)

Bicycling: From Here to There

Madison is ranked as one of the top cycling cities in the United States.  In fact, the League of American Bicyclists has rated Madison a Platinum Biking City, one of only four cities in the country to receive this recognition.  We have more than 200 bike trails totaling 100 miles, all within the city.  Many more trails stretch out into the nearby countryside.

People in this city are definitely encouraged to bike!  If you don’t have a bike, not to worry — rent a bike from B-Cycle, a bike-sharing program with 40 rental hubs around town and 350 bikes to rent out.

For many people, bicycling is an everyday occupation.  For some, it is their primary means of getting around as well as a source of healthful exercise.  I bicycled for pleasure, exercise, and getting places for many years.

When I was a young girl growing up, my friends and I waited with eager anticipation for the day when we would get our first bicycles.  I was 9 years old when I got mine — a red Shelby bicycle with white trim.  Attached to the handlebars was a woven bicycle basket that my mother had ordered from a magazine ad, made by “the blind.”  It was a beautiful sturdy basket, much better for carrying things than the wire baskets that all my friends had.  I remember, however, that it took some grit on my part to get used to it, and to come to accept and like it.  It’s difficult at that age to be the “only one” when it comes to just about anything.


Now it has been, probably, at least 20 years since I last rode a bicycle.  I don’t remember why, but, at some point, I stopped.  Part of me has wanted to get back to it, so I recently ventured out to a bicycle shop.  A very helpful young clerk gave me some background on what bicycles are like now days; he found a bicycle that would fit me and encouraged me to try it out in the parking area behind the store.

Disaster!!  I managed to pedal the bike forward for a few yards and then I inexplicably simply stopped, hung upright for a few seconds, and then promptly fell over sideways onto the pavement.  Right out of a Monty Python sketch.   It was like I had lost all those instincts and reflexes that came so naturally in my younger days.  I came back home that day with scrapes and bruises.  I don’t think cycling is destined to become a part of my everyday life again.

So its not quite true that once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you will never forget.  At least not for me.  I do still remember that dress, however.  Yellow and black plaid with ribbon decorating the sleeves and neckline.  Apparently worn on my 9th birthday!  

Bean Soup at the Capitol in 1955

In 1955, Ed was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Belvoir near Washington DC.  He and I did not meet until four years later, in 1959, when I was a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ed was a civilian again, working on his doctorate in horticulture.

In January 1955, Ed and an Army buddy spent a day in downtown Washington DC, visiting Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Davis in the U.S. House of Representatives. The image below is a photo taken that day on the steps of the capitol — Congressman Davis in the middle, Ed on the left and buddy Bob on the right.


bean soup blog photo.jpg

The picture is the front side of a photo post card, a souvenir of the visit to the congressman.  Ed sent the postcard to his parents back on their farm here in Wisconsin:  Mr. & Mrs. Theo. Hasselkus, R.R.1, Dousman Wis..  The message he wrote on the back offers a glimpse of his military life during that time.

“Dear Folks, Everyone is excited about orders now.  I am going to Europe, but don’t know what country yet. . . “

The House of Representatives had a restaurant and Congressman Davis took Ed and Bob to lunch that day.  On the souvenir menu was House of Representatives Bean Soup, complete with recipe.  Ed cut the recipe out and it’s been tucked in the soup section of my recipe box for the past 56 years.  We always make it several times during the cold months. The aromas are divine as the kettle of soup cooks slowly for an entire afternoon. We just finished a batch the other day, and there is plenty left over in the freezer.  Here is the recipe — it couldn’t be simpler.  Enjoy!

Recipe for Bean Soup

Served in U.S. House of Representatives Restaurant

2 LB. white Great Northern Michigan beans.

Cover with cold water and soak overnight.
Drain and re-cover with water.
Add a smoked ham hock or shank [has more meat] and simmer slowly for about 4 hours until beans are cooked tender.  Then add salt and pepper to suit taste.
Just before serving, bruise beans with large spoon or ladle, enough to cloud.
(Serves about six persons.)

P.S. Ed ended up being sent to England — working to convert air bases to handle take-off and landing of jets.