Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snowsheing at Festge County Park

Today's adventure was snowshoeing at Festge County Park, just west of Cross Plains. I'll need to check my map, but the terminal moraine - the Johnstown Moraine - either runs through the park or very close by.

For those not familiar with the glacial history of Dane County or Wisconsin in general, this is where the latest glacier that covered most of the state and upper Midwest stopped. To the west and south of this linear feature, the glaciers never altered the landscape. This area, called the Driftless Area, is hillier than the rest of Wisconsin; there is a more regular drainage pattern for the streams, and the scenery is unlike anything else in the state.

I've become quite a convert to snowshoeing. Although I still love gliding along on XC skis, feeling the rhythm of the stride, snowshoes allow you to go more places and move around in more conditions. Today was a perfect example.

After the snow of last week, and then the rain, sleet, and a new coating of light snow, heading out on the hilly, narrow trail I hiked today would not have been possible on XC skis. There was no groomed trail in the entire park, and much of the time I wasn't even sure I was still on the nature trail laid out through the woods. There was a slight depression in the hillside, and the deer seemed to have followed the trail as well. Except for the deer tracks, the only way I knew I was still  on the trail was the lack of underbrush.

Following the deer tracks, I came upon areas where the snow had been disturbed and dry leaves had been brought to the surface. These areas occurred about every 50-100 yards. Some were very large and deep, as if maybe an animal had bedded down for the night. Others seemed to be just digging or pawing the ground. I don't know enough about deer behavior to know if they were looking for food, or scent marking, or some other activity.

When I finally looped back to the park road - unplowed, and disturbed only by other hikers or snowshoers days before - I checked out the shelters, council circles, and lookouts that the park offers. I never saw anyone else in the park, and the only sign of human presence with the last week were tracks that had already been covered by snow.

It's really quite amazing, and a wonderful thing, that on the weekend after Christmas, and less than 20 miles from the Capitol Square, there is a park where you can drive right up to trails that are untouched and feel so isolated. Let others ski the groomed trails. Being able to tromp around in the woods, alone, following a deer trail is a gift I'd put on my list every year.