Sunday, October 29, 2006

Just an hour's drive from Madison

Beautiful autumn afternoon today, and once again the lovely T suggested an afternoon excursion to a nearby place I had never heard of -- Pewitt's Nest, a spectacular whitewater gorge complete with waterfall in the Baraboo hills. I was getting ready to settle into Sunday couch potato mode, but I know from experience better than to question T's "suggestions" when the weekend wanderlust seizes her, so I put on my hiking boots and we set off, and soon was glad I did.

Pewitt's Nest is not the sort of thing you expect to find in southern Wisconsin, just over 40 miles north of Madison, west of Baraboo off of Hwy. W. It seems to be a nature Conservancy site. They don't list it as one of the places they protect on their website, but there is a photo with a passing reference in the caption.

Pewitt's Nest was unbelievable, especially on this sunny, late autumn afternoon, the golds and reds of the maple and oak forest contrasting with the intense green of the pines surrounding the gorge and the deep blue of the late afternoon sky reflected in the water. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

We walked in from the nearby unmarked parking lot, but there's another way to see Pewitt's Nest. Whitewater enthusiasts can paddle through it (when the water is the right level). Check out the Midwest Whitewater River Inventory's notes and pictures, which convey the view from Skillet Creek.
What? A class III-IV run in South Central Wisconsin? That almost nobody has heard of? Yup. That's right. At the risk of creating expectations which are too great, this little bit of a creek has some of the most awesome scenery I've seen on any river in the state, and a couple of drops which are suggestive of the U.P. (MI) or North Shore (MN)!

The run starts (appropriately enough, for the heart of Wisconsin) by paddling through a cow pasture. Be prepared to deal with a couple fences spanning the stream within this first 1⁄4 mile. (Beware: some may be electrified. Look for insulators on fenceposts as clues.) As soon as the last fence is dealt with, the creek bends to the left as rocky outcroppings appear on the right shore. A rock-rubble shoal is encountered leading into a private driveway bridge, followed by another leading away. While it is a sweet little rapids, the sound of the next falls will speed your strokes.

As the river twists to the right, be ready to scout from river left (respecting the property and privacy of the home with the awesome view of the falls from river right). Skillet Falls is a steep, stepped drop (about 10-12 feet) into a good shallow pool in a sandstone-walled grotto.
It's amazing what a dedicated couch potato can discover in the course of a single afternoon. All it takes is the right tour guide, and I've got the best.

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