2.15.2017

Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI


As a child, my family kept gaining/making/having more and more kids. What numbered 3 when I was born became 5 by 1981 and finally 7 by 1987. With good jobs, but many mouths to feed, limbs to dress, and things to care for, we didn't take elaborate vacations to exotic locales, especially if  a plane flight was required, too expensive. (In fact, I didn't fly in a plane until I was 23)

What we did do though was camp. And boy did we. With a week off for Dad, and a station wagon full of kids, treats, & gear, we'd head into the great state of Wisconsin for some outdoor adventures - "I call the way-back!"

The place we seemed to bring that rental pop-up trailer to year after year was Governor Dodge State Park (GDSP) in Dodgeville, WI.  On the map below, it's the green feature at left-center - Madison proper and its blue lakes, are on the right.


Could it be that after many years of camping in GDSP, I would be living under an hour drive from that very place?! It not only could be, it can be. I decided during my moving that I had to take a quick day trip to the park, possibly in winter, to see if I could find some of the old spots that we found way back in the 80's. It turns out, though some of the park had changed, in many ways it was still the same old place.


I started in the main park office, to pay for the day's pass and make a pit-stop. Which is fortunate as I got to see some of the local animal life preserved for my enjoyment in the office.






I don't recall seeing any of those as a kid.  Nuts.

Now, only some of the park's road system is plowed in winter, so I had to park near a trail head and walk my tired old bones into the Cox Hollow Campground. It sounded like a fun adventure to me, as I gained the power and energy from my youth simply by being back in GDSP. It was a bit sloppy and wet out, but no more than 3-4" of snow cover still left on the ground.


Of course, it being winter, there were no leaves on the trees, which made finding the first feature I wanted to revisit on this hike much easier. I was looking for an ominous patch of their forest that, as a 10-year old boy, seemed to drop off the face of the Earth (what did I know at 10?).

You can already start seeing/feeling the forest starting to drop off...

A little further in and it becomes a little steeper still...

Until you slip and slide (thanks, Winter) to a point that clearly can't be traversed on foot. It drops off for a good 10-15 feet at the ledge, then picks back up below.



Doesn't that look treacherous? I mean, at 10 years old even!? Well, it looked like trouble even on this trip. But I recall falling falling falling down this steep grade as that 10-year old and was luckily "clothes-lined" by my older brother, avoiding the ultimate plummet to my death... or at least another trip to the emergency room for my family at GDSP. He saved me. Thanks, Brother.


Of course now there are more hiking, biking, and skiing trails connecting parts of the park that weren't there when we were children. Many of the paths are situated behind the camping areas, so there seems to be less of a chance of getting lost and stumbling down a steep embankment to an early grave. Fine, today's youth, don't have fun.

I presume these central-WI hippies have been recycling since the 70's - thanks for modeling the way.

I liked seeing that! There's families here, Folks!

The second feature I was specifically looking for was a stretch of campground road that, as kids, was all gravel, very steep, and included a nice left hand turn to further test/mess with kids' bike-handling abilities. I found it alright, right where Park Ranger Brian told me to look.


It starts off innocent enough, but quickly becomes something of a widow-maker... just ask my older sister who lost her eyebrow and a good bit of skin one summer. You start high on the hill, to the upper-right in the pics below. Then roll a steep, sweeping left-hander to the end of the route.


Of course, now it's paved with blacktop, instead of gravel... so I'm sure it's easier for little hell-rasiers to navigate (I used to walk to school, uphill, both ways!). But, I have to say, it seemed much longer and a bit steeper overall than I remember. It's possible that having only one sibling loose some skin and hair on this thing was actually coming out of it pretty lucky.


After finding a couple things I wanted to, walking back to the car, and looking for a few more by car without much luck, I called it an afternoon. I can come back when it's nice out and bring a bike too.

Here's a final shot of some interesting "hairy" tree bark, no seriously, it's funny-looking alright. Maybe a Grizzly bear did it?!




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