Coulees

  • Road trip: Black Hawk's trail

    A sorry episode in U.S. history is recounted along the scenic byways of southwest Wisconsin.

    In 1804, the clock began to tick for the Sauk and Fox tribes of southern Wisconsin and western Illinois. Tribal councils had not authorized the sale, and the chiefs soon regretted it, but they kept the bargain.

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  • Civil War, up close

    In the southwest Wisconsin countryside, expert reenactors bring the misery of war home.

    It was a gorgeous fall day in southwest Wisconsin, and all we could see was heartache and misery. "Welcome to Virginia 1862," read the sign at the gates of Norskedalen, where pioneer homesteads evoke the Civil War era. Pushing open the door of a chinked-timber farmhouse, we encountered Nedda Blodgett, who was surprised to find strangers in her parlor but quickly welcomed us in a Southern drawl.

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  • Valleys of Vernon County

    In the nooks of coulee country south of La Crosse, people of all kinds found a niche.

    In 1862, a poor Norwegian couple and their four small children, including their infant son Thorvald, joined a wave of immigrants to Wisconsin, eventually settling in the coulees of Vernon County. They ran headlong into a slaughter that remains one of the most shameful chapters in U.S. history. Today, 11 plaques mark the route, which ended near the town of Victory.

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  • A jumpin' joint

    A Norwegian village in southwest Wisconsin has a longtime love affair with ski jumping.

    In Westby, Norwegians take their love of tradition to extreme heights. The high ridges and deep coulees south of La Crosse drew so many Norwegian immigrants in the 19th century that the area around Westby became known as "America's little Gudbrandsdal,'' after the valley in Norway.

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  • Chasing the Kickapoo

    In southwest Wisconsin, a looping river plays peekaboo.

    In southwest Wisconsin, following the Kickapoo River is a lot like watching a magic act: No matter how closely you pay attention, eventually what you see is going to disappear into thin air. When it reappears, it will be in a completely different spot, and you'll have no idea how it got there. "Look, there it is again," said my husband, as we drove Wisconsin 131 through the Kickapoo Valley. "It's meandering like mad."

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  • Road trip: Wisconsin River

    The valleys and bluffs around Prairie du Sac draw paddlers, hikers and Sunday drivers.

    At Prairie du Sac, the Wisconsin River finally breaks free. Lined with so many dams and reservoirs it's often called the nation's hardest-working river, the Wisconsin devotes itself to play after it passes the town. Then it becomes the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, beloved by canoeists, who like to play on its many sandbars.

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  • Baraboo River glide 'n' ride

    In central Wisconsin, the Baraboo River and 400 Trail form a scenic loop.

    In Wisconsin's Driftless Area, the 400 Trail and Baraboo River go together like ice cream and cones. One is good. Both is better. They follow each other for 22 miles, the trail only a few feet above the river and its sloughs. Snapping turtles think the trail is a beach, depositing their eggs into its crushed limestone, and fishermen walk the trail to get to secret fishing holes.

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  • Outdoors in the Kickapoo Valley

    In coulee country, a green zone is known for morels, apples, wildflowers, bird-watching and a winding river.

    In the coulees of southwest Wisconsin, a lush green zone draws anyone who craves a heady dose of nature. It starts in spring, when trilliums bloom along Rustic Roads, morel mushrooms pop out on hillsides and water rushes down the crooked Kickapoo River. It's not close to any city, but people find their way. Norwegians were first to be drawn to its deep, narrow valleys, like miniature fjords.

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