To the uninitiated, the vast expanses of forest around Eagle River, Wis., look like a lot of nothing.
It's rocky, useless land, forfeited to the government during the Depression, and hardly anyone lives there Eagle River, pop. 1,400, is Vilas County's only city.
This empty forest, however, draws thousands, and on winter weekends, it's not so empty. Snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers come to these woods to the east and north lie the 657,000 square acres of Nicolet National Forest, and to the west, the 220,00 acres of Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.
The first time I saw Rib Mountain it was nighttime, and I was driving toward Wausau from the north.
Looming over the Wisconsin town was a massive hulk lined with white lights, rising from the surrounding plain like a landing strip set on edge. It was a spectacular sight and still is, day or night.
This billion-year-old quartzite ridge, one of the oldest on Earth, was thought to be the highest point in Wisconsin until Timm's Hill, near Ogema, was surveyed at 12 feet higher.
In the northeast corner of Wisconsin, a vast, amoeba-shaped body of water spreads over 37,000 acres of state-owned land.
Rivers run through it, the Turtle and the Flambeau. They were dammed to create a flowage in 1926, and today it's a state scenic waters area, designated for boating, fishing and camping.
Hundreds of islands and secluded bays provide habitat for bald eagles, osprey and loons, who outnumber the paddlers who pull up to rustic campsites.
In a remote corner of Wisconsin, a trove of waterfalls lies buried in forests barely trod since the lumberjacks moved on to Minnesota.
Theyre not Wisconsins largest waterfalls, or the easiest to find; those can be found on the lower lip of Lake Superior, in Pattison, Amnicon and Copper Falls state parks (see Waterfalls of northern Wisconsin).
But there are lots of them in this undomesticated forest, so thick with headwaters its known as the cradle of rivers.
In the wilds of northeast Wisconsin, winter always looks like winter.
It's the kind with snow snow that comes early, stays late and blankets the forest in heaps, supplying reliable skiing and snowshoeing to people from less-blessed locales.
But in 2003, the heaps of snow didn't come there or virtually anywhere, and skiers were desperate. So was Pete Moline, who runs Afterglow Resort on a lake near the Michigan border.
Whitewater paddlers are, by definition, thrill-seekers.
That's why they seek out the northeast corner of Wisconsin, "the cradle of rivers.'' The big Wisconsin River starts there, as do the Wolf, Peshtigo and Menominee, three of the Upper Midwest's best-known whitewater rivers.
On the Wolf River, Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Resort has been a whitewater hub since 1994, selling gear to expert wranglers and teaching novices how to handle the rapids that churn over knots of boulders dropped by the last glacier.