More than Just Cows

Sunday, August 26, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Highways and Byways:  Wisconsin

Though we spent a few hours driving through southern Wisconsin last fall, it has been some time since we spent any time in the state—like maybe twenty years or so.  The memory we have carried from that previous visit driving through the state was of verdant green fields decorated by stunning red barns.

Wisconsin Barn by Dan Thompson
And though we still saw this view often in our recent five days of travel in Wisconsin, we also visited spots in the state that made us realize that being "America's Dairyland" is only a small part of all that's going on in this midwestern state.  

For example, we learned that Oshkosh (pop. 66,083), by gosh, is more than a place where kids' clothing has been manufactured since 1895.  In addition to the famous children's clothing line, now owned by Carter's, Oshkosh is home to a major manufacturer of specialty trucks and truck bodies, the Oshkosh Corporation.

Oshkosh Airport Crash Tender (photo by Michael Voss, U.S. Air Force)
With manufacturing operations in 11 countries, the company builds most any kind of oversized specialty truck available, from fire and emergency vehicles to military transports and tactical vehicles, to snowplows and garbage trucks.  Scores of trucks awaiting shipment are stored on the grounds and at the nearby airport, quite a sight to see.

Oshkosh doesn't end there, we learned.  In aviation circles, the city is well known as home of the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, America's largest annual gathering of flying enthusiasts held each year at the city's Wittman Regional Airport.  Organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association, the seven-day event attracts up to half a million people each year.  With more than 10,000 aircraft visiting for the event, Wittman Field becomes the world's busiest airport for a few days each year.

Our Wisconsin Journey
Another area we especially enjoyed was Door County, a popular vacation spot for Midwesterners.  Located on the Door Peninsula, the swordlike appendage juts into Lake Michigan north of Green Bay.  We drove to the city of Sturgeon Bay (pop. 9,144), the county seat, and headed north along the east coast.  Like both Cape Cod and Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, Door Peninsula has been effectively cut in half by a canal to facilitate shipping, turning the further reaches of the land mass into an island.

Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal
Shipbuilding has been a mainstay of Sturgeon Bay since the 19th century.  At the peak of World War II, four shipyards there were turning out a new ship every five days.  Now only two builders remain, one creating luxury yachts and the other is now the last active builder of large ships on the Great Lakes, primarily manufacturing double-hulled oil barges.

A new ship under construction in Sturgeon Bay
Further up the peninsula, five state parks offer a plethora of recreational activities from hiking to golfing, camping to snowmobiling.  Most parks have shoreline access and offer water sports as well.  Between the state and local parks, leisure opportunities are available for everyone, even if you just want to enjoy a scenic view.

Lilly Bay
We interrupted our Wisconsin travel to see Michigan's Upper Peninsula before visiting Wisconsin's Lake Superior shoreline from the town of Bayfield (pop. 530).  Bayfield also has a history of shipbuilding, though today its primary industry is tourism.  A picturesque little village, Bayfield attracts thousands of visitors each year.  Charming little B&Bs dot the town landscape tempting tourists to linger.

Bayfield Harbor
National Park Service headquarters for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is in Bayfield, and local tour companies offer boat cruises through the 21 islands where visitors can camp or hike.  Unfortunately, the day we had hoped to visit the islands, unseemly weather stood in the way of our plans.

Though we still love the farmscapes of Wisconsin, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the maritime sides of the state and learning more about the impressive scope of towns like Oshkosh.

Wisconsin Stats:
  • Entered the Union:  1848, as the 30th state
  • Population:  5,711,767 (20th most populous state)
  • Land area:  54,157 sq. mi.  (23rd largest)
  • Highest point:  Timms Hill, 1.951 ft.
  • Capital:  Madison
  • Largest city:  Milwaukee
  • Interior lakes:  8,500+
  • Snowmobile trails (in miles):  20,000+
  • State nickname:  America's Dairyland
  • Dairy herd:  1.3 million (more than 90% Holstein)
  • State beverage:  Milk
  • Famous Wisconsinites:  Frank Lloyd Wright, Harry Houdini, Liberace, Georgia O'Keeffe, William Rehnquist, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles, and Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Miles we drove in Wisconsin: 520
  • Letterboxes found in Wisconsin:  13
  • Wildflowers on Door Peninsula:  6,493,158
  • Boats in Bayfield harbor:  185
More Photos from Wisconsin
Lilly Bay
Recreational boat on Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal
Apostle Islands NPS Headquarters, Bayfield
One of Bayfield's many B&Bs