Thanks to Beth, a fellow-Wisconsin gardener who blogs at Plant Postings, on this trip I saw what I had missed on previous visits to Door County up at the top of Wisconsin's "thumb": The Ridges Sanctuary. The following information is from the official DNR description of the area:
The Ridges Sanctuary encompasses a diversity of unusual habitats, resulting in one of the greatest concentrations of rare plants in the Midwest. It was established in 1937 as Wisconsin's first area set aside to protect native flora.
The natural area consists of about 30 narrow, crescent-shaped sandy ridges and recent research has correlated the ridge formation with the cyclical changes in Lake Michigan water levels which have occurred during the past 1400-1500 years. Each ridge represents a former beach line of Lake Michigan and took an average of 30-50 years to form. The narrow ridges are forested with wet swales between them.
We hiked the various areas of The Ridges on our first morning in Door County as well as toured the Upper Range House.
Built in 1869, the Upper Range Light and its companion Lower Range Light (below) are the only lighthouses of this design that are still on range and functional as navigational aids. Each building houses a light and ships position themselves so the lights line up in order to make it safely into the harbor through the rocky coastline. Except for touring the Range house with a small group of people, we barely saw or heard anyone else during our morning at The Ridges.
The view from the room that houses the light in the Upper Range building down to the Lower Range Light and the lake.
Fundraising is going on to restore the Range Lights. When they pulled up the old linoleum flooring they discovered WWII-era newspapers which are framed and on the walls of the keeper's bedroom along with historic photos of the light.
Everywhere we hiked we saw memorable landscapes and plants.
Nuphar pumila (above) was growing in the expansive bogs (below).
We saw orchids and lots of this orange "wood lily" as well as incredible lichens and mosses.
This thistle is rare and endangered and only grows in a few places in the world, the Ridges being one of them. The day we were there folks from the Chicago Botanic Gardens were also on hand. They are trying to help the Ridges' staff figure out how to propagate the the thistle to help save it.
When you enter The Ridges the initial area where you walk is all new boardwalk raised above swampy areas where we saw Iris growing.
Friends who've visited at other times of the year say that no matter what season you go you will see something wonderful and unusual. Our time spent hiking at The Ridges was a revelation and certainly makes me eager for another visit.