Juneau County, Wis., is a land of bizarre glacial formations, towering pines and oaks, big lakes and sandy soils. This is Aldo Leopold country, and one can see why the author of the classic "Sand County Almanac" found it so appealing. In fact, some sections of the pine-and-oak openings actually resemble the high plateaulands of the Southwest that Leopold also celebrated.
There are no shortage of recreation options in this section of central Wisconsin, as more than 75 percent of Juneau County is made up of public land. We came for the Whooping Crane Festival in Necedah and to camp at Buckhorn State Park, which turned out to be a gem. Our site was on the shores of Castle Rock Lake, the fourth-largest inland lake in Wisconsin and a part of the Wisconsin River Flowage.
The festival included a bus tour of nearby Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, home to several dozen reintroduced whoopers. We did in fact see four of the extremely scarce cranes and now can add them to our life lists. we also saw trumpeter swans, a harrier and dozens of sandhill cranes in the refuge. In all, we tallied 41 species for the trip including an osprey and a bald eagle from our campsite.
Just four hours from Chicago, this is definitely an area to return to--wild enough to harbor wolf packs and black bears.