Picturesque farmland abounds along the drive between Oshkosh and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And as I discovered, there’s another surprise — the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area and Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. It all made for the perfect place for the final hours of exploration on my Wisconsin-Michigan vacation.
The farmland I explored on my way back to Milwaukee can be found by taking exit 81 off Interstate 41, then heading west on Wisconsin Route 28. Once I was off the Interstate, I did a lot of random driving around the farmland before ending up on Dike Road, which cuts across the Horicon Marsh and Horicon Wildlife Refuge.
Boy, was I tired, as I rolled on towards Milwaukee. I had already driven a couple hundred hard miles, mostly in the pouring rain, since starting my day at the western tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I was ready to check into my hotel, get some rest, and fly home early the next morning. It was a 7:15 a.m. flight, and I would need to be up by 4. And that’s assuming I had my car cleaned out and my suitcases packed by then.
I was less than 90 minutes away from Milwaukee, and I could have made it there by sunset. But that meant watching the final sunset of my vacation, from my car, from the highway. And it was going to be a beautiful one. Dramatic clouds were swirling overhead — the remnants of all that rain from earlier in the day. I looked towards the west and could see barns and silos dotting the horizon. The temptation was too great. Sleep be damned. I was going to do a little more exploring.
Without having any idea of where I was headed, I turned off I-41 at Route 28 and headed towards the sunset. This state road led to a network of county roads: T, V, Y, and Z. I didn’t know where they went, and I didn’t really care. I was just looking for a good place to take a good picture.
The farmland in this area is spectacular. The roads drop and rise with the landscape, so you’re constantly cresting another small hill to reveal another barn, a few silos…
… maybe a few cows…
… or a line of power-generating windmills. I zig-zagged and backtracked, abruptly stopping dozens of times to snap a photo. There wasn’t much traffic out on these rural roads, so I wasn’t in anyone’s way.
There were some tiny little towns out here as well, just big enough to have a Main Street, a few homes, and perhaps a church. At Kekoskee, Wisconsin, I turned onto County Road TW and crossed the Rock River, then turned west onto Dike Road and crossed the river again. Much to my amazement, I was suddenly leaving farmland behind, and stumbling into a wildlife preserve.
Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area and Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
Dike Road made a couple of turns, then became straight as an arrow as it stretched across Horicon Marsh. The setting sun and ominous clouds made it feel like the world was coming to an end, or perhaps I had just driven to the end of the world.
There weren’t a lot of trees along Dike Road, but I made the best of what I found. The sunset also fizzled in the final moments, as some clouds on the horizon blocked the sun as it sank.
But… it was still an incredible moment in a lonely place — the kind of place most people will never know exists, as they zip by on Interstate 41, just a few miles to the east.
As much as I would have loved to have driven on across Horicon Marsh, I knew I had to go back. And, I was running out of daylight pretty quickly.
Outside the Horicon Marsh Refuge, one more old barn caught my eye. The bright red walls of this weathered old structure really popped against the grey clouds. This would be the final photo of my trip.
From here, I found my way back to Interstate 41 and then drove on to Milwaukee in the dark. I guess I didn’t sleep much that night, but that’s okay. Those final hours of exploring were worth it.
Here’s a look at the drive from Oshkosh south on I-41…
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… and the end of the day around Horicon Marsh, and the nearby farmland:
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The Bottom Line
When you’re in Wisconsin, driving along Interstate 41 between Milwaukee and Oshkosh, take a little time to exit the highway and explore the nearby farmland. It’s beautiful.