Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hidden place names

Place names provide context. Some place names are clearly marked like roads and towns. Others are out there if you know to look: lakes, river crossings, historical markers. Some are tucked away neatly on the pages of your gazetteer: the town’s of Avalanche and Urne, WI. (Erine, but sadly, no Burt);Timms hill (who’s Tim?); Irish Valley.  While others owe their genesis to the creativity of the namer and only exist in residents’ memories: hog’s back ridge, the basschanted forest (a favorite fishing spot of Mrs. North), Words, WI.

“I can’t relax until I get a sense of my surroundings. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” - the Roosta Which, as far as I can tell, includes a ten mile radius and/or any nearby towns. Context is important.

Hitting the trails with the Roosta and Jr. North

One of the go-to rides out of Saint Paul is highway 10 and 35 south of Prescott, Wisconsin. It can take anywhere from three hours to three days depending on where your meanderings take you. I chose the three hour version, making my way up and over the little river valleys from Prescott to Bay City.

Here are some of the hidden place names along the way:

Heading south out of Prescott on highway 35, one of the first valleys traversed is that of the Big River. It’s a sandy little trout stream that starts just north of highway 10 and ends at The River.

The Trimbelle River Valley contains a class-A trout fishery. Much work has been invested in its water quality and fish habitat. Among bikers, it’s known for the Great Motorcycle Road that flanks the fishery, county road O. The Trimbelle River shares its headwaters with the Kinnickinnic River in River Falls and meets The River at Diamond Bluff.

Isabel Creek, another tiny little cold water trout stream, is entirely contained within its own river valley, a world onto its own. I ventured into its hardwood forests and ravines to find a few small farms and a family cooling off in a pool just downstream from a dirt road crossing. They seemed surprised to see me; we exchanged smiles. I like to imagine previous generations, jumping in this small creek with their children. Isabel finds her terminus in the Village of Bay City.

The mighty Rush River, a trout stream to rival the famous Kinnickinnic River. A rural cousin of the Kinni, you’ll recognize its features but its clothes appear well lived in. Like the Trimbelle, a fine motorcycle road ascends its valley.

Lost Creek, a cold little Trout Stream and tributary to the Rush. While fishing, I was once caught out after dark several miles from the next road crossing and the car. Perhaps the namer knew of both its allure and length. It’s banks are also home to a seasonal winery and wood-fired pizza shop if you're into that sort of thing.

I can think of no better way to develop a sense of place than on just travel through it for no good reason at all.

- Ride North


  1. Look like you found a nice wandering route. When looking at the Gazetteer (one of the ways we plan rides too) it is funny the places you find. Not only do we have a Boring, Oregon, but we have a Zigzag, Oregon too.

  2. have motivated me to invest some time exploring the backroads on two wheels again. Maybe Embarrass WI, Nimrod MN or Gravity IA. Don't think I'll make all the way to Zigzag.