The year’s midday, Part 1: Up the airy mountain

Though campsites proved impossible to find, I was determined this year (weather permitting), to at least go for a good long ride on the Summer Solstice and see some new natural places. Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area was on the list, and is under 30 miles away, so I planned to go there for sure; and if I was tired after that to just meander back home, otherwise press on to Parfrey’s Glen, just across the Wisconsin River.

The longest day of the year began in considerable fog; so much so that “dawned” doesn’t seem the correct verb. The fog shrouded everything and, given the near-absence of traffic, seemed to muffle sound, making my breath loud in my ears as I pedaled northwards out of town. What features could be seen in the near distance appeared strange and desolate:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
After a couple of hours’ riding I stopped in Lodi, where blue sky and sunshine were beginning to show themselves, for a revitalizing espresso. And then out of town again, passing Lake Wisconsin to my right:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
… and on to Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area.

The eponymous rock is an outcropping of the Lower Magnesian escarpment, which I talked about in my account of visiting Lodi Marsh last fall, rising some 200 feet above the surroundings. There is a gravel trail that leads straight up, and a path that meanders through forest for awhile before climbing sharply to the top; that was the one I took up. In the shadows there were a considerable number of ferns; on one of them I spotted this striking little membracid:

Bug (leafhopper?), Gibraltar Rock SNA
… and also, in part thanks to the recent spate of rains, there were a couple of new (to me) slime-molds! Firstly, white-coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa):
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
(Apologies – the picture is a little bit washed-out by the flash. The non-flash pictures just came out too blurry.) Secondly, a patch of charmingly-named dog-vomit slime (Fuligo septica):
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
If Wikipedia say true, Scandinavian folklore has it that dog-vomit slime mold is actually the vomit of troll cats, which are apparently also a thing in Scandinavian folklore. There’s a citation, for a University of Minnesota press book entitled Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. To no one’s surprise, the Stoughton Public Library has this book, so I’m ILL-ing it as we speak and will keep you posted. (ETA: more details in Part 3.)

From the shadowy forest, a sudden steep scramble up a rocky path and you are at the cliff-top, with a fine sunny view, even for those who – like me – will not go within four feet of the drop:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
Birds of prey could be seen riding the thermals, and from far below drifted up the sounds of a rooster crowing and a tractor starting up. I took the short route back down. By the trailside I spotted an old friend, the assassin bug Zelus luridus:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
There was a couple who had passed me on their way to the top coming back down when I took that picture, and wanted to know what it was of. So I explained, briefly; managing to stop myself before I could launch into the bug’s gloriously icky method of feeding, or the Canadian stamp that features it.

I was already on my bike and rolling out of the parking lot when I spotted, but could not get a close-up, of this butterfly – a red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis), I’m fairly sure:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14

This was the point in my day-trip where I’d planned to decide whether to push on to Parfrey’s Glen or slope back into town. It was not quite 10AM, and it was neither too hot nor threatening rain, and so taking a poll of my energy levels I decided to head on; so, rather than rightward to retrace my path, leftward to take the road to the Merrimac Ferry.

(Part 2: Down the rushy glen)
(Part 3: Afterword)

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