By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 28, 2002 at 6:52 AM

There are some places that draw you in regardless of the season. Southwestern Wisconsin, in the area around Spring Green, is one of those places. In staggering heat or under a bed of snow, the rolling hills and stunning vistas beckon.

But despite its name, Spring Green is especially beautiful in autumn as the lush green trees explode into a riot of color and the vibrant green grass begins to share space with the rapidly rusting soy bean crops and the warm browns of the feed corn, still out in the fields.

Buckets of apples begin to appear on the front lawns of farmhouses and the walnuts -- in their casings -- dot the ground. Grazing cows, and occasionally llamas and sheep, are often the only activity that can be seen.

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Fruit and vegetable stands can be found throughout the area, and in autumn are likely to be offering apples, cider, pears, pumpkins and squashes galore, honey, and if you're lucky, black walnuts. Peck's (608-588-7177) -- which has two locations on Hwy 14, one two miles east of Spring Green and the other four miles west -- is open daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and many of the above items as well as petting zoos with geese, ducks, goats, peafowl, camels and other adorable creatures. Many of the local towns also host farmers markets on weekend mornings.

At Oakwood Fruit Farm (608-585-2701) off Hwy 130, north of Lone Rock, you can pick your own fruits, including grapes and apples.

If you're into cheese -- and I sure am -- don't miss Cedar Grove Cheese (608-546-5284) in Plain, a few miles north of Spring Green on Hwy 23. You can get a tour of their factory and sample small-batch cheeses in the shop, where, as you might suspect, they sell their goods. The friendly staff will also take you out back and show you the natural machine they use to clean their waste water.

The only such system in a cheese factory in Wisconsin, Cedar Grove uses a half-dozen eight-foot deep tanks full of bacteria to clean the water that comes from the cheese-making and cleaning processes. It's a fascinating look at the kinds of environmentally-sound things that are being done by conscientious farmers and factories.

Head north into Richland County and check out Rockbridge. Just before entering the town on Hwy 80 from the south, turn left into Pier County Park and check out the natural stone bridge, a massive rock formation pierced by a tributary of the Wisconsin River. Walk through the tunnel burrowed into the sandstone and view the bridge from the west, in a peaceful setting with the river trickling past and the tall grass whispering in the wind.

Richland Center, the homey county seat, has a wonderful court house, the second oldest in the state, and will interest Frank Lloyd Wright fans. Richland Center was the birthplace of Wright, who later based himself in Spring Green after a stint in Chicago. The town is also home to the historic A.D. German Warehouse (300 S. Church St., 608-647-6703), which Wright designed as a way to pay off his debt to German, a merchant.

The building fell into dangerous disrepair and is now owned by a couple from the Twin Cities, who own a Wright home in Minneapolis and split their time between Richland Center and Minnesota.

Of course, just south of Spring Green, across the Wisconsin River into lush Iowa County, is Taliesen, Wright's home and studio. Begin your visit in the Visitor Center across Hwy 23, designed by Wright as a restaurant in 1953. Here you can sate your hunger or thirst and gather information (or gifts in the shop) before taking on the sprawling 600-acre Taliesen estate, which includes the main building, Midway Farm, Hillside Home School, Romeo & Juliet Windmill and Tan-Y-Deri House.

Don't forget to visit Unity Chapel, southeast on Taliesen on Hwy T. Built in 1886, this was the Lloyd Jones family chapel and out back, in the cemetery, lie the remains of the great architect and much of his family.

Also in the area is Wyoming Valley Grammar School, a two-room building designed by FLW in 1956 as a memorial to his mother. Located a few miles south of Taliesen on Hwy 23.

If time and money are no object, rent a weekend in the Seth Peterson Cottage on Mirror Lake (about 45 minutes northeast). At 880 sq. ft., this restored cottage -- available for overnight lodging -- was Wright's smallest (but by no means less stunning) design.

For everyone else, check out the Spring Valley Inn, 6279 Cty. C at Hwy 14 (608-588-7828), which has a prairie-influenced design and Wright drawings on the walls. An indoor pool and workout room are free to guests and there's free coffee, muffins and newspapers in the morning.

There are loads of places in the area to go canoeing, but the best is Trader's on Hwy 14 just east of town. They'll take you over to Arena to launch your rented canoe on the placid Wisconsin River and pick you up again downriver under the bridge. Rowing on the river is not hard work, but bring someone who's willing to hop out every now and again to push the boat over a sandbar.

For hiking, few places beat Tower Hill State Park, just off Hwy 14, east of Spring Green. There are trails, picnic areas, campsites, canoe landings and more. Walk up the hill to the top of the tower that was used to make lead shot. Lead was melted at the top, through a colander and dropped 180 feet, which made the shot perfectly spherical. There is a fascinating display explaining the history and process of the shot mill.

If you get to Spring Green from June to early October, be sure to see a performance by American Players Theatre at their outdoor stage in the woods. Sit beneath the stars and see some one of the best companies in the state interpret Shakespeare, Gogol, Shaw and others. There's food and beverage available and a gift shop. Call for directions, schedules and ticket info, 608-588-7401. It may be too late to see a show this year, but tickets go fast, so it's not too early to plan for next year.

On the third full weekend of each October, Spring Green hosts its annual Fall Art Tour. Local artists and artisans open their shops and offer a look into the creative process and, of course, offer a variety of tempting works for sale.

Of course, if you're like me, you'll be happy just to find the smallest possible roads, roll down the windows and drive, discovering beautiful vistas, hidden valleys and fields full of horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, llamas and goats.

Oh yes, there's also the House on the Rock, but that's a whole 'nother story. For more info on lodging, events, shopping and more in Spring Green, check out www.springgreen.com.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.