Back to Home Back to Travel Back to Rest Stops
I94 West Marker 263 N 43 05.171' W 88 48.872' Johnson Creek
Johnson Creek - Rest Stop 14

        This is one of my most often visited stops, and is located approximately half way between Madison and Milwaukee, marking a pleasant half way stop for a commute between the two. It is a couple miles down and across the freeway from Rest Area 13 at Lake Mills. It is also only a couple miles from the Johnson Creek Outlet Mall, and one of my favorite truck stops - The Pine Cone. This is a natural stop for anyone headed out west from the Milwaukee area. It is the first real stop once the urban  areas of SE Wisconsin are left behind. The surrounding rolling farmlands are a pleasant background.
        According to the DMV, this stop was first opened in 1965, and has existed in its present form since being upgraded in 2001. It contains two markers. One is a historical marker dedicated to Wisconsin veterans. Another is a monument to the 94th infantry division. There are spaces for 72 cars, in front, and 30 trucks in the back. The truck stalls allow for pull in - pull out, so that there is no need to back out. Standard facilities include rest rooms (with diaper changing facilities), drinking water (from bubblers), a recycling area, pet exercise area, and substantial main building which is heated and air conditioned. All facilities are handicap accessible.
        There are a number of well shaded benches and tables for picnicking or just sitting out and enjoying the countryside. Towards the front of the building there is a prairie demonstration plot, which shows a planting of native grasses and flowers as was common to this area before settlement and farming. An illustrated plaque aids in plant identification. Located in several areas are recycle bins.
        The main building has a front and rear entrance, opening onto front and rear parking areas. The rear area is for trucks and other large vehicles (up to 30 of them), while the front parking area has room for 72 cars. Both entrances are host to an assortment of vending machines. There is a wide selection available, but the costs reflect the price of transporting, stocking, and servicing machines that are a bit off the beaten path.
        Inside, are drinking fountains, benches, a number of bulletin boards and displays, and an up to the minute weather display. You can also get road maps here, and there were once racks full of tourist brochures. The place is high ceilinged and well lit by a combination of natural skylights, and electric lighting. The rest room facilities are all designed to have a small footprint, and use water sparingly. This is in part because of the green initiatives that many government agencies are pursuing, but also because out here, far away from municipal sources of supplies and services, water, sewer, and power are expensive to provide.
Gardens, Memorials, and Monuments

        Most Wisconsin rest stops have points of interest, monuments, or some commemorative or historical display. The Johnson Creek unit has three, shown here and below.
        The commemorative in the photo to the left is to honor Wisconsin soldiers who served, and sometimes died, since the state was incorporated into the union in 1848. The numbers given on the display speak for themselves. Even today, the number of casualties suffered in the Civil War have not been exceeded.
        There is also an etched granite tablet honoring the 94th Infantry Division, under Patton, which did so much to quicken the end of WWII. The granite tablet stands in front of the American and Wisconsin flags, with the black POW/MIA flag also displayed. This is part of a series of such monuments erected along Interstate 90/94, which has been designated as the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Highway.
        The Johnson Creek stop also has a small garden planted in all local grasses and flowers. When looking at the surrounding farmland, this little garden gives an appreciation of just how much this area has changed in the last hundred years or so. For those of us who are not expert botanists, there is a guide indication the various types of plantings, along with pictures to aid in their identification.

Monument to the 94th Infantry


        Rest stops began as parking areas adjacent to small parks for eating, relaxing, and taking a break from the rigors of cross country travel. They were also equipped with restrooms, sometimes simple pit toilets, to spare travelers the indignity of having to pull over and slip into the woods somewhere. The early rest stops were sponsored by church groups, local chambers of commerce, or highway beautification groups. They are now all operated by the Wisconsin DMV. Though not really suitable for year round use in Wisconsin (it gets awfully cold out on these roads in the winter), the grounds have retained their pivotal role as places to enjoy the pleasures of the road and of the countryside. The photo to the left is of one of the main walkways from the parking are to the main building, passing a picnic area, and a recycling area. 
The photo below shows the walkway between one of the picnic grounds, and the forward (autos only) parking area.    

        Lots of picnic tables and benches on both sides of the main building. Some of the areas are well shaded, while others are ideal for sun worshipers.

Wild grasses line the parking areas, and vie with the manicured lawns of the picnic areas.

Parking and Ramps
         Like most newly designed Wisconsin rest stops, the parking is divided up between trucks and other large vehicles, and regular passenger cars. At the entrance ramp, the drive divides up to route trucks, trailers, buses, and other large vehicles to a spacious area out back with spaces allowing pulling straight in and straight out, so that trucks do not have to back out. Standard passenger cars use a more conventional angle parking lot in front of the stop and bordering the freeway. 
        All traffic is one way, called easy on - easy off, with cars and trucks entering at one side of the rest area, and exiting from the other side. Camping is not allowed, and  parking is not permitted for more than 24 hours. These are rest stops, not camp grounds.  Enforcement may vary, but all rest areas are regularly patrolled, and you can expect at the very least, to be asked to move along if you overstay these limits.
         The rules may be relaxed a bit for truck drivers, who are under certain federal regulations regarding how long they can drive between rests. Truck drivers are also not on vacation, and would be unlikely to frequent recreational campgrounds. They park in a very large, and relatively secluded section in the back. The area is largely empty during the day, when the front parking area is full of travelers, but fills up at night when truckers begin to turn in.
         Though Wisconsin does have a few rest areas that are strictly for commercial drivers only, the truck area of standard rest stops is open to recreational campers, motor-homes, and any other large vehicle or tow vehicle. The area has its own little recycle station, its own entrance to the facilities, and a little rest area of its own. Truckers have their own little world while working, and this is a little piece of it. The seclusion of their area allows for them to get the rest they need, without being interrupted by the activities of the more casual travelers.
        You mostly don't see these guys. They tend not to hang around the building, and rarely make use of the picnic areas. For them, this is work, and if they are stopped here, they are in the back of their trucks, getting the sleep that their bodies, and the regulations of the road require that they get. For most travelers, it's different. We mostly park out front.

        Standard automobiles park out front, using the left veering lane of the ramp to access a large lot with two rows of angle parking spaces. This lot is adjacent to the freeway, a bit more open and public, and the busier of the two. The lot holds 72 cars, and gives easy access to a dog walking area, recycle stations, two picnic areas, and the main building. It also gives a good view of the highway and surrounding rolling farmland.
        This area tends to by busy during the day, with tourists, commuters, some commercial traffic, and the usual casual travelers. It quiets down a bit at night, as the tourist traffic diminishes, and the truck drivers begin to take the place over for the night. Still, it is never completely unused, and I have stopped here at 2 AM and found other travelers.
        This is the more friendly and less business like front door of the rest area. Here you will encounter families, people on vacation, the regular travelers between Milwaukee and Madison, shoppers who frequent the nearby outlet mall, and the occasional business traveler. These are the people who use the picnic areas, look for maps, lounge around a bit, read the memorials, and perhaps walk the grounds.
        These people come to get out of their cars, stretch their legs a bit, perhaps use the restroom,and maybe grab a snack. Those with pets may want to use the pet run. So in addition to serving the needs of its human visitors, these stops also have restroom facilities for pets. Signs insist that pets be kept leashed while in the stop.
        This is also a good place to rid the car of the collection of trash, empty bottles, assorted wrappers, and other objects accumulated during time on the road. There are several recycling station stops here, and the state prefers that trash be separated for ease of recycling.
        The receptacles are handy, and encourage visitors not to litter the area. They are also nearly impossible to damage, being made of cast concrete with stone facings. Like the facilities building, these things are built to government standards and will still be around in a hundred years. I presume that proceeds from recycling cans help fund the rest stop.
        There are a half dozen such sites located throughout the rest area. In all my visits I have never seen these receptacles allowed to overflow, and have rarely seen litter. They are emptied and tended to by the same folks that clean the building and manicure the grounds. This staff is sponsored by the America Federation for the Blind. From time to time you will see them driven up, by a fully sighted staff member, so that they can maintain the station. What a great way to provide services for a place that might otherwise have a hard time hiring.
        A walkway at the front of the stop allows access to front row parking, and makes a good spot to watch the traffic go by. It also has its own set of recycling receptacles. As these are easy on, easy off rest stops, the traffic is all one way, and the exit ramp is located at the west end of the rest stop. Though there is no indication of it from the time these photos were taken, in the winter these areas are kept plowed and cleared, and make a great, safe, stop when the weather turns ugly and dangerous. They are also regularly patrolled by state troopers.
        Paths wind up from the parking area and out to the facilities building, memorials, garden, and the picnic areas. Everything here is built for longevity, speed, and convenience.
         While the lot may seem a bit large for the middle of nowhere, this isn't really the middle of nowhere. This area is roughly half way between Madison and Milwaukee, on the Interstate, and is also about a mile down from the very popular Johnson Creek outlet malls. On weekends this place is often very nearly full. 
         The SE Wisconsin countryside is pleasant enough, and this area is just starting to get into the glacial portion of the state, where you see lots of hills, rolling farmland, and a few wooded areas. This part of the state was not originally wooded, and was more like a prairie. You can see that pretty clearly out here.
        With its pleasant views, good facilities, ample parking, and proximity to some local points of interest, this is one of the busier rest areas in the state. It is a regular stop for travelers between Milwaukee and Madison, and though it is less than an hour here from Milwaukee, it really gives the feeling of being out on the road, and out in the country. it is a destination of sorts, and I often come out here to picnic, enjoy the view, observe the passing traffic, or just to sit and listen to the radio in my car, before turning around and heading back into the city.
        Cheap entertainment.

The Building
         The main attribute of any rest stop is its building. A substantial facility was constructed here in 2001, better suited to the the increasing traffic of the area, to replace a smaller and much more rustic structure. The building is of heavy brick and concrete construction, and overbuilt with the stately, money is no object durability that only governments can afford. Like many government buildings, this will probably far outlast the lifetime of its builders, or of anyone reading this page.
        The brown brick clad exterior has a shingled peaked roof, and protected entrances with generous roofs to act as shelter from the elements. The double sets of doors, with large hallways between, help keep the building warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.
        The building is surrounded on all sides by wide walkways, well tended lawns, and plantings of wildflowers. A satellite dish on the roof receives weather broadcasts, and may perform other functions as well.
        At the front of the building is the broad parking lot for automobiles, as well as several recycling centers, a generously wide walkway, the expected flags of Wisconsin and The United States, monuments to the 94th infantry division and to American war veterans, and a small demonstration garden of native plants.
        A large walkway is divided by a planter with a few young trees. It should be an impressive shaded boulevard in a couple decades, when the trees mature. A couple of benches provide a place to relax.
         Local news boxes flank the well shaded doors, offering free tourist books with offers from local restaurants, motels, and vendors. 
         The original plans for the Interstates had them serving as military roads, with the overpasses designed to double as fallout shelters, and much of the rest of the system designed to survive the effects of nuclear war. Considering the massive construction of these buildings, I can well believe they could double as bomb shelters.
        The western side of the structure is host to a small garden of native grasses and flowers, and a picnic area. This is also where the satellite dish is located. A picnic area extends from this side of the building,
        A walkway leads to a pair of service doors, and then goes around to the rear of the building. The sides of the building are basically windowless, except for some small vent windows located high up the side. The front and rear facades are also windowless, except for the entry doors, and a few additional vent windows. Though a handsome building overall, the facility presents a relatively blank face to visitors.

         On its Eastern side, the building is planted with some evergreen brush, hosts the Wisconsin Veteran memorials, and opens onto a hilly and well shaded picnic area.
        This side of the building also has a pair of service doors, and a walkway leading around to the back.
        The nearly windowless design may be for security purposes, though in a public building that is open 24/7, this seems unlikely. It seems more likely that this is to help the building retain its warmth in the winter, and its cool in the summer.

         There's nothing like a nice cold drink to refresh and energize a weary traveler. At least that's what the organizers of the Wisconsin Business Enterprise Program hopes.  This is an organization that sponsors vending machines in the various Wisconsin rest stops. Proceeds go to the blind and visually impaired, who are also the ones who service and stock the machines.
        There is also a variety of snacks available from the same source mostly ice cream and other cold snacks. Prices are a bit on the high side, as you are out in the middle of nowhere, but it's nice to have the option. For the most part, everything costs more everywhere out on the road. It's for a charitable organization, and the surroundings are nice.
        Inside, the building is a bit heavy, with no windows to speak of, except in the doors, and some high and narrow vent windows in the rest rooms. Though a skylight somewhat lightens the interior, the place has a bit of the feeling of a big bunker. Drinking fountains are available at heights for children or adults.
        As with all late design rest stops, the building has a central atrium, double layer doorways, and has two rest rooms for each gender, so that even during cleaning, there will always be at last one available. Several benches are mounted in the center of the main space
        Several locked areas provide storage for cleaning supplies, and for the various snacks and drinks used to stock the machines. There is also a workshop, and a utility room with the heat and ventilation systems. Between the groundskeepers, the snack stockers, and the cleaners, there is almost always some staff member present. Additionally, state troopers, and sheriffs are often present either on their breaks, or as a part of their regular patrols. Law enforcement checks up in the sites periodically.
        At one time, these places were meccas for maps, brochures, tourist guides, and all sorts of travel and local interest literature. Sadly, this is no longer the case. The Internet has put much of this on line, and with the new prevalence of mobile devices, most people can just check on line. 
        It is still possible to get maps here. In the photo to the left, a box mounted on the wall, holds maps for travels. There is also a map on the wall, and a posting board displaying travel times to various destinations, along with safety information. An enclosed monitor above the map box shows current weather information received through a satellite dish on the roof. A pair of drinking fountains, as well as a larger water dispenser for filling jugs, can be seen next to the entry door. Above this is a display about the Blackhawk war, and Abraham Lincoln.
        A display board holds a state map, distances to local points of interest, and a distant chart to locations all over the country. It also displays an achievement award for the local cleaning and maintenance crew. There are a couple of these boards around the facility. As this is a rest stop, and not a commercial truck stop, there is no ATM machine, and no phone. Though some rest areas have WiFi, this one does not; but there is great cell phone service here from a nearby visible tower.
         Though this may change in the future, I noticed no surveillance cameras here. This was kind of surprising, because you are seeing such cameras everywhere these days, particularly in government structures. I suspect it is just a matter of time.

Rest Rooms
        When you get right down to it, this is why most people stop. The original waysides and rest stops were little more than pull outs with outhouses and perhaps a picnic area. While these sites have grown to encompass many other functions, this very basic function is still one of the main reasons people stop.
        Along with the rest of the stop, the restrooms are clean, well maintained, and open 24 hours.
        The place was designed with water conserving plumbing, air hand driers, and low volume sinks. Sinks, and other plumbing have auto sensors, which react to human proximity to automatically dispense water, or to flush, and then dispense in very limited amounts. Mirrors, soap dispensers and other items were functional and in good shape, with the soap dispensers all being full.
        This is the one part of the building that has a fair number of windows, though they are all high and narrow, and designed more for ventilation than for light. Smoke detectors and ventilators for the heating and air conditioning protrude from the concrete ceiling. There is little enough to burn in the completely concrete, brick, and tiled room; but state code requires the detectors. The area is also well drained so that the floor could be hosed down, if necessary.
         The area is tastefully shielded from the main atrium, offering privacy without the need for doors. This is the men's room. I was unwilling to take the risk of photographing the ladies room. Any women who wish to contribute a photo of the facility are welcome to do so, though I suspect it differs only marginally.