Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Matthiessen State Park Fall

Matthiessen State Park is across the street from Starved Rock State Park and shares some of the geology. For most people, this park is associated with images of the canyon and its multiple waterfalls.
Lake Falls
The canyon is narrow and in periods of heavy water flow, the narrow ledges that one walks on can be underwater. During the fall, the canyon is popular and tends to get very crowded making it difficult to walk around without getting a little wet.
Giant Bathtub Falls
Just like Starved Rock, this State Park also borders a river, in this case the Vermillion River. Although there is easy access to this part of the park I can count with one hand the number of people I have encountered during my visits, even during peak fall color. The hike from the parking lot is downhill through the woods. Make sure to read the signs along the trail to avoiding hiking further into the woods instead of towards the river (I ran into a couple that had done just that and were lost for some time),
Vermillion River Color
The riverbed is rocky and is surrounded on both sides by woods. During periods of heavy water flow, the river has rapids and in the past rafting was allowed on this part of the river (I believe it is no longer allowed due to safety issues). I was walking very carefully around and between the rocks trying not to repeat the incident in Puerto Rico (twisted my ankle). This whole portion of the river is very picturesque, specially during late afternoon when the light hits the cliffs and tree tops creating colorful reflections in the water. So for those in the area, hike the canyon but spend some time unwinding on the quiet side of the park.
Vermillion River Cliffs

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Autumn Walk Along the Canal

Today I'm taking you down to Channahon, IL for a short stroll along the I&M Canal. This is one of my favorite areas of the canal (I still have a lot to explore!). Although lock 6 and it's locktender house is just a few hundred feet away, we will start on lock 7. From our view point we can see the lock and to the left, the runoff channel. Although most of the trees have lost their leafs, some shrubs still are very green.
I&M Canal Lock 7 in Fall
 If we continue hiking downstream just before we enter McKinley Woods, there is a beautiful portion of the canal which is surrounded by farmland. Some Autumn color was still lingering on the trees. Between the windy days and the brief cold spell, fall color did not last very long.
I&M Canal in Autumn
As we continue our walk, we enter McKinley Woods. The canal here runs against a bluff which provides a great backdrop during the fall. There is a lot of vegetation along the towpath which makes it difficult to get a clear view but the views that are there are gorgeous.
I&M Canal along McKinely Woods
Oaks in autumn glory provide a beautiful backdrop to the canal
The canal here runs parallel to the DesPlaines River and less than a mile down the towpath is the confluence of this river with the Kankakee River, birthplace of the Illinois River. Although the Illinois River is so close, canal boats would travel another 40+ miles on the canal moving though other 7 locks before entering this great river.

Come back on Saturday to see how much the canal changed in three weeks.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sugarloaf Mountain

Part of the Sugarloaf Mountain easy trail
Picking up from the prior post...

Since the weather was reasonably nice, after spending some time along the Marquette shore of Lake Superior, I decided to hike Sugarloaf Mountain and postpone a late second breakfast. Sugarloaf Mountain was a short drive from the Marquette Maritime Museum. There is plenty of parking and two trails to the top: an easy one and a "difficult" one. I took the easy route.

View of the Lake Superior shore from Sugarloaf Mountain
I started on the trail alone stopping occasionally to photograph or admire the view in the woods. At one point another hiker caught up with me and after a brief talk, continue on their way walking 30 or 40 feet ahead of me. It took me about thirty minutes to reach the top and although there wasn't much fall color, the view didn't disappoint. To the east one can see the blue waters of Lake Superior. The western view is dominated by woods and hills with little sign of hand-of-man.

Woods and hills seen from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain
I spent over an hour on the top hiking around, admiring the view and photographing. I probably would have spent longer if it wasn't for the fact that I was hungry and had left the snacks on the car. In comparison, the hiker that I had met on my way up reached the top, took a picture with their camera phone and almost immediately started the walk back down (and this was his first trip to Sugarloaf Mountain). A second hiker that arrived while I was there did a similar stint. It seems that we are always on the run and have no time to admire the beauty that surrounds us. I find that after I started photographing, I tend to slow down to appreciate my surroundings...perhaps this is the best gift that nature photography has provided me.

Time for breakfast...

Sugarloaf Mountain boardwalk

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Waiting for the Light

Day two of my Michigan fall trip did not begin on a good note. I got up at 5am to catch sunrise from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.As forecasted, it was raining...and it rained well past sunrise time. I'm not one that likes sitting around so by 8am I stepped out into the rain and went to explore the area. I had been to Marquette a couple of times before but never really stepped to far from the lakefront.

In an attempt to find a couple of waterfalls, I ran into the Dead River. Even under the gray sky, it provided some beautiful views. There was little color but whatever color was there, the rain had saturated.

Dead River Fall Color
I drove around for over an hour and found a few places to revisit. Given that the sky wasn't clearing up, I made my next stop the Marquette Maritime Museum. A few years ago my wife and I had visited the museum but there was still plenty to see and learn. Once you are inside, there are no views to the outside. However, on the back wall of the museum is a door and as I walked passed it, I could see a little light coming through a small cracked. Time to finish my visit; the rest of the museum will have to wait until next year.

I ran outside, grab my camera and setup on the Lake Superior shore on the cove next to the Marquette Lighthouse. And then waited...and waited...and waited...and suddenly it happened...the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the lighthouse in the distance. Life is good!

Marquette's Lighthouse
Marquette's Lighthouse
As a side note, the lighthouse is undergoing improvements. It had received a new roof and next spring it will be repainted. I will be back next year to approve the new color.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bond Falls

Upper Bond Falls
Usually my trips include a long laundry list of places that I want to visit. The list is very ambitious and if I keep to a very strict regiment I would probably be able to hit all the locations. But the reality is that it is hard to keep a strict schedule, especially when photography is involved. Sometimes delays may be caused by uncontrollable factors such as weather conditions (wind, rain, too cloudy, not cloud enough) or people (yes, sometimes they get in the composition and decide to camp). But many other times there is so much to take in and explore that one looses track of time. Last year Michigan's Upper Peninsula fall trip included a stop at Bond Falls but for some of the reasons mentioned before, I never made it. When the time came to plan this year's trip, Bond Falls was the first location on the list.

Upper Bond Falls
 Michigan’s Bond Falls State Park is near the Wisconsin border; about a 6 hour drive from home. I left early in the morning with plans to photograph this waterfall as wells as two others that were close by. Lower Bond Falls is located a short and easy hike from the parking lot; upper Bond Falls is a short hike up a flight of stairs that parallel the lower falls.

Color reflection on river
The day of my visit the sky was clear. For many people this would be perfect weather, but this condition created bright (hot) spots wherever the sunlight hit. I had to wait for the sun to go lower on the sky. On the positive side,  this allowed me to stretch my legs by hiking up and down the trails and provided a chance to mingle with other people including several photographers. Between waiting for the light, people to move and just exploring the different possibilities, I was at Bond Falls for over 3 hours. I left almost at sunset...Not what was in the plan but Bond Falls was worth every minute.

Lower Bond Falls
And yes, I did make it over to one of the two other waterfalls I had planned on visiting (albeit too late to hike down to it) and in the process, had a brief encounter with the local police (they drive cars that seem out of the 60s) which was courteous enough to just give me a warning for driving too fast.

Lower Bond Falls

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Plan for the best...Prepare for the worst

Around the first weekend in October is when fall color peaks in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and some of the other picturesque areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So as in prior years I planned my trip to visit some sites I know and several other places that I have yet to see. I included Bond Falls and a couple of other waterfalls near Paulding, a few locations around Marquette, two long hikes in Pictured Rocks along with some of the lakes in Hiawatha National Forest followed with a last stop in Fayette State Park. If all went well, I was even considering a morning boat tour along the shore of Lake Superior. Well, those were the plans…then the government shut down the National Parks and with that went (legal) access to Pictured Rocks trails. But there is plenty to see in the Upper Peninsula so the plan became a wish list.

I still followed through with what I had planned for the first day but cancelled the hotel room for the second night (you have to cancel one day in advance – remember always to read the fine print). If the government reopened the National Parks, I was going to go east to Munising for the next couple of days. If this didn't happen, then I was going to go west to Silver City and the Porcupine Mountains.

Well, the force of nature is mightier than the government. The forecast was not very promising when I left yesterday but I was hopeful that it would change. And it did, but not for the better. Last night the forecast for Marquette called for a partially cloudy morning with a 30% chance of rain. The view out the window of my hotel room confirms that the forecast was wrong: it is completely overcast and already raining. The rest of the day, in fact the rest of the week, is not any better. So it may be time to cut this trip short, head home an plan a trip someplace else later in the month…

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Big Woods

How many of us drive back and forth near the same place and never think much of it? Big Woods Forest Preserve is just that place for me. The sign indicating that is a forest preserve can easily be missed so most people may think that this is the next green plot of land waiting to become an industrial park.

Every morning on my way to work I drive by it. Usually there is slow moving traffic so I get a chance to somewhat take it in. Most of the year it is pretty boring: in the warmer months it is very green and in the winter months it is very brown. However, for a few weeks in late summer it gets covered in golden hues and if we are lucky enough to have some clouds, then Big Woods provides some beautiful vistas.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guiding Lights

My wife and I have made a yearly pilgrimage to Door County, WI for the past five years. This trip is our respite for the busy summer in preparation for the crazy autumn. Although we travel to this spot to relax, my days are usually long. I get up before sunrise and usually don't stop until 11 PM. At the end of the day, I'm usually beaten and ready for some rest.

In this last trip my wife and I discovered (or maybe rediscovered) something that will extend the day a little longer. Not sure why we have never paid attention. Perhaps because we live in the suburbs of a big city and have forgotten that they exist...or perhaps because we don't spend enough time outside during the night. Whatever the reason, once we looked up at the night sky in Door County and witnessed the incredible sight of a sky full of stars, we were awed.

We were lucky enough that two of the three nights in the trip were clear. On the first night we did some stargazing from Cana Island. For the most part it was a calm (not counting the wildlife roaming around) warm night, great for being out and about. The second night was still clear but, with a cold front moving through, the wind was strong (kudos to my wife for staying warm in the car and watching the stars through the sunroof from the comfort of a reclined seat). During both nights we could see what we believe was the Milky Way something that we have only seen on images.

I did some experimentation trying to capture the view and I wish the images had actually recorded what I saw. Perhaps with some more practice, the images will be more faithful. But the truth of the matter is that even if they are they will not capture the feeling of standing out there in the "dark" under thousands of stars...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

200 Miles Apart

Kewaunee Lighthouse
The Kewaunee lighthouse not always looked like it does today. Originally (1891), there were a pair of range lights, the front one mounted on top of a metal tower. Like with several other Lake Michigan lighthouses, an elevated catwalk provided access to the lights. Due to the frequent fog, a fog signal was installed in the front range light and a fog signal building (that house the steam power plant) was built behind the front light. In 1931, the front range light lantern room and light were moved from the metal tower to top of the fog signal building and the metal tower was removed. The catwalk was removed sometime after 1981 (I've seen a few pictures that indicate that portions of it were still up until 1985) giving us the current view of this historic structure.

So what happened to the metal tower that used to be in Kewaunee? The tender Hyacinth towed the old steel tower (loaded on the barge Riprap) to Milwaukee where it was put on storage. In 1938 the tower was taken out of storage and installed on the southeast guidewall of the Chicago River locks, 200 miles south of its original location. It still stands there today marking the entrance to the river.
Chicago Southeast Guidewall light