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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cana Island Sunrise

My wife and I just returned from a weekend trip to Door County, WI. Door County is full of picturesque spots so the camera is never too far away. I got up the first morning at 5:30 AM and looked out the window. It was heavily overcast but calm. I was tempted to go back to bed but instead decided to go out for a drive and look around. While on the road I noticed the clouds starting to break so I drove as far as I could to Cana Island, one of my favorite places to watch the sunrise.

When I arrive, it was still very gray. The lake was calm but the water level was low compared to other years. The shoreline had receded exposing several rock formations that on prior years had been completely submerged. For a while I looked around for a long lost lens cap that I had dropped in the water a couple of years ago hoping to find it stuck in between some of the rocks. No such luck...

In prior year, I've always encountered someone on the island. Nearby residents would walk their dogs, watered the plants or simply took a brisk walk around the grounds by the lighthouse. Not this time. I was alone and it was very quiet; only the occasional sound of a wave breaking against the rocks would break the silence.

The sun broke through around 6:30 and the gray clouds lit up with golden light and the lake water turned a deep green. The scene changed frequently for the next 30 minutes as the clouds rolled above. I wish every morning during vacation would be like this.