Tag Archive | adventure

Ten Thousand Islands

IMG_1728An often-overlooked aspect of Everglades National Park is that about 50% of it is covered with water… but only a few feet.  The Ten Thousand Islands is so-called because of the many mangrove islets that dot the tidal flats for over a hundred square miles before giving way to the open Gulf of Mexico.  This is an estuary: a place where fresh water from the rivers meets salt water from the ocean.  This brackish water that results in estuaries forms the basis for the most productive and diverse ecosystems on earth – and the 10,000 Islands are no exception!

This particular estuary is a result of both a submerged coastal plain (basically a continuation of the very gradual slope of land in south Florida) and the development of shoals from oyster bars.  Oysters are one of the unique organisms that not only survive but thrive in brackish water and tidal flats, and it’s only a little exaggeration to say that this area is one huge oyster bed!  The pelicans in the photo above are standing on one

Sunset boat trip (7)

These pelicans are standing on an oyster bar, a few hours before low tide.

such oyster reef.  Oysters, and other estuarine species, make up the plentiful bottom of a food chain that feeds local and migratory animals of all sorts – but especially birds and fish!  These reefs/bars/shoals also protect the mainland from storm surges and hurricanes, breaking up the force of waves before they hit shore.  When these shoals get filled in with a little sediment coming down the rivers, the mangroves are able to get a toehold, and eventually they grow to form the islets, with some higher, drier ground at the center.  For the most part, only mangroves grow there, though as debris gets caught in

Sunset boat trip (12)

Rabbit Key, a barrier island at the edge of the Gulf

the mangrove roots, some other plants are able to gain a footing themselves.  The outermost islands in the Ten Thousand Islands are true barrier islands, made of sand and shells and supporting a variety of hardy plants that grow above the high-tide line.

IMG_1726

A Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Royal Tern stake out posts on a shoal as they wait for a meal to swim by.

Some visitors spend their entire vacation in the Ten Thousand Islands – paddling or boating, fishing, birding, camping.  We had other stops to make, and only spent an afternoon here.  We took a private boat tour out among the islands and saw an abundance of wildlife, both mangrove and barrier islands, and capped it off with a sunset over the ocean.

Sunset boat trip (39)

Our tour was operated by the Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island, which has an interesting history itself.  These tours came well-recommended, and I had hoped to get a smattering of local island lore from someone who had spent their lives in the islands, but unfortunately out guide had only been there for a few months and was about to leave for his next job elsewhere.  He enjoyed talking about the wildlife and the Islands, but not all

IMG_1743

All of the boat operators know how to find dolphins for the tourists! It was admittedly fun to watch them play in the wake of the boat.

of his ecological facts turned out to be true (I don’t blame him – I think he thought he was giving us accurate information!).  This was a pattern I noticed while we were down there, that most tour guides (both park staff and private companies) had memorized a little bit of information but couldn’t really extrapolate from that, and sometimes mixed up what they had learned.  This is a very heavily-visited area, and most people don’t wonder about the things I’m interested in… but if you do, I suggest reading up before you go, rather than relying on guides or interpreters to inform you!

Final note: last fall I read a novel called Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, which takes place in a fictionalized version of the Ten Thousand Islands and southwest Florida.  If you’re looking for something less science-y to read, I highly recommend it!

Everglades

IMG_20170228_170426915

Everglades vista – the “River of Grass” dotted with Dwarf Cypress trees

I finally made it to the southernmost end of Florida and the greater Everglades ecoregion – I spent a week in and around Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, adventuring by foot, boat, and bicycle and getting wet, muddy, and mosquito-bitten in the process!  It was different from what I had expected, and I discovered some fascinating facts to pass on!  Fresh water flowing slowly but steadily towards the ocean, over surface bedrock, has created five distinct ecosystems within those 4,000 square miles.  The next few posts will go into more depth on what I learned and experienced, and provide some recommendations for exploring this area in even greater depth!  Enjoy!

Walk Around the World

IMG_0184Since I can’t do much of anything myself right now, I am living vicariously through others to get my adventure fix.  I recently read a months-old issue of National Geographic magazine, and found this article on one man’s plan to walk around the world, following the path of human expansion out of Africa and eventually into the Americas.  I find it fascinating on many levels!

For one, I have long had an interest in walking across the country.  This will never happen, largely because I think my weak joints would fall apart if I attempted it, but it is fun to think about.  In 2000, while hiking and walking regularly along Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula, Montana, I concocted a plan.  At the time, I imagined asking random strangers along my route for lodging – a spot to pitch a tent in a yard, or a couch to sleep on.  I would let word of mouth follow me ahead, and I would build a network of generous folks willing to help out their fellow travelers.  I would maintain a list of those willing to offer a couch, and screen potential travelers.  There might even be a place in all this for the internet, I thought.  Remember, this was at a time when we had just begun making our own plane reservations via online sites, before craigslist had spread out of the Bay Area, before Facebook (Friendster, now that’s a different story…).  Most people did not have cell phones, there wasn’t even decent infrastructure for cell phones and internet across the nation.  It is both humorous and overwhelming how much things have changed in such a short time!

In his around-the world trip, Paul Salopek seems to be doing an excellent job of integrating 21st-century technology into his primitive mode of transport.  The website for the project includes a wonderful array of information: “dispatches from the field,” “milestones,” and “map room” showcase these remarkable well.

 

Eben Ice Cave

Eben Ice Cave.  The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes.  This cold winter was great for ice formation!

Eben Ice Cave. The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes. This cold winter was great for ice formation!

This winter, everyone was talking about the Lake Superior ice caves up in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  I thought about going, even tentatively planned to go, and then it got so popular that they were seeing crowds of 10,000 or more on the weekends!  I visited the Apostle Islands last summer, and had had the opportunity to kayak out to those “sea caves” in a small group.  I thought that it would be pretty neat to see them frozen, but that the huge crowds might detract from my enjoyment of wild nature.  Of course, if this weather keeps up, the big lake will stay frozen all summer and I’ll get to go see them in July…  just kidding!

Instead of making the three-hour drive to Bayfield, I took a 1.5-hour trip to Eben, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, south of Munising.  There is a rock overhang there surrounded by seeps which turns into an “ice cave” of its own every winter.  On the day we visited (slightly warmer than average for this winter), there were maybe 150 other people there while we were, including the half-mile hike in and out.  It was quite windy and lightly snowing, which meant that this 3/4 mile through the woods was infinitely more pleasant that a half mile out on the open ice of Lake Superior would have been!  The cave itself included spectacular formations, and was well worth the visit!

From the inside, looking out

From the inside, looking out

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

 

 

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

IMG_1615

 

The cave is on public land, but within a federally-designated wilderness area, which means no motorized use is allowed. The access is on private land, thanks to a generous landowner.  From the tiny town of Eben, small signs point the way to the parking lot.  Someone, perhaps the landowner or perhaps the Forest Service, had set up portable toilets for the crowds to use, and a donation box for them, and there was a small private concession stand in the parking area as well.  The first part of the walk parallels the snowmobile trail across an open farm field, and after that it enters the Hiawatha National Forest, Rock River Wilderness.

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

More ice forming...

More ice forming…

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

National Forest Wilderness Areas are intended to be managed free of human input, so no vegetation management (eg: timber harvest, trail clearing) is allowed, and there are no facilities for those recreating in the area.  For me, this makes for an ideal adventure.  There were plenty of down trees for my dog to jump over and under, side trails to explore (if the snow weren’t so deep…), steep ravines, and old-growth trees.  It is a beautiful hike, but will take some effort!  Snowshoes are likely to be unnecessary, since the trail is so well-packed, especially on weekends.  Ice cleats (or commercial ice-walking grips) are highly recommended… but we didn’t have them and didn’t feel that we needed them, either.  [Note to readers: three weeks ago I slipped on ice and broke my leg, so I advise that you do as I say, not as I do!]

Check out that slippery floor!  It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

Check out that slippery floor! It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

Italian Alps

After that acclamation that I gave Julia Mancuso in my previous post, you would expect this to be about my experience seeing her race in the 2006 Olympics in Torino (or Turin), Italy.  It’s disappointing, but I didn’t actually get to see her ski.  I indeed had tickets to the Women’s Giant Slalom, but… on the day of the race, I took the train up to Sestriere from the city of Turin – and realized that I had left the ticket behind!  It was a foggy/snowy day, so I couldn’t see the course from outside the barriers.  [The photos here were taken during the men’s GS, on another day.]

IMG_0383

IMG_0385IMG_0400

Concessions in the ski village at Sestriere, with the mountains and Olympic course in the background.  I didn't get in to watch the races close up, but I had some tasty chocolate-and-red-wine that is a signature of the Italian Alps, and some polenta stirred in a big vat by authentic Piedmontese.

Concessions in the ski village at Sestriere, with the mountains and Olympic course in the background. I didn’t get in to watch the races close up, but I had some tasty chocolate-and-red-wine that is a signature of the Italian Alps, and some polenta stirred in a big vat by authentic Piedmontese.

I didn’t want to waste my train trip up there, though, so I bought a lift pass at a local resort, rented some gear, and spent the day skiing in the Alps!  It was pretty amazing – at the bottom of one run, I found myself on the border of France and Italy.  I didn’t really understand the whole lift system, though, and in the ever-thickening fog and sleet I took a wrong turn on one of my last runs of the day.  I wound up at the bottom of a lift that had closed for the evening, with no idea how to get back where I belonged!  A few minutes later, a couple of ski patrollers came along, looking for stragglers (i.e., me).  They could tell that I was a “dumb American,” and told me in English, “This lift is closed.”  Well, gee, thanks for pointing that out!  I asked them, in Italian, if they could suggest how I might get out of there.  They barely refrained from rolling their eyes as they glanced at each other, then asked, “Can you ski?”  “Yes,” I said, and they motioned for me to follow them down the hill.  They took me down an un-groomed trail through trees and steep drops, not-so-patiently waiting every few hundred yards for me to catch up.  When we got close to the end, they pointed the way for me to get back to the lodge to return my rental equipment,

Savage

P1020026

Though my goal had been to get to the Smoky Mountains, I never made it… but had great fun exploring the Cumberland Plateau instead.  Covering much of central Tennessee, this plateau is nearly 1,000 feet above the height of the Cumberland River (to the southeast), and contains an incredible diversity of plant and animal species.  It has been carved over millenia by many creeks, and the geology of the area is apparent at every turn.

I decided to take a short backpacking trip (one night… though now I’m convinced to go back for more), and decided on the Collins Gulf sector of the Savage Gulf State Natural Area, which covers nearly 16,000 acres on the western edge of the Plateau.  On a longer trip, I could have traversed the area, which is cut through by several rivers and creeks, giving it the aerial appearance of “a giant crowfoot.”  If you are handy at reading a topographic map, you’ll find this one quite impressive.

Despite the topography, I figured that a twelve-mile hike in one day was do-able, if potentially exhausting. The volunteer at the ranger station had told us that in the drought and late fall conditions, there was “no water” on the trail, so we packed in all we would need.  It turned out that there was enough water to filter in several places, so I will do my research better next time.

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

Twelve miles should have been do-able... if several sections of the trail hadn't looked like this!

Twelve miles should have been do-able… if several sections of the trail hadn’t looked like this! On several signs and in the park brochures, we were repeatedly admonished, “No hiking after dark.” Foolishly, I didn’t think much of it until we started encountering sections these rickety boulders!

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included "the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek" in a wetter year.

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included “the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek” in a wetter year.

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The loop trail we took crossed the "Gulf" (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

The loop trail we took crossed the “Gulf” (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees.  We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone.  The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees. We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone. The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Weekend in Sweden

It has been a long time since I’ve posted an entry here, and I have a backlog of adventures to tell you all about!  But first, I thought I’d share this letter my mother wrote me about a weekend adventure to Sweden!  Yes, that’s right – flew all the way to Sweden for the weekend – it is a great sneak peek at the country and the culture, enticing me to try to visit it for myself one of these days.

****************************************************************************

We did a crazy fun thing: we went to Sweden for a long weekend.  In the middle of winter (it was -10 C) with lots of snow.  The adventure began when Jeff bought a car from Volvo and learned that Volvo would pick up travel costs for a round trip if we bought according to a particular program and actually laid hands on said Volvo at the Swedish factory in Gothenburg.  So we did.

The new Volvo... test-driven in Sweden, scheduled to arrive in Chicago in a little over a month.

The new Volvo… test-driven in Sweden, scheduled to arrive in Chicago in a little over a month.

During a bout of insomnia  just before leaving I stayed up most of the night reading a book on Nordic Art.  My interest in Sweden blossomed once I saw these beautiful paintings illuminated by winter light.

What we did in 4 days:

Flew over, picked up at airport by Volvo driver and transported to Radisson in downtown Gothenburg

Visited Volvo factory and test drove car

Then off to Gothenburg to see the FABULOUS art museum

Late afternoon cocoa in one of the many many coffee and cocoa houses. Everyone seems to be in one or another in the late afternoon.  People walk in for cocoa carrying cross country skis or their brief cases or their shopping bags.

Dinner in a wonderful fish restaurant.

(Gothenburg was laid out by the Dutch in the 1600’s and has lots of splendid canals, a port, and plenty of fish.)

On the way to Gotheburg Train Station, pale blue winter light at 8 am.

On the way to Gotheburg Train Station, pale blue winter light at 8 am.

Train the next morning across all of southern Sweden from Gothenburg (west coast) to Stockholm (east coast.  Again we were in a city built on many islands, blessed with good public transportation and very expensive taxis.

Swedish Academy

Swedish Academy

Wandered the old city called Gamla Stan on foot where we took in the Swedish Academy, seat of the Nobel prize, the King’s palace (freezing looking guard standing outdoors like at Buckingham Palace.  Brrr.), lots of cute shops and old buildings (mainly 17th and 18th centuries), and then to the modern downtown area on the next island which we accessed by walking over a charming bridge.

Dinner at a pub called Kvarnen which was featured in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Highly recommended by us due to the ambiance, good Swedish meatballs, and the drunks singing a capella with incredibly good harmony.

Night-time in a truly charming and eccentric hotel (the Lady Hamilton) on Gamla Stan.

View from the hotel in Stockholm

View from the hotel in Stockholm

Then 4—count ‘em, 4—museums all in one day.  We began with Fotografiska, a photography only museum, then took the tram to another island called Djurgarden—gorgeous place of parks and woods and mansions.  A princely playground. The museums there were the Thielska, Prince Eugen’s home and

Prince Eugen's Palace

Prince Eugen’s Palace

gallery (highly recommended) and then the Vasa.

While the previous two were paintings primarily, the Vasa is a boat.  What a boat.  This is the Swedish Titanic built in the 1600s.  As it was leaving the port of Stockholm on its maiden voyage it sank in the harbor.  Raided over 400 years later and housed in this building, the Vasa Museum.  This is what I imagine is a pirate’s dream ship and it certainly seems to be the model for the ones we’ve seen in every swashbuckling film ever.  The ship is amazing, covered with refined carvings everywhere on the exterior.  While visitors don’t go on board, we walk up different floors of the building alongside the boat with explanations in side galleries.  Well worth the visit.

Vasa Museum

Vasa Museum

Then we dragged back to the hotel, and walked down the street to a little restaurant where we ate reindeer with lingonberries—yummy.

Bedtime, then up in the morning and raced to the plane home.

************************************************************

Anyone who has more in-depth knowledge of Sweden and what it has to offer, I’d love to get some recommendations from you!