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!
Last week I posted my 100th episode in this blog. Am I surprised that I got that far, or wondering why I didn’t get there sooner? Proud? Questioning whether any of it matters? Maybe a little of all of that – it is a milestone (three digits! Two zeroes! A century!) that begs for some reflection, something that I’ve been doing quite a bit of these days.
This blog started as a means to document and recount my travels during a specific journey. I wanted a way to keep friends and family apprised of my adventures without bombarding them with emails. I thought I’d like to get back to writing more. As I continued on my extended cross-country road-trip, I found myself framing my experiences, as they were occurring, by the blog post to come. What pictures would best explain what I was seeing, or best capture the moment? What would readers be interested in, and where should I focus my activities and attention? Themes began to develop within the larger narrative, as I found myself following the west-bound trail of Lewis and Clark, or comparing ecological characteristics across thousands of miles. West, then South, then East, then back North. In the end, the writing helped me to process what I was experiencing, and turn it into something more than an isolated, individual experience.
After I returned from that journey, I settled down in a new home, with a new job, in a part of my state that I knew very little about. It was a year after returning when I completed the story of my cross-country adventures. Because of the delay in documentation, this blog has also helped me to remember my travels, forcing me to bring them back to mind, and pull out the best parts. Time has proven to be very effective at distilling those features worth recalling and retaining! I continued to write about my new, if less wide-ranging adventures, documenting the weekend adventures as I explored my new setting, and for a while the “nature” aspects of this blog superseded the “travel” portion. Rather than finding wonder in historically-important sites or strange new scenery, I looked more closely at the wonderful plants, rivers, birds, and light around me every day. I explored the depth of the world, leaving behind the breadth.
As I write this, I have been in my “new” surroundings for three years, and it has been three and-a-half years since I started writing “Unsettling.” Over time I have lost some of the everyday wonder in what I see around me. I still find beauty around every turn, and learn new things constantly, but without the amazement I felt when it was all brand new. Occasionally I will take vacations for a week or so, to places where I do get to explore those new things. You may have noticed that it takes months for me to get around to writing about them here, if at all, and that when I do there is a little something missing compared to that narrative of my epic wanderings. Passion, excitement, enthusiasm, wonder – for some reason I just can’t seem to channel it when recounting those get-aways. Why would that be?
It goes to show that change is good, every cloud has a silver lining, etc. I may have had to alter my travel plans, but they wound up leading me instead to the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States!
Fall Creek Falls is striking not only because of its proportions, but also as a result of its beauty. I’m glad that I got to see it in the fall of the year, with low water levels. I find that it brings out the facets of falling water best, when there isn’t too much rushing over at once. I loved seeing the different shapes of the rocks, the cracks and troughs that the water had formed and flowed through.
The falls, along with several others, are located within Fall Creek Falls State Park, which offers a ride range of recreational amenities and lodging options. If you just want to see the water and move on, you can park in a parking lot which is approximately 300 paved feet from the falls overlook. I recommend the somewhat rough 1-mile walk from the interpretive center, though. A waterfall as impressive as this one can be appreciated even better if you work for it a little bit! Though, I admit the hike would be easier if I hadn’t done 12 boulder-strewn miles the day before!
If you are even more adventurous, or a glutton for punishment like myself, you can take the half-mile hike/staircase down to the bottom of the falls. It was lovely, and a great workout! Perfect preparation for the trip home – fourteen hours of sitting in a car, eating gas station food. I earned every bite!
It has been warm for the past few days, but today snow fell again, to remind us that winter hasn’t let go just yet. I’m getting antsy for spring to begin, but in the meantime I’ll continue to showcase the joys of the winter wonderland we live in, here in the frozen North.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a morning to go cross-country skiing on a trail system I’d never visited before, in Niagara, WI. Afterwards, I headed across the river to Michigan to hike the trail in to Piers Gorge, and check out some more frozen waterfalls. I thought I’d share some of the experiences of that day.
The trails in Riverside Park feature 17 winding km of groomed classic skiing. Despite living only 20 miles away, I hadn’t even known that this trail netweek existed, until I went onto SkinnySki to look for some new adventures. I highly recommend that site for information about trails near home or in unfamiliar locations, at least in the upper Midwest. The trails lead through some pretty scenery, from recent aspen clear-cuts and red pine plantations, to fields, spruce swamps, marshes, and riverfront. There are some hills, but most of the terrain is flat (in the Menominee River floodplain), or rolling at best. Despite being just outside of town, it feels like skiing in more remote parts of the Northwoods (which I’ll get to in later posts). My only criticism is that it could use some maps. There are a lot of loops, most of which eventually connect up at some point, but it would have been nicer to have been able to plan the journey better.
Though tired from skiing, I wanted to see how some of the more turbulent portions of the river were looking in frozen condition. I crossed over into Norway, MI, and hiked up the snowy trail to Piers Gorge. It is beautiful in any season, and this was no exception. It’s hard to capture the intricacies of the ice buildup without more sunlight to provide contract… which should be an excuse for you to come and visit it yourself sometime!
It’s been a while since you heard from me, eh? It’s not because I haven’t done anything interesting, it’s because I haven’t had time to sit around on the
computer and tell you about it! It’s time to start getting caught up, though, because the stories are piling up! What better place to start than this past weekend, which included a lot more “adventures” than I expected…
It seemed like a simple weekend excursion – meet a friend, find a campsite, enjoy nature. Of course, I always have to complicate things. See, last time I was down on the Lakewood-Laona District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, I meandered my way home, with an intermediate destination of a cool secluded lake surrounded by a bog full of great plants. Along the way, I happened upon a campsite, investigated, and found that it was lovely and rarely used. So naturally, I suggested that we go there. Unfortunately, all I could remember was that it was on the North Branch of the Oconto River, on public land near private land, somewhere between Mountain and Townsend, east of the highway (it doesn’t narrow down that 40-square-mile area very much). Even less fortunately (for him), my friend got there before I did, and he dutifully started looking for it. By the time I got there, he’d traveled half of the country roads in that vicinity and had been compelled to break into that evening’s beverage-based entertainment in mid-afternoon. Which is to say that he was mildly frustrated. We checked out a few more spots, but with no luck, and ultimately we found a decent place to pitch our tent off of a rarely-used forest road, behind a berm so that no bear-tracking trucks would come roaring out of the woods and run us down in the early morninghours. Adventure #1 down.
Despite a little drizzle, the night was relaxing and enjoyable, we heard the sounds of nature around us and not trucks and ATV’s. After a lazy morning involving some reading, bike riding on forest trails, and dog-walking, we went to really start the day. At which point I discovered that I had locked my keys in my car. This would be Adventure #2. We tried for a while to break in to it, but apparently all of the curves in the metal and tight weatherproofing that has kept my car dry (and theft-free) for twelve years was not corruptible with sticks and screwdrivers. Finally, opting not to damage my car further, I decided that we should drive into town (in the friend’s car) and call a lockout service. So we did, and even got an ice cream cone (and fried green beans!) while waiting for the mechanic to show up. The kid who got roped into working lock-outs on Sunday morning met us at the gas station in Lakewood, and followed us back to the car, probably wondering where exactly we were taking him, as we got over a mile down this heavily-rutted road. However, he got me into my car in five minutes, and we finished packing up and went to spend what was left of our day in pursuit of nature in the Northwoods.
We went west of Lakewood a few miles, to the Cathedral Pines, a stand of never-logged pines that were “saved from the axe” by a lumber baron’s wife who, according to legend (and the informative sign at the site), plead with him to save the area where she took her children to learn their bible verses. The trees are amazingly tall there, though their bases aren’t as wide as some others in the area. We hiked around a bit through some old growth forest in the area, and checked out a nearby heron rookery. The Great Blue Herons were all gone for the year, their young having fledged, but we found traces of their presence in the woods. We ambled around for a couple hours, enjoying the woods and exploring. Adventure #3 was enjoyable, if shorter than originally intended! The time came for us to part ways, though, and my friend headed home, while I went off to find another campsite for the night (hooray for a Monday off!).
My mind was still on that elusive site on the N. Branch Oconto, but I didn’t want to drive back south to explore that area more. There was one more possibility to the north east, a long shot, but there were established campsites on the map in that area, so I knew that even if my search didn’t pan out, I’d be able to find a spot to lay my head. Well, turns out that Adventure #4 took all of 10 minutes! Before I even found the turn-off, I recognized some signs on private land in the area and let out a yelp of success! I followed a couple of dirt roads in to a small turnaround on the south side of the river, carried my gear in, and pitched the tent. I sat near the fire on a cool fall-like night, listening to the riffling and clumph-ing of the water over the rocks and around fallen trees, and woke up in the morning to do a bit of (completely unproductive) fishing.
I don’t know that the site is currently being maintained by the Forest Service (there’s another, newer site just down the road), and the fishing isn’t great, but I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a secluded night in the Northwoods. But you think I’m going to tell you where it is??? You’ll have to have that Adventure for yourself!
Yesterday I had a few hours to kill and decided to do some exploration. I had my kayak on my car, and thought it would be nice to put it in the water, so I set off so find a small lake to paddle around… somewhere between Sagola and Iron Mountain, Michigan. Knowing me, it wouldn’t be any fun unless I drove my car a few miles down a road that isn’t really meant for anything without high clearance… even though there was an easier way to access the same body of water! I found myself at one of the Groveland Mine Ponds, within the Copper Country State Forest, in Dickinson County, in the western Upper Peninsula. The crumbling iron ore processing plant itself was visible at a distance, out of operation since the 1980’s. The ponds used to be used as reservoirs to hold water for use at the plant, but they, and thousands of acres around them, were given to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after the mind permanently closed.
At first glance it didn’t seem like much, and the 5 boat trailers in the parking lot made me wonder if I’d be able to get any peaceful paddling in with all the fishermen around. A flooded forest made up much of the lake, and provided obstacles to dodge – sometimes a veritable field of small stems, other times widely-spaced larger pines, birch, etc, recognizable by the forms, wood, or scraps of bark hanging on. By the time I’d gotten around most of it, though, I was pretty happy with my new find. In fact, I wished I had my camera to get photographs of some awesome events, like an osprey buzzing my boat, so close that I could see every feather in its breast and tail! Or the deer that waded out nearly to meet me, deciding that my drifting boat wasn’t a threat, and idly using its white tail to shoo away flies, rather than raise the alarm. So… even as all the other boats were pulling out in the face of an impending storm, I went back to the boat landing and grabbed my phone, so I could take a few shots of the wonders of the Pond.
Today I’m looking for assistance from nature enthusiasts out there – what species is this??
I’ve decided that it’s time to give up the “Monday Mystery,” at least for a while. In case you haven’t noticed, I rarely get it published on Monday, and I even more rarely deliver the answer on Friday! It turns out that summer evenings and weekends are pretty full of outdoor adventure, and I don’t have much patience for sitting indoors plugged into the computer. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I’ve noticed that some of the other blogs out there that I’ve found most interesting have slacked on recent postings as well – perhaps we’re too busy enjoying the flora, fauna, and recreational potential of our various lands to spend much time writing about it. So – I’ll keep writing, but won’t promise to adhere to any deadlines!
That said, I have one more mystery – and this one I need help solving, myself! That’s right, I don’t have the answer, and I’m hoping that some of my naturalist readers out there will be able to provide some insight.
I saw hundreds of these tiny frogs – or toads? – last weekend in northern Wisconsin. They were as small as my little pinkie nail – 1/4 of an inch or so. It was in a dry oak-pine woods, with rather sandy soil, next to a small, shallow lake.
Anyone?? I have some more photos, but I think this is the best array.