15 July 2018
J. and I spotted these sun rays and clouds on the return trip from Miller Woods, a fragment of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary, Indiana. More later about that adventure.
J. wanted to go to northeastern Wisconsin to see family, so I went along. The trip didn’t begin well, as he was delayed by a protest and closed exits along the Dan Ryan. I should pay more attention to local news.
Traffic wasn’t bad the rest of the way, and the weather was perfect — clear sky, sunny, about 74ºF when we left and at Port Washington. I noted that I prefer a summer sky with interesting clouds, although later the cloudlessness would prove perfect for part of the plan.
We arrived in Port Washington (80ºF) at 3:40. I remember the time precisely because it was 20 minutes to closing at Bernie’s Fine Meats, where I promptly spent a small fortune. (I’m not a big meat eater, but, oh, the garlic summer sausage.)
We stopped for a bit at Smith Bros. Coffee for the namesake beverage and a sandwich. It’s one of those places where I could people watch all day.
Finally, we hit the road again, passing through Green Bay and continuing north.
I’m not sure when we arrived in Crivitz, perhaps around 7. We continued northwest toward the family tree farm. Along the way I noticed many stands of conifers planted in regular rows, but what struck me was how dark the interiors of these cultivated “woods” appeared. In places it seemed almost black between trees, across from the sun low in the sky.
After arriving at the tree farm and looking around, J. saw he’d gotten a message earlier that the family had gone to a fireworks show with “Boat Landing 3” as the destination. After heading out from the farm, we asked a man for directions (no mobile phone coverage in the area) and with his directions found Twin Bridges Park on Boat Landing 3 (a road). Earlier there’d been a waterski show and fireworks were also advertised. Now we just had to find the family. Someone in the huge parking lot pointed us toward a sandy path through the darkening woods to the spot for the main event. We found a crowd in a clearing, along with concessions stands.
J. sought his family while I waited in the line for the facilities. By then I was tired enough I couldn’t tolerate the crowd (or the smoking). I went back through the woods to the car, where I took several videos of the fireworks through the trees along the Peshtigo River while countless mosquitoes feasted on me.
After a surprisingly good display, we headed toward an inn, 20 to 30 minutes away. The front serves as a bar and pool room (with one table) and the back as a restaurant. Everyone there seemed to be part of an extended family, friends, and neighbors group.
Next morning we passed Dirty Joe’s Laundry on the way to Java Lodge Coffee. Is there a Joe? Is he dirty? Does he launder? We may never know.
When we walked outside at midnight, the sky that had been so clear during the day had exploded with stars in a way that urbanites don’t experience without getting out of Dodge. Despite the lights around the building, there wasn’t much surrounding light pollution. We could the outline of part of the Milky Way. I wish I could see that every clear night. When I wasn’t soaking up the firmament (as the mosquitoes drained me), I was watching a few bats flying back and forth overhead (dealing with some of the little blood suckers, I hope). And so back to Crivitz for some rest.
I’d love to show the coffee shop, but the proprietor told us photos aren’t allowed due to the vendor works displayed. It had a north woods vibe, with bear and moose artwork and goods featured. Lovely place. We spent more time there than we could afford.
We returned to the tree farm, where we were given a tour of an addition, in progress, to the house, and I was offered a ride on a four wheeler (passed). My plan had been to head to Veteran’s Memorial Park afterward, but J’s brother talked him into a visit to Dave’s Falls, also a county park.
Nothing but a click happened when J turned his car key, and he realized he’d turned on the lights and left them on — don’t ask why as it was sunny and cloudless again, about 88ºF.
If you’re going to drain your battery, do it in the front yard of a family of mechanics. His brother appeared with a charger and clipped it on, then scraped and rinsed off years’ worth of corrosion. He advised running the engine for at least a half hour to 45 minutes — just about the amount of time it would take to get to Dave’s Falls.
Dave’s Falls, at least from what I could see from where I could get to, reminded me of a more open version of Parfrey’s Glen near Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, where a small waterfall splashes into water suitable for horsing around. The river seemed to run pretty fast with some foam. I wish I had felt steady enough on my feet to get closer to the falls, but the ground was rougher and more angled than I could handle at that moment.
Too soon it was time to head south without looking back. We stopped at a Marinette County historical marker about Wisconsin forestry with a forest overlook. Next was a pullover at Half Way North marking the 45th parallel halfway between the equator and the North Pole. It seems this is marked in only a few places in Wisconsin, so I’m happy I landed at one of them.
It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we reached Karvana south of Green Bay, one of J’s favorite coffee spots. The mac and cheese was pretty good, and the yam fries were amazing. Because I dislike the idea of bottled water and the massive amount one-use plastic it consumes, I loved their filtered water tap. I could fill my 32-ounce bottle with cold water before setting out again.
The final planned stop in the area was Fonferek’s Glen, a county park with a barn and other farm buildings. My objective, though, was the waterfall a short distance from the parking lot. When you first drive up, it looks like a serene meadow. Soon you notice, however, the many warning signs, especially once you pass the waterfall overlook.
The trail, as they say, is not maintained. Hidden behind the buildings is a creek that you drove over that’s carved out steep cliffs with unstable edges. On this day, we didn’t see the waterfall — the creek bed was partially dry. So was the grass, we noticed later. We passed the overlook and walked on the unmaintained trail along the creek bed to the top of the waterfall. I’ve never done that before. Fenforek’s Glen is not far from the highway and is well worth the little detour.
Time flies when you’re having fun. It looked like we’d run out of time to enjoy dinner at Twisted Willow in Port Washington. I had an idea — stop in, order dinner to go, and have a drink at the bar while waiting. I ended up with a great drink and enough Twisted Willow dinner for two meals. Another well-worth-the-detour moment. And getting back later than planned.
And so back to a routine work week under stars obscured at night by city lights.
The adventure began with an email from Openlands about “Paddle the Lake Michigan Water Trail” events in the far north suburbs (Ray Bradbury country). JB and I had gone to one of these a couple of years ago in Jackson Park. Wilderness Inquiry owns the canoes, and they bring paddling to people who wouldn’t have much opportunity, like city kids and the disabled (which I am when it comes to getting into and out of a canoe). They had a life preserver large enough for me (impressive!) and were patient with my difficulties.
We paddled around the lagoon, seeing a great blue heron take off from shore at canoe level. It’s a different world from a canoe, where you’re less of an outsider/intruder and more one with the water—even if you can’t swim. You’re almost like a bird yourself, maybe a loon bobbing on the water.
The Jackson Park paddle was cut a little short by choppiness coming into the lagoon from Lake Michigan, but we were out for a while, probably at least 45 minutes, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if some of the kids (and maybe an adult or two) were paddled out. We’re not hardy voyageurs, after all.
On Sunday it took about 30 to 40 minutes longer than it should have to get to Illinois Beach State Park thanks to a 4th of July parade in Waukegan that had closed down an extensive stretch of Rte. 137, which is the only practical way into the park. By then of course I had to find a restroom.
After those preliminaries, a conservation office pointed us toward Openlands’ tent by the lake, but we discovered we should have followed the “free canoe rides” sign pointing mysteriously inland, as it turned out the lake was too choppy for beginner paddling. We hightailed it west across the parking lot and down a service road and found the canoes at a pond by the campground.
We were just in time for the last paddle of the day. Wilderness Inquiry’s largest life jacket still fits me. Yippee! Enough people arrived after us to fill a canoe. I even managed to get in without too much struggle, thanks to the setup. So far, so good.
Just as we were scootching around to balance weight side to side and settling in, it started to rain, slowly at first, but soon with bigger drops coming down faster. That’s okay, they told us. We can go out in the rain as long as there’s not lightning. They asked if anyone wanted out. To all our credit, no one moved (not that I could!) or spoke up. Soon the cloud either moved on or emptied out because the brief downpour ended as abruptly as it had begun.
This pond, which I had not known about, is big enough to paddle but not too big for beginners or small children. We went around it perhaps three times, giving us a chance to practice turning and stopping (JB and I are pretty good at this by now). As we started out, a fish leaped out of the water and fell back before I could get a good look. Our trip leader told us the pond is full of bass. It was also surrounded by male red-winged blackbirds on slightly better behavior than they’d shown earlier in the spring. I mentioned that in Chicago frustrated residents have been known to call the police on the territorial birds. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “wing cuffs.”
Meanwhile, I was keeping an eye on the darkening western sky, even as the east remained bright. We returned to shore, and I got out with some extra time and a helping shoulder to lean on. (I feel pressured because anyone forward of me has to wait for me, although they were patient, too.) We chatted with one of the Wilderness Inquiry guys, who is hoping to go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then finally left.
As we walked down the service road, we stopped to take a few photos of the flowers and a monarch who was landing selectively on a couple of butterfly weed plants. I still watched the “gathering gloom” and suddenly decided an expedited march to the car might be warranted just as thunder boomed. Moments later the temperature plummeted dramatically from the low to mid 90s. We made it just as the skies opened up with a thicker, more sustained downpour accented by sporadic thunder and lightning. We joined a lot of beachgoers in fleeing the park. What perfect timing all around, despite the late start, the parade detour, the pit stop, and the mini-hike to the pond.
We rewarded ourselves with coffee and a brownie at It’s All Good, but the restaurant we wanted to go to had no power. Plan B was a family Mexican restaurant and so home. My kind of day.
25 March 2018
J. and I headed to the Calumet area, specifically Deadstick Pond near Lake Calumet. There’s no public access I can see, and a fence separates the area around Lake Calumet from the frontage road parallel to I-94, Doty Avenue. Collected against the fence is trash—tons of trash. I envision hordes of high school students and adult volunteers spending a few hours a few weekends cleaning up the accumulated trash along the fences at Lake Calumet and Deadstick Pond. The area seems so little traveled that no one may notice, but it’d be a small step toward restoring a semblance of beauty to the area—as long as it isn’t trashed again.
The Calumet area, for many years the center of Chicago’s steel industry, carries an eerie air of a transition zone. Stony Island, a broad, heavily traveled avenue through Hyde Park, South Shore, and other communities, turns into a two-lane, potholed, unmaintained road flanked by tall grasses, nascent parks like Big Marsh, landfills, and the occasional industrial-style building and parking lot. There’s not a house to be seen, nor any sign of a neighborhood.
Eventually, the avenue that further north boasts restaurants, stores, churches, hospitals, and other urban fixtures dwindles down to a cracked, littered pavement that ends abruptly short of a curve of the Calumet River. Traveling down Stony Island can feel like a ride on a time machine toward a future apocalypse, when industry’s mark is visible but faded, and nature is slowly creeping back through the piles of plastic bags and bottles. It’s like the end and beginning of the world.
As J. carefully navigated the potholes, a few cars and trucks sped past at speed—in a hurry to get to who knows where. We stopped on the roadside at Deadstick Pond and peered through the vegetation and fence for a peek at some ducks bobbing along among gray snags. There may have been swans, or plastic bags masquerading as swans.
Next we found Hegewisch Marsh, where he parked by the rail bridge and we wandered down a rough road parallel to the tracks. Many ducks floated on the open water while their passerine counterparts flitted about the bare trees. Along the way I found a lot of scat, most loaded with fur. The open areas connected by the river, rail lines, streets and bridges, along with wildlife-rich marshes, must be coyote havens. I hoped one was following us with its amber eyes as we tread on its territory.
We stopped at Flatfoot Lake in Beaubien Woods, also off I-94, which roars over the otherwise serene setting.
On a satellite map, Lake Calumet, the largest lake within Chicago, looks artificial. I couldn’t guess its original contours. It’s surrounded by nearly empty, decaying streets, the occasional vast building, the ceaseless noise of a busy interstate, and other trappings of modern dreams. There are other dreams, though. The Lake Calumet Vision Committee has a dream for the Calumet region that includes biking, jogging, paddling, and sailing, along with a trail connecting the Pullman National Monument to the young Big Marsh Park—potentially 500 acres of new habitat. It’s going to take time, and it can’t happen fast enough for me.
Now if we could only do something about the roar of I-94.
My family didn’t travel for recreation. When we visited relatives, we stayed with one of my dad’s sisters, Mildred or Thelma. Even when I figured out that other families went on real vacations to Disney (ugh) or other attractions, I never thought about where they hung their hats at night.
Psycho, of all things, exposed me to that all-American icon, the motel or motor inn, with its outside doors and convenient parking. By 1960, though, even the Bates Motel had become a victim of the burgeoning interstate system, accessible only to those few who happened to stray onto the exit, say, during a blinding downpour.
Judging from the mid-century motels that remain open, someone still stays at them. I’ve spotted a few on the north side of Chicago as well as in a number of small midwestern towns. I can tell they’re old school because they tout amenities like air conditioning and color TV. Not just TV, but color TV. If today’s signs weren’t programmable, future generations might wonder at the “free WiFi” advertised at interstate exit hotels.
Years ago I spotted this old-school sign in Ottawa, Illinois, where “Lincoln’s voice was FIRST heard!” and a number of women worked themselves to death painting radium onto watch dials. Ever since I’ve wanted to stay there so I could take photos of the sign and enjoy some of that good old-fashioned air conditioning and TV (color not mentioned, but assumed). When I looked The Sands up, I found the rate—under $50—also looks like a relic from yesteryear, perhaps the 1980s. (Ice, however, is extra.)
Arriving at The Sands from long drive from Flossmoor, I didn’t think to look at the sign. After hiking at Matthiessen State Park and dining at the Lone Buffalo, I was too tired to look at the sign, although I had passed it at least three times by then. The fact that I didn’t notice the sign should have been a clue that something was up. Yes, imagine my surprise when the next morning I went out to take a photo of the beloved sign and discovered this:
The sign had been replaced! I sent my friend to the motel office to get the story, which varied a bit from this newspaper account. The sign was not the victim of changing fashions or tastes but of its own age and years of exposure to Illinois weather. It had become a hazard, perhaps ready to topple in the wind. If you look beyond the rust, you can see a crack between the bottom and middle pieces. The new less elaborate sign perhaps plays a sly tribute to its predecessor’s fate, depicting a tilted hourglass with the sands of time starting to run out.
What’s that you say? “What’s an hourglass?”
Now that I know what they are, I’m finding sycamore leaves everywhere in parks and forest preserves. These beauties are from Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland, Illinois. Although they’re turning brittle, they look like shiny leather.
It was still overcast with on-and-off rain in Maumee, Ohio, where, still reluctant to return, we visited Georgette’s Coffee and Gift Shop (which carries, of all things, Solmates socks). We couldn’t leave without a walk around Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, which is closed on Mondays. Curses.
When Fort Meigs was built in 1813, it was the largest wooden walled fortification on the continent. As with Fort Massac in Metropolis, Illinois, Fort Meigs is a replica — for different reasons, wooden structures seem to be doomed to an early demise. Fort Meigs looked interesting, but its location and layout was no match for my favorite, Fort Niagara on the Niagara River at its mouth on Lake Ontario.
Back in town, J. spotted a purveyor of vintage candy that carries variations on the traditional Mallo Cup, so he picked up a lot — the Mallo Cup is a rare sight in the urban Midwest, or at least in the Chicago area.
At last we left the Maumee/Perrysburg area and drove through more on-and-off rain, with breaks at rest stop or two. At one we were able to get Hershey’s ice cream one last time (reminder: not affiliated with the candy company). Finally, we collected Petunia at the Hyde Park Animal Hospital. During her lengthy stay, she’d developed symptoms of feline herpes, a chronic respiratory illness, so we picked up L-lysine for her. We should have gotten a poncho for me, given how many times she was going to sneeze wetly on me in the next ten days. Home, sweet home. Chicago.
Click photo for a couple more.
After a comfortably warm and mostly sunny week, the weather had taken a turn for the chilly. With a little more time available in Erie, we fueled up at Tim Horton’s, then visited the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, where we got lighthouse and park stamps plus goodies from the gift shop.
Next we drove farther out onto the Presque Isle State Park Peninsula, far enough to get to the beach with the Presque Isle light. J. made it to the light, but after crossing the in what felt like gale-force winds and having sand driven into my mouth and pebbles into my bare calves, I decided I could live with a slightly more distant view of the light.
By the time we tore ourselves from Presque Isle, it was time to make tracks if we wanted to get to Maumee, Ohio, at a reasonable hour. There wasn’t enough time for a detour to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I wasn’t too disappointed given the gloomy, wet, windy weather, which softened the pain of returning from a wonderful trip just a teeny bit.
At breakfast, J met Joe Hurley, who wrote Ten Million Steps: A fresh look at America and Americans from Cape Cod to California on Route 6, and walked away with autographed copies. He knows how to travel. Afterward, we said a long goodbye to the hens, who didn’t care that we were sad to leave and that vacation was almost over.
We stopped in Coudersport at Sheetz for fuel (gas and coffee and Mallo Cups) and discovered Old Hickory, a building in a state of decay that would put Miss Havisham to shame. Eliot Ness is said to have visited the inn — I wonder why?
After passing through Port Allegheny and Smethport (“Home of Wooly Willy”), we came to Mount Jewett and the road to Kinzua Bridge State Park. On the way the eagle-eyed driver spotted a sign for “Maple Syrup 500 Ft.” Determined to get maple syrup somewhere on this trip, we stopped, parked, and rang the bell. The back door was unlocked, and several windows were open, despite a threatening sky. We rang again — no answer. A half mile back, a pedestrian had tried to flag us down, so I could only speculate that he was a stranger who’d killed the family and was trying to get away (although in the direction of the park, where the road ends), but when the police came the neighbors would remember only us and how the car had been parked for a while as we knocked and peered in the back shop. It was a mystery. I’ve read too many true crime stories.
At last we arrived at the park, where a visitor center with park offices is under construction. For being a little out of the way, the park seems popular. Out on the skywalk, one man told us he’d brought his wife in preparation for an upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon. She couldn’t quite handle 300 feet down, however, let alone thousands. I asked a man familiar with the area about the F1 tornado that had taken out half the bridge. Tornado watches and warnings are a weekly, even daily occurrence in the Midwest, but not in western New York or Pennsylvania. He said a tornado will arise now and then, but its path usually zigzags and its duration is usually short. The mountains and irregularity of the surface probably inhibits a tornado’s ability to build a full head of steam. The 2003 tornado, however, was strong enough to take down half the (compromised) bridge. It’s a lovely area, and there are trails down the slope for those with more time.
On the return, we stopped again at the place with maple syrup. To my relief, the people were home (unless, of course, they were murderers covering for their crime — how would strangers like us know?). The mundane explanation was they’d gone to a ball game and forgotten to turn off the “Open” light and shut up the place properly. That was their story, which must be true as I haven’t seen any gruesome stories from Mount Jewett in the news.
Rain came, and when we arrived at the Kinzua Dam area, a mist hovered over the water in places even as the skies repeatedly tried to clear up. I’d been to Kinzua Dam at least once with my parents — long before it became part of the “Pennsylvania Wilds” — but I don’t know how many times. The dam was relatively new then, controversial because it flooded treaty land. On this day it seemed familiar-but-not-quite. I’d been here before, but not often or long enough for it to seep into my being’s core memory. I was left with an impression, not a picture.
While the dam and the water are impressive, I was more fascinated by the numerous ribbon waterfalls running down the bluff through which the road had been cut, the water seeming to disappear at the base. If my dad had been there, he might have tried to collect water from them in a plastic jug for the rest of the trip, although in the 1970s signs had popped up near many of Pennsylvania’s roadside springs warning of contamination from coal mining activities. Back then this disappointed me, and I wondered why post warning signs instead of cleaning up the pollution. Young and naive then, I still question that approach. I wonder if any of the springs we used to pass are viable today.
Next we found, almost by accident, the easy-to-miss parking lot for Bent Run Falls. The trail, steep and uneven, was muddy and slippery after the rainfall. The early part is overgrown, so I was able to get only glimpses of the water flowing along. I couldn’t get very far, and J. didn’t want to leave me behind so he didn’t get much farther. I’ve seen photos of the falls from a few different vantage points that looked lovely, but I’ve no idea where you have to go to see them from that perspective.
Our next stop was Jakes Rocks (no possessive apostrophe), where at a few places along the road you can get great views overlooking the lake. As is typical. when I spotted a colorful millipede sauntering around the parking area, I spent half my time stalking it, trying to take a closeup. Undaunted, it never slowed down enough for me to get a crisp photo within the frame. I resisted picking it up.
Reluctantly we left and headed toward Warren, where we hoped to find a restaurant. When we got there, nearly all of the local places were closed or closing, except for one bar that didn’t look popular, so we settled for Perkins.
Given the time of day and where we were, we decided to stay in Erie. By now it was getting dark and threatening, then it rained hard enough to make seeing much difficult. Just as it seemed the conditions couldn’t be any worse, J. swerved slightly, just enough to miss hitting a deer that had leapt at us from out of the streaming darkness, perhaps trying to join his five or six deer brothers we’d seen earlier on the road, dead.
After we had dodged the deer — barely — I made the mistake of saying that I didn’t think conditions could be any worse. Almost on cue, the hail started. To me it now seems that any trip home must be attended by bad, even dangerous weather. After the rain, the deer, and the hail, and the accompanying adrenaline rushes, finally we made it to Springhill Suites in Erie in one exhausted, shaking piece.