Every now and then I get an email updating me on my Google Maps photo statistics. As of today, these photos have 10,000+ views. The surprises? The chicken and the nondescript view of Lincoln Park Zoo’s south lagoon. That so many people are looking at Beaubien Woods. And that the photo of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls didn’t make the cut as of today. Not looking like it will for a long time.
I don’t see signs about wildlife very often, although this one at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park, warns unsuspecting visitors about the island’s less famous, thieving canine. What do the red foxes of Isle Royale do with the car keys and hiking boots they purloin?
This sign, at Hidden Lake Forest Preserve near Morton Arboretum, exhorts you not to panic if Wild Fido follows you. He’s simply giving you an escort through his domain. If this task makes him snappish, simply throw clumps of dirt at the ground by his feet. I’m having visions of Monty Python and “Confuse-A-Cat.”
Other signs warn you about smaller wildlife, especially the kind that hops aboard. This one, at Michigan’s Grand Mère State Park, tells what to wear to help stave off the dreaded tick. By the time you’re at the park, however, you may not have clothing alternatives handy. The tick shown is terrifyingly big, but the ticks that can share Lyme disease with you may be little larger than a pinhead.
Pro tip: At Shawnee National Forest, which is tick heaven, I thought wearing a hat would keep them off my head at least. Not so. After a delightful morning at Pomona Natural Bridge, I felt movement in my hair and found a couple strutting under my hat on top of my scalp. This is one of those times when baldness would be an advantage.
Located at a town park near Grand Mère, this sign is not so much a warning as a caution. If you aren’t careful and you spread the emerald ash borer, this will happen to your ash trees. I can attest to the lethal behavior of the well-named emerald ash borer—both tall, mature trees in front of The Flamingo, plus the mature tree that shaded my bedroom at 55th and Dorchester, succumbed to these little green scourges.
At Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, we’re told it’s too late to keep out another horror, the dreaded zebra mussel. You can be a hero, however, by cleaning your boat and equipment properly so you don’t transplant them to a body of water where they haven’t taken hold. The use of “infest” is a great touch. It reinforces the nearby “No swimming” sign nicely. Swimming in infested waters just doesn’t appeal to me, even if I could swim.
If you’re about my age, you recall that “only you can prevent forest fires (that aren’t caused by lightning strikes, volcanoes, and other natural hazards). Many parks post the current risk of wildfire danger based on conditions like drought and wind. At Lyman Run State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds, Smokey Bear can’t seem to make up his mind.
This version of Smokey opted for words instead of visuals, which makes his message less ambiguous (no broken pointer). No doubt that snow on the ground helps to keep risk low.
Taking shape on Stony Island Avenue in the remnant heart of Chicago’s steel industry, Big Marsh Park features a bike park (built on slag too expensive to remove), natural areas, and occasional bald eagle sightings. An enticing hill nearby forms a lovely backdrop for a walk at Big Marsh, which is still in its infancy. When you get closer, however, and read the signs, you learn it’s a steaming, seething landfill that’s being “remediated.” There’s no happily running up and down this slope. How I miss the Industrial Revolution.
It’s not every day you’re warned about lurking unexploded bombs, but for me this was no ordinary day. It was my first visit to Old Fort Niagara in nearly 40 years, which coincided with Memorial Day weekend. Most of the time, the fort is manned by soldiers in 1700s military fashions, but in honor of the holiday other conflicts were represented. I kept my distance from the bomb. Just in case.
This is one of the odder warning signs I’ve seen. I left the chef alone—after all, he works with sharp objects.
Slow down. Chicago is under a budget crunch, but do they send out a lone fireman like this? A lone fireman without a steering wheel? Or arms?
Here’s a warning sign you can ignore. It’s outside Riley’s Railhouse, a train car bed and breakfast in Chesterton, Indiana, that’s a treasure trove of signs.
From the exterior of the car I slept in:
At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s West Beach, it looks like the National Park Service is testing which sign or message is most effective at keeping visitors off the dunes. This one shows bare tootsies with the universal “No” slash, helpfully pointing out the dunes are ours.
A less friendly, sterner, more wordy one admonishes you to “KEEP OFF THE DUNES” and appeals to your desire to “Please help protect and preserve our fragile dune systems!”
At the beach, this slash through a barely visible hiker shuns wordiness (or words) for directness and simplicity without justification or explanation.
It’s sandwiched between even more minimalistic signs with a slash, planted where the dunes start ascending. Don’t. Just don’t.
Years ago when a landfill near my cousin’s house became a Superfund site (just what you want in your backyard), it was surrounded by an electrified fence complete with warning signs. Noticing there were no insulators, I dared to touch it. In this case, however, I’m certain the area behind the fence is dangerous, and this is as far as I got.
Normal weathering or resentment over the weapons message?
Waterfall Glen, a DuPage County Forest Preserve, forms a ring around Argonne National Laboratory, “born out of the University of Chicago’s work on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.” Naturally, the immediate area around the lab is secured. While I was baffled by this sign about “lock installation” and “any unauthorized lock,” it was the 10 or so locks on the chain that got my attention. Why do people need to add locks to that chain? Why do they need authorization? From whom do they get authorization? Why are unauthorized locks removed? What does it all mean?
Remember when lead was thought to be safe? I don’t, either. This sign is on an old pump at the remnants of an old general store in the western part of Shawnee National Forest.
Warning: If you leave expensive stuff lying around, even at an exclusive university, it will walk off. You can bank on it.
July 14, 2013: From Pictured Rocks to Lake of the Clouds to Bayfield
Before heading to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we took a few moments to admire the view from Sunset Motel on the Bay. Forget Southern California and Los Angeles — this is where a TV series should be taped — in spring, summer, or fall, of course.
Finally we tore ourselves away for the morning cruise on another lovely day. With the sun over the shore, the lighting wasn’t as dramatic or as good for photography, which allowed me to relax and focus more on what we’d seen and what we’d missed the night before.
Back in Munising, we went to Falling Rock Café and Bookstore, a comfortable place with the key ingredients — good coffee, edibles, and WiFi, plus the added bonus of used books for sale! I could have stayed there all day or even all week, but Munising’s waterfalls were calling. What a great thing it must be to live in a town with so many picturesque waterfalls. There’s also Johnny Dogs, where hot dogs are named for cities — not unlike the Chicago hot dog, which is probably what I had. Hyde Park could use a Johnny Dogs, complete with outdoor seating.
I’m not sure which of Munising’s waterfalls we saw, except for Alger Falls at the intersection of M-28 with M-94. Others include Wagner Falls and Munising Falls.
By now it was getting late in the day, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was not getting any closer, so we had to say goodbye to Munising reluctantly after finding out the lighthouse wasn’t open.
The road to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park runs in part along Lake Superior, where the muted light held mystery, and on the clean beach you can feel like the only person on earth.
By the time we got to the park, dusk was starting to descend, and the mosquitoes were out for my blood. J. said it was all he could to put the park admission money in the envelope, surrounded as he was by a cloud of vampirelets.
Despite the persistent nips and dimming light, we made it to Lake of the Clouds, where the forest was a rich green and the river and lake a deep blue under a pastel sky subtly tinged with pink. I wish we could have spent more time there, but Bayfield awaited.
After much waffling about whether to take the train to Homewood or to ask for a ride, finally I opted for the 11:42 train, after a break at Café 57. My back demanded stops on the way over to the station, so I couldn’t get to the 10:42 in time.
After a brief stop at Caribou Coffee in Homewood, we set out for Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Michigan, or so we thought. As we approached the Hinsdale oasis, something in my pain-addled brain recognized that I shouldn’t be seeing a sign for O’Hare Airport. Hesitantly I said, “Are we going the wrong way?”
We turned back to the south suburbs and northern Indiana, where I90/94 sports a plethora of those eyesores we call billboards, touting mostly fireworks, adult clubs, and casinos — perhaps Indiana’s biggest tourist draws. One fireworks seller, Krazy Kaplans, saturates billboard space, with some stretches of interstate littered with a half dozen plus Krazy Kaplans ads staggered on both sides of the highway. I can’t guess their effectiveness, but I can judge their aesthetics. They’re an ugly, tasteless blight. Billboards are bad enough, but cheesy ads slapped on ubiquitous giant signs presents an unbroken visual affront. Once again I thought of an early 1990s drive through Virginia with my aunt, who said billboards had been banned, leaving us to soak in the untainted greenery topped by blue skies without a Krazy Kaplans sign — or 12 — to scar the landscape.
With the lost time and unplanned detour, the backup in northwest Indiana, the time zone difference, a rest stop, a detour to look for a round barn, and a stop at a winery that was about to close and the Lark and Pear, a lovely and quaint toolshed café that was closed, we arrived at Warren Dunes State Park around 6 p.m. Michigan time.
We meandered about a bit, then J. set out to conquer the big dune. I wish I could have, but I’m already in enough pain. I sat in the car for about 20 minutes, noticing that the sky had become cloudy and the formerly hot and oppressive air cooler and comfortable. This was my idea of perfect beach weather. I took my shoes off, found a towel in the trunk, and made my way back to the water’s edge, where I stuck my feet in, then my calves. Brrr, but not as cold as Lake Michigan on the Chicago side. The temperature didn’t deter a lot of people from plunging in, several fully clothed.
For a while, I watched the ring-billed gulls at the water’s edge, where I’d guess they were hoping for something edible to wash up. I loved seeing gulls acting like shore birds instead of avian rats, nagging for and carrying off scraps of human trash.
The beach at Warren Dunes is surprisingly clean — I saw only one cigarette butt — and the sand finer than the beach here at 57th Street. Even at 6 p.m., I was surprised that the large parking lot was more empty than not, and only a few people were left dotting the beach. Those who weren’t picnicking were ascending the dunes or, in the case of many of the children, sliding down from the top. I wondered if I would have had the nerve to try. I’d like to think I would have, all the while suspecting that I wouldn’t.
While I sat there, the hidden sun reflected off the clouds through a break, and I remembered what it was like to live east of Lake Erie, to see sunsets instead of sunrises, to feel the cooling effect of the wind blowing across the water. I didn’t feel homesick — I think it has been too long — but for a moment I felt at home.
J. returned flushed from his exertions. Shortly after, flies made their presence known. I’ve never grasped how such small invertebrates could produce such painful bites with no teeth, but I felt like my legs were being stabbed by tiny but effective lancets. Crepuscular flies are nature’s way of saying it’s time to go.
We headed back on Red Arrow Highway toward one of the restaurants we’d seen earlier, Soe Café. I loved this place. It feels like it’s set in the woods, and the enclosed porch allows you to enjoy the trees and twilight minus the biting bugs. The food (bread with olive dip, potato bacon soup, Maytag bleu cheese burger, and meatloaf) was perfect, and so was the rich coffee from Kalamazoo — so rich I used four packets of half and half. Again I felt at home as the sky stayed light until well after 9 p.m., just like at home. I thought of my apocalyptic dreams, in which the sun shines on the garden and Virgil’s ash tree like early morning although it’s 10 at night.
Strong coffee couldn’t keep me awake, even as we returned to an earlier time, so to me the long drive seemed unusually short. But at least I gained an hour on the way back. Net-net = 0.
As we got close to The Flamingo, we saw quite a parade of police vehicles with lights flashing, probably at least 15, with the three or four that pulled off and headed west on 55th as we came up. It looked like we’d missed the crime of the century. J. negotiated his way through them and parked, then asked an officer cruising the parking lot on a four wheeler about the commotion. He said he was told that they routinely clear out the park at the 11 o’clock closing. I’ve see one or two cars and some cycles or four wheelers pass through at closing, but not in force like this. I’d guess he meant on summer holiday weekends, when the potential for trouble peaks. But I don’t know.