Miller Woods is part of Indiana Dunes National Park. The Wolverine, Amtrak’s train from Chicago to Pontiac (and back), passes it and offers an opportunity to see ridge and swale topography.
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.
RATS? There are RATS in Hyde Park?
Day 8: On which I don’t see a moose but do see mergansers and find out that “moose is a myth”
August 8, 2014
We arrived bright and early for the boat trip to Isle Royale National Park and to our delight were called very early in the boarding process — we could get our choice of seats. The weather was warmer and sunnier than last year, so we didn’t notice the cold in the stern area. Being by now seasoned veterans of one previous trip, we knew where to look for the “witch tree,” the wreck of the America, and the Rock of Ages light (best photographed on the return trip, when the pilot navigates around the light slowly). The trip seemed shorter, maybe because we knew how long it would take and we weren’t shivering the whole way.
At Windigo, once again we spent time at the store and visitor center, but this time the flocks of butterflies around the shrubs near the dock were gone. I had been hoping to get some better photos of them this year. We met a guy who’d walked from the other end of the island, but it sounded like he hadn’t run into a moose on his week-long journey.
We headed for the campground, where we wandered around and checked out the primitive campsites (three-sided shelters with an opening of netting — very cozy). On the way, we passed some odd structures on slight hillside. According to the sign, they’re part of the park’s minimally invasive sewage system. I thought about the guy we’d just met and wondered if he was going to try out the short, expensive showers at Windigo’s nearby bathroom (several dollars for a few minutes).
J. found where a previous camper had left his mark, “Moose is a myth.” We didn’t see much wildlife, maybe because it was a few weeks later in the summer. I found only the remains of what may have been a rabbit, strangely unconsumed. On the way back, we passed mergansers sunning themselves on a rock.
At the dock, again we were called early in the boarding, so this time J. didn’t have to stand on the starboard side getting drenched with cold spray. We were in a good spot to get photos of the Rock of Ages light, which was perfectly illuminated in the afternoon sun.
After returning we had some time, so we went to the Grand Portage National Monument visitor center. The general area was mobbed as there was some kind of reenactment going on. The Monument overlooks Grand Portage Bay and Grand Portage Island, formerly known as Isle au Mouton and Pete’s Island. It’s a beautiful view in the late afternoon sun.
Our next stop was at Grand Marais and Shoreline Inn. Every herring gull along the North Shore seems to lurk among the buildings in Grand Marais, maybe because that’s where the tourists, and the tidbits that come with them, are. Perched along most of roof lines in sight, they cried and cried and cried during the evening, most likely settling down later so they could start up again in the morning.
Back near the Gunflint Trail, J. told me a co-worker had recommended the Gunflint Tavern, which was very busy. Halfway through dinner, though, I felt sick and woozy (unrelated to dinner), so left J. and walked back to Shoreline Inn, still guarded by gulls on the roof. The evening air helped, and the night view of the shore and the lake was lovely, a peaceful end to a full and filling day.
July 19, 2013: Day 8
After a couple of small lake adventures, we were back to the shores of Lake Superior, this time on a boat that goes to Windigo at Isle Royale National Park. Although Windigo is reached by boat from Grand Portage, Minnesota, Isle Royale is part of Michigan. The island, Lake Superior’s largest, is known for long-term study of its isolated eastern timber wolf-moose populations and their predator-prey relationship. J. had seen a moose on his previous visit, but we weren’t going to have that kind of luck this day.
The boat was more crowded than I expected, with both day trippers like ourselves and overnight campers. Even in the sun, the air was much cooler than on our previous boat adventures, and I was glad I’d brought an extra layer along. J. was stuck with a single layer and short sleeves in the strong, chilly breeze.
This is more of a ferry than a cruise, with the primary business of shuttling visitors back and forth between mainland and island park. The main intermediate stop on the outbound trip was to look at the wreck of the SS America, parts of which are visible in the shallow waters near Isle Royale. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’re looking at a sunken passenger ship from the deck of a passenger ship that you hope won’t end up next door. On the positive side, everyone aboard the America on June 7, 1928, made it to lifeboats.
At Windigo, we were greeted by National Park Service Interns, who helped give us the rundown on the rules. Once recent college graduate from lower Michigan told us how it’s a long adventure just to get home.
Once on Isle Royale, the first things I saw were a tiny northern red-bellied snake, one of the island’s three reptile species, and hundreds of butterflies swarming the bushes near the dock — both very easy to photograph. Given the limited amount of time we had, I spent too much time with the butterflies, at the visitor center, and in the convenience store.
Next, we took the nearby Nature Trail, which is close to the visitor center and passes through a few habitats before turning into a wide dirt road next to the water. We thought we saw a moose in the water across the way, but it was a combination of wishful thinking and a snag.
At the dock, we talked with an intern about the wolves. There are only an inbred handful left, a few adults and a few pups. They’re rarely seen, even by the rangers and interns. The island is home to other wildlife, including thieving foxes, which are featured on “Wanted” posters.
Recently I read that (inbreeding aside) one reason for the Isle Royale wolf population crash was parvovirus. Someone, ignorant of the rules or simply flouting them, brought their dog onto the island. I’m sure they thought, “Stupid rules. What harm can my Fluffy do?” As it turned out, Fluffy introduced a deadly disease to a vulnerable population. Bad dog (well, bad humans)! I’d like to think the culprit was caught, prosecuted, and punished, and also learned a lesson — but there are always those who believe rules (and laws) are for other people.
We talked to the intern so long that, before we knew it, the boat was full and about to set off. For much of the return trip, J. had to stand along the rail with a few others, with cold spray soaking all of them. The boat made only one stop that I can remember, at the magnificent Rock of Ages Light — another of my favorite trip photos.
Back on the mainland, we stopped at the Grand Portage National Monument, then continued to Grand Portage State Park, where an easy walk takes you to where the Pigeon River drops over High Falls, with Canada across the way. As with Cross River, the Pigeon seemed engorged compared to videos I’ve seen of it. We were covered with mist even before we reached the viewing platform, and I wondered how water resistant my new Nikon D7100 would prove to be.
With the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore cruise the next morning, we had a long drive to Bayfield ahead of us. We tried to get to Beaver Bay before Lemon Wolf Café closed for the night, but just missed it and ate at a nearby bar, then drove off into another long evening. We arrived at the Silvernail Guest House in the early morning hours, having left Minnesota behind reluctantly.