Sunday I had the brilliant idea of going to Powderhorn Prairie and Marsh Nature Preserve. This is the only place in the city of Chicago with remnant prickly pear cactus. I wouldn’t disturb it; I just wanted to see the flower if possible.
Later, the idea didn’t seem so brilliant when I realized I couldn’t find a trail. Some nature preserves don’t have trails (the better to preserve), but people had mentioned walking around. They must be better spotters than I. At least we saw a great egret across Powderhorn Lake. And an amazing amount of trash around it (egret and trash not pictured).
Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve
There was no Plan B but we stopped at the Beaubien Woods boat launch. At some points you could feel like you’re in the country near a hill, but you’re in a former industrial area adjacent to I-94 and a large landfill. Allow me the solace of my imagination.
Calumet Fisheries, Chicago Skyway, train, and boats
Since we were in the area, I suggested J visit Calumet Fisheries, a Chicago institution he’d never been to. I can’t eat fish, but he likes it. He was excited to see smelt on the side of the building. He got some. Meanwhile, I took photos and videos from the same bridge that Jake and Elwood jumped in The Blues Brothers (which I don’t remember that well anymore). The Chicago Skyway is in the background, and the closer bridge is the one my Amtrak trains use. It was great to see the bridges from this angle, and even better when a freight train came along. A pair of boats on the Calumet River completed the picture.
Finally, we picked up sandwiches at Potbelly’s and dined at the University of Chicago campus, which was aglow in the setting sun.
I left work at a former job mid-afternoon to take a commuter train east accompanied by a co-worker (I think). Shortly after leaving the train station, we suspected we were headed in the wrong direction, which was confirmed when we passed high, jagged, snow-capped Rockies-type mountains. I don’t recall the co-worker after that (if there was one).
On seeing the mountains and fabulous skies, I wanted to take photos before getting off at the next station to head back east, but I couldn’t find my iPhone. Eventually I couldn’t find my purse and coat, either, and wondered how many stations I’d have to pass before recovering everything. I worried about getting back to work, let alone my original destination.
I put out a plea on the train to help me find the phone as we passed even more spectacular mountains and skies. We went through a NASA-type installation, which is when I realized I was in Canada.
I couldn’t find all my stuff, so I gave up and got off the train at the next station. I couldn’t find the opposite platform or set of tracks for the eastern train, only a dirt road going down a hill. When I asked people for directions, they kept pointing this dirt road out. I thought, “I’m never going to get back to work at a reasonable time.” Especially since I seemed to be in western Canada at a station with no return train.
At this point my phone turned up in my purse in its usual slot. Too late. It was almost too dark to take photos of the mountains, which I couldn’t see anymore from this place anyway.
I was in a small work room with three people. Someone was insisting we rewrite another department’s documents, but hadn’t discussed it with me. The insistence was making me livid and anxious since it made no sense.
A French man I didn’t know changed into new shorts—apparently from a skirt. I thought this weird for a work place. I didn’t see how it happened—it was like magic.
At some point we separated. When we came back, the room was different, and I couldn’t find my assigned spot. I remembered my seat number. I was still trying to figure out how to get the co-worker alone in this setup to explain why we couldn’t pursue their plan.
I was on a train—home? It was running underground, and when I looked out the back window, it was turning off but another train, a freight, was coming toward it as though about to slam into it. My train, however, completed the turnoff with perfect timing to avoid being hit—by a cat’s whisker.
I looked for my aunts to say goodbye as somehow I knew I would be getting off the train soon. Then I was to transfer to a train downstate (Springfield?) and somehow get to wherever I was going.
My first aunt refused to hug me, but the other did. I went back to my car, but abruptly I found myself off the train, standing underground, watching the earlier freight go by. I knew it was the same freight because each car was painted with a part of a seamless scene that looked like the Swiss Alps. It was an amazing effort.
I was panicky with no wallet, no phone, and no idea of where I was, realizing I was going to miss my connecting train. I kept finding myself in bizarre underground markets and had no idea to get aboveground.
At last I found someone who was busy but was willing to answer one question, about where I was. “5400 N. (something),” she said. I assumed Chicago. I was a cab ride away from home, but how to get there with no wallet and no phone?
In December I’d checked out Horseshoe Curve from the parking lot, but hadn’t been up to the top since September 1988 — er, 31 years ago . . . Not long after, a visitor center and 288-foot funicular were built and opened in 1992. Not knowing anything about the funicular, I was surprised to find it doesn’t run constantly, only on the hour and half hour.
We spent about 15 to 20 minutes looking over the exhibits while waiting. I appreciated the one showing how the Curve had been carved out — I’ve never been able to visualize it or how it would have looked before. Another highlighted the wreck of the Red Arrow in 1947, which killed two dozen and injured more than 100.
The funicular cabins, which were made in the Durango and Silverton Railroad shops in Colorado, ascend and descend at the same time. They pass at a circle part of the way up (or down). I expected the cabin to veer to its right, but they swing to the left to pass. Very British.
Up top the cars from the summer derailments (two!) are visible but not close. We’d picked up a list of scheduled trains at the visitor center, but am not sure we matched any that went by to it — certainly not the “Oscar” (trash train) heading west. In addition to the Oscar, we saw an intermodal plus helper locomotives returning in pairs as they do. No Amtrak — the eastbound Pennsylvanian had gone through earlier. I’d be on the westbound Pennsylvanian later in the afternoon, while it was still daylight.
While we watched the trains we found ourselves plugging our ears. One thing I didn’t remember from all those years ago was the screech of metal on metal, the wheels and brakes as they fight the curve and the incline.
It seemed fitting we got a wave from the locomotive of the last train we saw — one of the few times I’ve seen a woman engineer.
Our final shopping stops were Hillside Farm, where I bought whoopie pies, and Ridgeside Cider Mill, where V. picked up their first cider of the season and I added to my soap collection.
Years ago a relative had posted about Tytoona Cave (more formally, Tytoona Natural Area Cave Preserve), the name an awkward mashup of “Altoona” and “Tyrone.” Previously, its location had seemed a mystery to me, and December wasn’t the best time to visit it. I’d looked again recently and found out it’s connected (more or less) to Arch Spring in Sinking Valley which my cousin had pointed out to me a couple of years ago. Now I could find it easily on Google Maps — as it turns out, it’s on T495 off Kettle Road, less than a half mile from Ridgeside Cider Mill. Off we went.
There’s a slight cutout parking area, with the trail entrance marked by green barrels. Steps, some eroded, built in 2001 by the Tytoona Cave Preserve Committee and members of the Huntingdon Co. Cave Hunters, lead down into the sinkhole. Normally a stream flows into the cave, but it was bone dry. This made walking in without hiking shoes a lot easier.
If you walk far enough into the cave, you can sign a register. I didn’t make it nearly that far. I didn’t have a flashlight, and was surprised by how dark it became a short way in. It’s easy to see why people in Tytoona Cave videos wear helmets with headlamps — it’s too dark to see the low ceiling that your head will hit.
The stream bed through the sinkhole may have been dry, but there was running water somewhere in the darkness. In this video, the cave walls and ceiling amplify the sound, but I suspect the cave’s water would make a respectable noise without the help.
It felt weird and creepy to hear water rushing nearby without being able to see it. If I’d had a light, a helmet, and a better physique, I wonder if I could have gone as far as the register or even the first sump . . .
On the way out, we saw a poster about Pennsylvania bats. Short version: Tytoona Cave is not the best place to find them.
And so back to packing for the return trip on the Pennsylvanian and Capitol Limited.
My journeys on the Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian were uneventful. The Capitol Limited arrived in Pittsburgh 40 to 50 minutes before the Pennsylvanian left, so it was a little close — but no Greyhound this time. I got my eastbound trip around Horseshoe Curve, although by looking to the inside I missed the derailed center beams on the outside – on both sides. (There were two derailments at the Curve this summer.)
I arrived in plenty of time to go on an outing to load up on spring water at Elk Run near Tyrone. Many, many bald-faced hornets were feasting on the plants by the stream.
We also stopped at a farm in Sinking Valley to pick up what turned out to be the last corn on the cob of the season and later shuck it for an evening “mountain pie/hotdog cookout and corn boil.” I wish I’d taken a photo of my ham and cheese mountain pie. Delish.
Indian Ridge Marsh is a recent (2017) addition to the Chicago Park District, located a little southeast of Big Marsh Park near Lake Calumet. Norfolk Southern lines run down the ridge. While I was visiting, NB and SB freights met and passed each other.
[p]owered by a Midwest-made 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine [and] . . . will be able to operate at speeds up to 125 mph, with faster acceleration and braking for better on-time reliability. They meet the latest safety regulations and feature better traction for improved performance . . . They also are the first higher-speed passenger locomotives to meet the highest federal environmental standards, meaning a 90 percent reduction in emissions and a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 16% compared to the previous locomotives.
I’m wondering if I’ve been behind one on the Wolverine route in Michigan and missed it. I’ll have to look during my upcoming June adventure.