Thursday, December 1, 2022

Superior Lake Scenery

This fall I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite Great Lakes, Lake Superior. Even though I had been to this same area just a couple of months earlier, I still enjoyed my time there just as much if not more! Maybe the lake itself doesn’t change much during the transition from late summer to early fall, but the surrounding scenery sure does. The rocky shoreline of the Northern Shore in northeastern Minnesota is a great place to see not only lake scenery but other amazing beauty as well. Surrounded by rocky shorelines, beautiful trees and wildflowers, mountain creeks and waterfalls, and let’s not forget the tiny mountains that seem pretty big to flatlander Illinoisans, there’s something for everyone.

Sometimes you can even see all the above scenery in the same state park or other natural area. One of our favorite parks, Gooseberry Falls State Park, fits the bill. We start off by hiking to and around the set of three waterfalls. Add the interesting conifer and deciduous trees that surround the area, plus some interesting rock formations along the way, you stare in wonder and wonder what else is around the bend. Following the misleading “lazy river” (that had cascaded sharply over three sets of waterwalls just upstream of this point) through the woods to the lake, where it flows to Lake Superior, there are hundreds of beautiful photo opportunities. Once you reach the lake, there are hundreds more. Walking along the flat, weather beaten rock sheets of the shoreline is one thing. Then you walk a few hundred feet away, where the rocks become jagged cliffs and see powerful and rugged beauty. We stopped for several photos along the way, but for the best view, we walked to an area where few people travel. They usually don’t venture beyond the picnic area, and I can’t say that I blame them, as I was getting pretty hungry by this time. 

Afterwards, we headed a few miles to the north to visit Split Rock Lighthouse. Not only is this an interesting engineering and architectural feat, especially without historic and beautiful Route 61 built at the time, but it is a beautiful area. Perched atop a tall cliff, the lighthouse saved dozens of ships from crashing into the beautiful cliff and jagged shoreline, as many ships before the house was built did. Hiking down the hill for amazing views from the shoreline was almost as great as seeing the view of the water from the lighthouse itself. The lighthouse, grounds, and other buildings are kept in pristine condition, and this area is one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.

We were feeling worn out after a full day of hiking along beautiful but rugged terrain, but that didn’t stop us from doing the exact same thing the next day. However, this time, we continued our journey further north—to the Canada border. Stopping at whatever scenic pull off that struck our fancy (and there are dozens of these roadside stops), we enjoyed views from the Cliff Creek Tunnel and appreciated the fact that Route 61 used to run along the cliff—in the very spot where we snapped dozens of pictures and soaked up the view. I wouldn’t have wanted to look down in those days while driving, but the scenery was spectacular.

Our final northern destination was Grand Portage State Park. Even though we’d seen beautiful waterfalls the day before (and this neck of the woods is packed with them!) we still enjoyed the ones located here. We visited both upper and lower falls—both amazing sights, then walked down to the river, which by this time was much tamer and tranquil. Between the rocky stream, hills in the background, and fall foliage, this was another favorite stop.

One of these days, I hope to spend more than a few days at a time in this beautiful area, but for now, I enjoy the short trips we’ve taken here. My husband even suggested planning a trip to see the Northern Lights in this area this winter. I can’t wait to see not only the beautiful sights, but hopefully the lights, as well. Sometimes I feel like the more I travel, the more I want to travel. While there’s no place like home, there’s an entire world out there, waiting to be discovered.






 

 

50 Shades of Fall



Who doesn’t love Fall’s bright colors? Let’s face it. Fall tree foliage at its peak is one of the most beautiful of natural wonders, even if it’s nature’s way of shutting down food production for the season. Sometimes I get impatient as I wait for vivid fall colors to hit. As things start to dry up and go dormant for the season, it’s not always spectacularly beautiful. Sometimes leaves and grasses simply start to die off. Most people don’t find this type of change beautiful.

 But sometimes you have to look closely to see the beauty. As I not only waited for fall foliage to begin its lovely journey, but also for my daughter to be finished with her after school volunteer shift at the local animal shelter, I spent the time walking at a local favorite place of mine. Though called Warneke Woods, the natural area also contains a restored prairie. As things transition from summer to fall, there is much to be seen.

As I began my hike, I tried to decide whether to walk along the prairie path first or hit the woodland trails. Glancing out at the prairie, as the tall grasses swayed in the wind, with their colorful sturdy stems keeping them upright, I decide to head to the woods first. Not only were the tree leaves starting to change colors and fall, but there were some beautiful fall woodland wildflowers to view.

 Earlier in the season, I had already had my first time encounter with White Rattlesnake Root (not to be confused with White Snakeroot, also a late summer – early fall bloomer), jewelweed, various woodland edge goldenrod species and others, but now was the time for several woodland asters to bloom. Looking at the shades of pale blue, pink, and white, I try to distinguish one from another, but sometimes I just give up and enjoy their beauty without worrying about which species they are.

 As I walked through the woods, I not only watched, but also listened. I heard the breeze blowing tree branches, their leaves, and finally, the leaves falling. What a sound that makes. So soft, and so peaceful.

As I emerged from the woods, my eyes were drawn to the prairie grasses. A few New England Asters and other tail end wildflowers were blooming, but they could not compete with the subtle beauty of the grasses. Tall at this time of the year, with their fluffy seed heads and colorful stems, they have the same beautiful colors as their fall foliage tree leaf counterparts. The day I walked in this area was cloudy, so the colors really stood out against the colorless sky and without the harsh sun to diminish their colors.

So while I am usually attracted to the bright colors of other native plants and use that color in the photographs I take and share to help others appreciate natural beauty, I still enjoy the more subdued shades of fall, the fifty shades of Fall.






 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Rest Stop Adventure

 

Is it possible to have an adventure when you visit a rest stop? Good question. You are stopped, and you are supposed to be resting. However, if you’re looking for a neat little prairie that’s located right here in Stark County, be prepared to enjoy an adventure meandering through this restored prairie.Years ago, the old rest stop on Route 40 south of Bradford was one location the Stark County SWCD held its Summer Prairie Walk. Due to increased workload and declining attendance, we haven’t held this once popular event in recent years. Since then, I normally stop by the old rest stop to walk through the prairie at least once per summer. However, the last time I visited, things didn’t look as beautiful as I’d remembered from previous trips. Maybe it was during a dry part of the summer when blooming was either delayed or blooms weren’t as showy as in other years, or maybe when I visited, there just wasn’t as much blooming at that particular time. 


Since I know a prairie changes from year to year, depending on weather and other environmental factors, and of course, the prairie changes from week to week in the same prairie, I brushed aside my concern, and I was ready to stop for my first visit of the year. I only planned to stop for a quick visit to take a few pictures for this article, but I ended up staying for much longer than planned.

Taking a minute to soak in the view of the entire area before I began walking, I admired the windmills towering above and the beautiful Valley down below. The Bridge to Nowhere is a neat local icon. Then, my eyes zeroed in on the plants themselves. I was pleasantly surprised to see a nice diversity of plants in bloom, and the longer I walked, the more excited I became. Not only did I see the common prairie plants we all know and love, but I saw a few plants I’d never noticed growing in that area before, such as Royal Catchfly, a beautiful red wildflower.


Not only were the mid-summer bloomers showing their true colors, but the warm season grasses and late summer wildflowers were gearing up for their turn. There was a nice mix of pinks and purples, golds and yellows, whites, grasses, and I already mentioned the striking red of the Royal Catchfly. In addition to the plants, pollinators were buzzing around—bees, butterflies, and other insects were enjoying the nectar of dozens of wildflower species. Songbirds were chirping and flitting from plant to plant. I’m sure a host of unseen critters were also inhabiting the area as well.


All in all, my short trip to the Route 40 Rest Stop was a great opportunity to stop and rest by doing what I love to do—walking in nature and photographing plants. Even though it’s located right along the highway, it’s easy to block out the traffic and immerse yourself in nature. I only walked around the prairie to the north and east of the drive, but there is acreage to the south of the drive, too. This little prairie is worth the stop!


 



Friday, May 13, 2022

Spring Woodland Wildflowers--Up Close and Personal


Spring Beauty
When winter first started to transition to spring, I was excited! Maybe we would have an early spring, I thought. Then the weather got a little topsy turvy. We had warm sunny days, followed by some snow showers a day or so later. Up and down the temperatures went, and the wind! I was starting to wonder if temperatures would ever stay above the 50s when the 90s hit this week! Not only was I starting to get annoyed, but so was everyone else. And the spring woodland wildflowers weren’t sure what to think either. My favorite part of Spring is watching these delicate beauties grow and bloom. Armed with my trusty camera to start my 2022 portfolio of wildflower shots, I was growing impatient as I’d tromp around the woods looking for wildflowers and only see a few shoots or leaves nestled among last Fall’s tree leaves.
Wild Blue Phlox

Finally I started to find tiny Snow Trilliums emerge and then eventually flower. Then came lovely Hepaticas and Spring Beauties. When I found a nice little patch of Skunk Cabbage to photograph, I was over the roof! Not only are they the first wildflower to bloom every spring, even producing their own heat and capable of melting the snow around them, but they are pretty darned cool even a couple of months later. Skunk Cabbage flowers are unusual, looking like a cross between sprouting red potatoes and pictures I’ve seen of the Corona Virus. Once done blooming, their leaves are still interesting to watch. I check on them weekly and am amazed at how the leaves grow between sightings.

Even though almost all the woodland wildflowers in our neck of the woods have been slower than usual to bloom this year, they have been well worth the wait. I was surprised to stumble upon a few Jack-in-the-Pulpits recently, as they seemed to be blooming right on schedule. I noticed that many of my wildflower favorites, like Dutchman’s Breeches, had a longer bloom time this year, thanks to our weather situation. However, the ninety degree temperatures we’ve experienced this week have sped up the process, and many of the earlier spring flowers are now dying out to make room for the late bloomers. Yesterday I was met with a sea of periwinkle Wild Blue Phlox and lavender Wild Geraniums. A few May Apples were starting to blossom, and I will have to visit again in a few days to see if Virginia Waterleaf is blooming.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica


Jack-in-the-Pulpit
I was also fortunate to be able to see the Shagbark Hickories leafing out of the gorgeous yellow flowers they produce. I suppose I am a tree nerd as well as a wildflower freak. In recent months I’ve become almost as obsessed with hickories as I am about oaks. So once the woodland wildflower season is done, the trees will be fully leafed out, and I’ll then entertain myself with my favorite prairie plants.

I was lucky to be able to find another wildflower site to visit this year, so I alternate between the two areas. Even though they are only about a mile apart, they each have a different mix of wildflowers, and the bloom times between the same species vary a little. Every time I visit, there is always something new to see along with my favorites.

Skunk Cabbage

It may sound crazy to spend what may seem to many people like a lot of time in the woods. However, it keeps me from going crazy, and it’s cheap entertainment during a time when everything is so expensive. The time I spend hiking and photographing is usually less than an hour, but it provides days of inner peace, helping to relieve the stress of a busy spring season at work and home. All in all, it makes me happy, and a lot of good comes from it. Spending time outdoors brings joy to many people. Crawling around on a muddy forest floor trying to get an up close and personal shot may not sound like fun to many, but I’ll bet there’s something else you enjoy doing outdoors that makes you just as happy. I encourage you to make time for the simple things that can make our lives seem a lot less complicated.

Dutchman's Breeches

Bluebells

Purple Trillium


Sunday, April 3, 2022

New Release--"Rachel and Sammy's Nature Notes"



Eklund Publishing recently released Rachel and Sammy's Nature Notes, the newest book in the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Series by Jannifer Powelson.  

Rachel and Sammy's Nature Notes is a junior field guide to help children learn all about the natural world. Kids will hike along with Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk to discover sixty native prairie plants, twenty spring woodland wildflowers, and ten butterfly species in this colorful and easy to use photographic nature guide.

Copies of this book are available, along with Powelson’s other titles, online and from several local retailers. 





Print ISBN: 979-8-426252-5-23

110 Pages

Print Edition: $18.95 

Kindle Edition: $5.99

Purchase from Amazon

Stay tuned for information on upcoming nature programs and book events to celebrate the release of Rachel and Sammy's Nature Notes.