Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sand Dunes Galore

My family and I were lucky to travel to Lake Michigan during Columbus Day weekend, as we try to do most years. We only took a short trip for our summer vacation, so I was especially geared up for our fall trip. I was looking forward to traveling to some places I hadn’t visited before, even though they’re just a few hours from home.
We were disheartened to learn that rain was predicted for the entire Saturday through Monday timeframe we planned to be gone. Fortunately, we timed most of our outdoor activities fairly well, and though we got rained on a few times, at least we didn’t get caught in a torrential downpour. The winds and dark clouds that came with the rain helped to make the scenery we visited even more dramatic and beautiful.
Our first stop was to visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park. We enjoyed not only climbing the massive dunes and experiencing spectacular views of Lake Michigan, but we also were able to hike through the shaded wooded trails to get there, which were also lovely. As we left the park and headed toward our hotel in Michigan, it started pouring, so we were happy to travel inside the warm vehicle, enjoying the beautiful tree foliage.
The next day we visited Grand Haven State Park, located in the town where we were staying, enjoying another great view of one of the greatest lakes, and the houses and other buildings built right into the dunes. We headed south to hike in beautiful Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Starting the hike through the peaceful forest trail, we eventually arrived at the dunes, where the view opened up to the vastness of Lake Michigan.

Again, it started to rain as we got back to the car, so we made a few indoor stops in Holland, then went to Holland State Park to view its perky red lighthouse when the rain stopped. Worn out from our day’s adventure, we topped off our sightseeing by stopping at a produce stand to pick up some tasty Michigan apples.
The next day dawned sunny and warm, a vast contrast to the two previous days. Since we were planning to visit Warren Dunes State Park on the way home, I was glad for the perfect weather. This park contains not only beautiful shoreline but also humungous dunes that are easily accessible right from the parking lot. If you’re willing to hike farther, even more dunes await. Seriously winded after the almost three-hundred foot sandy climb to the top, the view was well worth the workout, though by this time the back that had started aching a few days earlier, was in serious trouble. But what was I supposed to do? Not experience such neat places? No, that option definitely wasn’t on my bucket list!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Heading Onward and Northward

We recently took a mini vacation to Wisconsin. Not only do I enjoy traveling to faraway places, but I also love being able to take a quick trip to somewhere relatively nearby—like Wisconsin—and still see some incredibly neat things! At first my travel bug daughter (the apple didn’t fall far!) was disappointed we weren’t going somewhere farther away or more exotic, or at least somewhere we hadn’t visited several times. However, I was especially gratified when she told me loved the fact that we had visited three state parks in two days—all of them with fabulous views of Lake Michigan.

We started our Wisconsin adventure by stopping at the welcome center near Beloit, stocking up on more travel brochures than we could possibly need on our short trip. After lunch at a quaint and friendly small-town café, we motored toward Milwaukee, where traffic was remarkably heavy for a Sunday. Glad to have finally made it out of the city intact, we drove a few more miles up the road to Port Washington, a beautiful town on Lake Michigan. For once, the weather was ideal, and while my husband looked around Duluth Trading Company, the girls and I hung out at the marina, soaking up lakefront scenery. From there, we continued north, stopping at one of my all-time favorite state parks, Kohler-Andrae State Park near Sheboygan. Not only can you swim in the water and walk along the beautiful sandy beaches, but you can also hike among the spectacular dunes areas. Tired after hiking and wading, we drove north to where we were staying in Manitowoc.

 The hotel was located right on the lake, with access to a lakeside path. After dinner we took a walk and experienced the moon coming up over the water, a spectacular fiery reddish-orange color. We ate breakfast the next day on the patio with tables and chairs facing—you guessed it—the lake! For a landlubber like me, being able to experience these majestic waters is a special treat, and I don’t turn down an opportunity to soak it up as much as possible. Leaving the hotel, we headed
northward, commenting on the awesome bike and pedestrian trails that connected all the public beaches along the way. We decided to venture into the Door County Peninsula. After stops at Door Peninsula Winery and Door County Coffee, we changed our original plan and kept going to Peninsula State Park. We did not regret our decision and experienced more gorgeous lakeside scenery, but this time from along the skyline drive, with views of not only the lake but also some of the tiny islands nearby.

Since we wanted to visit another one of my all-time favorite state parks, Point Beach State Forest, we finally started southward. Though worn out from an already busy day, we still managed to find some energy to explore this park and spent time “just chilling” on the beach.
The next day started for home, taking a route not only to bypass busy weekday traffic through Milwaukee, but also to see some different scenery. Although I was sad to head inland, I was excited to visit Horicon Marsh. This marsh includes both state and federal portions and encompasses 32,000 acres. You can imagine the diversity of plants and animals that inhabit this area!  
Although our trip was too short, it gave us a chance to spend some wonderful family time together
and experience new things at some of our favorite old places. For those of you who have read any of my Nature Station Mysteries, the characters in Freak of Nature take a trip similar to this one, even stumbling upon a body at one of the stops. That’s one travel experience I can do without!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Going Wild for Spring Woodland Wildflowers

It took a long time for spring to arrive this year, but now that it’s here, nature has sprung to life! Although spring woodland wildflower blooms were a little behind schedule this year, it didn’t make them any less beautiful. Some of my favorite spring beauties are Dutchman’s Britches, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Blood Roots, May Apples, Bluebells, (let’s not forget the actual Spring Beauties) and many others. Not only do I enjoy looking at, identifying, and photographing wildflowers, even though I already have a library of hundreds of wildflower photos, I also love walking in the woods to absorb the peacefulness.

After a busy and stressful day or week, if I spend even a few minutes in the forest, I feel refreshed and destressed. Once the wildflowers have bloomed for the year, there is still much to see…and hear, as well! The forest is teaming not only with plant life but also animal life. We may not see all the critters that live in the forest, but sometimes we can hear them. If you’re good at birding by ear, (which I’m not, but I still like to hear all the different bird calls, even if I don’t always know which bird is making them) you can hear a whole host of feathered friends. You can also listen to mammals, insects, and amphibians. I’m not sure the reptiles we have in our area are very noisy, unless you happen to stumble upon a snake, which may hiss at you. Despite all the animal racket, the forest is a peaceful place to reflect, and hopefully relax. I’m glad I have the opportunity to visit a local wooded area, and I love to take my daughters and dogs along as well. However, to be honest, it’s more relaxing without two dogs dragging me around the hiking trail. I’m sure if I let them off leash to wander at their hearts’ content, they would be ecstatic, but I would have a hard time rounding them up afterwards, and my peacefulness would be shattered.

Spring Beauty
Since spring is the time for many nature holidays and conservation education programs, I’ve enjoyed being out in nature, and I’ve also been able to witness children discover, experience, and observe nature (outside of taking my own daughters to as many state and national parks as possible). One activity for children I’ve used recently is a type of Nature Scavenger Hunt. Not only does this activity teach children about plants, animals, and other natural elements, but it makes them think about, take a closer look at, and listen to the world around them. Hopefully they continue to do so when they leave the event, but in the day and age of computers and other electronic devices, it’s hard to compete. Not everyone is like me—someone who escapes to the woods (and later in the season, the prairie) to escape my phone and computer!

Blood Root

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Natural Wonders (and Wanders) of Iceland

I haven’t taken time to write in my blog in forever, but there’s something about traveling to a beautiful place that inspires me to at least want to write about my experience. However, taking the time to jot my thoughts down on paper always seems to be an issue. But a recent trip to Iceland has given me the prodding I need to try my hand at blogging again.

For those who know me, to say that I enjoy traveling is an understatement. In addition to all the wonderful family vacations we took when I was young, I was always longing to travel to Europe. I had romantic visions of visiting European capitols, seeing breathtaking views, experiencing different cultures, setting foot in lands where my ancestors once lived, and that sort of thing. I was fortunate, and determined enough, to make those dreams come true. But it’s never quite enough.There’s always somewhere new to see, not to mention revisiting other places I’ve enjoyed visiting before.

My older daughter, Alexandra, has also inherited this wanderlust, which seems to be passed down from generation to generation in my family. She had been bugging me to take her on a trip to a foreign country. It was hard to argue with her, since I had a desire to go as well. Keeping my eyes peeled even more so than usual to the various travel newsletters I scan faithfully looking for bargains, I found a terrific deal to Iceland. It sounded perfect. I hadn’t been there before but always wanted to go, the scenery is amazing and diverse, the population is low, making family travel easier, and the price was right! In talking with my husband about the trip, we decided to go as a family. So, in January, we took our summer vacation several months early, and all four of us jetted to this Nordic island country in the North Atlantic.

While traveling to Iceland in the middle of winter seemed like a crazy thing to do,  (after all, the country's name has the word “Ice” in it!)  the temperatures are actually milder than Illinois winter temps. Plus, we were longing to see the famed Northern Lights, which are best viewed in the winter months. Unfortunately, cloudy conditions prevented us from crossing this natural phenomenon off our list. (Maybe next time!) Since not everyone wants to visit Iceland in the dead of winter, when daylight hours are in short supply, there weren’t as many tourists as during the summer months, when daylight hours are stretched to the max. Still, we saw plenty of tourists while we were there. Perhaps they had gotten a good deal as well!

Once we booked the trip, we started to research the areas we wanted to visit. Since the trip was for four days, we knew we had to plan well, especially with limited daylight hours. Some of the places on our wish list were too far to drive to during our short stay, but there were plenty of impressive sites to visit that were within a couple of hours of Reykjavik, where we stayed in a modest hotel, but with a great view of the bay. In addition to exploring the historical older part of Reykjavik, we ventured out into the countryside to visit other spectacular places. Setting aside a day to take the famed Golden Circle Tour, we experienced lovely stops such as þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall, viewing plenty of snowy mountains along the scenic drive. The next day, we ventured northward, wanting to view the Atlantic Ocean, fjords, and volcanic mountains along the Snæfellsjökull Peninsula. We drove through a tunnel, under the ocean, that connected two peninsulas. I wasn’t thrilled with that experience, so we opted for the longer, and more scenic route, back to Reykavik, around a fjord. I’m glad my husband did the driving, as the scenery was breathtaking, but so was the driving! Beautiful and sturdy Icelandic horses were plentiful in the countryside, and both my daughters enjoyed seeing and petting them. The next day we headed south, to see the famed Blue Lagoon—its magical geothermal waters are surrounded by lava rock.  

We had a lovely time traveling together, and I would travel to Iceland again in a heartbeat. Even though we saw so much rugged and gorgeous scenery and experienced some of the country’s culture, we only witnessed a tip of the Iceberg of what this small country has to offer. We didn’t, however, actually see an iceberg, and would have loved to have seen the blue icebergs and black beaches on the south coast. (Maybe next time!)

Now that I’m home, I’m excited to start writing Bee in her Bonnet, the fifth book in the Nature Station Mystery Series. Not only do I glean ideas for future books when I travel, and maybe even a few photographs that could potentially serve as cover photos, but I see spots where I would love to stay and retreat into a world where I could write continuously, my only distractions the beautiful scenery. Wherever you want to visit, whether it’s just a couple of hours away (or even spots you don’t take time to see in your own hometown area), or half a world away, I encourage you to make it happen. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll come home with a whole new outlook on life.

Local Author Releases Flower Child, the Fourth Book in the Nature Station Mystery Series

Snow falling at the Nature Station means the wildflowers have retreated undercover for the winter. Kristen Matthews goes undercover as well, after a body is discovered on her property. Trying to catch the killer before the joy and peace of the holiday season are shattered further, will Kristen be able to solve the mystery before more lives are shattered—including her own?

Taking a break from holiday event planning at the Nature Station, Kristen Matthews and her friend, co-worker, and bride-to-be, Hope Johnson, travel to Chicago to select Hope’s wedding dress. Eating lunch at their favorite restaurant before they shop, they encounter a mysterious woman, dressed in retro sixties garb, only to run into her again—at the train station near their hometown of Eklund. Who is this woman, and what is she doing in Eklund? These questions become even more important when the woman is found dead—after a party held at the Nature Station’s Red Barn. Dubbing the woman Flower Child, Kristen and her friends work to uncover the woman’s true identity in an attempt to flush the killer out of the woods. Will they be successful and help convict the murderer? Read Flower Child and find out!
Powelson is also the author of four books in the award winning Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk Series. These educational books use entertaining storylines, colorful and realistic illustrations, and actual photos taken by Powelson. She is employed as a resource conservationist at the Stark County Soil and Water Conservation District and resides in Princeton with her family. 

Ms. Powelson is currently working on Bee in her Bonnet the fifth book in the Nature Station Mystery Series. Books in the Nature Station Mystery Series in the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk Series may be purchased from several local stores, www.progressiverisingphoenix.com, and online retailers.

* * *

Series: Nature Station Mystery Series
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, LLC (November 27, 2017)
Language: English
Price: $12.95

Books available:
www.barnesandnoble.com - www.amazon.com - www.progressiverisingphoenix.com select stores and online retail stores
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