Day Three Hundred Thirty-two

Happy Thanksgiving

We had an early Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws today. On our way home, my daughter, middle son, and I stopped and walked on the Crete Bike Trail in Crete, Illinois.

Crete Bike Trail 2We did a brisk 1.5 miles on the paved path through the heavy woods, rushing to finish before it got dark. We were cold, but it felt good to get a little exercise after a big meal!

Good Thanksgiving, good walk!

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Day Three Hundred Thirty

Elk in Elk Grove Village and a Bonus Bridge

I was up at O’Hare International Airport today dropping off my oldest son for a flight. I had some time afterwards and decided to head to the Busse Woods Forest Preserve for a walk. My youngest son, off for parent-teacher conferences joined me. We walked a different portion of this preserve back in August on Day 220 and saw butterflies galore. Today, we came to see the elk.

Elk Grove WoodsThe forest preserve district started the herd at this location in 1925. The adjacent town of Elk Grove Village was named for the native herd of elk that roamed here in the 1800s. Today’s elk watched us very carefully from behind the fenced-in area as we walked by on the snow-covered paved trail.

What I didn’t realize until we arrived was that we’d get to cross busy Higgins Road on a nice pedestrian/bike bridge.
Elk Grove Woods BridgeMy son and I always love a good bridge.

Good walk!

Day Three Hundred Twenty-eight

Stairs and Heading in the Opposite Direction

This afternoon, after raking up leaves for the final pick-up of the season, we drove to Swallow Cliff Woods of the Cook County Forest Preserve. We have visited this preserve in Palos Park, Illinois, before but planned a different route in the Sag Valley Trail System today.

We started our planned walk, a counter-clockwise loop, by climbing the 125 limestone stairs constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I did slightly better on this demanding climb today than the last time we were here (and I mean very slightly better). When we got to the top, however, a woman was having trouble controlling her large dog and was sort of blocking the trail. With my youngest son’s struggles with dogs (one of his autism “things”), we ended up turning right around and going down the stairs to walk our route in the opposite, clockwise direction. So, we ended up doing those stairs for nothing–except our health! (Our daughter, who rode along with us today, actually did the stairs the entire time we walked. Yikes.)

We headed out on the Yellow Trail and under LaGrange Avenue. We took the Purple Trail cut and looped back under LaGrange and towards the top of the stairs. The two mile hike was mostly through hilly forest and was lovely. Even though it was cooler than average, the sun was bright, and it was a great day for a walk!

Swallow Cliff Woods EastOf note:

  • We passed far too many ash trees, victims of the emerald ash borer, marked for removal.
  • We passed two horseback riders and saw numerous bike tracks. No wonder there were so many posted signs about right of way on this wonderful multi-use trail.
  • We ended up passing the lady with the dog, by then thankfully under control, as we neared the top of that stairway. We couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing that whole time . . .  

Great walk!

Day Two Hundred Eighty-six

Things don’t always go as planned, but can still work out quite well.

We were heading to Indiana to visit family when we got the call:  “I was hoping to catch you before you left. We’ve got plumbing and septic problems here. Toilets are overflowing, and the basement’s taking on water. Maybe you shouldn’t come.”

But we had left. In fact, we were almost halfway there. After a quick discussion, we agreed that about the last thing someone needs when they are having septic problems is four more people, so we didn’t go.

I came up with a quick alternative:  a walk near the Indiana Dunes. Despite the government shut-down, the headquarters for the Indiana Dunes National Park still had their lot open, so we parked there and headed through the woods towards Lake Michigan and the dunes. We walked mostly on a paved trail that led toward the park and over U.S. Route 12 on a new pedestrian bridge.Route 12

We did see one small printed paper sign that said, “The government is closed, please call [number] in case of emergency,”  but noted nothing else unusual. We still saw other bikers and runners using the trail too.

It was a beautiful day for a walk.

I took the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Infinite on this walk. Check it out!

Day Two Hundred Seventy-one

Walking–in Two Parts

When I visited the Sand Ridge Nature Center on Day 169, a friendly forest preserve district employee gave me a stack of pamphlets. (I have since kept these pamphlets handy. Call me old fashioned and un-green, but I still enjoy a paper map and an occasional paper pamphlet instead of reading everything online.)

In the activities pamphlet, I read about a Photo Meet-up at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont, Illinois, scheduled for today and thought it sounded interesting. The brochure states that a naturalist will take photographers of all skill levels on a tour showing interesting plants and wildlife and scenic vistas. Sounds good, right? Since we were planning on walking in the nearby Pulaski Woods in Palos Park anyhow, my family would drive separately and meet me for a walk when I was done.

Part I:  Sagawau Canyon

When I arrived at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, the drive back into the center was closed off because of snake-crossings (!?!), so I parked in the mostly empty parking lot near the entrance and carefully walked back to the center, ever on the alert for snakes.

Inside the learning center building, there were only a few visitors and an employee sitting behind the welcome desk. The 10:00 AM start time came and went as the building started to fill up with Cub Scouts and their families. By this time it had become pretty obvious that just three of us had arrived for the Photo Meet-up:

  1. a sweet, elderly gentleman of at least eighty with a tiny point-and-shoot digital camera. I will hereby refer to him as the Gentleman.
  2. a late-twenties to early-thirties guy dressed for a hike with a backpack and a really nice camera and lens. (His equipment was so nice, it gave me a bad case of lens-envy.) I will hereby refer to him as Camera Guy.
  3. me

No naturalist showed up. Finally, the Gentleman asked the employee at the welcome desk about the Photo Meet-up. The employee knew nothing about it, but made a phone call. We waited some more. The person in charge of the thirty Cub Scouts then came by and said that he knew nothing about any Photo Meet-Up. He said that he had to attend to the Cub Scouts.

“But it’s in the book,” protested the Gentleman.

The employee asks Camera Guy, “You’ve been here before, right? Why don’t you take them to the bridge or maybe to the canyon?”

Poor Camera Guy. He had little choice but to say, “okay” and lead an elderly gentleman and a middle-aged woman on a tour. Off the three of us went the short distance to the Sagawau Canyon.

Along the way, I did give a little squeal and jump when I saw a small snake in the grass. Camera Guy looked around, but didn’t see it. He said that this preserve has a rare snake species. Poachers have been caught sneaking on to the property after hours trying to find them. Rare or not, I’d be okay with no more snakes.

When we arrived at the canyon, a set of narrow wooden stairs led down the rock side into the canyon. Camera Guy led the way, and I followed behind him. The Gentleman said that he was only going down part-way, but he managed to come down the whole way while I was looking around.

Sagawau Canyon

Sagawau is the only exposed bedrock in Cook County, and I found the rock formations really interesting. The canyon usually has a small stream running through the rock-lined bottom, but the part I visited was mostly dry. Camera Guy asked us if we wanted to walk along the canyon. The gentleman said that the footing was too unstable for him, so he turned back. I never saw him again; I hope he got out safely.

So, it was just Camera Guy and me in a twelve foot deep canyon. Alone. It briefly occurred to me that this guy could attack me, but he didn’t. Instead, he led me along the canyon for a ways and eventually out up the side on some rocks. To get back to a pathway, we had to go through some deep brush, including something that looked like poison ivy (I was wearing shorts), but I had made it out out safely!

Once we were back above ground and on the bridge over the canyon, Camera Guy showed me some of his pictures. He’s taken some really nice photos (as he ought with that snazzy equipment!) including some shots taken from a remote control helicopter that he built!

I thanked him, and he walked off onto a trail. I took off for the ladies’ room in the Environmental Center to do a tick check and wash any possible poison ivy off my legs before grabbing a few printed maps missing from my collection and heading to my car to meet my family. I was grateful that an awkward situation was only that:  awkward. And next time Forest Preserve District of Cook County: if you’re going to put something in the book, you should have someone show up.

Part II:  Pulaski Woods and Bull Frog Lake

After the awkward Photo Meet-up a few miles away, the family meet-up at Pulaski Woods went perfectly. We had mapped a hike using the Orange and Green Trails around Bull Frog Lake. The first half of the trip went through the woods, and the second half went near the lake through grassland. It was lovely with several varieties of wildflowers still in bloom, the trees starting to show their fall colors, and bluebirds everywhere.

Bullfrog LakeWhat an adventurous morning I’ve had. Thank you, New Year’s Resolution.

Day Two Hundred Twenty-nine

Exhausting But Exhilarating

What a great hike we had today around Cowles Bog, at the Indiana Dunes’ National Lakeshore. The area is named for Henry Cowles, a University of Chicago ecologist who visited here frequently in the early Twentieth Century. The four-mile loop goes through woods, near a fen, over dunes, and along the Lake Michigan beach.

Cowle's Bog 2We saw such interesting flora and fauna. I can understand why Mr. Cowles found this spot so interesting!

Cowle's Bog Flora and FaunaWith no nearby parking facilities, the only folks at this beach either hiked or boated here. It’s a wonderful spot to rest before tackling the dunes and heading back.

Cowle's BogGood day, good walk!

Day Two Hundred Twenty-three

Crowd-pleasing Nature

We’ve gotten greedy. On most of our nature walks, we only see a few other people. Today’s walk was quite the opposite.  It was downright crowded.  It actually took some getting used-to, especially for our son (fourteen and on the autism spectrum) with his extreme dislike of toddlers and their meltdowns.  Unfortunately, we encountered several toddlers–many of them unwilling nature-walk participants–but our son did quite well, and I’m proud of how he handled himself.

It was easy to see why the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, in Palos Heights, Illinois, is so popular; it is downright beautiful.

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

We did not go into the popular nature center building, but instead walked on the Black Oak Trail (which was less crowded the farther we got from the nature center). This limestone and gravel trail winds past the Long John Slough, packed with water lilies, and through a forest of black oaks.  We ended our walk back near the nature center at an interesting bee-keeping area.

I have entered WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge with two pictures I took on this walk. The challenge is to take two pictures of the same scene or subject, with one horizontal and one vertical; check it out here.

My runners-up:

Little Red Schoolhouse LiliesGood day, good walk!