Day Three Hundred Thirty-three

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Even the Extended Family Is Getting into this 

We visited some of my family in Michigan today for Black Friday. Funny thing though, after lunch and some shopping, one of my sisters asked if we were going to go for a walk! Since I don’t do a lot of Christmas shopping anyhow, I was certainly up for it, and we quickly organized a family walk at Schrier Park in Portage, Michigan.

Our group of nine set out on the paved trail into the woods towards Bishop’s Bog. We split up after a short ways, with some walking more than others, but it was actually a better way to spend Black Friday than in a mall!

Good walking!

Day Two Hundred Eighty-seven

Lunch Bribes

Everyone but my poor hard-working husband was off today for the Columbus Day holiday, so I promised lunch from Chipotle to anyone who would walk with me today. My oldest and youngest sons and my daughter all took me up on the offer.

We walked around most of Izaak Walton Nature Center, something I haven’t done since my eldest son and I unintentionally did it back on Day 10 when we actually got a bit lost.

It was good to go around what I’ll call the “big lake” again. It was a lovely day and even though most of the grasses have already turned the grays and browns of fall, we found an occasional wildflower.

Isaak Walton

We also spotted one great blue heron tucked along the edge of the lake. I will miss these prehistoric-looking winged creatures when they leave for the winter.

Isaak Walton 2Good walking and tasty lunch!

Day Two Hundred Eighty

Back to Sand Ridge

When I walked at Sand Ridge Nature Center on Day 269, I ran out of time and did not walk the loop portion of the “Lost Beach Trail.” I’ve been wanting to get back, and today I had the perfect chance.

My mom was heading back to Michigan this morning after our three day visit to Madison, Wisconsin. Since she was not in a hurry and Sand Ridge is conveniently located, I asked if she’d like to follow me to South Holland, Illinois, and go for a walk on her way out of town. Of course, she said yes. My daughter was able to join us.

Sandridge-three generationsSand Ridge got its name from the sandy soil and ridges that shrinking glaciers left behind when Lake Michigan was formed. As we made our way along the trail through the heavy woods, my mom, more adept than I at recognizing bird calls, stopped frequently and pointed out flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers.

With all of the birds and the trees just beginning to change colors, it was a lovely spot for three generations of ladies to take a walk!

Day Two Hundred Seventy-six

My mom drove into town this afternoon.  We met and shopped, and then I invited her to join me for a walk at Izaac Walton Nature Preserve. I’ve walked at Izaac Walton a few times this year and always enjoy it. Today was no exception, and my mom seemed to like it too. I was hoping to see one of the birds on my wish list, but we only saw lots of mallards and one great blue heron.

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It was still a good walk.

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 Sixty-nine

Sand Ridge Nature Center

After completing my to-do list early today, I made the last minute decision to head to one of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s six nature centers, the Sand Ridge Nature Center, in South Holland, Illinois.

It was a good decision.

Glaciers formed a lake here at one time, and the sandy soil remains, giving the preserve its name. The area is mixed forest, prairie, and wetlands. Redwing Pond sits in the middle of the property.

Sandridge VistasBut for a group that was visiting and getting ready to leave, I almost had the place to myself, only seeing three other people the entire time I was there. The Forest Preserve employee in charge of the facility warmly greeted me upon my arrival inside the nature center and highlighted the new boardwalk, wildlife, exhibits, and historical area. My ears pricked up when he said that they’ve had several black crowned night herons at the pond, but unfortunately, I didn’t see any. I did see plenty of red-bellied woodpeckers in the woods though!

Sandridge WalkwayI walked along the boardwalk towards Long Beach Trail. They have fenced off the area surrounding much of the nature center to prevent the white tail deer from eating the valuable plant life. Thankfully, the fence is not locked to humans, and I was able to explore at my leisure.

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many wildflowers this late in the year!Sand Ridge FlowersI spent more time here than I had planned and would still like to come back with the family. It’s a great spot.

Day Two Hundred Sixty-seven

Dewey Helmick Nature Preserve

I headed back to a regular spot again today, the Old Plank Road Trail, where it runs under I-57 and into a Illinois Nature Preserve. My eldest son, off from work for the day, joined me.

I’ve been walking here regularly and plan to continue to do so, because I want to keep checking out the herons, egrets, and cormorants before they leave for the season.

Old Plank Road Trail-Dewey Helmick Nature PreserveI saw a family of wood ducks here today for the first time, so I’ll have to keep checking on them too!

This is still a great place to walk. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.