Hamming it up

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nah nah
Brookfield Zoo

Spring is a great time to see all of the animals at the zoo. Some animals need to be kept indoors all winter and once they come outside, they are very happy. The lion and the tiger were outside and active last weekend. Usually they are asleep somewhere where you can only see part of them, but not on Saturday.

This tiger was perched up on the rocks where he surveyed all who strolled by. At one point he looked over toward me and my camera, looked right into the lens and stuck his tongue out!

Thanks a lot!

Tulip Time!

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Tulips in Bloom
Tulip Garden
Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, Illinois

A walk through Chicago's Brookfield Zoo in the spring unveils lots of interesting things. First, the flowering bulbs are everywhere. These tulips were blooming in a small garden off the south gate of the zoo. Lots of other colorful gardens were taking shape too.

Some of the animals that have been locked up inside all winter are now outside. The lion, leopard, camels and tiger were all active on Saturday! They usually sleep quite a bit in the summer, but they were happy to be outside and soaking in the sunshine.

Anchor Rode

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Anchor Rode
Anchor Rode and Shank
Navy Pier, Chicago

This 8 ton anchor belonged to the USS Chicago and now sits on Chicago's Navy Pier.

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8 Ton Anchor

It's amazing a boat could float with such a heavy item aboard, but what's even more amazing is how this anchor could be raised and lowered as needed. I guess 8 tons is feather light compared to the ship's displacement of 13, 600 tons!

Commissioned in 1945, the USS Chicago was the third ship to use this name. The current is a submarine still serving the country. The ship was classified as a heavy cruiser with a length of 674 feet and a beam (width) of 70 feet. In World War II, the ship engaged in battle off the coast of Japan targeting warehouses and oil tanks.

In 1964, the USS Chicago was recommissioned as a guided missile cruiser and served in the seas during the Vietnam War.

The ship was turned into scrap in 1992, after a failed attempt by the city of Chicago to have it towed to Navy Pier as a memorial and museum. At the very least, the anchor was saved, placed on display at Navy Pier, and dedicated on November 11, 1995.

Ever Changing

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Tannin Rich Water
Indiana Dunes
Michigan City, Indiana

Emptying into Lake Michigan, this small stream carries all kinds of minerals and tannins toward one of the great lakes. The mouth of this stream seems to change every week as the waves from the lake and the erosion from the stream move the sand and form different patterns and channels to the lake.

Glowing Shadow

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Light Outlines This Shadow
Floating Leaf and Shadow

I thought this was interesting when I saw it the other day. This old leaf was floating in a slow stream and casting a shadow on the bottom - pretty normal. But as I looked at the shadow, the reflection of the sunlight on the water's surface was outlining the shadow. Pretty much like sunlit waves and ripples casting white reflections on the bottom of a pool.

Spring Morning

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Mouth of the Stream
Small Stream Entering Lake Michigan
Michigan City, Indiana

A small stream ends it's journey through the Indiana sand dunes at the shore of Lake Michigan. I'll certainly have to explore this area a lot more!

St. Louis Canyon

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boys canyon
The Boys Running Around St. Louis Canyon
Starved Rock State Park

I've been to Starved Rock State Park quite a few times, but I really never explored the canyons until last February. This week, the weather was warm enough to melt the ice covering the narrow paths, but cool enough to keep the crowd away, and wet enough to keep the waterfalls flowing! Last time, we couldn't even walk around the canyons due to the ice on the paths. One slip and the family could fall 80 feet down. The paths at points are around 4 feet wide with sheer drops on the side.

We decided to take the hour drive and explore St. Louis Canyon, an 80 foot deep canyon carved in the limestone and sandstone. At this moist time of year, the waterfall was flowing perfectly into the canyon, but at first as you enter the canyon you can't see it, the rock walls curve toward the waterfall obscuring the view until the last minute. Then, as you round the curve, the waterfall makes a huge impression!

Multi-colored rock lines the canyon, and the floor is comprised of fallen stone and light colored sand. The walls are dotted with trees, moss and ferns - even now in the cold weather!

Well worth the trip, especially when it has been raining a couple of days before, the canyons at Starved Rock are a great place to visit year-round.

Three Explorers

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Boys by the Mouth of the Stream
Boys at the Mouth of the Stream
Michigan City, Indiana

Last Sunday was a great day for exploring the beach and dunes along the southeastern part of Lake Michigan. Temperatures in the 60's and sunshine really felt nice after a pretty cold winter. The last time I walked along the beaches in this area, it was 2 degrees above zero with 40 mph winds! What a difference a six weeks makes!

After climbing Mt. Baldy (the 125 foot tall sand dune in Michigan City, IN) we walked southwest along the beach to view the dunes and all of the fun things that washed ashore during the winter months. We aimed for a small point that projected into the lake about 1/4 mile ahead of us; it looked like a good spot to stop and turn around. Once we arrived at the point, we noticed it was an alluvial fan created by a small stream that cut through the sand dunes and emptied into Lake Michigan.

The stream traveled through the woods and picked up a rich, brown color from the tannins in the leaves. This brownish water mixed with deep blue and teal colors of Lake Michigan and created some interesting color bands in the water, the perfect backdrop for a photo of the explorers who discovered the stream.

St. Joseph Lighthouse

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St. Joseph Michigan Lighthouse
The St. Joseph Michigan Lighthouse

The St. Joseph, Michigan pier has two range lights that guide boaters to the harbor. Line both lights up and you're heading directly into the harbor. The outer pierhead light is shown here in the foreground. It was built in 1906 and is constructed of steel. A year later, the inner light was completed. This lighthouse is almost identical to the lighthouse in Michigan City, Indiana; no doubt it was designed by the same architect.

Sunday was a great day to finally explore these lights up close.

Tropical Blue

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Peaceful Lake Michigan Shore
Large Piece of Driftwood
Lake Michigan

Sunday was a great day for a drive to the beach. After months of cold weather, ice and snow, I finally got to see Lake Michigan liquid again, without the fear of falling into it.

Tiscornia Beach in St. Joseph, Michigan was the second destination of the day. After climbing the 125 foot tall Mt. Baldy sand dune in Michigan City, Indiana, we headed northeast to St. Joseph for some additional sand dunes and blue waters. Following a winter of high winds and pounding surf, the beach was littered with driftwood and other debris, making a walk along the beach quite interesting! We found lots of interesting shells and rocks, the skull from a woodchuck, and two ancient stone beads from the native American tribes that lived in the area.

There air was calm, so waves were non existent, and both the sky and water were a magical blue color that could fool anyone into thinking they were in the tropics.

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Holding it Together
Lonely Tree on Mt. Baldy
Michigan City, Indiana

If this is any indication of the summer to come, get out the swim gear and hiking shoes, cause it's going to a great season!

First Colors of Spring

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Carpet of Winter Aconite
Winter Acronite blooms in the forest.

It must be spring! While walking through the woods yesterday, I noticed some color amongst the brown leaves - flowers! These are always the first flowers I see each year - right before the Siberian Squill blooms.

As usual, the flowers were the only source of pollen for the many bees that survived the winter, so lots of busy bees were helping themselves.

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Let it "Bee" Spring

This time of the year is really interesting for nature walks. Each day I'll see something new - new flowers, plants, bugs, leaves... it's easy to spot now because nothing has grown tall yet. In a few weeks the changes will be much more difficult to find because they'll be covered by undergrowth and leaves

A Restful Place

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Hiding Out on Rock Creek
A Serene Place Along Rock Creek

A hike on the self-guided trail along Illinois' Rock Creek is very calming yet can be quite exhilarating. I didn't run into a single person for hours, didn't hear any cars or trucks - only the sounds of nature and the running water. The climbs down to the creek from the top of the 50 foot tall limestone canyon was at times quite the adrenaline rush - especially if you didn't take the well-worn route and climbed the rocks.

Views like this one made it all seem worthwhile once I got to the bank of the creek. I know many people have been to this exact spot before, but it certainly isn't a place that is easy to get to. Perhaps in dryer weather, the creek is lower and one can walk all along the bank and not wade in the water, but in early spring, with cold water, I wasn't about to walk along the water.

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These roots sure wound their way into the limestone.

From this vantage point, Rock Creek looks pretty small, but this was taken from about 40 feet above the creek, on a limestone bluff. I was holding the camera in my right hand and a tree in the other. about 4 inches to my right was the steep drop off to the creek.

Light and Shadow

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Railroad Electric Pole Along the Illinois and Michigan Canal
Lockport, IL

Walking along the I and M Canal path, one can often see the "modern" mode of transport the railroad. The railroad replaced the canal and eventually lead to its demise, so it's ironic to me that these two modes of transport are often right next to one another. It seems the railroad simply laid tracks next to the canal - how simple. A lot of the digging and blasting was already done for them, and towns sprouted up along the canal as it was built and used.

If you think about it, Rt. 6, and I-80 run pretty much parallel to the canal for a while, and the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) is built on the remains of the I and M Canal, so even modern car and truck traffic is following the same path dug by hand in the 1800's.