A dragonfly I found struggling to get out of an abandoned spiderweb. I removed him to let him fly free, but instead, he stayed perched on my finger for about ten minutes - resting after the ordeal.

Lift Bridge, Lock 21, Hennepin Canal

Lift Bridge, Lock 21, Hennepin Canal

One of the first large scale uses of concrete construction in the country, the Hennepin Canal linked the Illinois River with the Mississippi River. Along the 104.5 mile waterway, locks were constructed of concrete, unlike the Illinois and Michigan Canal's limestone block locks.

Lift bridges were located in a few places to provide a place for wheeled vehicles to cross the canal. This lift bridge on Lock 21 near Wyanet, Illinois still stands, and traffic is allowed to drive over.

View from Lock 19 of the Hennepin Canal
The location of the Hennepin Canal is much more rural than most of the I and M Canal, so a walk along the towpath is very peaceful and scenic.

Prickly Pear Blossom

Prickly Pear Blossom

The wait and stalking are over. The Prickly Pear cacti are finally in bloom at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Not commonly seen around Chicago or Northwest Indiana - yet not rare at all - the Prickly Pear cactus is in full bloom. Flowering in late June, the cactus blossoms last only one day. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's West Beach and Inland Marsh trails have scores of these growing in the sandy soil. I've also run into them (literally) near the beach in Cowles Bog and along the I and M Canal in LaSalle, Illinois.
Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom

Mississippi Palisades

View of the Mississippi River from atop the Palisades

The View from atop the cliffs along the Mississippi River is well worth the climb up. Not realizing one could drive up to the top, park the car and walk 100 feet to an overlook, Ken and I climbed up a steep, winding trail from the road below. Once at the top, we were greeted by others who drove - lesson learned, but I enjoyed the climb!

Mississippi Palisades State Park has quite a few short trails, leading to some nice views of the river valley, and some natural rock formations. It appears rock climbing is allowed - I discovered several anchor points drilled into the rock face on the top of Indian Head, a rock formation resembling a human head.
Mississippi Palisades Lookout
Looking out over the river and Buffalo Lake, the trees of Iowa can be seen in the distance.

The Transit of Venus

Venus Visible at Sunset

Today, a rare event took place - the passing of the planet Venus between the Earth and the Sun, giving us a unique view of our neighbor silhouetted against the blazing sun. To safely view the transit, I set up a telescope, aimed it at the sun (without looking through it of course), then placed a white card about a foot away from the eyepiece. This creates a projection of the sun on the white card, and saves your eyeballs from melting!

Transit of Venus Projection

After the sun got too low to view projections, we ventured off to the countryside to watch the sun set. With a 300mm lens, I was barely able to capture the planet against the sun, but if you look close, it's there. Venus is about 30 million miles away from us, and the sun is over 80 million miles away, that makes the distance between the sun and Venus around 50 million miles. At that distance, the Sun dwarfs the planet - imagine how small it would be right next to the Sun.

Venus will not transit across the Sun again until 2115, so this is the last time any of us will probably see this. It's an important learning event for scientists as well. A planet's atmosphere can be see when it is against a star, and, the distance from the star can be determined during the transit.

At least we didn't just read about this event after the fact.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

Another species that seems out of place at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, is the Prickly Pear Cactus. They're quite plentiful in the grassy areas of West Beach and the Inland Marsh, yet they're not found too often anywhere this far north. I have seen some in the sandy, areas of LaSalle, IL as well.

They almost totally shrivel up in the winter, and lose their spines. Right now, the spines are developing, seen here emerging from the areoles; I'm pretty sure they have tiny spines called glochids which really cause skin irritation. New pads and buds for their flowers are forming as well. Hope to capture them flowering soon.