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.

Six Lined Racerunner


Bet you won't believe it, but this lizard was photographed at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Common to the southern United States, the Six Lined Racerunner (Cnemidophorus Sexlineatus Viridis) has a small population around southern Lake Michigan. Miles of sand dunes must have kept conditions just right to support these creatures this far north. They're not too rare at the park - I spot them almost every visit in the summer.

Lizards, hot sandy beaches, prickly pear cactus, carnivorous plants....... all at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!


Happy Couple

Happy Couple

These two Cabbage White butterflies were enjoying the recent 90 degree temperatures on the dunes of Central Beach, at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Cabbage Whites are very common, and easy to tell apart. In addition to the marks on the tips of the wings, females have two black spots on their wings, while males only have one.

Eggs are laid on the underside of the leaves of plants in the mustard family, but they have a particular love for cabbage and broccoli plants.

Morning View of the Chicago Harbor Light

Morning View of the Chicago Harbor Light

Following a minute or two in the lock, the Chicago River level matches Lake Michigan, and our boat sets out onto the Great Lakes. Once on the lake, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse stands out against the blue water and sky. Only accessible by boat, this lighthouse was built in 1893, then moved to it's current location on the breakwater in 1918. It's built of cast iron, and originally used a third order Fresnel Lens.

This light is now owned by the City of Chicago, so perhaps one day it will be restored.

Contrasting Styles

Old and New

One of Chicago's soon to be landmarks, the glass and steel Trump Tower shares a place along side one of Chicago's best known architectural icons, the Wrigley Building.

Completed in 1921, the 30 story Wrigley Building is clad in glazed, white terra cotta, giving rise to the nickname "Jewel of the Mile." on Chicago's Magnificent Mile of course. The tower provides office space for chewing gum giant Wrigley and other major Chicago-based corporations.

A few hundred feet away, at the first major jog in the Chicago River (from Lake Michigan), the Trump Tower rises 1,389 above Chicago. It's location - the site of the former Sun Times building - provides beautiful views of the river, lake and skyline. This building coincides with most if not all new construction along this part of the Chicago River - residential.  Trump Tower is home to an international hotel and luxurious condominiums.

Worlds apart in history, and engineering, these two buildings couldn't differ more, yet their contrasting styles and materials complement each other as seen from the bank of Chicago's most famous waterway.

Capturing a Prehistoric Looking Landscape

Capturing a Prehistoric Looking Landscape

Cowles Bog is one of my favorite places for a spring hike. While not a true bog, (the wetland it's actually a fen), it is home to a variety of plant species that you don't see in too many other areas of the dunes.

In May, thousands of ferns unroll into plants with fronds over three feet long. In this photo, they're not fully opened, so they give an almost prehistoric look to the wetland.

In addition to the variety of wetland plants and animals, Cowles Bog contains a number of other types of landscapes including prairie, forest, beach, dune, and savanna.  A two mile hike from the parking area to the beach will introduce you to most of these environments. For a bit of variety, walk along the beach to find another trail head, then follow that back to the parking lot.

Worth a visit in any season.

Catch and Release

Catch and Release

We stumbled upon many of these little butterflies on our walk along the Lake Michigan shore. Most were at the edge of the water, trying to fly away, but they were waterlogged and unable to move.

Dan picked each one up and held them until their wings dried, then they either flew away on their own, or he placed them in a safe spot to dry out on their own.

He saved quite a few butterflies that day.

Natural Slide

Natural Slide

The one thing you're not supposed to do at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, but probably the most fun! This family climbed to the top of a dune near Central Beach and slid down the slope to the beach below.

This is frowned upon by the park service because it erodes the dune prematurely. Another reason this is not a good practice is the fact that there are hidden dangers under the sand. roots and sticks partially buried act as punji sticks and can impale people who slide over them or fall onto them.

It does look like a lot of fun.

Grounded Falcon

Grounded Falcon

Well hidden in a valley between steep, densely wooded dunes, this early 1960s Ford Falcon slowly disintegrates and returns to the earth.

At least a mile and a half from any road, how this car made it to it's final resting place is a mystery. More than likely, it was left here before the area became part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Tiny Oak Leaves

Tiny Oak Leaves

These tiny, velvet-like Oak leaves fell off a nearby tree. They were not even an inch long, but easy to spot on an old fallen log.

Spotted as we explored an animal trail; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.



Springtime in Cowles Bog means plenty of huge fern fiddleheads. About the size of a quarter, these round fiddleheads will open into fronds about three feet long. Right now, they're all over the bog, making the wetland appear like a prehistoric world. I'm always intrigued at how the tiny portions of the fiddlehead that will eventually be a single leaf in the fern, look like miniature versions of the whole frond.
Hanging out on a Fiddlehead
This little bug found a comfortable place to sit and wait for the sun to come out.

Playful Couple

Playful Couple

A family of foxes live under a wooden deck in Wilminton, Illinois. This pair played outside their den just after sunset, but wouldn't allow their pups outside until I walked about 100 feet away. Each time I approached, they ran into their den.

Sunrise Before the Storm

Sunrise Before the Storm

The outlook for sunrise photos at Goose Lake Prairie was not good, as we walked up to the cabin. A storm quickly was moving in, but certainly there would be enough time to capture a few images before the rain. As we approached, the rising sun peered through a small break in the clouds - the only break in the sky.

A few minutes later, as we walked back to the car, the rain began.

Concrete Igloos

Loop 63 Bunker

Sometimes referred to as concrete igloos, the remaining bunkers of the old Joliet Arsenal dot the landscape. With walls over 12 inches of solid concrete, these bunkers were used to store explosives produced at the arsenal. Approximately 400 feet apart, they were accessible by a network of railroad tracks within the base.

The tracks have since been removed, but miles of trails wind through the prairie, giving hikers and riders on horseback access to this unique park.

The Elwood Ordnance Plant and Kankakee Ordnance Works opened in the early stages of World War II, even before the U.S. joined the battle. The two plants combined in 1945 to create the Joliet Arsenal. During WWII, and up until the late 1970s, the plant produced artillery shells, mines, bombs and other munitions. At it's peak, the plant employed over 10,000 workers, and produced over 900 million shells and bombs, along with 450 million metric tons of TNT. These items and their components were safely stored inside the concrete bunkers.

Inside the Bunker

In 1942, a powerful explosion rocked the Elwood plant, killing dozens of workers. The blast was felt as far away as Waukegan, IL over 60 miles away.

Today, 19,000 acres of the arsenal have been reclaimed to form the Midewin National Tallgrass Praire. Other lands were used for industrial parks and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

False Reflection

No Reflection

What first appears to be a reflection of a rock canyon wall, isn't. It's a natural rock formation along the Kankakee River, and the river surface is about eight feet below the indented portion of the wall.

It was a fun walk along the rock wall to get to this point.