Kentucky Knob

View from the Knob

As a child, driving down I-65, on our trip south to Florida, I would gaze out the window at the hilly landscape of north central Kentucky. These were the first "mountains" we encountered each year - pretty exciting when you spent the last seven hours looking at the flat lands of Indiana. I often wondered what it was like on top of those hills.  Finally, as an adult, I found a trail that winds through the forested ridges of these hills - Knobs State Forest and Wildlife Management Area.

Orange Trail
Set aside in 2006, this 1500 acre reserve in Bullitt County, Kentucky gives visitors a chance to see these wooded knobs from ground to ridge. Four interconnecting trails totalling a bit over 6.5 miles meander up and down the knobs, allowing visitors to view most of the forest.  The trails seem to be former logging roads, about 8 feet wide and packed down where tires once rolled.  They are, at times, covered in knee-high groundcover, but well defined for the most part, with the exception of a few places that had us guessing the correct route.

The difficulty was mostly moderate as the trails headed up and down the landscape, but strenuous at times depending upon the rise in elevation - especially reaching the top of the knobs at the end of the 2.5 mile long trail.  

Our day began at 4 am, when Chris and I headed to the car while everyone else slept. We drove the easy 25 miles to the tiny gravel parking lot about 100 feet off of Crooked Creek Road. Unsure at first, I passed it up, but later found that we had to drive through Crooked Creek to get to the parking lot.  On this day the creek was dry, allowing us easy access to the parking lot.

Ready for our battle with insects, we brought along plenty of deet, long sleeves and long pants, and a roll of black duct tape. Not wanting to deal with ticks, I taped the bottoms of our pants to our boots to prevent ticks from crawling up onto our legs. (a much better option than tucking the pants into socks as most hiking websites suggest)  I also taped my pockets to prevent my car keys from slipping out during the hike. The tape worked very well in both cases, especially with the ticks, we each had only one tick on the outside of our jeans on the entire 6 mile hike.  Spiders, however, were plentiful - very plentiful, and attached themselves to my shirt and head dozens of times during the hike, as I broke through their large webs.

Hiking up the Knob

As we set out, the sun had not risen, yet a bit of light was evident in the sky, allowing us to see the trails well enough in the thick woods. One only two occasions we questioned the route.  Generally well marked with colored diamond labels on select trees, the trails intersected at times, making us stop and search for the correct trail. And what we thought was the end of the orange trail, was only a turn up to the top of the knob - a steep ascent with no apparent trail markings or flattened foliage.  Our best guess turned out correct as we spotted a few orange diamonds on trees ahead of us.

The path up the Knob

Well worth the strenuous climb to the top of the knob (at 941 feet), we were rewarded with an interesting landscape as well as a few small spots offering excellent views of the rolling countryside. I can only imagine how the view is during the winter and early spring before the leaves fill the trees.

Narrow Ridge

Disappointed we weren't able to stay longer, we soaked in the views, and the unusual silence of this place. What amazed me is the quiet we experienced with I-65 only a mile or two away; we heard absolutely nothing.  Of particular interest was the narrow ridge of the knob.  The trees seemed to lean away from the top, giving us the feeling we were walking on top of the forest.

For a few seconds, we lost the way down to the trail from the ridge.  This portion of the trail had no matted down or worn down areas, so it blended in perfectly with the rest of the forest floor.  We knew the only view we had was on our left as we climbed, so we proceeded to slide down the hillside with the view to our right.  Sure enough, we spotted the orange diamond on a tree behind us, and a few minutes later, we connected back at the well defined portion of the trail. Our walk back was at a faster rate, but a bit strenuous in spots, probably due to the climb previous. 

It was certainly worth waking up early to walk through this part of Kentucky, a part that most visitors don't see, and a part that I finally experienced after years of wonder. Back to the hotel to celebrate with an ice cold Ale 8 1, a soda manufactured in Kentucky since 1926.

Rolling Through Lemont

Rolling Through Lemont
A Burlington Northern and Santa Fe freight train rolls over the Sanitary and Ship Canal on the Lemont Railroad Bridge.  Constructed in 1898 by the Keystone Bridge Company of Pittsburgh, the steel swing bridge has a span of 375 feet, and is frequently used by the railroad.  During our 30 minute walk, three trains passed over this bridge.


In Lemont for the weekly Lemont Ledgends cruise night, we often explore the area after viewing the custom and vintage cars parked up and down the downtown streets. This time, we decided to to hike over the Lemont Ave bridge to view the I and M Canal, Sanitary and Ship Canal and the DesPlains River - all within a block or so of each other, and the downtown area.  Used heavily for industry, the Sanitary and Ship Canal is filled with tugboats and barges, but offers few places for viewing other than bridges.


As we approached the top of the bridge, over the canals, we noticed a small area on the bank of the canal with some sort of a stone memorial, and a few teenagers sitting near it. Figuring it must be a small acess point, we made our way back downtown to find it.


In short order, we discovered a narrow path that led from a side street to the bank of the canal.  The memorial we saw from the bridge, honored mariners of the Illinois Marine Towing company, a local frieght company. Perhaps this small landing is a place for the deckhands to stop for a break, or a walk to town.

Either way, it offered a view of the canal traffic, as well as a safe place to watch traffic on the railroad bridge.

Stately Dilapidation

Stately Dilapidation

On our journey down old Route 66, south of Bloomington Normal, we found ourselves wandering off the route after missing an unmarked turn.  Instead of doubling back a mile or so, we took a detour down a small road that eventually connected to Route 66.
This stately farmhouse, seemingly unoccupied for many years, has seen better days, yet the grounds were manicured beautifully. The tall trees framed the home when viewed from the road, inviting us to take a closer look.

Taking it Slow

Taking it Slow

On our drive down the old Route 66, we came across the tiny town of Funk's Grove, Illinois.  We didn't see a downtown, a business district, or anything actually, yet as we followed a small road that intersected Route 66, we came across a very well manicured and maintained small church, cemetery and nature preserve.  The Sugar Grove Nature Center is free, and open year-round from dawn to dusk.  There are several well marked trails that wind through Illinois' largest intact prairie grove, a small nature center, barn, firepit, and friendly staff.

One trail leads hikers about a mile to the Funk's Grove Church and Cemetery, and the Chapel in the Trees, an outdoor church with huge logs acting as pews and lecterns.

Hiking through the dense, damp woods, we came upon several interesting snails making their way toward shade and food. This one wandered into a small dab of sunlight at the perfect moment.

Late Afternoon at the Dwight Windmill

Late Afternoon at the Dwight Windmill

No trip down Route 66 would be complete without a stop at the Dwight Windmill, in the small town of Dwight, Illinois.  Not really a purist Route 66 stop, but we take the half mile or so detour to visit each time we pass.

Built in 1896 as the source of water for the Oughton Estate, the windmill was constructed by U.S. Wind, Engine, and Pump Company of Batavia, Illinois. It originally housed an 88 barrel tank near the top which held the water pumped from a depth of 840 feet below ground.

The windmill is in beautiful condition, owned by the Village of Dwight, and is open to the public.

Bend in the Mighty Mississippi

Bend in the Mighty Mississippi Following a rainy drive from central Illinois, we arrived at the Mississippi Palisades State Park in rather nice weather. Thunderstorms surrounded us, but never rained on us the rest of the day. The sky is a bit threatening in the distance, southeast of Savanna, Illinois - the self proclaimed "Sportsman's Paradise" on the Mississippi River. I do imagine if you're a fisherman, this is a place you'll enjoy; so many secluded inlets on the river, it would take years to explore them all. The first time we visited the Mississippi Palisades, we parked near a trail head, and hiked the trail to the observation deck, about 1/2 mile through thick, hilly forest, only to realize we could have driven to the deck and only walked 100 feet! I'd rather hike while I'm still able, but knowing about the other parking area sure makes things easy. We've taken a few of the other trails as well, and they get pretty dense - so much so that we couldn't tell if we were still on the trail or on an animal trail. Great for exploration, but watch out for ticks and mosquitoes. While the views in this park seem limited to the wooded banks of the Mississippi, and the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad tracks, it's certainly a beautiful view, and worth taking in. Going to have to make this trip in the winter, when the river is frozen, and the woods are snow covered.

Storm Cell

Storm Cell

On our return trip from the Mississippi River, we noticed a storm cell forming to the north of us. It quickly developed into an interesting formation, and began dumping rain on the Illinois countryside. This cell seemed very localized, even though storms surrounded us the whole day, but it only rained on us as we drove to our second stop. Closer to home, we encountered a much larger and more intense storm, with cloud to ground lightning every few seconds, and heavy rain. Too bad it was night, and we were driving, otherwise we could have set up for some excellent lightning images.


Dark Waters As kintzele Ditch flows through the wooded areas of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, it picks up tannins from the vegetation, turning the water a deep, tea color. This is sometimes known as Blackwater. On this day, the waters provided a strong contrast to the surrounding sand dunes - especially in the bright sunlight. A favorite destination of ours, Kintzele Ditch is a short walk from Central Beach and Mt. Baldy (now closed due to last year's sinkholes). The stream is ever changing, due to the wind, and waves of Lake Michigan; sometimes the mouth of the stream changes by hundreds of feet. On days when Lake Michigan is calm, the lack of waves allows the stream to empty easily into the lake, and the tannin rich water is evident along the shore until it mixes with Lake Michigan.

Chicago Harbor Light

Chicago Harbor Light Built in 1893, the Chicago Harbor Light marks the entrance to the Chicago River - a waterway once vital to the Midwest. Today, the river supports mainly pleasure boaters and tours, and it's difficult to imagine industry and shipping filling the lake and river. In 1871, an attempt was made to reverse the flow of the Chicago River, so the city's sewage and waste would not flow into Lake Michigan - Chicago's source of drinking water. The reversal was made permanent when a series of locks and dams were constructed in 1900 along with the Sanitary and Ship Canal system. Today, a single lock stands between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, just south of Navy Pier. If you're on the river, in the lock, you can watch the gates open slowly, and the water from Lake Michigan pour into the lock to equalize the river and lake levels. Once the gates fully open, the Chicago Harbor Light comes into view. The lighthouse was automated in 1979, has a third order Fresnel lens, and is constructed of concrete and cast iron.

Rain on its Way

Rain on its Way Our voyage down the Chicago River was calm and relaxing. Aware of the threat of rain later in the day, we headed out on Lake Michigan. Once in open water, we felt the three foot waves created by the storm system a few miles west of the city. On our return trip to the river, the sky grew dark, the winds picked up, and we knew the rains were on their way. Just a few minutes after this photo, the Willis tower (I still call it the Sears Tower) disappeared - obscured by heavy rain. I told the kids I was reponsible for to come with me to the lower deck, to prepare to head inside. Moments later, the shoreline was engulfed in rain, and impossible to see; we headed below to the bar area. Seconds later, the rains hit, and all of the passengers raced to get inside - not sure why they didn't head in earlier. The bar area was packed with kids, all trying to stay dry. The winds gusted, the rain pelted the glass, and the waves crashed onto the deck and tossed the boat around a bit. Nothing huge, but each time the boat rocked, the kids screamed -not necessarily in terror, but as if they were riding a roller coaster. Some children commented that this is what it must be like aboard one of the fishing boats on Deadliest Catch (only if we were awake for 4 days, it was 70 degrees colder, had more wind, and the waves were ten times as high). The calm and prepared crew asked the children to stop screaming and to sit down on the deck so they wouldn't fall when the boat rocked. About 10 minutes later, we arrived at the Chicago River lock and the waters instantly calmed, and so did the storm. Our return to the dock was pleasant, and dry. So many of the children commented that this was the best field trip ever! A ride on a boat with a tour Chicago, and a storm at the end that tossed the boat around Lake Michigan - a great story to tell indeed.


Timid In honor of World Turtle Day, 2014. While walking around the yard, the boys discovered a small, Spiny Softshell turtle walking near the road, quite a distance from water. Realizing he was going to get run over or eaten by a preditor, we carried him safely in the direction he was heading, to the lake and released him. Three of them could fit in the palm of a 10 year old's hand. A few more images of turtles here from the past few years: Baby Turtle turtlesunning Turtle Neck Happy World Turtle Day.


CallingThe call of large groups of frogs is one of the first real signs of Spring around this part of Illinois.  Usually, as I walk by ponds and streams, the shy frogs quiet down, and hide, but this time, I decided to wait a bit for them to get used to me. After a few minutes, the frogs came out of hiding, and a bit later, one began to call for a mate. I could tell he was up to something, since he was sitting more upright than usual.

If you look closely where the water meets the body of the frog, you'll see ripples in the water. These were caused by the vibration of the frog as he called.  His vocal sac is displayed and in use - he wasn't bothered too much by my camera, and continued his search for a mate.  Most of the other frogs in the small pond in Illinois Canyon already had mates, and were paired up in the water, oblivious to me.



 Each Spring, I visit some of the wetlands of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in search of plants and animals. Of particular interest are ferns; more specifically, fiddleheads. Before the fern fronds appear, they develop in a circular roll, and slowly unroll to form a frond. These rolled up fronds are called fiddleheads, and look similar to their namesake, although I assume, the end of a violin was patterned after the fern.
  Rolled Up

 No two are exactly the same, and they don't stay rolled up for very long. What amazes me is that each of the tiny leaves of the fern is an almost exact match to the unrolled fern frond. So, the fern is comprised of fronds that are comprised of fronds. Look closely and you'll see what I mean. A sure sign that winter is over.

Cutting Through the Dunes

Cutting Through the Dunes Kintzele Ditch meanders through the sand dunes, on its way to Lake Michigan. The mouth of the stream is ever changing, shaped by the wind and waves, sometimes hundreds of feet up or down the shore. Out of respect for the environment, we've never managed to walk very far along this stream, and don't want to walk through it. Perhaps in a kayak one day. The short distances we are able to walk, yeild a variety of wildlife from Great Blue Heron to beaver, butterflies to ticks, as well as some interesting plantlife. This area is only a 20 minute walk from the nearest parking lots, yet it seems so remote and distant from everyday life.

Canyon Falls

Canyon Falls Our Spring hike through Illinois Canyon's bluebell-filled flats, required us to cross the creek three times. As the weather was relatively dry up to this point, crossing was fairly easy - using rocks and a few downed tree limbs as bridges, we made it to the head of the canyon, or at least as far as hiker's are allowed to venture. The waterfall here is very short, only a few feet tall, but quite dramatic with the winding, moss covered canyon walls. The mystery of what lies beyond this point, and the source of the creek still interest me. Perhaps in warmer weather, I'll wade through the pond to see what lies beyond.

Spring Canyon

Spring Canyon Winter has finally lost her grip on the Midwest. We spent a warm, sunny afternoon at Illinois' Starved Rock State Park soaking in the sunshine and scenery. Following the long, brutal winter, nature is waking up; leaves, flowers, animals, and insects are once again commonplace on our hike. As we meandered through canyons and streams, we found several waterfalls that were still flowing from recent rains. The sounds of birds and frogs provided the soundtrack to our hike; they too were happy with the warm weather.

Cobbled Ice Path

Cobbled Ice PathFollowing the break up of the ice on Lake Michigan, some of the drift ice made it back to shore with the help of some big waves. These chunks piled up on the beach in places, then new shelf ice formed at the shore. The chunks provided an interesting cobbled path to follow into the distance, and a great place for the kids to get some exercise. We wonderd exactly where each of these chunks were formed, where they spent the winter, and how long they were adrift before landfall. Perhaps they were local, perhaps they drifted from far northern Lake Michigan. Either way, the shore of Indiana was their final resting place.

Remnants of Winter

Remnants of WinterThe almost endless shelf ice mounds have all but disappeared, and liquid Lake Michigan is once again a reality. This winter hid that water under ice as far as the eye could see. Walking northeast along Washington Park Beach in Michigan City, Indiana, we encountered the last bit of shelf ice. The ice extended the length of the shore to the horizon, could this have been the southern extent of the ice that day? No more ice south, only north? It's possible. This little remnant of winter gave us the unusual opportunity to safely investigate the shelf ice up close. It was safe since the water was only about a foot deep at the end! It was still dramatic, and interesting to see the formations, as well as the physics behind pancake ice. The small waves pushed floating ice against some recesses in the shelf ice, so the ice would hit and spin, hit and spin, rounding the edges to form "pancakes." I'm pretty sure this is all but a memory now.....four days later.

A Challenge for Top Bird

A Challenge for Top Bird Standing on the last bits of shelf ice along the shore of Lake Michigan, these seagulls loudly challenge one another for the spot of top bird. Most of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore shelf ice has melted completely, but a rather large area of Washington Park Beach remained frozen. Possibly the southern extent of the ice at this time? Perhaps, but at any rate, it made for a very interesting walk on the beach today. The area is looking a lot more like Spring now, with wildlife awakening, sand visible, boats on Lake Michigan, and bulldozers replacing the sand blown into the parking lot over the winter. Soon, the beach will swarm with sunbathers and swimmers; can't wait.

The Last Grip

The Last Grip
Probably the last of winter's grip on the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouses and channel markers.  Over the winter, ice built up on the concrete piers marking the banks of St. Joseph River - in places, feet thick. The increasingly sunny days bring with them warmth and the ability to melt this coating, once again revealing the structures underneath.

The piers were lined with fishermen, the shore dotted with seagulls and eager beach-goers, and the lake with melting drift ice. Warmer weather, and storms this week will almost certainly eliminate the last of winter's creations.