Hike & Go Seek – Maquoketa Caves State Park

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If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal” – Paulo Coelho. Maquoketa Caves Park is for the adventurous at heart. This park contains more caves than any other state park in Iowa. A trail system links the caves, formations, and overlooks while providing a scenic hiking experience. Many areas on these trails have seen new construction, making the journey to the caves safer. Most of the caves may be entered by persons of average physical ability, but some are more advanced. However the park’s caves were closed to humans between 2010 and April 2012 in the hopes of protecting the resident bats from white nose syndrome. 

The park is in the Driftless Area of Iowa. This region escaped being glaciated in the last ice age, while regions to the east and west were not spared. The park has been subjected to hundreds of thousands of years of natural non-glacial erosion. 

The park’s caves, limestone formations and rugged bluffs represent a step back in geological time of thousands of years. Stalactites once hung from the ceilings and stalagmites rose from the floor. Souvenir hunters have robbed the caves of this rare beauty, but many formations remain. The park’s limestone caves, arches and chimneys including Dancehall Cave, Hernado’s Hideaway, Shinbone Cave, Wye Cave, and an unmarked cave within the Dancehall Cavern locally known as Steelgate Cave.

A BIT OF HISTORY

Artifacts such as pottery, as well as tools and projectile points made of stone have been found in the caves and surrounding area. These discoveries indicate that the Maquoketa Caves area has been of interest to humans for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Early recorded history tells that the Native Americans in the area were likely visitors to the Raccoon Creek valleys. The first Euro-American explorers first visited the caves as late as the mid-1830s. The area was originally known as Morehead Caves or Burt’s Cave. It had become a popular place for exploration, picnics, parties, and dances by the 1860s. A dance floor was constructed north of Natural Bridge in 1868, and a pavilion, which was used until the 1920s, was built sometime later. By the turn of the 20th century the area had become seriously degraded, and its popularity declined. (wiki)

     

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Hike & Go Seek – Duck Creek Trail

White and Brown Wild Duck on Water

 A place to be in awe.  The Duck Creek Trail in Wisconsin is a crushed limestone trail in Outagamie and Brown Counties in northeast Wisconsin. The Duck Creek Trail spans seven miles, beginning at the eastern end of the Newton Blackmour State Trail, just east of Vanderheuvel Road in Seymour. The trail continues east through the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin in northern Outagamie County paralleling State Route 54, and continues to the Village of Oneida.  The Duck Creek Trail will eventually extend to Pamperin Park in Green Bay.    

With the connection to the Newton Blackmour State Trail, the combined trails are over 30 miles (48 km) long. The combined trails extend from Village of Oneida to New London. (wiki)

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Sunday Songbirds of the Midwest

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BEAUTIFUL BIRDS OF THE MIDWEST 

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The every popular Western Meadowlark.  The western meadowlark has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related eastern meadowlark. The western meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Montana, Kansas, NebraskaNorth Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.

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The Hooded and Common Merganser.  In most places, the common merganser is as much a frequenter of salt water as fresh water. In larger streams and rivers, they float down with the stream for a few miles, and either fly back again or more commonly fish their way back, diving incessantly the whole way. In smaller streams, they are present in pairs or smaller groups, and they float down, twisting round and round in the rapids, or fishing vigorously in a deep pool near the foot of a waterfall or rapid. When floating leisurely, they position themselves in water similar to ducks, but they also swim deep in water like cormorants, especially when swimming upstream. They often sit on a rock in the middle of the water, similar to cormorants, often half-opening their wings to the sun. To rise from water, they flap along the surface for many yards. Once they are airborne, the flight is strong and rapid. They often fish in a group forming a semicircle and driving the fish into shallow water, where they are captured easily. Their ordinary voice is a low, harsh croak, but during the breeding season, they (including the young) make a plaintive, soft whistle. Generally, they are wary, and one or more birds stay on sentry duty to warn the flock of approaching danger. When disturbed, they often disgorge food before moving. Though they move clumsily on land, they resort to running when pressed, assuming a very upright position similar to penguins, and falling and stumbling frequently.

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The Ruffed Grouse.  Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end (“subterminal”). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.

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Displaying male

The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.

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The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.

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The red-necked grebe is a nondescript dusky-grey bird in winter. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive red neck plumage, black cap and contrasting pale grey face from which its name was derived. It also has an elaborate courtship display and a variety of loud mating calls. Once paired, it builds a nest from water plants on top of floating vegetation in a shallow lake or bog.

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Hike &Go Seek – Devil’s Lake State Park

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Located in Devil’s Lake State Park is a state park located in the Baraboo Range in eastern Sauk County, just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin. Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest state park in Wisconsin. It lies on the western edge of the last ice-sheet deposited during the Wisconsin glaciation and is known for its 500-foot-high quartzite bluffs along the 360-acre Devil’s Lake, which was created by a glacier depositing terminal moraines that plugged the north and south ends of the gap in the bluffs during the last ice age approximately 12,000 years ago. The sand at the bottom of Devil’s Lake is thought to be deposited by glaciers.

Parfrey’s Glen, Wisconsin’s first state natural area, is managed by the Devil’s Lake State Park and located just east of the park.

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History

The area where the park now stands was first settled by pioneers in the mid-1800s. By the start of the 20th century, the area had become a popular vacation destination for wealthy families from Chicago and Madison. The first hotel was established in 1866, 50 years before the park was founded.

The park was founded in 1911.  It was home to five resorts, two of which were perched on the west bluff. No trace of any of these hotels remains. There were also many private residences in the west and south shores of the lake, only four of which remain. At various times the lakeshore hosted water slides, lodges, and golf courses. The clubhouse of one course sat on the current location of the park’s nature center. By the 1940s, the hotels were all closed, and the park was retreating to its former natural self.

In 1974, the National Park Service declared the Southern portion of the Baraboo Hills a National Natural Landmark. The Nature Conservancy also designated it as one of the Last Great Places; it is one of only 77 of these places in the world.

GEOLOGY

Loess covers most of the hills and forms the parent material of a brown silt loam soil. The lake is surrounded by a mixed conifer-deciduous forest and the Baraboo Hills are also home to one of the largest contiguous hardwood forests in the Midwest.

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North Glacial Moraine is well covered by the north shore developments. The parking lots, concession building and the picnic shelter all sit atop the moraine. This moraine forms the northern border of Devil’s Lake. The moraine is approximately 80 feet.

Southeast Glacial Moraine is located between the East Bluff-South Face and the South Bluff. The Group Camp is located atop the moraine. It is best seen from the Roznos Meadow parking area along State Route 113. The moraine is approximately 130 feet (40 m) thick.

Due to the long geological history of Devil’s Lake and the Baraboo Range, the area has been used in geological research for years. The lake itself is rectangular in shape and is a little over a mile long from north to south and a half mile from east to west. It has many cliffs, unique rock formations and a variety of animal and plant species. One of the most notable features of the park is the presence of large talus slopes on three sides of the lake.

Nature center

The exhibits at the park’s nature center focus on the geology and natural history of the area. Public nature programs are offered in the summer, as well as evening programs on Saturday nights in the Northern Lights Amphitheater. The nature center also has many historical photographs that come from as far back as the 1800s. They also have many displays of examples of the flora and fauna that can be found throughout the park.[2]

Hike & Go Seek – Copper Harbor

Aerial view of Copper Harbor

Looking for some of the most scenic trails around Michigan. Copper Harbor is your spot. It is an all-season resort town in northeastern Keweenaw County, Michigan located on the Keweenaw Peninsula which juts out from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan into Lake Superior. Due to its natural environment and surroundings it is a popular tourist destination within the Great Lakes region.

One popular spot for visitors is Hunter’s Island which is the name of a non-hilly point running out from the west into Lake Superior.  It was named for an early settler of the area named Mr. Hunter who owned a tract of land on what is now Hunter’s Point or Hunter’s Island.   Situated at the opening of the harbor itself is the historic Copper Harbor Lighthouse built in 1866, replacing an earlier lighthouse made in 1849.  It is only accessible via a short ride in a compact open vessel from the Copper Harbor marina.  Exhibits inside the lighthouse museum cover both the lighthouse history along with the local shipwreck culture of the area.

Copper Harbor is located in Michigan

 Another popular site known as “the most beautiful road in Michigan” is the Brockway Mountain Drive that is an 8.8 mile route that follows the backbone of a 753-foot-high ridge between the towns of Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor and is the highest paved road between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the Allegheny Mountains to the east.  Constructed during the 30’s, this very picturesque road offers stunning views of Lake Superior and Keweenaw Penisula as well as the archipelago of Isle Royale.

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Midwest Birds

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Beautiful Birds of the Midwest 

The every popular Western Meadowlark.  The western meadowlark has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related eastern meadowlark. The western meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Montana, Kansas, NebraskaNorth Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.

Female Mergus merganser americanus at Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds.jpg

The Hooded and Common Merganser.  In most places, the common merganser is as much a frequenter of salt water as fresh water. In larger streams and rivers, they float down with the stream for a few miles, and either fly back again or more commonly fish their way back, diving incessantly the whole way. In smaller streams, they are present in pairs or smaller groups, and they float down, twisting round and round in the rapids, or fishing vigorously in a deep pool near the foot of a waterfall or rapid. When floating leisurely, they position themselves in water similar to ducks, but they also swim deep in water like cormorants, especially when swimming upstream. They often sit on a rock in the middle of the water, similar to cormorants, often half-opening their wings to the sun. To rise from water, they flap along the surface for many yards. Once they are airborne, the flight is strong and rapid. They often fish in a group forming a semicircle and driving the fish into shallow water, where they are captured easily. Their ordinary voice is a low, harsh croak, but during the breeding season, they (including the young) make a plaintive, soft whistle. Generally, they are wary, and one or more birds stay on sentry duty to warn the flock of approaching danger. When disturbed, they often disgorge food before moving. Though they move clumsily on land, they resort to running when pressed, assuming a very upright position similar to penguins, and falling and stumbling frequently.

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The Ruffed Grouse.  Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end (“subterminal”). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.

Displaying male

The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.

Grèbejougrisparade.jpg

The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.

The red-necked grebe is a nondescript dusky-grey bird in winter. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive red neck plumage, black cap and contrasting pale grey face from which its name was derived. It also has an elaborate courtship display and a variety of loud mating calls. Once paired, it builds a nest from water plants on top of floating vegetation in a shallow lake or bog.

The barred owl, also known as northern barred owl or hoot owl, is a true owl native to eastern North America. Adults are large, and are brown to grey with barring on the chest. Barred owls have expanded their range to the west coast of North America, where they are considered invasive.

The common loon or great northern diver is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Breeding adults have a plumage that includes a broad black head and neck with a greenish, purplish, or bluish sheen, blackish or blackish-grey upperparts, and pure white underparts except some black on the undertail coverts and vent. Non-breeding adults are brownish with a dark neck and head marked with dark grey-brown. Their upperparts are dark brownish-grey with an unclear pattern of squares on the shoulders, and the underparts, lower face, chin, and throat are whitish. The sexes look alike, though males are significantly heavier than females.

Hike & Go Seek – Boneback State Park – Iowa USA

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Dedicated in 1919, Backbone State park is Iowa’s oldest state park.  It is extremely geologically unique. It is named for a narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River originally known as the Devil’s Backbone.  It is approximately three miles long and was built back in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps who constructed a majority of the trails and buildings which make up the park.

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The North Fork of the Maquoketa River

There are three distinct areas to the park:  Cabin area, hiking area and Richmond Springs.   The cabin area is located at the southern end of the park and runs around the 125 acre Backbone Lake on the Makoqueta River.  Its historic buildings and structures include 17 cabins, pump house, two sets of trail steps, soil erosion dams, six parking areas, paved road, the site of CCC Camp 1756, bathhouse, boathouse, a wall, the beach, a sundial and bench, dam, and the sand filter bed.  The lake was created by the dam and spillways back in 1933.    The hiking area is located near the center of the park and its historic buildings and structures include a picnic/shelter concession, two more picnic shelters, the east entrance entryways and gate, two trailside benches, six parking lots, a vehicle bridge, trail steps and the Backbone trail.  
 

Richmond Springs is located on the north end of the park and its historic structures include the springs which are a natural feature enclosed by the CCC back in June of 1934.  It created a new channel from the area to prevent overflow into the springs. 


Twenty-one miles of multi-use trails support year-round recreational activities including hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter.  The lake is noted for its swimming, boating and fishing.  Backbone Creek is known to support a good stock of Rainbow and Brown Trout and is regularly stocked by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  Campsites and rental cabins are available along with shower buildings and a playground for the children.

Cute roe deer standing in green natural reservation park
Local Wildlife

Local wildlife such as fox, turkey and deer can be seen in the park and surrounding area and the Backbone State Forest is immediately adjacent to the park.  This Iowa forest consists of 186 acres of pine forest. (wiki)

More Great Destinations in Iowa

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Maquoketa Caves State Park

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Furry Feathered Friday – Birds with Benefits

Shallow Focus Photography of Gray and Orange Bird

Oh, the many (often unrealized) benefits to birding. Did you know birding:

  • Bird watching develops patience. …
  • Bird watching will get your children to go outside. …
  • Bird watching allows for introspection and contemplation. …
  • Bird watching can improve cardiovascular health. …
  • Bird watching gives you an excuse to travel. …
  • Bird watching builds a sense of community. …
  • Bird watching quickens reflexes.

One of my favorites, The mourning dove is a member of the dove family, Columbidae. The bird is also known as the American mourning dove or the rain dove, and erroneously as the turtle dove, and was once known as the Carolina pigeon or Carolina turtledove.

It is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds. It is also a leading gamebird, with more than 20 million birds (up to 70 million in some years) shot annually in the U.S., both for sport and for meat. Its ability to sustain its population under such pressure is due to its prolific breeding; in warm areas, one pair may raise up to six broods of two young each in a single year. The wings make an unusual whistling sound upon take-off and landing, a form of sonation. The bird is a strong flier, capable of speeds up to 88 km/h (55 mph).  It is the national bird of the British Virgin Islands.

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Mourning doves are light grey and brown and generally muted in color. Males and females are similar in appearance. The species is generally monogamous, with two squabs (young) per brood. Both parents incubate and care for the young. Mourning doves eat almost exclusively seeds, but the young are fed crop milk by their parents.

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Yellow rail adults have brown upperparts streaked with black, a yellowish-brown breast, a light belly and barred flanks. The short thick dark bill turns yellow in males during the breeding season. The feathers on the back are edged with white. There is a yellow-brown band over the eye and the legs are greenish-yellow.

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Love the Sandhill Crane!  A species of large cranes of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills on the American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the lesser sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually. (wiki)

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Gosky Prism Binoculars

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  Birds of the Midwest

Into the Garden of the Gods

Green Tree Near Rocky Mountains
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Looking for spectacular views with a short hike among some of the most unique rock formations in the United States? Look no further than Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois. The most popular hike in the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods gives tourists amazing insight into the geologic structure of Southern Illinois and a view that stretches for miles high over the pristine hills of Shawnee Forest.

More than 320 million years ago, the wind and rain patiently started to chisel away at large deposits of sedimentary rock located in what is now, Shawnee National Forest . Over the years, the elements have sculpted some of the most stunning and extraordinary rock formations known to man. There are also plenty of trails for backpacking and horseback riding, allowing nature lovers a welcome tour of what the lively environment has to offer.

Trekking The National Parks: The Family Board Game (Second Edition)

Trekking the National Parks Family Board Game

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There are many miles of diverse hiking and backpacking trails in the Shawnee National Forest including the 160-mile River to River Trail.

One of the most photographed locations in the state, Garden of the Gods’ scenic beauty is extraordinary. In the recreation area you can hike, camp, nature watch or picnic.

The Observation Trail features unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views of the surrounding Garden of the God Wilderness. Interpretive signs explain the geological history. The 1/4-mile trail is made of natural sandstone and takes about an hour to walk. It contains short, steep grades and steps; benches are located along the trail and as a whole the trail is not tiring. Caution should be used due to the high cliffs in the area.

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