Friday, July 23, 2010

Sandhill Crane Sightings -- Finally!

Every year I enjoy spotting my favorite migrating summer visitors, the sandhill cranes, as I bike the two local forest preserves along the Millennium Trail which runs behind my place. But so far this year, I've only seen one crane and it was flying high in the sky instead of browsing along the trail.

That ended today! This pair was along the trail in Lakewood Preserve...

...and I also saw groupings of two and five on either side of the road in Singing Hills Preserve! Another affirmation that all is well with the world!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yes, There are Deer in Deer Grove Woods

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County was established on November 30, 1914, the first meeting of commissioners was February 11, 1915, and on June 25, 1916, the first lands were obtained -- a 500 acre component of what is now known as Deer Grove Forest Preserve. For 19 years, I lived but 3 miles away and hiked and mountain biked in the preserve extensively. I've moved farther away now, but I still return to hike and bike several times a year. Today was one of those times as I biked for 75 minutes on the 11 miles of mountain bike trails.

Some claim the preserve should be renamed "Deer-less" Woods, but I've often seen deer here, and today was special with 3 sightings, the last of which was 10 deer, including 8 bucks with racks...

If you click to enlarge the photo below, you might be able to count all 7 deer that populate this shot...

A special day indeed! Also, compliments to the preserve -- the habitat rehabilitation is opening up the views and making for not only a healthier forest, but also a very scenic one -- and allowing for more spotting of wildlife.

Sunday, July 18, 2010



by Gerald Gould (1906)

Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! The call of the sky!

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh! The call of a bird!

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun,
And the white road and the sky.

Gerald Gould (1885–1936) was an English writer, known as a journalist, reviewer, essayist, and poet. He was brought up in Norwich, and studied at University College, London and Magdalen College, Oxford. He had a position at University College from 1906, and was a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, from 1909 to 1916.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The "400" State Trail

In June of 1993, The "400" State Trail was officially opened using the abandoned Chicago-Northwestern Railroad bed. The trail's name derives from the Chicago - Northwestern passenger train that traveled the 400 miles between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul in 400 minutes. As a pre-teen growing up on Chicago's north side, my pals and I often walked the one block to Ravenswood Avenue which abutted the raised railbed of the C&NW to see the streamliner whiz by, often attaining a speed of 100 mph. Since there were no grade crossings, the engineers never had to blow their train whistle, but when they saw us kids watching the train's approach, they sounded the whistle for us. Little did I know then that one day I'd be biking the route the train used to cover, albeit at a much slower pace!

The trail runs from Elroy to Reedsburg and passes through the communities of Union Center, Wonewoc, and La Valle, all of which have parking available right along the trail. Each town also offers restaurants, grocery stores, restrooms, water, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts. We met a family from West Virginia that was biking from Winona, Minnesota, to Madison, Wisconsin, via connecting bike trails except for only 44 miles on roads

The trail is often shrouded by trees lining the trail, and other than the first few miles out of Elroy, the trail is out of sight and sound of the highway. Though snowmobiles are allowed in the winter, ATVs are not allowed, and horses are prohibited except for a 7 mile stretch that parallels the trail between the towns of Wonewoc and La Valle where they have a grassy strip abutting the bike trail.

The Baraboo River runs the entire 22 miles of the trail and the trail crosses it 11 times from Elroy to Reedsburg. The water level was high and muddy this day from big storms that had passed through yesterday evening, and some trees had fallen onto the trail, two of which we were able to remove by breaking off branches. Despite the rainfall, the trails hard-packed gravel surface was still in good shape.

These packed limestone screenings and bridges with planked floors provide a smooth bike riding surface, and as seen in the photo below, the original roadbed and bridge superstructure contained a double-main line, though the trail only utilizes half the space. Some 12,000 years ago, this valley was the bottom of an 1825 square mile lake referred to now as Glacial Lake Wisconsin, whose flat lake bottom provided an ideal route for the railroad.

Wetlands, sandstone bluffs, rolling croplands, and pastures are just a few of the sights bikers will enjoy as the trail repeatedly crosses the meandering river through the entire length of this scenic river valley.

The trail passes through the Wonewoc-Center Education Area, a 97 acre tract owned since 1993 by the Wonewoc and Union Center School District. High school students in natural resources classes meet here for 2 hours daily during the Fall semester and have completed most of the facility's improvements, and students from all levels come here to learn about wildlife, forestry, fisheries, and natural history. High schoolers in turn lead outings here for elementary students.

If you like to camp, you'll find campgrounds at Lake Redstone County Park near La Valle, at Legion Park in Wonewoc, and at Schultz Park south of Elroy. At Union Center you can turn west on the Hillsboro State Trail for 4.3 miles of more easy riding, as well as continue your ride on the connecting Elroy-Sparta and Omaha rail-trails for a combined total of about 117 miles.

The "400" State Trail website

Wisconsin DNR web page for this trail (includes a map)

Rails-to-Trails page for this trail

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Great River State Trail

This 24-mile crushed gravel trail traverses prairies and backwaters of the upper Mississippi River valley following an abandoned Chicago-Northwestern railroad line from Onalaska to Marshland. The trail surface, though crushed gravel, is hard-packed and we saw a number of road bikes negotiating the trail with no difficulty.

The trail traverses along 18 different waterways, skirts three different national wildlife refuges, and during the migration seasons, you will see much waterfowl, wading birds, and migrating songbirds. Side trails can take you into these areas. You also pass through Perot State Park, another wildlife-rich area. Bottomland areas along the trail provide an excellent opportunity to observe many wildlife species including songbirds, pheasant, ducks, great blue heron, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, coots, deer, squirrels, and raccoons.

You pass over 18 tributaries heading to the Mississippi, including Black River and its old 287 foot long steel rail trestle at Lytles Landing...

Those interested in prehistoric cultures should stop at the Nicholl's Mound observation desk along the trail about a mile south of Trempealeau, near the northern end of the route. The observation deck provides a glimpse into the long-gone Hopewell Native American culture whose members built numerous mounds along the Mississippi River Valley. Nicholl's mound, which can be seen from the trail, was mostly obscured by the tall corn stalks of mid-July when we passed, allowing only a view of the tops of wild sumac bushes towering over the corn, but the informative panels on display showed the anatomy of the mound and its contents.

Heading to Onalaska, you pedal through pockets of wooded areas, some open crop fields, several wetlands, and occasionally glimpse homes and farm buildings. The wildflowers abounded in July as we biked here.

As you enter Onalaska, you get brief views of Lake Onalaska and glimpses of the Mississippi far in the distance as seen below...

This was a wonderful ride -- flat and mostly straight as an arrow yet fringed with trees while providing regular vista views. We were a bit disappointed that we didn't actually see the "Great River" the trail is named for, but it is a ride I recommend nonetheless.

In Onalaska, the trail connects with the 21.5 mile La Crosse River State Trail whcih follows the winding route of the La Crosse River to Sparta, crossing numerous bridges over crystal clear trout streams and past picturesque farms. For those desirous of more miles -- the LaCrosse connects with the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, which in turn gets you to the "400" State Trail -- a total of 101 miles on these four trails! For more info, go to Bike 4 Trails.

Parking lots are available in all four communities it traverses -- Onalaska, Midway, Trempealeau, and Hwy. 35. To reach the Marshland trailhead from I-90, take the WI 35 exit (3B) and head north all the way to Marshland. Take a left on the unpaved Marshland Access Road immediately east of the railroad track crossing and the WI 35/County Highway P junction at Marshland.

To reach the Medary trailhead from I-90, take the WI 157 exit 4, travel south for less than 1 mile, and take a right on State Route 16. Take a left onto County Highway B and you will see parking for the trailhead approximately .5 mile down the road on the left.

We parked where the trail per se begins -- where Main Street (Hwy 157) ends at Highway 35 in Onalaska. (South of here follow the trailtrail signs via streets for 3/4 mile.)

Wisconsin DNR page for this trail

Trail map

Rails-to-Trails page for this trail

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Elroy-Sparta State Trail

Today we biked 29 miles on the Elroy-Sparta, Wisconsin's first and oldest rail-trail which opened in 1967 and is a proud member of the Rails-to-Trails Hall of Fame. This trail traces the route of the storied Chicago and North Western Railroad, which from 1873 to 1911 carried 6 passenger trains and 50 freight trains daily. Passenger service ended in 1953 and freight traffic ended in 1964. Now 60,000 bikers per year utilize the roadbed, the 34 bridges, and three historical tunnels. The 32-mile trail is covered in crushed gravel and in very good condition. In fact, I was surprised to see so many road bikes in use.

Most of the trail is tree shrouded. Though many farm fields abut the trail, the railroad right-of-way has not been plowed in a century and a half, and trees and foliage along the rail corridor have flourished and still do today. The result is scenic beauty but with regular vista views displaying the marvelous verdant hillsides and fields.

The highlights of the trail have to be the three tunnels. The Kendall and Wilton tunnels are 1/4 mile long and the Norwalk tunnel is 3/4 mile long. You can barely seen the light at the end of the tunnel...

All the tunnels are a very cool 50 degrees and seem like caves, and the longest tunnel is wet, with water dripping its entire length. Many riders wear waterproof gear in this tunnel. The tunnels were built by hand through solid rock and the longer one required three years to complete.

Riders are required to walk their bikes through the tunnels and since they are so dark, a flashlight is highly recommended...

Trailhead parking can be found at the start and end in Sparta and Elroy, and also along the trail in the towns of Norwalk, Wilton, and Kendall. These towns also offer washrooms, eateries, and water.

In 2010, riders had to pay $4 daily trail fee.

The five towns along the trail all offer parking, restrooms, food, and water.

Elroy-Sparta Trail website

Map of trail

History of the trail

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sugar River State Trail

The Sugar River State Trail opened in the mid 70's as the second state trail in Wisconsin after the Elroy-Sparta. This 23 mile rail runs from New Glarus, Wisconsin, to Brodhead, and is crushed gravel except for a mile that is paved in New Glarus, and for a while follows the Little Sugar River which it crosses five times. The National Park Service has designated the Sugar River Trail as a national recreational trail. A day-use trail pass cost $4 in 2010.

Woods with oaks, hickory, walnut, and cherry are interspersed between the dry prairies and other areas that have been invaded by sumac, willow and elderberry. Lowland cattails and reeds are found in the wetlands. The diverse vegetation contributes to a spectacular display of color in autumn.

Mammals found on the Sugar River Trail include deer, coyote, fox, bobcat, beaver, woodchuck, skunk, mink, rabbit, fox and gray squirrels, chipmunk, ground squirrels, moles and shrews. Many kinds of snakes, turtles, salamanders are found along the trail as well. Almost every bird found in Wisconsin can be seen on the Sugar River Trail, more than 100 different species. The corridor totals 265 acres, but this provides more benefit to wildlife than a block of land the same size, because it gives access to more land along the trail and a variety of habitats.

In Monticello, the trail crosses the Badger State Trail and is well marked...

Parking can be found in New Glarus on Route 39 (Sixth Avenue) west of Route 69, and turn right on Railroad Street to the depot.

In Brodhead, park at Exchange Street and West 3rd Street (2 blocks west of Route 11/Center Avenue.)

In Monticello, the lot is on S. Pratt Road between County EE and East Lake Avenue.

Wisconsin DNR web page for this trail

Badger State Trail

The Badger State Trail is a 40-mile, crushed gravel trail running from Madison to the Illinois State line. It is a popular Wisconsin trail being a mere 30 minute ride south of Madison, about a 2 hour ride from Milwaukee, and just 2 and a half hours from Chicago. It follows the former Illinois Central Railroad corridor and is intended for bicycles and hikers during warm months and snowmobiles and limited ATV use during the winter.

A day-use trail pass cost $4 in 2010.

A highlight of the trail is the historic and restored 1200 foot long Stewart Train Tunnel that was finished in 1887 and is located south of Belleville.

A powerful flashlight is recommended because a slight bend in the tunnel puts you in total darkness. This tunnel, though not the longest trail tunnel in Wisconsin, is considered by many to be the darkest in Wisconsin.

A number of lovely creek crossings spice up the ride. Though the trail is often tree-shrouded, you do get numerous expansive views as you peer over corn and soybean fields, observe pleasant farmsteads, and admire green hills rising up in the distance.

The trail crosses the Sugar River State Trail in Monticello...

...and is well-signed, giving the towns and distances in each of the four directions...

I parked in Monticello at the lot located at the end of East Lake Avenue, just a few blocks from Main Street. Head north if you want to get to the tunnel.

Wisconsin DNR web page for this trail

Badger Trail website

Map of trail

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reunion with Martin

I spend a most enjoyable 3 hours with Martin, a former student of mine at Fremd over 2 decades ago. I had the pleasure of having him in class twice during his 4 years of high school, and when we reconnected last year via Facebook, we agreed we'd have to get together some time -- which turned out to be today. He came over and we biked 14 miles on the Millennium Trail for 90 minutes, and he did fine though he admitted he hadn't been on a bike in over a decade...

We caught up on life since Fremd and his circuitous route to becoming a high school teacher of Spanish and history himself, which included a stint working at Fratello's Hot Dogs as a manager, in honor of which we ate lunch at his old employer which happens to be near my house and also happens to be my favorite hot dog joint. Martin even ran into a former fellow-employee still working there. Here we are back at my place...

Wonderful reunion!!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Palatine Concert Band Performance

Another wonderful concert by the band tonight -- and the weather cooperated by not storming as has been prognosticated.

Sousa, Arlen, John Williams, Cohen, and Irving Berlin were among the composers represented and the enthusiastic audience showed appreciation with a standing ovation.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Busy day today began with an hour-plus biking highlighted by deer spotting...

...and then an hour-plus getting the roof rack set correctly to carry my kayak...

... followed by the hour drive to the Fox River in Elgin where I paddled for an hour-plus, riding the waves so generously left by dozens of SeaDoos cavorting on the river...

...followed by Karen and Paul's annual party featuring wonderful food and good conversation with family. Then on the way home, I stopped at Len and Marlene's to assist with a couple computer problems.

I hope your 4th celebration was as eventful and fun!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

30 Years of Apple Computers in 2 Minutes

From The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Here's a great video compiled by Gary Katz of Mac M.D. Inc. Using photos of Apple machines in his own collection, Gary's video highlights the major design changes that have taken place over the past 30 years.