Thursday, December 19, 2013 vs.

My latest “adventure” revolves around customer support departments of two online companies that market cases for the iPhone 5s and iPad Air.

Example 1:

The bad example is and their Atlas ID waterproof case for the iPhone 5s shown above.  The company touts its “legendary warranty protection” on both its site and its telephone answering message.  I bought the case, watched their video on YouTube, and read the installation directions, removed my phone’s screen protector, and then inserted my phone. It is a good looking case, well constructed, and obviously rugged, but from the start, the fingerprint ID unlocking system didn’t work.  The case has its own glass screen that sits atop the phone’s touch sensitive glass to make it waterproof, and the video shows everything working perfectly despite the extra glass layer.  But not on mine.  I then tried to have my phone learn a new fingerprint, but a dozen such efforts were all failures with the phone error message saying that my fingerprint couldn’t be read.  Yet when I removed the phone from the case, everything functioned perfectly again.  Also, I had to poke the Atlas screen quite hard and often more than once to get it to even open apps and use functions of apps, and the bottom home row of apps wouldn’t respond to touching at all, and the same with the bottom row of functions like “trash” on the Mail app.  Typing an email or a comment on Facebook, etc. was very difficult and a lengthy process.  I also couldn’t raise the bottom Control Center panel and when I lowered the Notification Center from the top of the screen, I couldn’t raise it up again.

Obviously the case wasn’t working right since the video and the reviews I read said that touch functions worked fine.  Perhaps there was a problem with the glass layer, or at least the bottom section of the glass?  Or a defect in the case’s home button covering? Or all of the above?  I called customer service to report the problem and was told to use their website to request a return number  (or refund), then pack the case up perfectly like I had found it (per the instructions on the website), go to the post office, and mail it back to them.  They would process it and send a replacement if they found a problem.  I pointed out that they already had my money and why should I have to wait for a product that actually worked properly, and that I would have no working case for my phone, and I asked what I should do to protect the phone for the 2 weeks this cumbersome process was going to take.  No reply.  So fearing I'd just have the same experience again, I simply returned it for a refund (which I hope they'll follow through on.)

Example 2:

Example 2 is a company called  My last two iPads have had SwitchEasy cases and I loved them, so I and ordered a third case for my new iPad Air (photo above).  After receiving it, I discovered it didn’t automatically put the iPad to sleep when the cover was closed, and thus the iPad was running the battery down when supposedly asleep.  I emailed their customer service with the problem, and within 3 hours I got an email back from Viktoria saying that they were sorry for the problem, and that a replacement cover was in the mail.  I received it two days later and it is working fine.  I looked in the packaging for how to send the defective one back to them, but nothing indicated they even wanted it back.  This is what Customer Service is supposed to be like!

Which company do you think I’ll continue doing business with and will recommend to others?

Hastings Lake Forest Preserve

The recently re-opened Hastings Lake Forest Preserve is in the Lake Villa/Lindenhurst area of Lake County.  The parking area is on Gelden Road south of Grass Lake Road, north of Route 132, and east of Deep Lake Road, and north of Illinois Route 45.  Though only 270 acre4s, it offers a paved 2 mile loop around Hastings Lake, another 1 mile loop, three picnic shelters, a large playground, three scenic overlooks, several boardwalks,lake access for cartop boats, and two wheelchair accessible fishing piers. Here's the map (click to enlarge)...

The preserve was named for the Hastings Lake YMCA camp that had occupied the site from 1923 to 2002.  The YMCA of Metro Chicago continues to operate out of a small section of the old property and offers aquatics, family programs, fitness classes, and apparently outdoor ropes activities on this interesting looking apparatus that abuts the loop trail...

The four miles of paved and gravel trails wind through open fields, woodlands of stately trees, and wetlands. Trails are open to bicycling, hiking, and cross-country skiing; horses and snowmobiles are not permitted. Two trail spurs provide access to the preserve from the Seven Hills and Mallard Ridge subdivisions, and a trail connection to Grass Lake Road on the east side of the lake is also available.

The lake is visible in the background of the following photo, though it is ice and snow covered and blends into the scenery. Many scenic vistas of the lake are found as you hike the loop trail.  Bluegill, largemouth bass, carp, and other species can be found in the lake.  Swimming, ice skating and ice fishing are not permitted

As I hiked over one of the boardwalks, this coyote scampered out and took off through the reeds.  You can see his back end in the center of the photo below (click to enlarge.)

The trail is mostly out in the open, so a really windy day wouldn't be the best time to hike here, but the views are lovely and the traffic noise is minimal, so as John Muir loved to say, "Get out of the house!"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2007 Copper Canyon Mexico Road Scholar/Elderhostel Trip

"From Texas Through Mexico's Copper Canyon" is sponsored by the Davis Mountain Education Center in Fort Davis, Texas. This was an 11 night Elderhostel, with 8 nights in Mexico. They also offer a 7 night version of this program. The first 2 nights were in Fort Davis at DMEC's facility, from which we toured the town's namesake fort, now a National Historic site, and also the nearby world-famous McDonald Observatory. 

(Links to 2 YouTube videos of this trip are at the bottom of this post)


On day three, we rode a motor coach to Chihuahua City, Mexico, where we toured the capitol building and the Cathedral Metropolitana. The photo above shows our guide, Ernesto, flanked by Ellen, Ghislaine, and John, as we walked the downtown Pedestrian Mall. That evening was a treat and one of the program's highlights -- a delicious home-hosted dinner by a gracious local resident, Blanca. Our final night in Mexico was also in Chihuahua City, and that night we visited the Pancho Villa Museum, attended a pottery making/painting demonstration, and watched a performance by the award-winning Ballet Folklorica dancers.

Copper Canyon, a series of six canyons in Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains, is four times larger than the Grand Canyon and 300 feet deeper. It comprises 25,000 rugged square miles and occupies nearly a third of the State of Chihuahua, Mexico's largest state. The canyon has long been home to the Tarahumara Indians (the Raramuri or "people of the swiftly running feet"), who moved into the canyons hundreds of years ago to escape successive invasions by the Aztecs, Spanish, and Apaches, and have lived reclusive, subsistence lives for centuries, eschewing modern conveniences and maintaining their culture.

We rode the Chihuahua Al Pacifico Railroad (el Chepe for short) which rises from sea level at Los Mochis on the Gulf of Cortez up through the Urique Canyon to an altitude of over 8000 feet atop Copper Canyon, passing over 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels along its 405 mile journey. 

This photo is at Temoris where the train makes three passes through the valley to gain elevation, including a 180 degree tunnel which also rises 100 feet. As the train ascends, one observes as the flora changes from desert plants to dense green forest. Railroad buffs might be surprised to learn this is a standard gauge train, not narrow gauge.

Our guide, Ernesto, is out on a point, giving perspective to the depth and breadth of the canyon. He was atop "balancing rock," rocking it back and forth, as we watched from another overlook. The majestic views of the canyon never failed to inspire awe, and though I am a huge Grand Canyon addict, with over a half-dozen adventures in it, I was duly impressed with Copper Canyon and appreciative of the Tarahumara embracing it as their home for centuries.

We spent 2 nights in Cerocahui, 11 miles down into the canyon...

...and visited the Mission School, a boarding school for 75 Tarahumara girls in kindergarten to sixth grade. The girls receive free schooling, and since the town is so far from their canyon homes, they live in darling, pink dormitory rooms. Started years ago by the church across the street (seen below),  it is now run by a foundation, and teaches the girls the skills needed in today's world, including computer skills. 

The girls took a break from their cleaning chores and gathered to sing for us, after which we Elderhostelers sang for them.

While in Cerocahui, we also hiked several miles up a side canyon to a local waterfall, where Ernesto demonstrated how warm the water was. The beauty and solitude reminded me of Colorado hikes. 

Several of us also rented horses for a 2 hour ride through the forested mountainside surrounding this valley ranching community.

At Divisadero, from the two hotels on the rim, we could see the Tarahumara residences of three families several hundred feet below the rim...

...and then we hiked down to visit their homesteads built on the narrow ledge. A close look will show these homes in the center of the photo, about a third of the way down.

Here are the Tarahumara residences on the ledge seen in the photo above. A woman wearing the traditional brightly colored dress was weaving plant material into a basket as we visited. We also saw plant material being soaked in water which changes the color of the material. Girls selling finished baskets, and boys selling stones they had gathered, were along the path we had hiked. The baskets were also being sold at train stations, outside hotels, at picnic areas, and in numerous other locations, and the sales help the families purchase what they are unable to provide for themselves.

The group consisted of...
Ruth, Ron, Harriet, Jean, Mary M., Margaret, Alan M., John S., Jan H., Angela, John D., Linda G., Marge, Ghislaine, Ray, Chuck, Mary P., Lou, Allan L., Linda P., John T., Jan C., Carol, Marion, Bob, Don, Ellen, and Mary H.
and Ernesto, our extraordinary guide


Videos of this program, including footage aboard the trail


Monday, December 2, 2013

George Carlin Asks…

  • If you throw a cat out of a car window, does it become kitty litter?
  • If you choke a Smurf, what color does it turn?
  • Is it okay to use the AM radio after noon?
  • What do chickens think we taste like?
  • What do people in China call their good plates?
  • What do you call a male ladybug?
  • What hair color do they put on the driver’s license of a bald man?
  • If a dog food is new and has improved taste, who tested it?
  • Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?
  • Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?
  • Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle or tube?
  • Why is it called tourist season if we can’t shoot at them?
  • Why do you need a driver’s license to buy liquor when you can’t drink and drive?
  • Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds?
  • Why are their Interstate highways in Hawai’i?
  • Why are there flotation devices in the seats of airplanes instead of parachutes?
  • Why are cigarettes sold at gas stations where smoking is prohibited?
  • Have you ever imagined a world without hypothetical situations?
  • How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work?
  • If the 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why does it have locks on the door?
  • Why is a bra singular and panties plural?
  • If a fire fighter fights fire and a crime fighter fights crime, what does a freedom fighter fight?
  • If they squeeze olives to get olive oil, how do they get baby oil?
  • If a cow laughs, does milk come out of her nose?
  • If you are driving at the speed of light and you turn your headlights on, what happens?
  • Why is it that when you transport something by car it is called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship it’s called cargo?
  • Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?
  • What would Geronimo say if he jumped out of an airplane?
  • Why are the called apartments when they are all stuck together?
  • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?
  • If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?
  • Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ain't Grammar Fun

  1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. (That is something up with which you should not have to put!)
  3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
  4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
  6. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  7. Always avoid annoying alliteration. (Almost always.)
  8. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  9.  Nine: Be consistent.
  10.  Writers should never generalize.
  11.  Don’t use more words than necessary. Don’t repeat.  And don’t be redundant. It’s highly superfluous. And unnecessary too.  And annoying.
  12.   Also, too, besides, never ever use repetitive redundancies.
  13.   Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  14.   Don’t never ever use no double negatives.
  15.   Remember “i” before “e” except after “c” (except when eight feisty beige neighbors deign to seize a surfeit of weighty heifers or forfeit weird veins.)
  16.  Up to 25% of people or more write nonsensical sentences.
  17.  No sentence fragments.  No comma splices, run-ons are bad too.
  18.  Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary (and not needed.)
  19.  Don’t use no double negatives.
  20.  Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  21.  One word sentences?  Eliminate!
  22.  Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  23.  Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
  24.  Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary.  Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  25.  Kill all exclamation points!!!!!!!
  26.  Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  27.  Understatement is probably not the best way to propose earth shattering ideas.
  28.  Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
  29.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations.  Tell me what you know.”
  30.  If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times; resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
  31.  Puns are for children, not groan readers.
  32.  Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  33.  Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  34.  Who needs rhetorical questions?
  35.  Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  36.  Be more or less specific. More or less all the time.
  37.  Contractions aren’t helpful and shouldn’t be used.
  38.  Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Things My Mom Should Have Told Me

Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster. 

Store your opened chunks of cheese in aluminum foil. It will stay fresh much longer and not mold! 

Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking. 

Add a teaspoon of water when frying ground beef. It will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking. 

To really make scrambled eggs or omelets rich add a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, cream cheese, or heavy cream in and then beat them up. 

For a cool brownie treat, make brownies as directed. Melt Andes mints in double broiler and pour over warm brownies. Let set for a wonderful minty frosting. 

Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger taste of garlic. 

Leftover Snickers bars from Halloween make a delicious dessert. Simply chop them up with the food chopper. Peel, core and slice a few apples. Place them in a baking dish and sprinkle the chopped candy bars over the apples. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes!!! Serve alone or with vanilla ice cream. Yummm! 

Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza. I saw this on the cooking channel and it really works. 

 Easy Deviled Eggs Put cooked egg yolks in a zip lock bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly, cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done easy clean up. 

 Expanding Frosting When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving. 

 Reheating refrigerated bread To warm biscuits, pancakes, or muffins that were refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.

 Newspaper weeds away Start putting in your plants, work the nutrients in your soil. Wet newspapers, put layers around the plants overlapping as you go. Cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get through some gardening plastic they will not get through wet newspapers. 

 Broken Glass Use a wet cotton ball or Q-tip to pick up the small shards of glass you can't see easily. 

 No More Mosquitoes Place a dryer sheet in your pocket. It will keep the mosquitoes away. 

 Squirrel Away! To keep squirrels from eating your plants, sprinkle your plants with cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper doesn't hurt the plant and the squirrels won't come near it. 

 Flexible vacuum To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings. 

 Reducing Static Cling Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and ... guess what! ... static is gone.

 Measuring Cups Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out. (Or spray the measuring cup or spoon with Pam before using.) 

 Foggy Windshield? Hate foggy windshields? Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car When the windows fog, rub with the eraser! Works better than a cloth! 

 Re-opening envelopes If you seal an envelope and then realize you forgot to include something inside, just place your sealed envelope in the freezer for an hour or two. Viola! It unseals easily. 

 Conditioner Use your hair conditioner to shave your legs. It's cheaper than shaving cream and leaves your legs really smooth. It's also a great way to use up the conditioner you bought but didn't like when you tried it in your hair. 

 Goodbye Fruit Flies To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass, fill it 1/2' with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing liquid; mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever! 

 Get Rid of Ants Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it, take it 'home,' can't digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, especially if it rains, but it works and you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed! 

 Dryer Filter Even if you are very diligent about cleaning the lint filter in your dryer it still may be causing you a problem. If you use dryer sheets a waxy build up could be accumulating on the filter causing your dryer to over heat. The solution to this is to clean your filter with with a toothbrush and hot soapy water every 6 months.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Terms for Groups of Animals

Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors enjoying Nature no doubt spots many animals.  Here is a list of what groups of various critters are called:

A congress of baboons. (How appropriate!)
A herd of deer.
A pace of donkeys. 
A shrewdness of apes.
An army of ants.
The team of horses. 
A pack of wolves. 
A nest of rabbits.
A battery of barracudas.
A cete of badgers. 
A flock of sheep. 
A pod of whales. 
A sloth of bears. 
A quiver of cobras.
A band of jays.
A shiver of sharks.
A surfeit of skunks.
A drove of bullocks. 
A glint of goldfish. 
A colony of gulls. 
A swarm of bees.
A shoal of bass. 
A convocation of eagles.
A pride of lions.
A cloud of bats.
A sedge of bitterns. 
A brace of ducks. 
A dray of squirrels.
A pandemonium of parrots.
A pulchritude of peacocks.
A squadron of pelicans.
An obstinacy of buffalo. (Very true if you’ve ever been stopped by a bison-jam in Yellowstone National park!) 
A nest of vipers.
A coterie of prairie dogs.
A prickle of porcupines.
A gaze of raccoons.
A hill of ruffs.
A kaleidoscope of butterflies. 
A wake of buzzards. 
A clutter of cats.
A brace of mallards.
A charm of magpies.
A stud of mares.
A leap of leopards.
A singular of wild boar. 
A kindle of kittens. 
A drift of cattle.
A kine of cows.
A pitying of turtle doves.
A clash of bucks.
A chattering of chicks.
A ballet of swans.
A knot of toads.
A rafter of turkeys.
A dole of turtles.
A blessing of unicorns.
A pail of wasps.
A chime of wrens.
A descent of woodpeckers.
a gam of whales.
A wisdom of wombats.
A dazzle of zebras.
A bed of clams.
A brood of chickens. 
A mischief of mice.
A rout of coyotes.
A parade of elephants.
A bouquet of peasants (in flight.)
A cast of crabs.
A chain of bobolinks. 
A flight of pigeons. 
A mob of meercats.
A parliament of owls.
A raft of otters.
A herd of zebras. 
A school of fish. 
A congregation of crocodiles.
A cowardice of curs.
A trip of dotterel.
A wedge of geese (when flying in a "V “formation.) 
A troop of kangaroos. 
A covey of quail. 
A passel of opossums. 
A smack of jellyfish. 
A colony of beavers.
A bike of bees.
A slither of snakes.
A murmuration of starlings.
A fever of starlings.
A lamentation of swans.

A cloud of tadpoles.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Biking Wisconsin's Three Eagle Trail

Named for the two towns it connects, the crushed limestone Three Eagle Trail traverses the former Chicago and North Western line between Eagle River and Three Lakes.  The newest and shortest segment starts in Eagle River and runs from the Dairy Queen parking lot south to Sundstein Road, crossing the lengthy wetland area seen here...

...on this boardwalk. Two other bridges are used on the southern section.

In the winter, the trail is groomed for cross-country skiers and also used by snowmobiles (probably because Eagle River calls itself the "snowmobile capital of the world" and hosts the annual world snowmobile championships.)
The longer southern segment of the trail begins in Three Rivers at Don Burnside Park, which offers restrooms, athletic facilities, a playground, and picnic tables. From there, the trail meanders through wetlands, dense forest, and marshy pines with lots of twists and turns and plenty of benches to rest on. The route includes two boardwalks and a bridge.

You'll find rest benches often along the trail, and the 8.5 mile long southern segment takes you through wetlands, marshes, and woods.  Active cranberry bogs can be seen on the southern segment.  Wausau Paper Company previously owned a wooded area which remains scenic.

The two segments are about 3 miles apart, connected by Sundstein Road, a little traveled backroad that is not dangerous to bike on.

Click on the map below to enlarge it... 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Biking Minnesota's Harmony-Preston Valley Trail

The Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail travels 18 miles from its intersection with the Root River State Trail (between the towns of Lanesboro and Fountain) to its terminus in Harmony, passing through Preston on the way.  The northern segment follows Camp Creek using an old railroad right-of-way, after crossing Watson Creek and the South Branch of the Root River.


The trail is paved, in good condition, and is mostly flat until the final 5 miles or so into Harmony (between County Road 16 and Harmony) where some steep roller coaster type hills take you alongside the edges of agricultural fields and through small woodlots as the trail makes its way from the river valley and climbs up to Harmony.   The Harmony-Preston State Trail is popular with cyclists, hikers, and skaters.  In the winter, the trail is groomed for cross country skiers.

Trailheads are available in Preston using US 52 to Fillmore Street/County 12, and drive a half mile to the lot.  In Harmony, you can park at the tourist center at the end of 2nd Street NW at Main Street, or take US 52 to 4th Street NW, west to the lot.

Biking Minnesota's Root River State Trail

The Root River State Trail is a paved, 42 mile trail that mostly follows an old railroad right-of-way, except for the final 5 miles or so into Houston, the only section that is a bit hilly since it isn't an old rail line.  From west to east, the trail runs through Fountain, Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford, and Houston.

This area is dubbed "Bluff Country" for obvious reasons as you pedal the trail, especially the section from Lanesboro west to Fountain, as you pass alongside tall limestone bluffs.  Besides cattle in occasional fields to the west, you also have opportunities to spot deer, raccoons, turkeys, and various waterfowl.  Most of the trail is alongside or close to the namesake river, often giving views like this...

The towns on the route offer lodging, food, drink, museums, various shops, campgrounds, and historical buildings. Though Lanesboro is the most visitor friendly with over 20 B&Bs and a thriving professional theatre company, all the towns offer amenities to bikers. 

A number of old trestles have been re-purposed into bike bridges...

The scenic beauty of this trail is top-notch.  I biked this trail for four days as part of a Road Scholar biking program, and this trail quickly made it into  my top favorite trails list.  Here are a couple photos of the trail...

 The asphalt is in good condition, especially the western secment which had just been repaved.  The eastern-most segment was a bit in need of repair in places and it was scheduled to be redone next year.  The state seems to realize the tourist-draw of this trail and area and the need for investment in its upkeep.  Picnic benches are available along the trail for rest stops, and small three-sided shelters are available for biker/campers.

An adjacent grass trail was often available for equestrians (and in the winter, snowmobiles), and cross country skiers use the bike trail in winter.

Map signs like that below are liberally located along trail, and each town has a large sign showing the location of businesses in the town.

Between Lanesboro and Fountain, the trail meets the terminus of the 18 mile long Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail, an extremely scenic trail in its own right, which follows Camp Creek for part of its length.

Trail access:

  • Fountain: From Highway 52 take County Road 8 about one mile to the parking lot near the city park/softball field.
  • Lanesboro: Parking is available in the lot next to the Bass Pond off of County Road 8. Additional parking is available along the streets and at the parking lot by the Community Center/Sylvan Park.
  • Whalan: Street parking.
  • Peterson: From Highway 16, turn into Peterson on Mill Street, go 1/2 mile to Fillmore Street, and turn left to the city campground/softball field. Parking is also available along the streets.
  • Rushford: From Highway 16, turn north on Elm Street and go one block. The parking lot is at the restored railroad depot.
  • Houston: Turn west on Plum street of of Highway 76 and go one block to the Nature Center.

Biking Wisconsin's BATS (Boulder Area Trail System)

The Boulder Area Trail System (BATS) runs south 8 miles from Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, then jogs east to the Crystal Lake Campground, passing the lovely Trout Lake for over a mile, for a total of 11 miles.  Additional mileage is available if you do the off-shoot dirt trails.  The trail is paved and in good condition.

Here's a trail map (click to enlarge)

The 1+ mile segment along Trout Lake is especially beautiful...

...and the woodland segments feature towering pines, oaks, and maples, and at times pine needle- covered trail surface...

The trail is predominantly flat, but it has enough roller coaster type hills to give a bit of a workout, as you pass through the lovely 225,000 acre Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

A good starting point is the trailhead at the Boulder Junction Town park ballfields.  Others are the Trout Lake Campground/picnic area or the Crystal Lake picnic area.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Biking Minnesota's Root River Trail: A Road Scholar Program

This Road Scholar (Elderhostel) program is an active, outdoor program based out of Lanesboro, Minnesota, a quaint town of 754 people with a charming downtown, a thriving professional theatre company, a number of very fine restaurants, and easy access to the Root River State Trail which passes right through the downtown.  Renowned for its numerous comfortable B&Bs, Lanesboro also has several campgrounds, including one at the top of the town's 130 year old dam.

Our accommodations were in the lovely and modern Cottage Inn on the main street seen below, and the providers of the program are Terry and Joyce Grier, former owners of a sporting goods store who led and supported the four bike rides that used their Specialized brand hybrid bikes, support van, and trailer.

Breakfasts were in the Inn each morning, lunches were provided by Terry and Joyce, either outdoors along the trail or in the Inn's conference room, and wonderful suppers were held at four different restaurants in town.  We biked about 115 miles in total, including all of the 42 mile Root River State Trail between Fountain and Houston, as well as the connecting 18 mile Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail which runs between the Root River Trail and Harmony.

The lovely Root River State Trail is paved and predominantly flat, passes through the small towns of Whalen, Peterson, and Rushford before ending in Houston as you head east.  Heading west from Lanesboro, you pass the trail junction that takes you to Preston and Harmony before ending in Fountain.  The trail often provides views of the river as seen below...

...and often crosses old railroad trestles, both short and long in length...

We also hiked one morning at the nearby Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center...

...and had sessions on the history of the local Commonweal Theatre professional theatre company and a tour of its 3.5 million dollar facility across the street from Inn led by Scott, as well as a presentation by Doug, the artistic director of The Great River Shakespeare Festival.  Finally, Hal, the artistic director of the Commonweal Theatre, talked to us about drama, preparing us for seeing the current Commonweal production, "The Memory of Water" on Thursday evening, followed by a "talk-back" with the cast and director afterwards.

We also got to meet "Alice the Owl" at the Houston Nature Center, as its founder, Karla Bloem, spoke to us about the center and also The International Owl Center which is housed in this small Minnesota town of 1000 people which even hosts an international owl conference.


Here is a video showing highlights of our week's activities...

Photos for download are available here