NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Take Me to the Rock River

The Devil's Staircase segment of the Ice Age Trail heads across a railroad track and along the edge of a golf course for a short distance before you arrive at the Rock River.  It was quite a sight to see, and I'm glad I came at a time of year when the river would be so visible as I walked the trail.

I strapped down all my gear before navigating the steep man-made stone stairway.  It's a good thing I did because when I got halfway down I finally saw what I was hoping to see for weeks and I stopped short and squealed out loud.

caution going down!

The Devil's Staircase is actually a natural ravine cut in to the hillside with some artful boulders lining it.  But I was too distracted by its mantle of Dutchman's Breeches to get any pictures of the rocky ravine itself.

There were also some plants that I think are Meadow Rue just emerging.  If I'm wrong please help me out!

The one macro shot I'm really happy with!

It took me a few minutes to realize that the other plant mixed in with the Dutchman's Breeches was Wild Ginger as this is a plant I haven't been able to find before.  Its tiny blossom hides at the base of the plant.  I figured it out when one literally stared me in the face as I walked past it.

Here's an example of why I'm sending back the macro lens.  I tried repeatedly to get a shot of the inside of the blossom and just couldn't get it to focus as well as I would have liked.  The autofocus didn't know what to focus on, and manual focusing has become really difficult wearing standard progressive lenses so I'm going to try taking my new "computer" lenses along with me next time. (Sigh, more stuff to lug along and switch around)


A quick and easy shot done with the Camera+ app on my iPhone produced a sharper image, though the rich color and attractive blurring were not present.

I finally tore myself away from the glorious mass of wildflowers (all within five minutes of the parking lot, by the way) and got myself back onto the trail.

great bench just past Devil's Staircase to sit and watch the Rock River flow by
Sharp lobed Hepatica - taller than Round lobed
and much larger leaf (shot with iPhone)

As I was picking my way up and down along the ridge I heard people coming up behind me so I stopped to let them pass.  You want teenagers in front of you, not behind you I've discovered so you don't have to listen to their conversation, right?

Teenagers walking through mass of spring wildflowers

Another flower I was surprised to see was the Large Flowered Bellwort.  I did not know that it grew here in the upper Midwest!

There was a section of the trail that wound through some dramatic limestone.  The 1.7 mile long segment is a series of terraces along the Rock River that are a result of glacial outwash brought by the river away from the glacier margin.

young love on the trail

The trail ends after coming down another staircase into Riverside Park.  The Janesville segment starts at the other end of the park and follows the river through the city.  I'll save that segment for a warm sunny day in summer.  With the hike back to my car still to do I wisely turned back and completed the 7.6 mile round trip just barely before dark.  The return trip only took me 1.5 hours with two very short breaks after steep hilly segments.

Wayne hits the road with two of his neighborhood buddies for Alabama in our fifth wheel.  They're on the way to Talladega and won't be back for 6 days.  I wonder where I'll end up camping and hiking this weekend?

Monday, April 27, 2015


While driving through Milwaukee last week after hiking in Waukesha County I spotted this octopus.

No, there aren't octopi in the Great Lakes.  Tell me you've seen the video of the Octopus carrying around the coconut shell, I love that video!

Even better was this Maldives Octopus video which shows them mating, and also feeding and sleeping habits.  Too cool!  Don't believe that bit about the size hole they can get through?  Watch this video.

YouTube is one crazy place, because then I saw a video where an octopus steals a guy's camera and when he eventually catches up to it and gets it back the octopus latches on to his speargun and won't let go so he takes it along for a ride.

Enough about the wonderful world of octopi, if you want to see more murals head over to Monday Mural.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Arbor Ridge Segment

Since the expected rain didn't materialize on Saturday I tossed some cool weather clothes on, grabbed my new camera accessories and headed for a section of the Ice Age Trail in Janesville.  I've spent a lot of time in Janesville over the last 2 decades because my daughter used to figure skate at their rink.  But aside from shopping and their fantastic public library I didn't explore the area much, and I did not know the IAT ran right through town.

Arbor Ridge trailhead

The Arbor Ridge trailhead is 2.1 miles and is inside the Robert O. Cook Memorial Arboretum which is located at the intersection of Austin Road and County Road A (Memorial Drive) on the west side of Janesville.  Again, I sure wish the IAT Guidebook would include something as simple as an intersection or GPS location in their descriptions of the trailheads.  I had to look it up and google map it.  Written directions from a specific point don't do you much good if you're not heading from that point.  Park in the first lot that you come to when you enter the property.

The trail starts out paved and passes a neat log cabin from the 1840's.  The local schools use the arboretum for educational purposes and there is also a lot of signage on the trails about the trees and the forest ecosystem. Just past the cabin the IAT turns into the forest.  Keep an eye out for the yellow IAT blazes as there are a lot of intersecting paths for the first mile.

shot with 10-22mm lens mounted on hiking stick monopod

I was astounded at the amount of Mayapple growing here.  In another week they will all be sporting their blossoms that hang underneath the leaves.  I hope the schools bring the kids out so they can bend over and peer in at them.

Mayapples line the trail and march through the woods

Also in abundance on this segment was Rue Anemone.  Most were white but some were tinged with a little pink.

Rue Anemone

The above flower and the fungus below were shot with the macro lens.  I found it heavy and awkward to use, as well as difficult to autofocus, which surprised me.  I also found the shots I did manage to get were no better than using a good zoom lens or a set of extension tubes which weigh a lot less and take up a lot less room in my bag.  So, surprisingly, the expensive lens is going back.

shot with macro

shot with zoom and then cropped

However, the 50-250mm zoom lens I bought was a joy to work with!  So lightweight that I could even leave it around my neck,  and it has a longer zoom range than the heavy Canon 18-135.

Interesting skeleton I found while looking at orange fungus- which small mammal is this?

As for the 50mm lens I found it to be redundant with the 50-250mm lens covering that distance just fine.  I had to step further back from objects than I would have liked to get them to fit in the frame.  That lens is going back as well, but I'm going to order the 40mm lens to see if it will work better for trail shots.  Most likely it will go back also, I'm finding I can always pull out the point-and-shoot or my iphone for those type of shots.  I did like the quality of the image with the 50mm lens, and think it would work perfectly for portraiture like the picture I took of Pumpkin.  But, as you all know portraiture is not really something I get the opportunity to do.  Maybe when I have grandchildren, right?

The trail winds up and down along an esker before coming to a road near the end of the segment.  Just follow the yellow arrow down the road to the intersection of Northridge Drive and County E to get to the next segment which is the Devil's Staircase.

shot with iPhone

I didn't know whether I was going to attempt the Devil's Staircase or not since I got a late start at 2:30 and stopped often to work with the new lenses, but I decided to push on expecting I shouldn't have any problem doing the return trip by 7:00.  Turns out I arrived back at my car at exactly that time, and it was worth the extra miles because the views and the wildflowers were glorious!  I took a little video on the Arbor Ridge Trail, including some of the deer I startled on my return and what I think is a groundhog. ("Don't drive angry!")  The video quality is great...until I try to edit it in anyway.  The first video was on my DSLR and the other two on my iPhone.  When I tried to edit them in Movie Maker it went crazy pixelated, and the same thing happened when I tried to edit them in YouTube's Editor.  Anyone know the solution to this problem??

For the groundhog you might have to click on the YouTube button and watch in fullscreen mode.  He is right behind the tree, kind of hard to see until he darts back in to the ground toward the end.

To see a sample from the Ice Age Trail Guidebook that I bought for $30 that covers these two shorter segments, click here.  On Tuesday I'll show you the connecting 1.7 mile Devil's Staircase segment.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Camera Update

Remember that lens that rolled out of my pocket, bounced off the trail and in to the water?  I sent it in to Canon the next day and it came back with a note that said it was not fixable.  The good news is I got my prices mixed up and it was not the more expensive lens that I though it was.  I can't find the invoice but I probably paid between $350-450 and not $600 like I originally thought.

My wide angle lens, all I had left after drowning the other one
Canon 10-22mm from 4 feet away

With nothing to be done about it I decided to use it not only as a learning opportunity to keep my equipment a little better secured but as an opportunity to change up my lens selection.  The one thing I did not like about that lens was its weight, and I decided to order replacements that were lighter.  After an hour of research online I ordered a Canon EF 50mm F1.8 lens for "everyday" shooting that weighs a remarkable 4.6 ounces and cost only $115 and I also ordered a Canon EF-S 55-250mmm F/4-5.6 IS STM lens that only weighs 13.2 ounces and cost only $299.  I got two lenses for the same combined price and weight of the last one with a longer zoom range.  For my purposes I decided the lower weight and cost was probably more of a priority with all the distance I have to carry them on my back as well as the grubby situations I get myself in to.

Canon 50mm from 4 feet away

New Canon zoom lens from 4 feet away

All of the above shots I fired off hand held and took only shot.  They turned out pretty good, right?

While I was looking at lenses, I decided I might as well order a macro lens and at least give it a test run to see if it was something I really needed or not.  Spring wildflower season is an ideal time to do that, don't you think?

First attempt with macro lens, hand held!

I went with the Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX DG OS lens.  Research indicated it was comparable to Canon's model and it came in at $300 less!  I got it online from Best Buy for $669 and if I decide I don't need it I can return it within 30 days.  I hate to support big box stores usually, but camera stores are few anymore and they don't let you trial a lens before committing to buying it.  If I like it I am more than happy to shell out the dough, but for something that expensive I want to try it out in the conditions I would be using it, not just inside a camera store.

I call this one "Pumpkin Wants His Breakfast", Canon 50mm

It's a lot of money to spend all at once, but with all the extra hours I've put in since my boss had her baby I've made enough to cover it and feel guilt free.  I should get something to compensate for the exhaustion and foot pain I've been experiencing the past week!

We were supposed to take the RV out this weekend but rain was forecast for all day today and tonight so we cancelled the reservations.  Of course that means it now looks like it's going to stay south of us in Illinois.  I'm packing up my new lenses and driving to Janesville to check out the Devil's Staircase on the Ice Age Trail.  I can't wait to see how my new lenses handle a hike!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day From Lake Geneva

I had to go in to work for a few hours today to perform a visual fields test on a patient and get some organizational stuff taken care of, but I wrapped it all up in about 3 hours because I wanted to stop at Big Foot Beach State Park on my way home.

Across the street from the park entrance was a gathering of Bonaparte's gulls (?) fishing in the rough water

I've posted about the park before, it's just minutes from my office but I don't go there very often because it's a small park without much to offer for serious hikers like me.  It's great for families though and has a small section of interconnecting trails I'll use in a pinch.

Things have changed a lot since I last visited.  Someone has been busy clearing all the junk out of the woods.  Maybe it will help keep ticks down, I got one each day I was out this past weekend.  One latched on right underneath my eye if you can believe that.  Looking in the mirror and seeing that thing on my face was quite the experience.

 I know clearing all that crap out will give the wildflowers more room to grow.  The trillium is up, but not blooming yet.  Too early for the Jack in the Pulpit, I didn't even find any shoots.  Not like when I visited on May 7, 2012 and both were in bloom as well as the Mayapples.

trillium will soon have cute little dark red blossoms

They've had a big garlic mustard problem here for years.  Whenever I drop in I spend at least half an hour pulling it and I've seen notices for volunteer days to work on it posted around.

garlic mustard

It's Earth Day and I wanted to do something so since I was protected from the frigid 20 mph wind in the woods I spent my half hour pulling and cleared a good sized patch.  The ground was moist so the roots came right out.

Me and my pile, cleared area behind me is where I was working

On a non-nature related topic, I have been selling eyeglass lenses for years now for patients who spend 2 hours or more per day on the computer, but only recently have I started to feel the need to own a pair myself.  Do you have to lean in closer or farther away to see your screen?  Are you tipping your head up to use your near vision portion of your lens to see the computer?  Do you have trouble refocusing after spending long periods on the computer or doing other arms-length activities such as sewing?  It was driving me crazy, forget 2 hours a day, after my latest reading prescription increase I couldn't see that "mid distance" at all anymore and anything more than 2 minutes was enough for me to want to order a pair for myself.

Well, I got them today and I loved them so much I'm ordering a separate pair for home and leaving a pair at the office.  The brand I went with is UNITY CVx and they offer three different options to customize for people with hobbies or jobs that have a high level of near and intermediate vision requirements. The pair I ordered provides clear vision up to 6 feet (feels more like 4 feet to me as I use them) and will be perfect for my computer/reading/laptop situations at home.  For the office I'm ordering the 12 foot range lens so I can still see patients past my computer because when I used them at work I felt that was going to be an issue for me.  No more eyestrain and no more neck strain!  Any Optician who tells you one no-line progressive lens can get you through every situation as your reading power increases needs some re-training.  Make sure to thoroughly discuss all your options with a knowledgeable Optician and don't forget to ask if blue-blocking Crizal Prevencia anti-glare coating is something you should consider adding as well to protect your eyes from certain harmful blue light emissions.

Maybe I'll get caught up reading everyone else's blogs now
that I'll see things well and my neck won't get tired!

You guys know I never talk about work on my blog, but this product is so great I want everyone to know about them, and if you have VSP insurance Unity is their preferred brand.  Other brands sell comparable quality lenses for the same purpose, Shamir has a great line of occupation lenses we also recommend and the video I linked in is fun to watch with all the information you need too.

Want to save a few dollars?  Re-use an old frame, the investment of getting the extra pair of lenses is worth it.  Think about how much you spent the last time you got a bunch of junk at Walmart and you'll see the cost of the lenses that you'll use everyday for a couple of years really is worth it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Crossing Paths on the Prairie

On Sunday morning Wayne got in line to dump the tanks in the fifth wheel at Ottawa Lake and I got in my little Vibe and headed back to the Evergreen lodge parking lot (restrooms and water!) at Lapham Peak State Park to hike the beginning of the segment that we skipped the day before.  The Lapham Peak IAT trailhead is located on Cushing Park Road if you want to start at the actual beginning of the segment, and if the small parking lot there is full, drive one-half mile north and park at Cushing Memorial Park.

Bloodroot at trail crossing on Hwy C

If you park at Lapham Peak's first parking lot after entering the park you can cross county Highway C like I did and after getting on the trail and crossing the edge of a pond you start the hike through some beautiful prairie habitat.

pasqueflower on the prairie

Not only was there pasqueflower just opening up, at the end of the hike I saw some prairie smoke too.  I missed it completely myself, but luckily I struck up a conversation with Vicky on the trail and after asking if she minded me walking along with her we compared notes on what we've seen blooming so far this season.

Vicky approaches across the Schoeninger Savanna

In addition to the 17 miles of trails within Lapham Peak, Delafield has quite the network of trails through this area and folks were crossing our paths from all directions.  It was windy, but at least it was fairly warm and no one was going to complain about sun after the long winter.

One lonely rue anemone (?) getting a jump start on the season

After we made it to the trailhead parking lot and turned back for our return we saw a sandhill crane hotfooting it across the prairie for the woods.  A look around confirmed the culprit was a leashed dog who'd spooked it.

Timm's Woods looks like safety to this spooked crane

I'm guessing the prairie is stunning in the summer when all the prairie flowers get going, and Vicky is a lucky gal to live nearby!  Actual mileage we walked is up for debate, my best guess is about 4 miles.

Wayne enjoyed our little getaway so much that he volunteered to go again this coming weekend, so more trail reports and spring wildflowers ahead.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stoughton Heritage Mural

Back in 2013 when I stumbled upon the Stoughton Opera House I also found some interesting murals.  Their Heritage Mural on the Yahara River was painted in 1997 and its holding up well.

The town was founded in 1847 and at the turn of the century 75% of the population was of Norweigan descent.  There is still a lot of Norwegian influence there today, including the Syttende Mai Festival which I keep hoping I'll get to someday.  With out of state plans not an option this spring perhaps this will be the year!

If you want to know more about Stoughton's history you can click here.

If you want more Monday Murals you can click here.