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!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Burdens Falling Away

Where have I been for the past week?  Besides going to the dentist to get a crown mostly just lying on the couch fighting a nasty cold.  I woke up last Saturday morning in my tent full of congestion and headed home a day early.  But have you seen these anti-viral commercials?  They shorten the flu symptom time by 1.5 days and the side effects include seizures, confusion, abnormal behavior, nauseau and vomiting.  Really?  I'll just sit at home with my box of tissues and muddle through.

Before I had to leave the Shawnee National Forest I did see that waterfall just down the road from Bell Smith Springs though.  The night before we'd had a lot of wind, so traveling the Burden Falls Road including stopping and clearing fallen trees.

The turnout for the falls is right on the road, impossible to miss.  As a matter of fact, I had to drive my car right through Burden Creek where it crossed the road.

The drop-off right next to the parking lot is short, but pretty. A real trail veered off to the left, but I chose the less traveled path to the right.

Views down into the ravine were plentiful with all the leaves off the trees.

In the distance I could hear more water falling, so I struck off to find a way down into the ravine.

No obstacles were getting in the way of my getting a waterfall shot.  I felt like one of Mark's gang, scrambling over boulder piles to get to my destination.

I finally made it to the bottom, patience and persistence paying off.

I set up the camera and tripod in a few different locations with different lenses to see what angle I liked best.

My new Dolica tripod weighs only 3.5 pounds but even something that light gets heavy after an hour as you pick your way over rocks.

Still, I'm glad I'm brought it. And maybe next time I'll try the well defined trail instead...

Who am I kidding?  I just can't resist poking around, there's nothing that will cure what ails you like an off-trail adventure.  I wonder where my wandering will take me next?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area

Well, that's what I get for talking smack about the Shawnee National Forest not being as good as Red River Gorge in Kentucky.  The next day I went over to Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area and discovered a section that looks incredibly like it!

Just down the road from the trailhead is the Red Bud Campground, which doesn't open until March 15th.  Some research leads me to conclude that spring wildflowers start in Shawnee National Forest at that time, so pack up your tent and head out this way!  I have other plans for this spring, but if I get a chance to come down this way again I will want to camp there.  I found a list of wildflower hikes for spring and summer that will be helpful when I'm ready to come down this way again.  Sites at Red Bud are primitive with no showers or dump station, but what do you expect for $10?

Well, you know I couldn't peer down into that ravine and not go have a closer look.  Luckily there were stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs was a large rock shelter that probably kept native cool in the summer and dry when it rained.

 Wandering around on the sandy paths I saw a lot of interesting things, including the sign for Natural Arch.  But something prevented me from getting to it.

I guess the first thing I'll have to pack on my return trip is a pair of water sandals to make that crossing!  Toward the other shore the water looked like it would be at least knee deep and a test with my fingertips ascertained that even though the air temperature was climbing the stream was still icy.

Unable to cross, I settled for taking a few moments to enjoy the serenity instead.

However, the point of this trip was to get exercise so back up out of the little canyon I went, legs quivering in protest.  I wandered around above for a bit and then returned to my car because I wanted to save further exploration of this spot for another day.

Bell Smith Springs Road is in need of some new gravel, watch out for the potholes and mud!  Near the beginning of the road is Griffin Cemetery where about 2 dozen Griffins are buried going back to the 1800's.  Perhaps not interesting to most folks, but a curiosity to me since my mother's maiden name is Griffin.  I doubt these pioneers came from Newfoundland though!

Before I ended up at Bell Smith Springs I explored a waterfall 3 miles away which I'll share in my next post.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Garden of the Gods Getaway

No, I did not drive or fly to Colorado.  Illinois has its own Garden of the Gods in the southern part of the state and I've been meaning to check it out for a few years now.

see the tiny people on the wooden walkway?

After 367 miles of Illinois driving yesterday (If you like flat, farms, and more flat as far as the eye can see should be their state motto) I was more than ready to arrive at Shawnee National Forest.  I drove another hour to get to the Pharaoh Campground and started out my mid-week getaway by heading to the Observation Trail which has the best concentration of sandstone formations along with interpretive signs.

Millions of years ago the area used to be an inland sea.  Unlike most of Illinois (85%!) this area was not affected by glaciers later on, they stopped just north of the Garden of the Gods.

It was  really interesting to see the different colors in the rock as I walked around.

Of course some of the color was due to lichen growth, like the yellow in the picture below.  The circular shapes are called "Liesegang Bands".  I looked it up and tried to come up with an understandable translation of the process but since I'm no geologist I am at a loss.  Maybe someone else will favor us with an explanation in the comments section.

My main goal on this little trip is to try to reset my metabolism and get back my motivation to move.  I literally haven't left the couch in a month and now I'm up to 8 pounds gained this winter.  I had to stop at the outlet on my way down and buy two pairs of pants in a bigger size in case I don't lose any of it.  Stretch pants have become my friend.

With that in mind I lugged almost twenty pounds of equipment around the forest after checking out nature's artwork.  I tried to keep up a good pace and figure I put in a little over 4 miles today.  I'm sure the family of deer I spotted walked a little more than I did.

Even though southern Illinois is experiencing a warm-up for the next few days spring has not arrived and nothing is growing under the cover of fall's leaves.  But I did spot a few fungi and lichen on the trees.

But really, the sandstone sprinkled with crustose lichen was much more appealing to photograph.

It's not as impressive as Red River Gorge in Kentucky, but it got the job done of keeping me curious and off the couch.  It felt great to be outside.  My poor legs and back will likely be seized up tomorrow after suddenly being thrust back into vigorous use.

Toward the end of my 3 hours wandering around the wind picked up, but who cares?  The temps are going to keep rising, the snow is almost all melted, so bring it on!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Natural Bridge Mural

Last picture from my recent outing to Natural Bridge down in Kentucky is a mural I spied from the parking lot of the grocery store in Stanton.

I also found a great visual explanation of how the "bridge" was formed.

It's going to warm up a little later this week (finally) and since I'm not needed at the office I think I'm heading for southern Illinois on Wednesday for a few days of hiking.  I've been wanting to check out Garden of the Gods and the Shawnee National Forest down there for a few years and it's less than a 7 hour drive.  And I'll probably gain 10 degrees which is huge this time of year.  Don't know if I'll see any arches, but rock formations are the big attraction of the area.

Linking up to Monday Mural.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Public Art in Chicago's Plazas

Exelon Plaza in Chicago has not only a fountain and a clock but also a mosaic sculpture titled "Four Seasons" by Marc Chagall.

In Daley Plaza there is a large untitled piece by Pablo Picasso that's been hanging in the square since 1967.   Looking good!

Another golden oldie was a bit of a hunt for me to find. Not only emblazoned with Art Deco/Art Moderne designs, the Commonwealth Edison substation at 115 N. Dearborn shows a man harnessing electricity while straddling the city.  Erected in the 1930's it makes me wonder what our cities would look like today if we had only continued to make our public works structures so interesting.

On my way back to the train station I stopped to admire the figures in Riverside Plaza.  In the summer they stand guard over a profusion of colorful flowers.

Finalizing our travel plans for the year this week, including a trip to the North Carolina coast for a few weeks in April!  So excited!!

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Mural in the Third Ward by Way of the Basilica

On Saturday I drove up to Milwaukee to waste a few hours in the Third Ward and when I saw the signs on the highway for the Basilica of St. Josaphat I pulled over for a quick look.

I've seen the Basilica's dome from the highway before and knew I'd get there someday.  Ground was broken in 1896 and the Basilica was completed in 1901, its design based on the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter in Rome and named after an Archbishop of Poland from the early 1600s.

There's an interesting story about this building: it was built from salvaged materials of the U.S. Post Office and Custom House in Chicago.  The building was being razed and it was purchased for $20,000, the pieces loaded on 500 railroad flatcars for their trip to Milwaukee.  There were interesting displays in the basement related to the history of the Basilica, including a doorknob from the old building I would have loved to take home!

The Basilica is the largest church in Milwaukee and in 1929 was the third church to have been given Basilica status in the United States.   My favorite items were the angels holding the basins of Holy Water.

In general visiting churches is not high on my agenda, but this one was chock full of history and interesting artifacts.

23k gold leaf on the baldachino (canopy) on the High Altar

A Roman artist named Gonippo Raggi was hired in 1926 to paint the oil murals, ornamental plasterwork and also the faux marble walls and columns.

above the High Altar

There was so much going on in the Inner Dome I wouldn't even know where to begin.

The stained glass windows were imported from Innsbruck, Austria.  From the outside you'd never know what images they contained.  They reminded me of childhood, making me think I must have spent some time staring at them during mass in our Naval wanderings across the U.S. and Canada.

I didn't find any information on the crosses atop the building, but a closer look reveals not just their beautiful form but lightning rods as well!

Moving down the highway I headed for the Third Ward which suffered a tragic fire on October 28, 1892. The fire started in the Water Street Union Oil & Paint Co. Strong winds of up to 50 mph helped to spread the fire to the Ward's other buildings.  Cities such as Chicago and Oshkosh helped Milwaukee's fire department fight the flames by sending horse-drawn units by rail. 440 buildings were destroyed and more than 1,900 people, mostly Irish families, were left without homes by the time the fire was finally under control at midnight. (source, Wikipedia)

After the fire the Irish moved out and the Italians moved in, and the neighborhood was filled with warehouses, saloons and factories.  Today those buildings are filled with restaurants and specialty shops, the district a hip place to gather.  We joined the hip and had lunch at Milwaukee Public Market where you can wander around like at the mall food court except the food is much better.

We ate our chicken and dumpling soup from the Soup Market while seated above C. Adams Bakery, smelling baking cookies and listening to live guitar music while people watching.  Of course on the way out I had to buy a cupcake from C. Adams, and then a loaf of bread at Breadsmith, a chicken pot pie at Gehring Market, and the best hommus I've ever had at PitaWorks.

If coffee's your thing there is a Collectivo across the street, complete with funky mural.  There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in winter than shopping for yummy treats while admiring murals and architecture, right?  Linking up to Monday Mural.