Category Archives: Hiking

Backbone | Our Private State Park

by Jim and Melanie

After a large breakfast at Johnson’s in Elkader, we drove south toward Strawberry Point. Did you know they claim to have the world’s largest strawberry on display above city hall? We’ve seen it many times. By our judgment, at 15 feet tall, it is the largest.

As seen in October 2013…

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Autumn Walks

by Jim and Melanie

One of our true pleasures is walking or hiking with each other. The pace allows for companionable silence or conversation, and for experiencing our current surroundings while letting the past and future fade. When we travel we look for opportunities to hike, and at home we walk the neighborhood or make small outings to local trails. Serendipity often blesses us while we’re out.

When visiting Washington state last month, we intended a hike in Point Defiance Park, a city park in Tacoma. It hugs the shoreline of the Tacoma Narrows and Commencement Bay, south of Seattle. Jim also wanted to visit the park’s rose garden, displaying the last of early fall’s blooms.

What we didn’t anticipate was the dahlia garden. The tall-stemmed blooms overwhelmed us with their joyful colors. We don’t see many dahlias where we live, so we lingered for a while, taking dozens of photos. Here are a few. Click to embiggen.

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This week we hiked closer to home. We drove to hiking and mountain biking trails a few miles away, next to the Coralville Reservoir. There are several miles of trails, rated from easy to difficult. Because they are for bike riders as well as walkers, the trails are designated for one-way traffic to improve safety. We hadn’t hiked in this area before and enjoyed the new adventure.

Most of the trail is within the trees with no view of the water, though you can see the reservoir in places. The fall colors are slow in coming this year, and the trees are still leaf-covered, perhaps due to our mild summer.

Our moment of serendipity came about halfway through our hike, when we chanced upon this Santa-on-a-tractor-in-a-creche. It seemed to be the perfect representation of Christmas in Iowa, though a little early.

Since we hadn’t been to these trails before, we stuck to one designated as “easy.” There is a lot more to explore for other times. We’ll go back.

Yellowstone | Panorama | Beaver Ponds Trail

We decided to hike one of the trails in the park instead of driving from site to site negotiating traffic and crowds. Beaver Ponds Loop was a good choice at 5.4 mile. It started from the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs and ascended 800 feet through the trees along a creek. Views were offered of the terraces from higher vantage points. The trail emerged into a meadow offering this broad panorama.

 

Mother’s Day Hike | Ryerson’s Woods

by Melanie and Jim

After our early morning breakfast, we drove across town to Ryerson’s Woods. It was acquired by Iowa City in 1985. The park has about 50 acres and includes less than a mile of trails. Last time we visited was in mosquito season. We got a short distance into the trees and ran back to the car with several bites each. This time there were no mosquitoes.

We met two men and their dogs who were on the way out. The men were chatty. One dog reminded us of the Good Dog, Carl. The children’s book series about Carl is wonderful. We saw only two other people from afar.

There is a bit of up and down in the park, but the trail is well maintained with mulch under foot. Clean-up of fallen trees needs to be done in a few places, but the path was only blocked in one spot, and we climbed over easily.

As the park name implies, it is a wooded site. The ground vegetation struggles in many places to capture sunlight. Even so, it is lush and dense with green, as well as with wildflowers.

We saw a lot of Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum plants in many different sizes. Most were about a foot tall. There were a few two feet tall and shaded a red color.

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New Year Walk | Fairy Plates | Ice | Bear

by Jim and Melanie

Squire Point trail is a favorite place for hikes. We go there several times a year in different seasons to see the variety of ways nature presents. Today was day 1 of the new year. The Sun was out. The wind was not strong. The temperature was above 32˚F. We bundled up and went there. It was a good day to be out.

We stopped and chatted briefly with two of Jim’s former teaching colleagues. Their dogs were huge. Several families were out with small children enjoying the day. One father was especially loud but good natured. The lake was frozen over solid but we did not venture onto it. There were icy patches on the trail we negotiated very carefully.

Melanie pointed out these tiny fungi that looked like plates or saucers. The biggest is about 1/2″ wide.

fairycups

Jim risked falling into the stream to get this picture of a small frozen water fall about 2′ tall.

frozenfall

We both spotted this bear cub hugging a small 6″ tree. We were surprised to have never noticed it before on our hikes.

bearhug

Dubuque | Mines of Spain | River Museum

by Melanie and Jim

October included our 35th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we drove 90 minutes to the city of Dubuque, Iowa, on the Mississippi River. There we visited the Mines of Spain recreation area and National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. We enjoyed dinner that evening and an overnight stay at our favorite B&B in town.

The City of Dubuque

Dubuque, a city of about 58,000 residents and five colleges, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, in the northeast part of Iowa. It’s one of the oldest permanent settlements of Europeans west of the great river, and the oldest one in Iowa itself. The original settlement dates from the 1780s, as a prime location with trapping and hunting, fishing, and logging. In addition, the area had long been a site for lead mining by the Mesquakie tribe, and later by white settlers. The city was chartered in 1837. You can see the evidence of its age in local architecture. Almost 5,000 properties are documented for historical and architectural significance. These include churches, former boarding houses, grand mansions, and shipyards.

One shop in particular, the Iowa Iron Works, started as an iron foundry and machine shop in 1852. The site was responsible for building about 500 boats on the shore of the river. One of them was the Sprague, the largest paddle wheel steamboat on the river at 318 feet in 1901. The company reorganized in 1904 into the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works. Many boats built by the company were for the government during World Wars I and II.

Mines of Spain

The history of this region goes back a long time. Early Native American cultures dating back 8,000 years left evidence of mounds, villages, rock shelters, and campsites on the landscape. The Mesquakie traded furs with French voyagers and worked the lead mines in the bluffs along the river before the Revolutionary War.

The first European to settle here was Julien Dubuque about 1785. He received a land grant from the Governor of Spain in 1796 giving him permission to work the land and mine for lead in an area named “Mines of Spain.” Dubuque married the daughter of the local Mesquakie Indian Chief. Dubuque died 24 March 1810. The Mesquakie buried him with honors at the site of the present monument on a bluff overlooking the region.

The Mines of Spain park is now a favorite recreation spot for locals and visitors, alike. It features bluff-side trails, as is common with river parks in the Midwest. With both of us recovering from knee problems, we weren’t incredibly ambitious with our hiking. However, we did enjoy two different trails with a total distance of about three miles. Views of the river, seen from different overlooks on the trails, still include barges and riverboats, much as they did 150 years ago.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

The Mississippi River has a rich and colorful history. It touched the lives of many as it flowed from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Owned by the Dubuque County Historical Society, the museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.

The museum features the culture and history of America’s rivers. There are over a dozen aquariums featuring river wildlife and animals found at the Gulf of Mexico. You can see giant blue and channel catfish, sturgeon, ducks, frogs, turtles, rays, octopus, river otters. Other exhibits include steam boilers, boats building hardware, and a woodworking shop. Children seemed excited to look through the clear tank walls and even had opportunities to touch some of the animals. We found it all very interesting.

We headed back home the next day and stopped at a favorite nearby park. Palisades -Kepler State Park hugs the Cedar River. Bluff-side trails give opportunities for more challenging hiking, with lots of roots and rocks and ups and downs. We didn’t take photos this time. However, three years ago we did and shared them in this post.

Ledges State Park | Ups and Downs

by Jim and Melanie

A sea covered the midwest region of North America about 300 million years ago, eventually forming a deep layer of sandstone in what is now central Iowa. Several past glacial eras carved out diverse landforms across the state. Between 12,000-14,000 years ago, a lobe of ice pushed south from the northern plains and stopped near present day Des Moines. Melting and runoff carved out steep canyons in the sandstone bedrock below, forming what is today Ledges State Park. It is one of Iowa’s favorite parks offering hikes with elevation changes of 150 feet in several places. This topographic map illustrates the rugged terrain. Many people think of Iowa as flat farmland. Most of Iowa isn’t flat.

LedgesTopo

USGS | The National Map

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Matthiessen State Park

by Melanie and Jim

Last Friday we had time, opportunity, and weather for a perfect morning in Matthiessen State Park. Matthiessen is located in north central Illinois, very close to I-80. On Thursday evening we’d been in Sycamore, IL for my presentation to a quilt guild. On Friday we needed to head southward to my sister’s home. Matthiessen was right on the way.

The skies were bright and dry with early fall crispness. Clouds of dust arose on both sides of the highways, stirred up by farmers harvesting corn and beans. As we approached the park, there was little evidence of it besides a stand of trees in the distance. Like so many midwestern parks, instead of rising above the surrounding landscape, Matthiessen’s best features are below, hidden from view until you are deep within.

At the north end of the park are the dells trails around and through a water-eroded sandstone canyon. Reaching the upper trail requires descending a broad, stable stairway about five or six flights long, which some would find difficult. Once that far, the upper trail is a well-maintained loop and relatively easy for most hikers.

There also are stairways into the canyon for those who are more adventurous. Depending on water levels, the lower trails can be off limits. For us, they were open, though deep mud prevented us from exploring all the crevices we wanted.

 

2015_0925Matthieson_16

 

In the pictures below, you can get a sense for the lower trail within the canyon. On the concrete stairway stands an older woman who generously gave me a mom hug. I had explained to her that I’d visited Matthiessen as a child, and that my mom had led those trips. That day also was my mom’s birthday, which made a poignant reminder for me. That’s me in the bright pink shirt.

 

Below the staircase the canyon walls rose on both sides. A path allowed access both upstream and downstream of the stairs. Across from the stairs was a small stream, the seasonal remains of the eroding waterway.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

 

In the bowl, water has worn away caverns on the undersides of the walls. Kids enjoy exploring the small caves.

 

Jim created a panorama of the canyon bowl. He is standing below the roof line of one of the caverns.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

 

And here is his video in the bowl.

After we ascended the concrete stairway, Jim and I disagreed about the correct direction to take. Should we cross the bridge spanning the canyon, or go up farther to the trail from which we’d come? The quickest way to answer the question was to head up to the trail map at the top. We both climbed more stairs, up another five flights to check. And as it turns out, Jim was right! We wanted to cross the bridge below.

A little farther along, we descended into the canyon again. This area was less used and it had more natural impediments. At one point we picked our way along a foot-wide ledge, avoiding tumbling into the bottom 12 feet below. Here we continued upward, climbing up through a series of stone ledges. After another section of stream bed hiking, we exited the bottom and returned to the upper trail.

Matthiessen is a great park for families. With picnic areas above, a recreated French fort, easy to moderate trails, and fascinating geology, there’s something to please everyone. The park will always be on our list to return to.

Tacoma WA | Favorite Places

We visited Tacoma in August to see our son. He lives a few blocks from Commencement Bay. The bay is visible from his windows, as is Mt. Rainier. We enjoyed a wide variety of sights and activities. We spent several evenings at a city waterfront park enjoying the view of the bay and some ships. See the arrow on this map.

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More highlights here…Enjoy

The Day We Met | 7-8-1980

It was hot that July. I was attending summer school to earn my master’s degree. I sat down to lunch in the dorm cafeteria next to Dan, my resident assistant. Almost immediately, Dan asked if I had met Melanie sitting at the other end of the table. Oh, I had seen her walk through the cafeteria several times. I had definitely noticed her. We exchanged greetings and ate lunch.

Melanie and I got better acquainted quickly. I won’t go into detail except to say it got even hotter that July. Then, the darnedest thing happened. The AC in my dorm broke. I had to find a cooler place to study. I wondered if Melanie would let me study with her. Lucky for me, she was okay with that. What a great summer that was.

Now it is 35 years later. To celebrate the day we met, we decided to do two things. In the morning we visited the National Czeck & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, IA. It had suffered a devastating flood in 2008 sitting next to the Cedar River. By 2012, it was moved and raised and re-opened. Details are in a video in the link above. We had lunch nearby in the old Czeck Village at the Meat Market and Cafe. What great food it was.

After lunch we drove 15 miles through the rolling Iowa countryside to the town of Solon. We changed into hiking shoes and shorts for a brisk hike through the woods, prairie restorations, and along the shore of Lake MacBride. It was good to get out and walk off some of the food from our delicious lunch. Here are a few highlights of the scenes along the way.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

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