Tag Archives: Hiking

Easter Hike | Argyle Lake State Park

by Jim and Melanie

Our family gathered for a potluck dinner on Easter at a country church in Illinois. On Saturday, we drove down to the area from our home in Iowa. It took a little more than two hours. In the area is a state park called Argyle Lake. It had been many years since either of us visited the park. We decided to spend part of the nice day hiking. We chose a trailhead near the dam.

The 1700 acre park, with a 93 acre lake, was established in 1948 by the state of Illinois. The site was formerly known as Argyle Hollow. It served as a stage coach stop on the line between Galena and Beardstown, IL. The hollow was also home to many drift coal mines dug into the hillsides. The park today suffers from neglect by the state. Their lack of funds is obvious. The trails we hiked really needed attention. Tick spray with DEET was a necessary precaution, given the brush impeding on the trail.

One trail bordered the lake. We encountered this pair of Canada Geese sitting on a branch.

Show me more…

Burls

I noticed two huge burls on this big old oak tree during a recent walk. They are at least 18″ (~0.5m) across. They are on city park land and should be safe. They are valuable wood and can be made into beautiful objects.

As I walked farther, it occurred to me I had a very tenuous connection to another burl. Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was born in southeast Illinois. I was born in Illinois. He attended Eastern Illinois University not far from his birthplace. I attended EIU. He dropped out. Sixty years later a university building was named after the school’s most famous dropout. I graduated with a master’s degree in physics education. No buildings were named after me.

His brother Clarence Estie Ives farmed only a few miles from our home farm in western Illinois. He is buried in a cemetery I passed many times as a youth.

 

Scotland | Barge Trip Continuing To Banavie

by Jim and Melanie

2016_0906barge4_01

On September 3 we began our week-long trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. To read about our first few days, read here and here.

Loch Oich

On the fourth day we left Loch Ness at Fort Augustus, traveling through 4 or 5 miles of canal to Loch Oich, the smallest of the three lochs (lakes) in the glen. Some passengers including Jim biked to Cullochy Lock, which provides entry into Loch Oich. He was able to easily stay ahead of Fingal as evidenced in this video. On the way he encountered a startlingly large slug and a slow worm, which is not a worm or a snake, but a legless lizard.

A surprise treat was mooring up with the Fingal’s sister ship, the Ros Crana. While the two barges were linked, passengers on both were able to step aboard the other. I think everyone decided their own accommodations and crew were best. We also took on some canoes and exchanged other equipment and supplies.

A different treat awaited us in the afternoon, when we visited a hotel for cream tea. Those of us unused to the ritual of tea needed “cream tea” demonstrated. (That is, the two of us!) It is tea accompanied by a scone or treat with clotted cream and jam. The photo below shows the tables set for 6 passengers. If you look closely through the window, you can see the Fingal in the bay.

2016_0906barge4_31

 And On To Laggan Locks

Drenching rain swept the next morning. As the clouds lifted some, we passengers chose our activities. We decided to walk to Laggan Locks at the south end of Loch Oich. Clad in rain gear we set off, encountering several northbound hikers with fully loaded packs. On the way we passed antique train cars, waiting for use within a historical restoration project. By the time we reached the locks and the Fingal, the rain had ceased. Docked across from the barge was the Eagle.

The Eagle is a Dutch barge built in 1926. It was used as a troop carrier in World War II and is armour plated. It weighs about 200 tons. After the war, it was used as a sugar beat mover. After being decommissioned, she was brought over to Scotland and placed on the Caledonian Canal here at Laggan locks and converted into the Eagle Bar and Restaurant. Periodically, it must be moved. Then, it is allowed back to this same spot.

2016_0907barge5_01

In the afternoon the sky was clear. Captain Adam suggested canoeing. He and Chef Kevin prepared canoes and the small motorboat as passengers donned flotation devices. We headed north a ways before boarding the canoes. None of us had recent experience with them, but we soon found our rhythm.

After dinner, we all headed to the Eagle for a drink. Jim went back again later to see if Susie our hiking guide could help him remove a small tick embedded in his ankle. She did so. He found another on his waist next day. Once home, the family doctor did a Lyme test and got a negative result.

The Final Dinner 

On the last full day, the Fingal anchored in a small bay. All passengers but Melanie hiked the Dark Mile, crossed World War II commando training grounds and the great Cameron estate. A small museum and ice cream shop enticed some in. On the last part of the outing, Melanie met them at tiny mission church on the estate.

Our final evening’s wonderful dinner included chicken stuffed with haggis and vegetarian haggis. The crew were dressed smartly in their finest kilts. A highlight before eating was the Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns.

Coming to Banavie

The next morning broke quite rainy. We had about 7 miles to go in order to reach our final destination at Banavie. Two passengers chose to walk along the tow path. Jim and another passenger chose to ride bicycles. They suited up with rain gear and set out. It gradually quit raining. Jim recorded this short video along the way.

Neptune’s Staircase in Banavie

The longest set of canal locks in Britain consists of these 8 locks to raise or lower boats 64 feet (20 m) in about 90 minutes. They were built between 1803 and 1822. Three operators can coordinate to run the lock gates on a schedule. From this point, the waters gradually open to the southwest and into the Atlantic Ocean.

2016_0909barge7_05

The view looking up the 8 locks of Neptune’s Staircase. Our barge did not descend.

Fort William

We stayed in the town of Fort William for two more nights before continuing to Edinburgh by train. The town population is around 10,000 and is a short distance from Banavie. Fort William serves as the southern entrance to the Caledonian Canal, a skiing center in the winter, and as the gateway to hiking the Great Glen Way as well as to Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1345 m (4414 ft).

2016_0910ftwilliam_06

We continued our trip with time in Edinburgh and a three-day whisky tour in Speyside. (We’ll share some about those, as well.) But none of it dimmed our enjoyment of the week on the Fingal, the funny and interesting passengers, and the skilled and generous crew.

Scotland | Barge Trip on Loch Ness

by Jim and Melanie

2016_0904barge2_27

On September 3 we began our trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. The first day it was about 6 miles. We moored that night north of the entrance into Loch Ness. Next morning we were underway before breakfast.

 

After dinner every evening, the activities director outlined the options for the next day. Our cruise was focused on hill hiking. Mountains rise up on either side of the lochs and canal, while foot paths line most of the way. Passengers could hike, bike, or walk, depending on the weather and their preferences. The activities director led the most challenging of those options, and those who chose otherwise were on their own.

Our intention when we booked the trip was to hike as much as possible. However Jim injured a knee in May and Melanie did in early August, leaving her unable to trek very far. Below we’ll share a few pictures of our outings, as well as some of the vast beauty of the Great Glen.

Foyers Falls

Loch Ness is approximately 23 miles long. Our progress on Day 2 would take us about halfway, to the town of Foyers. On the north side of the loch is a peak that two adventurous passengers chose to hike, led by Steve. On the south side is a less challenging choice, a beautiful waterfall tucked within woods, which we opted for. Roundtrip of our outing was about 3 miles. Part of the journey was on paved roads, and part was on maintained hiking trail.

 

Captain Adam checked the water traffic from our Foyers mooring. Could there be pirates?

 

Later that afternoon, Jim posed for a photo. What’s that behind you, Jim??

2016_0904barge2_23

 

Fort Augustus

2016_0905barge3_02After mooring at Foyers overnight, we proceeded to the locks at Fort Augustus. Jim steered us toward our destination for part of the way. Steering was a challenge for a couple of reasons. It was windy. And, the barge was built in the 1920s. The steering mechanism was via chains and gears. It had a lot of slack. It took more than a full turn left or right to engage the chain and gears to get a response from the rudder. Jim handled the challenge well. He is a former farm boy.

As we neared Fort Augustus, Captain Adam took over the wheel for the final approach to the locks. Moving a 180 ton vessel into and through is a delicate job. Not one for an amateur.

Fort Augustus is a small village on the south end of Loch Ness, with a population of about 650. From the looks of the main street, most of them are involved with the tourist trade.

After passing through the locks, all passengers and a new crew member, Susie, hiked to another waterfall. We enjoyed an ancient cemetery, some tree covered lanes, a boggy patch, ferns, and pushed through shoulder-high bracken on the way. Round trip mileage was about 5 miles.

 

At the end of our busy day, Chef Kevin served another delicious dinner, which we all enjoyed. What kinds of meals did he fix? Salmon, venison stew, curried chicken, and haggis-stuffed chicken, to name some of the dinners. And there were always vegetarian options. Breakfasts were wonderful, too!

2016_0905barge3_21

Chef Kevin preparing dinner

The next day we continued our journey through canal to Loch Oich. Come back next time for more of our adventures.

Scotland | Barge Trip Coast to Coast

by Jim and Melanie

Great Glen Fault

The city of Inverness opens to the North Sea via the Beauly and Moray Firths. The city of Fort William opens to the Atlantic Ocean via Loch Linnhe. Three inland lochs (lakes) Ness, Oich, and Lochy are aligned between the two cities along a geological fault called the Great Glen Fault. It was formed about 400 million years ago.

Navigation by ship between regions around Inverness and Fort William was a long and dangerous undertaking over 200 years ago. They had to go around the islands to the west, or around England to the south. Both journeys faced hazards of weather and piracy. The trips took a long time.

A canal was proposed to be built between Inverness and Fort William which would drastically shorten the journey. Much of the 60 miles would utilize the lochs. To raise and lower ships, a system of 29 locks were to be built. The system was called the Caledonian Canal. On 27 July 1803, an Act of Parliament authorized the canal project. It opened in 1822 nearly 12 years later than planned at a cost nearly double the estimate.

The finished canal system allowed ships to cross from the Atlantic Ocean on the southwest to the North Sea on the northeast, without endangering their ships and cargo. In truth, the canal was never a commercial success for shipping. However, the rugged beauty of the area led it to become a tourist attraction.

Holiday Barge Cruises

The company Caledonian Discovery Ltd. formed in 1996, proposing to offer holiday cruises by barge along the canal. It operated one barge until 2013 when a second was added. We booked a cruise from Inverness to Fort William. It was a cruise of 7 days. Each night the barge was tied up to a pier or at anchor as we made our way to the southwest.

The trip we engaged emphasized hiking the hills and trails along the way. We also had bikes available, and one day we canoed. Some of the company’s other trips include wildlife spotting, music, and kayaking. Check their site if you’re interested in more information.

2016_0903barge1_06

Arrival at the Barge

We stayed overnight in Inverness about a mile from where the barge was moored. With suitcases rolling behind us, we walked to our destination. Though we’d seen photos, we felt a rush of excitement as we walked up to the pier.

Robbie, red-haired and genial, greeted us. He handed our suitcases down the hatch to Steve, who showed us to our cabin.

Quarters are tight on the barge. It hosts a maximum of 12 passengers and typically runs with four crew members at a time. For our trip there were only six passengers including us.

Each of the passenger cabins is about 7′ x 8′. That includes all floor space, bunk beds, and a set of shelves and a small closet. Also in the cabin is a tiny sink. The cabins are en suite, with an adjoining toilet and shower. The shower had great water pressure and comfortably hot water.

The common areas felt roomy in comparison. The dining table had space for all passengers and crew to eat together, though it would be quite tight with 12 passengers rather than six. The galley kitchen adjoined the dining area, separated by a window. Our able chef, Kevin, created wonderful meals in abundant proportions. We had both meat and vegetarian options for all meals, but I think everyone ate everything. Click on any picture to see the gallery.

 

 

First Day of Travel

Our barge was tied to a pier about a mile from the actual beginning of the Caledonian Canal. We all walked along the towpath to the beginning lock and then back. By that time the Fingal was ready to depart. We continued walking another 5 or 6 miles to where it would be parked for the first night. Fingal had to leave at a particular time in order to have a highway bridge open for passage.

We walkers got a fair distance ahead of the slow moving barge. We were at the swing bridge when she arrived.

With the highway swing bridge cleared, Fingal was allowed passage. Melanie was on board and offered her fine rendition of the Queen Wave. At the end of the video watch as the swing bridge closes.

We spent the first evening getting acquainted with our fellow passengers and crew. After dinner (salmon filet with béarnaise sauce, followed by dessert and a cheese plate) Adam, our captain, reviewed the day’s progress by boat, while Steve reviewed the activity for the day. They also told us the next day’s plan and options for activities.

We’ll have a couple more posts on the cruise. One will focus on the locks, with a few comments on their engineering. Join us on our adventure.

Walk Before the Morning Rain

by Melanie and Jim

We left the house in a hurry this morning after checking radar. Showers were headed our way, and we wanted to stretch our legs without getting too wet. As I write this, the radar shows it is raining here now. However, the sidewalk is not even damp. I guess that is one more example of why you shouldn’t believe everything you see online.

When we walk, our attention is usually quite mixed. Sometimes we chew over world problems, sometimes personal ones. The “personal” ones often have to do with our children. Parenting adults is hard! They have a whole range of issues we’ve otherwise moved past. We also enjoy the noises outside. Humming crickets and locusts, peeping frogs, and various bird songs capture our notice. Today we heard catbirds, bluejays and cardinals, chickadees, and a flicker or two, among others. We watch for daddy longlegs, small snakes, and the occasional chipmunk crossing the pavement. And we enjoy the wildflowers.

A few weeks ago, there were dozens of wildflower species blooming along trails, railroad tracks, and streets. Now there are fewer, but those left are some of my favorites. Though the Queen Anne’s Lace has faded, goldenrod is coming on with bright yellow brushes. Jewelweeds still display their brilliant orange drops. Cattails stand proud and tall, and the few thistles allowed to grow wild are bursting with their lavender-colored blooms.

Before we left this morning I insisted we bring a camera, something we rarely do. Jim captured the shots below.

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.

Hiking from Sunrise on Mt. Rainier

by Melanie and Jim

Earlier this month we visited our son in Washington. (See posts here and here. Please, wear your helmet. Really.) People who live there enjoy outdoor adventures all year long. The mild weather, ocean and other waterways, and the Cascade Mountain range provide lots of opportunities to get out.

We were out a lot, too. One of our primary goals was to hike at Mt. Rainier National Park.
mtn across meadow

Show me more…