A semi-open forum to slam (or support) whatever i dream up on my blogs. Have fun! :)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Ding-a-ling

Once I was swimmin' 'cross Turtle Creek
Many snappers all 'round my feet
Sure was hard swimmin' 'cross that thing
With both hands holdin' my ding-a-ling-a-ling. . . .

- C. Berry

This post has taken awhile to develop, mostly because I didn't quite know the name of the mound. I'm pretty sure it's called Bell Mound, hence the silly title. :) Hey, I like the song, too.

If one travels westbound on I-94 through this part of Wisconsin, there is a rest stop about 5 miles east of Black River Falls. It's pretty cool for a rest stop, as it has a trail to the top of Bell Mound, and a few other items of note. It's kind of weird, however, as the sign on the interstate just says, "Rest Stop" with an arrow - like any other interstate rest stop. In my opinion, it's worth stopping at, because I like to take the scenic route now and again, even if it means getting out of the car and taking a short hike. Judge for yourself, based on the photos below. :)

This area of Wisconsin is unique, geologically. Pretty much all of the rest of what is known as the upper midwest was covered with a glacier during the last ice age, except the "driftless area". Because there were no glaciers here, there are now isolated sandstone buttes or mounds throughout the area (simply speaking the glaciers would have leveled them). Bell Mound is one of those sandstone mounds. Just outside of Black River Falls, on U.S. 12, is another, called Castle Mound (that one's for a later post).

The trail up to Bell Mound from the rest stop is on the far side of the parking lot. It's a very short hike, all-paved and wheelchair-accessible, to a wooden-platformed overlook. Hiking that shouldn't take a normal person more than 10-15 minutes. There is also an unpaved, steeper, walking trail that goes all the way to the top of the mound, adding another 20 minutes, tops. Both areas have exceptional views, but the hike to the top is well worth it - you can see much more.

Near the gazebo of the rest stop are several signs that describe the area, with one commemorating a 1970s fire; as well as a monument to law enforcement (last photo of this blog-entry). These photos were taken sometime in late June this year. I won't caption all of them, I think the views speak for themselves. Enjoy!

The view of the mound from the picnic area near the gazebo.
The sandstone "backbone" of the mound, photo taken very near the top.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fool for the City

When I see my inner city child
I be walking on a cloud

'Cuz I'm a fool for the city. . . .

- D. Peverett

This is the story of the first "city" that I knew of. When I was just a wee pup, there was only one place that I had been to that could be called a city. Now, I know that most of you, thinking that I'm from Minnesota, would consider Minneapolis or St. Paul to be the city I'm writing about. Nope. I first lived on the iron range, and my first city is Duluth. She's a damned nice one, at that. This story also includes the city of Superior, WI; because, quite frankly, it's pretty difficult to separate the two.

This blog-entry also ties in with the previous two, in that it's part of my trip to the "our generation" reunion at Hoyt Lakes, MN. On Friday, after visiting Pattison State Park and then pulling into Superior, WI, I noted that I visited the Richard I. Bong WW2 Historical Center.

One very large interest that I have is in world war 2 history. I knew about the R. I. Bong Center for awhile, and told myself that sometime, when I was in the city, I'd visit. I just had to see his reconstructed airplane, Marge. On this trip, as I wrote in the previous blog-entry, it was right there on the corner where I had to make a turn. And I had the time. It's a very cool place, to me, and I had a good time when I was there.

Major Richard I. Bong was the U. S. A.'s ace of aces in WW2, with over 40 confirmed kills. He flew P-38 Lightnings in the Pacific, and received the CMH in 1944. He died while test-piloting a new jet-aircraft being developed towards the end of the war. He grew up near Superior, and that's why the Center is here. He also has a park and a major bridge named after him, here. The reconstructed P-38 is modeled after the P-38j that Maj. Bong flew in the war.

The only problem I had with the Center was a sign, just outside of the large display area, that said, "No video cameras - No flash cameras". Fine and dandy, until I realized that I couldn't figure out how to get my camera's flash to not go off. Grrrrrr. So I can't show you the stuff I saw there, just stuff outside. Sorry. I have since rectified that problem - I had my niece show me how to turn the flash off. :)

Anyways, to (kind of) make up for that, here is a link for the Center itself:
While browsing this site, I didn't see any photos of the restored "Marge", but there is at least one b/w photo of the original. I will also say here that the restoration is quite impressive, one can walk all the way around it and also view the cockpit area from the walkway above. Also on display there were about a dozen models of many different aircraft, some of the ones that Maj. Bong flew and some of the ones he shot down. They also had an original Norden bombsight (most of it, anyway - very, very cool) and an uncrated Allison engine used in the P-38.

The following photos are mine, taken where I could take them, without catching any possible hell for it. :)

This is the outside of the Center from the parking lot.
And this, well, this is something the sailor in me had to take a picture of. It's a ww2 floating mine - I had never seen one before. Kinda reminded me of an episode of Gilligan's Island. :) "LOOK OUT SKIPPER!!!!" :)

This is a photo taken from the parking lot showing Lake Superior with Duluth and the north shore in the far background. The line of dark green trees is a narrow spit called Minnesota Point.

The Richard I. Bong WW2 Heritage Center is right on U.S. 53, on your right if you're westbound, left if eastbound. It's easy to spot and even easier to get into the parking lot. Go visit. I highly recommend it. I sure had fun.

After I left the Center, I proceeded west on U.S. 53, because that went almost continuously to my destination. Little did I realize that, shortly after this, I would be facing a crisis. You see, I have this phobia of not liking steep ledges. This extends to bridges that are "too high". Basically, I know 'em when I see 'em, and the bridge over Duluth/Superior harbor that carries U.S. 53 is one. However, once I got going, there was no alternative but to continue. I fought my panic, and focused on the center of the lane, not daring to look over the edge or change lanes. I got over the bridge OK, but vowed "never again".

Also, as an aside, this phobia of mine has nothing to do with the bridge that fell down in Minneapolis. I'd been over that bridge more than once and didn't have a problem, and I've had this phobia for a lot longer than that recent (and tragic) news event. No, this is just me being me and having to deal with that.

After having had a very nice weekend at the reunion, I once again returned to Duluth on my way back home. Now, you're thinking, how am I gonna deal with the bridge problem? For me, that was easy. I'd driven through the Duluth area before, and I knew a few tricks. :)

Basically, I knew that the other major bridge, the Richard I. Bong bridge, would also be unacceptable for me to drive across. But I knew of another bridge, south of the main harbor area. That route also offered the chance for me to take the scenic route through Duluth.

I came into town, southeast-bound on U.S. 53. I missed the turnoff to Skyline Drive and had to juke around a bit in downtown Duluth. After regaining my bearings (I have nice maps in the car) I was southbound on that aforementioned Skyline Drive. As I wrote, it's definitely the scenic route. It has more than a few pullovers to stop and take a look. Here:

This is a slightly-zoomed photo of Duluth/Superior harbor. If you make it bigger, you should be able to see the aerial lift bridge near the left-center.

This photo is an unzoomed image panned just to the right of the previous photo.

And a further pan to the right. Both photos show the infamous U.S. 53 bridge.

After awhile, Skyline Drive turns from paved to gravel. This photo is a view of the local geology - which is quite interesting in it's own regard.

Just a little further on gives this view.
And the view of the bedrock directly behind the previous shot. Note the foxmobile's corner. :)

After this, Skyline Drive goes down in elevation, and, after that, I took the highway that goes over the St. Louis River at Gary, MN. It was wierd, because about 20 years ago, when I first drove that route, the bridge was a pretty unique affair of pounded spikes about 2 inches apart that I worried would tear up my tires when I crossed it. That bridge is now gone, and the highway goes over a double-deck bridge, auto traffic under rail. Cool bridge, only at tree-top level. :)

From there, I was on WS 105, which took me to WS 35 in Superior. I then retraced my earlier route to U.S. 2 and then to U.S. 53, this time going eastbound. U.S. 53 was a straight shot to I-94 near Eau Claire, which I took the rest of the way back to BRF.

I really had a good time on this reunion weekend, and I hope that I conveyed that in these 3 blogs. I know the photos can't match actually being there; but, for those who will never be able to go to see these things, I hope they'll provide a good taste of what these places are like. I hope you all enjoyed the photos and stories. Please let me know what you think!

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Get Together

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand (listen)
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your tremblin' hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at your command

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now. . .

- W. C. Powers, Jr.

This post is a continuation from my last post. At that point, I was just getting into Superior, WI, on my way to Hoyt Lakes, MN, for an "our generation" family reunion.

Wisconsin highway 35 took me into Superior, which had an awful lot of traffic lights. About halfways into Superior I turned right onto U.S. 2. About a mile after that came the lakeshore frontage and a left turn onto U.S. 53. Right on that corner I spotted the Richard I. Bong WW2 Heritage Center, so I stopped in there to see Marge, among other things. That's for a later blog-entry. I spent about an hour there and then moseyed back onto highway 53. From there, it was a straight shot up to Eveleth, MN. At Eveleth (Evlet in the native dialect) I took a right onto MN 37, then another right onto MN 135 just outside of Gilbert. That road runs to just outside of Aurora, then turns left. I went straight, into town, on county highway 100. In the middle of Aurora the road turns right, and at the end of town I made a left turn onto county 110. From there, it's a straight shot into Hoyt Lakes. The Fisherman's Point turn-off is on the right, just before you get into Hoyt.

The campground has a nice website here: http://www.hoytlakes.com/recreat/camping/campmain.htm

The first thing I did after I got there was hand out the sundry things that my mother had given me to bring with. Then, after saying "hi" to everybody who was there, I got my nephew's fishing pole out of the car. Boy, did he come a'running when he saw that. His name is Tristan, and he LOVES to fish. We couldn't go right away, however, as his tackle box was in my other sister's vehicle, and she hadn't arrived yet. So we made up for that with a snack to kill time.

My older sister, Suzy, has 2 kids - Christine and Tristan. My other sister, Jackie, has one, Shannon.

About the time we got done eating, Jackie arrived. That made any decisions about what to do later very easy. Tristan got his tackle box and nite crawlers ready, and the two of us set off down the path to find us a good fishing spot. It wasn't long before we were drowning worms. For most of the early evening hours, with a small break for supper, we were hanging together and having a very good time. Early on, we had found a nice sunfish nest and had a lot of action but no keeper fish, except for one of Tristan's moderate-sized pumpkinseeder. We fished until it was too dark to see either of our bobbers but really left because the mosquitoes got bad.

On the way back we stopped off at a nearby dock. There were a couple of older guys on the dock and 2 boats anchored about 25 yards out, just off to one side of the dock. The evening crappie run was on, and both boats and the guys on the dock were catching keeper crappies, one right after the other. I made a mental note that became productive later on, on Saturday night.

The sleeping plans were for Tristan and I to share one tent, Suzy and Christine another, and Jackie and Shannon and Jackie's boyfriend, Pete, to sleep in Jackie's pop-up camper. This arrangement worked fine. Before we went to bed, I hung out talking with my cousins and uncle and a few other people. From them, I learned that the morning crappie run was good at the "T" dock nearby, starting at about 5:30 a.m. and lasting about an hour. Tristan and I talked about that and decided to get each other up in time to hit the run.

Northeastern Minnesota is currently experiencing a serious drought. I talked to my cousin, Denise, and her mom, my Aunt Karen, (both live nearby) and they told me that there hadn't been any serious rain since early June. This is extrememly unusual for this area of the country and, as a result, most of the campgrounds and parks have burning bans. This meant no annual bonfire, or any other fire, for that matter (gas grills were OK for cooking but no charcoal fires - not even in the grilled firepits). Lucky for us, the nighttime temps only got as low as the low 50s F. Still, with the nighttime dew, it made for chilly sleeping. I didn't sleep very heavily on either Friday or Saturday night.

I don't wear a watch, and neither Tristan nor I had an alarm clock. Periodically during the night I would open the tent window and take a look outside. When I was able to percieve brightness in the east, I got Tristan up, figuring it's about 5:00 or so. We got dressed, and I got my fishing pole. Then we realized that Tristan's pole was in my sister's vehicle, which was locked. Ooops. We headed on to the "T" dock anyway, where there were about 4 people already fishing. About the time we got there the crappie started their morning run. Catching them right and left would be an understatement. The fishing was hot, and I could see Tristan was feeling kinda bad about his situation (my rod wasn't rigged for crappie so I couldn't offer it to him to use). After a little while my cousin Tim brought his son down to the dock. Tim put his jig in the water and inside of 2 seconds had a keeper fish. A few more fisherpeople joined in shortly thereafter, and, indeed, the run lasted about an hour before petering out. By that time, Tristan had had enough and went back to camp to see if anybody was up so he could get his fishing pole. He didn't get back until too late. Oh well, I thought, we'll have another go at it on Sunday.

After the morning fishing-fest, I went back to camp. Most everybody was up, and we ate breakfast. Then, more fishing. This lasted until about until 12:30 p.m., when I, of a sudden, ran out of steam. I took a nap until about 5:00 p.m. and then we all got together for a major smorgasbord of camp-cooking and breeze-shooting. Tristan pretty much fished all day, going between me (when I was awake) and Pete (who also likes to fish a lot) when I got a little tired or hungry or bored with fishing. :)

Towards dusk on Saturday, more than a few of us made our way out to the other dock for the evening crappie run. Christine started the show with a very nice 1 3/4 pound crappie, and Tristan caught 3 keepers. The guys in the 2 boats (my cousins and uncle and a few others) were there again, one boat hauling in 25 and the other 28 - all in about an hour's time. The boats then pulled in, and we all decided to call it a night and try the "T" dock in the morning. Tristan made sure his rod was readily available before he hit the rack.

Shortly after I went to bed, a few musicians started playing inside the campground shelter. It was nice music, not too loud for those who wanted to sleep, and they sounded pretty good. When they finished, we were left with the gaviidae sisters to serenade us for the rest of the night. Ahhhh. . . .the sounds of northeastern Minnesota.

Sunday morning started the same way as Saturday. When I got down to the "T" dock, there was nobody there, except for a beaver swimming around. Tristan got there a minute later, and I pointed it out to him. The beaver hung around us for about 1/2 hour. Tristan got his rig in the water and bingo bango bongo had a keeper crappie. Next thing we knew, he was catching them right and left. Before we knew it, he had a dozen keepers. By that time, both of my cousins, Tim and Brian, and thier sons, had joined us. Pretty much everybody caught keeper crappies before the run ended. These fish ran between 1 and 1 3/4 pounds. Again, a very hot fishing morning, only now Tristan was one happy camper. We labeled him the crappie slayer.

After that, we went back to camp and ate breakfast. There was a little bit more socializing and fun. My uncle, Russ, had this neat contraption that looked like a little wooden outhouse. He'd get one of the kids to open it's door and SNAP! a mousetrap was rigged on the inside which would make the whole thing fall apart. Hoo haa good fun for the kids, who would almost immediately think of somebody to get to come over and open it up, once it was re-rigged. Hey, I have that kind of family. :)

The fun ended a few hours later. My sisters had to go back to Hutchinson, MN, which was about as far from Hoyt Lakes as I lived. So we broke camp and rolled up the tents, picked everything up, and packed the vehicles. At about 11:30 a.m., I was on the road again, reversing my course back to Black River Falls, WI (with one noteable exception which will be detailed in my next blog). I sure had a good time this weekend, though. I think everybody did.

That having been written, here are some photos I took:

This is my sister Suzy (in the back) and her daughter Christine (back to camera) and my cousin Denise (on the right). The photo was taken just after I arrived at the campground.
This is the infamous "T" dock of the morning crappie run, taken on Saturday after the run ended.

Part of Saturday's catch. Yummy black crappies.

And a photo of Tristan with Sunday's catch of crappies.

Three photos of the campground area. Very, very nice place. It even has a lighted fish-cleaning station near one of the docks.

Yes, this one's mine. I officially hold the record for the smallest fish caught this weekend. This is a fingerling perch just a little bit bigger than a minnow. The cigarettes I smoke are longer. :) Needless to be said, he went back into the lake.

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Up Around the Bend

You can ponder perpetual motion
Fix your mind on a crystal day
Always time for good conversation
There's an ear for what you say

Come on the rising wind
We're going up around the bend. . .


- J. Fogerty

Everybody has family reunions. Ours, too. I remember when I was a kid, and we'd go to these reunions. They'd be affairs where a bunch of the "old folks" would sit around and BS, eat tons of food, and occasionally fish or play softball or whatever. Sometimes there'd be kids my age there, and we'd play (those were the fun ones). Sometimes not (lots of kissing elderly ladies while mom coached, "You remember her, don't you?"). Well, about 10 years ago, my sister, Jackie, pretty much started the "our generation" reunion. I haven't been able to attend all of them, but the ones I've been at have always been fun. Now I get to sit around and BS, eat lots of food, and fish or whatever. :) Ya ya, it's amazing how things change when you get older.

This year's "our generation" reunion took place at Fisherman's Point campground just outside of Hoyt Lakes, MN. It's a very nice place; but from Black River Falls, WI, it's a pretty healthy haul of about 6 hours. I took a little longer than that this year, because I had a few spots to stop at along the way. This is the story of one of my drive, up to just south of Superior, WI. The rest is in the next blog-entry (Get Together).

About 9 a.m. on Friday, I pulled out of the local Hardees and hit I-94 westbound. The weather was overcast but not raining - we've had enough of that for the last 10 days or so. A short hour later I pulled onto U.S. 53 and nosed the car north. The clouds broke up and it was very sunny and nice. I put on my sunglasses and started singing along with the radio.

Morning shows were being broadcast on most of the local stations. Since I think that ALL morning shows suck (play the music, dammit!) I ended up playing station check until I picked up a station that I never come off. It was about an hour north of Eau Claire, WI, when my car radio finally latched on to a good signal from KQDS out of Duluth. Harrrrr, nothing like quality tunage for the whole weekend. DS rules!!!!

After a few very pleasant hours, just north of Solon Springs, WI, I found an itty-bitty county road that turned west towards Pattison State Park, my planned stop. About 45 min. later, I was there. Pattison SP is a very nice place, and has the tallest waterfall in Wisconsin - Big Manitou falls. It also has Little Manitou falls, much shorter but very, very pretty. Both falls are on the Black River, (no, not the same one as in my previous posts - there are 2 Black Rivers in Wisconsin) Little Manitou is just upriver from Big Manitou.

When I was done at the park, I turned the car loose and sped north on Wis. 35 into Superior. The rest of the story of the trip will be in later blogs. I spent about an hour and a half at the park - scoping out both falls, hiking a trail or two, and visiting the nature center. Needless to be said, I also took a few photos for you all. And me. :)

This is a photo from one of the overlooks, and quite the view, IMO. Of course, the foreground is Wisconsin, but the promised land, er, Minnesota :) lies in the background. Duluth/Superior harbor is obscured by the trees on the right. The platform is at Big Manitou falls' pre-plunge level.

This photo is from the same platform, looking at Big Manitou falls. It could have been a better shot, but I'm not good near steep, deep ledges, (I think it's called acrophobia) so I held the camera at arm's length, closed my eyes, and took the shot. :) Big Manitou falls is 165 feet high - the fourth highest waterfall in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.

This photo was taken from another platform that was a little closer to the falls. From here, it was difficult to get the whole falls in one shot, this is just the upper part.

This is the best view of Big Manitou falls that I took. This is taken from an overlook on the other side of the river, only a short hike away. At the top left of the photo is the overlook that I took the previous shot from. Directly below that, at the left of the fall's pool, is an old copper mine test hole. Prospecting for copper was done here (and elsewhere nearby) about 120 years ago.

The trail on this side of the river wends for about a mile downstream of the falls, lowering down to river-level. This is a photo of the far-side embankment there. Notice the completely different nature of the stone from the previous photos. This is sandstone, while the falls drop over basaltic traprock that emerged during the great North American rift event (circa 1 billion years ago).

This is a picture of some photogenic fungi growing on a pine stump near the top of Big Manitou falls. I'm not sure what kind it is, but it sure is pretty.

About 3 miles upstream of Big Manitou falls is Little Manitou falls, shown here. This one is 31 feet high. Just out of view to the left is another copper mine test hole.

This last photo was taken up at the park's nature center and describes the life of Mr. Pattison, the reason why the park is here in the first place. He was born in Niagara Falls, NY; came to the Duluth/Superior region; got rich; and then donated the land for Pattison State Park to the state of Wisconsin. Thank you very much, Mr. Pattison - I found your park most enjoyable.

Oh, and one more thing. Unlike most of Wisconsin, the northwest region (as well as the northeast region of Minnesota) hasn't recieved any of the last 2 weeks' worth of rain (the stuff that's been in the news kind of rain). Very dry here is an understatement. One of the things that I noticed at the nature center was that, from photos, there appears to be only about 1/5 of the normal flowage over both falls. One could be disappointed by that, but I wasn't. They still looked cool to me. I hope that all of you enjoyed the story and photos. Let me know what you think!

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Thursday, August 09, 2007


Oh no, they say he's got to go
Go go Godzilla
Oh no, there goes Tokyo
Go go Godzilla
Yeah-a-ah. . . .

- D. "Buck Dharma" Roeser

Back in the days. . .when a Detroit-built motor actually meant something. . . there came to be an engine so hot, so powerful, and so monstrous that every soul who knew anything about automobiles wanted one. Guys with two girlfriends would drop both to look under the hood of a buddy's car that had one of these powerplants. Without any modification of any kind there wasn't another stock mill that could top it. The legendary motor I'm referring to is the Dodge 426 hemi. Just those last four letters were enough to send any Corvette owner into cardiac arrest. MOPAR ruled the late 1960s and early 1970s, and this engine is the major reason why. The 426 hemi was the Godzilla of motors.

In the same year that Beatlemania started in the U.S.A. (1964) Dodge Motor Corporation designed and produced an engine for the racing circuit. This motor was so successful they quickly produced a "street" version for their regular production automobiles. The differences were slight - a lower compression ratio (10.25:1), cast iron (vs. aluminum) heads, intake and exhaust manifold changes, and valve timing changes. This stock version kicked out an incredible 425 hp at 5000 rpm!! The only bad thing about it was that you couldn't buy one - supply never came close to demand.

Those were quite the days, indeed. While I, myself, never owned one of these "big dogs", (the closest I came was the 383 in my '68 Charger) I would have given up a kidney just to own one of these critters. What's more is that I know I wasn't alone in thinking that way. Well, some detractors might say that they ate gas (well, um, yes they did - they had 2 carbs); but, hey, petrol was all of $0.25/9 back then, so WHO CARED? Ahh, but when the initial gas crunch hit in the early '70s, the hemi (and a lot of other hot engines) became extinct. Economics can suck sometimes.


As you can see, by glancing at my "interests" section, I have a hobby of building kits. My main interest there is in WW2 ground forces, (tanks and such) but occasionally I'll venture outside of that realm. Not too long ago I was up at the local WallMart and spotted a 1/6 scale kit of the 426 hemi. $20. I bit. It was a good decision, too.

I'll call this kit very easy. It's half die-cast metal and half plastic, with a few rubber/vinyl parts. Every part is pre-painted or molded in the correct color. All the parts are also sprue-removed so there's no "clean-up". The only tools I needed were a fairly small phillips-head screwdriver, a hobby knife, superglue, and regular plastic glue. What's more, I could have done without the hobby knife if I would have superglued the chrome parts together. The instructions were very clear, and I had no problems with any parts of the build. My only recommendation, if any of you out there are interested, is that you pre-chase the threads on the plastic parts before you actually screw them together. That'll cost a little extra time, but it'll also make any "critical" fitting parts non-problematic.

If the kit is built correctly, one can turn the crankshaft gear at the back and it will also spin the starter gear and the vibration damper/water pump/alternator/power steering pump at the front. Neat design (mine works fine). This is a pretty good beginner kit, given a bit of supervision. For an intermediate or more experienced builder, it's a piece of cake.

This kit took me a total of about 5 hours to build, over 3 days' time - mostly because I wanted to give the glue time to dry before proceeding. The only flaw in the kit itself was that the rubber/vinyl part for the spark plug wiring on the left side was a bit too short to build according to the instructions. I solved that problem by swapping the #1 and #2 cylinder wires on the distributor cap. This would be a major problem on the real thing, but on a kit most people couldn't tell. The end product still looked pretty good to me. See what you think:

Not too bad, eh? Maybe I should have "dirtied" it up a bit? Nahhh. :)


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Black Water

And I ain't got no worries
'Cuz I ain't in no hurry
At all. . . . .

- P. Simmons

Well, I did write in a previous post that Wisconsin is scenic. This post is about the canoe trip I took down the Black River from Black River Falls to Irving Landing. It's about 7 miles, and took me about 6 hours of easy paddling. I made the same trip last year, in early September; there were very few differences in the 2 trips. I plan on going from Irving to Melrose on my next time out, eventually canoeing all of the Black from BRF to it's outlet north of La Crosse.

This is a view from the river of the landing (Cormyn Landing) in town, just after put-in.

And the first look downriver. My shoes came off right after this - the skin on top of my feet began peeling about 4 days later. :) One of the things I learned on my first trip was that there are 3 pull-throughs on this section of the river; I like to think ahead now and again. (OK, OK, so I don't like wearing shoes, either.)

Not too far out of town is my parents' farm. About 1/4 mile downstream of that, on the eastern bank, is this sandstone embankment. It runs for about 100 feet before leveling down to the river's edge. From what I have been learning about the geology of the area, this is cambrian-era sandstone; probably what is called the "Mount Simon" formation. Notice the cross-bedding over and underneath the more flat-bedding in the stone. Also of notice are the overhanging layers, cracks, and holes in the outcropping. This stone is very soft and fairly easily crumbles into its constituent sand.

This is an upstream view of Hawk Island, the largest island on this section of the river. It's about 1/2 mile long. The canoe outfitter told me to take the right side flowage, I guess because the left-side run gets pretty shallow. There are also a couple of other smaller sand islands on this section of the river.

This photo shows that right-hand flowage. See the rocks? This is the most difficult part of the entire trip, and includes the first pull-through. That having been said, the whole trip is still pretty easy. This section runs for about 400 yards after the pull-through and is nothing that a few zig-zags can't handle. Basically, the river speeds up from about 2 MPH to 4-5 MPH. It's not anywhere near "whitewater" but a person might get hung up on a rock if they canoe with their head up their ass. :)

This is a shot of Spring Creek's outlet into the river. There are 4 creeks on the west side and 2 on the right that feed the Black on this section of the river. Notice the sandy "bars" on either side of the outflow. The water inflowing the Black from these creeks is noticeably cooler than the rest of the river, which my bare feet can easily notice (aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat).

These last two photos are of a much higher (but shorter, length-wise) embankment near the end of the trip on the west side. Notice the color differences in some of the layers.
About a mile downstream is Irving Landing, my pull-out. It was, like my first trip, a very nice day. I enjoyed both outings very much, and I highly recommend this very easy canoe trip to anybody who likes to dip a paddle in the water and see life from a river instead of through a car window.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

After Midnight

We're gonna find out what it is all about. . .
- J. J. Cale

A couple of weeks ago an odd thing happened. I was sleeping away one night but was awakened by something. That happens 2-3 times a night with me, so I just rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. It was a very hot night, so I had my window next to the bed open. A few minutes after rolling over I heard this swhish swhish swhish sound, and I figured what woke me up was some owl or bat outside my window. No big deal, so I rolled over the other way and tried to go back to sleep again. The swishing noise continued, however, and I began to think that it sounded like it was a bit closer than OUTSIDE the window. Uh-huh. Even half-asleep like I was, I figured I better get up and see what was going on. I got out of bed and turned on the light. Lo and behold it was a bat, and here he was flying around in circles near the ceiling of my bedroom. By this time, I'm fully awake and trying to figure out what to do next.

"Hey, there, umm, Mr. Bat, ummm, ahhh, errr, can I help you?" I said.

"Name's Bubba" he replied.

"OK, ah, Bubba, ah, ahem, you look kinda lost."

"I ain't lost. Got any bugs? I love to eat bugs."

"Ummm, no, I don't have any bugs." I thought quickly. "I think I know where you can get some, though. You see that window over there?"

"What's a window?" he asked.

I realized that that was a little too much of a human concept for him, and that this was going to be a bit more complicated than I first thought. I also realized that I didn't want to hurt the poor little fella, because I really don't like bugs and bats do eat them by the buttload. If I could get Bubba outside, both of us would be happy. I thought some more.

"What about them bugs you were talking about?" he said.

"Working on it, Bubba, just give me a little time here, OK?"

"Can you hurry? I'm hungry."

I have a lot of books here in my apartment, but nothing about bats. So I did the next best thing and turned on my computer and hopped on the 'net. A quick search turned up a couple of sites about bats, I picked one and quickly learned a safe & easy way to rid my apartment of my "pet" flying mouse. Bubba kept flying 'round and 'round - once in a while eliciting, "I want bugs!"

"I think I got it, Bubba. Could you land over here where I can help you get more bugs?"

"Sure, anything for bugs, I love 'em."

He duly flopped down on top of my cupboard in the kitchen. I got a chair and climbed up where I could see him. Then, I quickly snapped a few photos, after which I carefully placed a small cardboard box over him. Another piece of cardboard was then slid under the box, trapping Bubba momentarily. "Bugs. . . .bugs. . . bugs," was all he kept repeating, so I knew he was OK. I grabbed the whole rig and carefully got down from the cupboard via the chair. Then, I placed the box on the floor and proceeded to open the 3 doors between the box and the outside world. Returning to grab Bubba, it was then an easy thing to get him outside and lift the box.

He must have been pretty hungry because he took right off and flew around the street light, scarfing up a few mayflies along the way. He turned and looked at me. "Thanks, there, umm, what's your name?" he asked.

"Jeffox." I replied.

"Well, thanks, Jeffox, you ain't bad for a human."

"You ain't bad for a bat, Bubba. Enjoy your meal."

Then he was gone. So were all the bugs by the street lamp. Bats are cool.

Now, there might be some of you out there that think I made up this story - but remember when I wrote that I took photos? Have a look:

And, to those of you who think that I might have "embellished" or "exaggerated" this little tale, you can just ask Bubba. Bring some bugs with you, and tell him I sent you.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Hello, it's me again; once again after too long of a period of time. I have my reasons.

Something happened yesterday that I just can't ignore here, though. My Minnesota roots demand it, I think. Besides, I'm of the mood to write about this. Life hasn't been good to me for the last few weeks, you see. Then, I get up today to go eat and read the newspaper and see this. Needless to be said, it didn't help my mood.

Yesterday, during rush hour in Minneapolis, the I-35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River; at latest count (I've been checking the internet) there are at least 4 dead and over 50 injured, some still missing. A total tragedy. My heart goes out to those who were injured and the families of those who lost loved ones.

Minnesota is a land full of water - be it numerous lakes or the creeks and rivers that join them. This, of course, also means that it has many bridges. These bridges are vital to the state's infrastructure, and directly contribute to every one of it's citizen's livelihood and well-being. The importance of these bridges cannot be understated. How, then, can something like this happen?

Readers of this blog pretty much know that I tend to stay away from political issues in here. That's not because I consider myself politically ignorant, however. I just don't want this blog of mine to be a "soapbox". There are plenty of those. I prefer to blog about light and humorous things, whether I make them up or just report them. This story, however, has nothing funny about it. This may be the only time I ever do this in this blog, but I'm going to pontificate now.

Back when I was in the Navy, I worked in the nuclear power area. It was very complex, complicated, and high-tech. By it's very nature, it was also potentially very dangerous. Basically, the way the system was run was that if anything bad (or even remotely bad) happened, a lot of people spent a significant amount of time figuring out what went wrong and then figuring out how to prevent it from happening again. The procedures (or procedural changes) that were developed from this were then re-incorporated into the system and everyone, from top to bottom, was made to know and understand them. Many in the system (myself included) considered this method to be a major pain in the ass, but it did work pretty well. From what I understand, it still does.

Applying the above logic to the bridge issue brings us this:

1. We need to determine exactly what the cause of the bridge failure was.

2. We need to use these findings to determine the safety of ALL bridges of this type.

3. We need to repair or replace, as necessary, ALL the bridges deemed necessary by the first two procedures, IMMEDIATELY.

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious here, but it seems to me that our society depends upon our infrastructure to such a great extent that we CAN NOT ALLOW this sort of thing to happen again. Whatever the reason for the bridge's failure, if we could have done something to prevent it, we should have. The alternative is unthinkable.

Again, my deepest sympathies to the victims, and their families, of this tragedy.

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