Friday, July 31, 2015

Oh deer. . .

Back in May I did a post about a herd of bucks down at the pond showing early antler growth.

This morning I walked out and spotted them back down in the same corner of the pond. They are still in velvet, only the antler growth isn’t quite so early anymore.

I grabbed the camera and worked my way under cover until I was only about 70 to 100 yards from the bunch.

But isn’t it always the case?!! My camera battery started screaming until it was red in the face, or at least on the screen, and unlike when I’m hiking, I didn’t have a spare in my pocket.

Fortunately I was able to grab a few halfway decent photos anyway.

And this morning was one of those cornucopia mornings. While the herd of bucks messed around at one end of the pond (At first I thought there was seven of them but then an additional three strolled out of the brush.) an only slightly smaller group of does with a single fawn was chowing down at the other end.

All in all, we had 18 deer out there this morning

Including this little, and I do mean little, one who has been making regular trips to the area under the bird feeder for the past week and a half. She likes the seed the Cardinals throw down from the feeder so much I was able to take this photo while standing in clear view about 20 feet away. (I'm sure the Cardinals are doing that on purpose. As soon as I put fresh seed in the feeder they fly in and start scooping it out onto the ground while staring at me the whole time, as if daring me to try and stop them.)

At first I couldn’t figure out why this little doe was always alone but then after a few days we spotted her with a wobbly legged fawn of her own, even though the tiny, spindly legged thing (The mother) was way too young and small for any such nonsense. 

 We only saw the fawn the one time and this terrible photo is a screenshot of video taken through the window with my phone. 

This morning when I first saw the doe she had rejoined the group of others, but no fawn in sight. I have a sneaking suspicion that the fawn did not survive. But, she’ll probably have better success next season once she has a little meat on her bones and a bit more experience.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Great Eagle (Nest) Hunt!!

So we're up there at Barothy Lodge in northwestern Michigan. Four generations of the family ranging from early elementary school to - well - let's just say some of us have left the proverbial hill so far behind it looks like Kansas back there.

Setting aside the youngest, who basically just goes along for the ride foolishly trusting that his elders, which is pretty much everybody at that age, know what the heck they're doing, and the oldest generation who have the sense to just sit back and enjoy the setting sun. (Or maybe sense has nothing to do with it and it's just lack of energy, after all I'm only 15 to 20 years behind them and you would think if sense was going to kick in it would have at least started by now?!) Anyway - after setting aside those demographics you would still think that with a combined 100+ years of wisdom between  my nieces, nephews and their spouses; and an additional  250+ years worth of wisdom between my siblings, their spouses, and me, that collectively we'd be a pretty on-the-ball-group.

Yeah; - well - you might think so. . .

We'd just spent our first full day at the lodge, eating and fishing and hiking and eating and visiting and eating and biking and; well, you get the idea.

There it was, dinner over, cleanup finished, most of us sensibly settling down in the greatroom for some puzzle building, game playing, reading, visiting or just plain vegging out, when one of our number starts a stir way over there on the other side of the room. Within seconds it has swept across the room, through the kitchen, up the stairs and reached into the farthest reaches of the farthest bedroom.

"I'm going to go look for the eagle's nest. Who wants to come?"

Well, apparently not wanting to disturb my food-addled brain, I succumbed to my inner cow and jumped up to join the herd.

In my defense I wasn't alone (Hence the herd, otherwise it would have been - well - just me.) and within seconds most of us were on our feet and stampeding towards the front door. It made little difference that this was the first some of us had heard of any eagle's nest, the herd was on the move and we had to go.

After funneling through that tiny hinged orifice, we spurted out of the lodge's shelter like ketchup out of a stepped on bottle, and just as messy, with lots of milling and mooing; few of us with any real idea of what was going on and just looking for a leader to - well - lead the way.

As we eventually oozed our way across the asphalt and squeezed onto one of the nearby trails in a disorganized blob, or is that mob, word filtered back from the front that one of our number had picked up a rumor of an eagle's nest lurking there at the edge of the adjacent Manistee National Forest.

Further filtering started another rumor that this person had stopped by the front office and was in possession of a personalized map who's markings would lead us right to this aerie in the sky.

Seems all we had to do was follow the leader who was following a Lodge trail around the east side of one of the ponds until it intersected with the Red Trail. Following that would take us into the National Forest where we would run into the Blue Trail and then. . .

Anyone know where the trail is???

OK, the Lodge trails are one thing, well delineated, bark mulched, lined with conveniently spaced benches for taking frequent breaks, and always within sight of Lodge ponds or buildings or whatnot, but the trails into this isolated chunk of the National Forest are something else again.

Through lack of planning and/or discussion (Herds don't discuss, they just follow!) none of us were prepared or properly equipped for this expedition. There wasn't a bottle of water between us, let alone a compass, survival knife, bug juice or, as it turns out, even a proper map.

Of the seven of us on this impromptu adventure, at least three are wearing nothing but sandals and none of us have proper hiking boots on, including me. (At the time I was wearing my around-camp shoes, my Crocs, which are glorified slippers, but, as you know, herding animals just hate to be left too far behind, so a stop at the Van for a footwear change was out of the question.) A preponderance of shorts, Capri-pants and T-shirts also meant that there was lots of exposed skin, clearly not the best choice for pushing through north-woods understory and clouds of bugs.

On the Lodge trails, maybe, but I'm not so sure this bunch is very well equipped for real forest trails!!

Maybe it's just me, but sandals and bare legs for a forest hike?!!
Between us we had one pair of binoculars and one camera And that's only because I happened to have my camera in hand when that first whisper drifted through the greatroom and I jumped like one of Pavlov's dogs; or, to keep my metaphors straight, one of the O'Leary's cows. (And we all know how well that turned out!!)

It wasn't long before we all traffic-jammed up at the juncture of the Lodge trail and the Red trail.

This is the point where we find out that the only 'map' we had with us was the Lodge handout which, from exploration I had done early that same morning, I knew was wildly inaccurate when it came to the trails there in the National Forest.

And it turns out, this wasn't even the copy that the front office had marked up for us! Apparently, even though our destination from the outset was the eagle's nest, for which a map had been marked up specifically for the purpose of locating said eagle's nest, during the confusion of the stampede it had been left behind there on a random but rustic table in the Lodge in favor of this unmarked version instead.

"But that's OK. I remember where the markings were!"one of the herd said with supreme confidence. Which, being in cow-mode, we all believed.

Yep, you're right. This is the point where any reasonable person would turn around, retrace the 300 or so yards back to the Lodge and rethink this whole situation, especially since the setting sun was only three fingers above the horizon by now, and three skinny fingers at that! But apparently, when you're in cow-mode, even some 400 collective years of wisdom isn't enough to impart even the slightest bit of reason.
So - well - Mooooo,  we forged on. . .

In groups like this my natural spot is at the back. I like to think I haven't been a particularly bad person through my life, but still, when you're at the back it's that much harder for someone to sneak up from behind and clobber you over the head for some past injustice. . . But at this point, somehow, without me getting a vote, (I was told the voter registration deadline had passed when I wasn't looking.) I got elected to run point for this little expedition. From the anonymity of the herd someone said something about me being the most experienced hiker, but personally I figure as the oldest one there I was the logical sacrificial choice. If anyone was going to do it, they wanted me to be the one to fall off the cliff or stumble into the poison ivy. (Ah yes. Poor guy. What a shame. But he had a good life!)

So that's how I went from safely following along to desperately trying to stay out in front and not get trampled.

OK, I'm going to go on record here. I don't care how many cases of those old fashioned plastic hotel room key-fobs you have laying around, they make terrible trail blazes.

True, they already have a handy hole through which to pound a nail.

True, they come in bright red, blue, green, aqua-marine and yellow which conveniently match the names of the trails around the Lodge. (OK, I'll give you a moment to think about that.)

But also true, they are surprisingly delicate and brittle, and before you even have time to put your hammer back in the tool-box, the things are breaking off, dropping down and burrowing under the leaf-litter, never to be seen again. (Maybe the squirrels are doing it to protect their territory??)

It might seem like a good idea at first, but the reality is, those plastic hotel room key-fobs make lousy trail blazes. This was one of the few that was actually where it was supposed to be.
The head of the Red trail was marked by several of these key-fobs nailed up side-by-side, (Clearly someone already knew they don't stay up on the tree very well.) but after that we were on our own, with the exception of the occasional naked rusty nail. And I'm here to tell you, naked rusty nails hammered into the side of a tree trunk are incredibly hard to spot even though they're right there at eye level!

No blazes in sight and barely a hint of a trail.
The trail is clearly not heavily used this time of year and I found myself following a faint track, not much more than a game trail. But eventually, after climbing over a fallen log or two, dropping down into a ravine and making the steep climb up the other side, we came to a junction.

No blazes in sight but this had to be the Red trail, Blue trail intersection we were looking for!

We formed up another huddle there in the deepening gloom as we all tried to climb each others backs to get a look at the one 'map' we had with us. Our instigator, the original eagle-nest hunter, pointed to a blank area just to the Northeast of the trail junction and declared that's where the nest is, and it should be visible from the trail. Which trail was something that eluded memory. (Probably sluggish from too much dinner in the belly.)

This triggered a bunch of disjointed, uncoordinated, cricked necked, brush stumbling, tree bumping, aimless wanderings as we all tried to find the eagle's nest up there above us.

Do you see it?

Not yet.

Not over here.

Look for the tallest tree.

Ouch! You OK? Yeah, this stuff is just scratching the heck out of my legs. Am I bleeding?

Is that it?! Is that the nest. . . No, it's just a bunch of leaves.

Hey! Where are you? (Loud and booming.) I'm over here. (Faint and far.) Where? Over here. Well dang-it, how am I supposed to know where 'here' is?

There goes the eagle!! I see the eagle flying up there! Right there! See it?! Follow it to the nest! Follow it! Oh wait, it's just a bluejay. . .

Does anyone else think it's getting kind of dark??

Oh crap!! What?? There's a porcupine on the ground right in front of me!! Where?! Oh man I don't want a porcupine sticking me in the legs!! Where are you? I want to see!! They can't really throw those whatchamacallits, quills, of theirs can they?

Hey guys, maybe we should be heading back to the lodge now before it gets any darker.

But we haven't found the nest yet!

It'll be there tomorrow.

I suppose. (I'm not sure if the reluctance was real or face-saving.)

Um, does anyone remember the way back??

Upon our not-quite-so-triumphant return to the Lodge (Although, considering the circumstances, the fact that just as many of us returned as left was a bit of a victory. After all, it would be a real waste to have to leave an extra car behind when we all left to go home again.) the marked map was located, sitting right there in plain view, right where it had been left as we all herded on out earlier.

Once more we formed one of those back-climbing huddles and with head-smacking realization, we all looked dumbly at the little inked X. Not where it was remembered but rather over there to the Southwest, about half way between two trail junctions, which was the other way from where we had been looking. . .

Panic over, the cow-mode instinct fading, the herd broke up and individuals slunk off to the privacy of their rooms to try and forget our little debacle.

But before the others were up the next morning, (That way there was no one around but me to witness a second failed attempt, and I wasn't talking.) armed with my own version of the marked map and properly equipped for a solo hike, I retraced our ill-advised steps of the night before back to the junction, turned the other way, the right way, and soon located the nest.

The sun hadn't quite come over the horizon yet when I took this initial photo of the nest

The only vantage points were almost directly below the nest so I couldn't see into it, and though I hung around as long as was prudent (After sampling previous meals I certainly wasn't going to risk missing out on whatever was for breakfast today!!) I never saw any actual eagle activity, but at least the nest had been located! (And we all survived. . .)

But the rising sun was soon turning the top of the tree golden as I hunted for other vantage points

It's difficult to get a sense of scale, even when you're there, but that is one big tree!

And I'm glad I'm not the one that had to carry those branches up there, wings or not!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Barothy Lodge

And Now for Something Completely Different:

The whole reason for this midsummer night's dream trip, (Sorry, for some reason I felt it necessary to pack both a Monty Python and a Shakespeare reference into adjacent statements there.) that's been the source of subject for the past few blog entries, was ultimately another one of our family gatherings.

This time we were all going to spend a weekend together at a lodge. (Can I get a sarcastic 'Oh yea!!'  Oh come on, you all thought the same thing, don't deny it!)

Now lodge dwelling (Lodge lodging?) is not in my usual repertoire, in fact up until now it wasn't even in my unusual repertoire, but here I was anyway, walking into the office of Barothy Lodge on a Friday afternoon to check in. (OK, full disclosure here, my 80+ year old mom had me by the ear to make sure I actually showed up.)

Barothy Lodge is 300 acres of rolling wooded land alongside the Pier Marquette River on the west side of Michigan about halfway between Traverse City and and Grand Rapids. The property has trails, a pool, series of fish ponds, tennis, volley ball, and basket ball courts, playground, climbing wall, shuffle board, and horseshoes. Oh, and 15 actual lodges (Hense the name Barothy Lodge and not just Barothy Park or Barothy Place.) ranging from 1 to 9 bedrooms to accommodate parties of all sizes.

In addition to it's own grounds the lodge property is adjacent to the nearly 1 million acre Huron-Manistee National Forest and it's difficult to tell when some of the trails leave the lodge grounds and enter the National Forest.

Parties book an entire lodge, and which one depends on the size of your group. Each lodge includes a fully equipped kitchen, ours, the Elkhorn, had two full sized fridges and dishwashers, along with all the dishes, utensils and pots we needed, as well as 4 full bathrooms and more beds than we could fill. 

Thirteen of us descended on the Elkhorn Lodge that Friday afternoon and we didn't leave (Except for an emergency run to locate some baking powder for the made-from-scratch waffles, real maple syrup, bacon, sausage and fruit breakfast we pigged out on Saturday morning) until checkout Monday.

The cooking arrangement was incredibly simple and effective. It's one perfected by my sisters over the years under similar circumstances. Breakfast and dinner (Or supper depending on what part of the country/world you hail from.) were formal meals. For snacking in between you were on your own.

Each couple in attendance was responsible for one of the formal meals. That means planning the meal, collecting and transporting the ingredients, doing the prep and cooking and, after the carnage, the cleanup. Other than that one meal, your job, visa-vi food, for the entire weekend was simply that of consumption.

In addition to the very serviceable kitchen, the common areas of the lodge, both inside and out, were comfortable and well equipped, the entryway well thought out for accommodating a crowd and their necessities and the bedrooms comfortable, (Though I have to admit I spent my sleeping hours out in the van where all my 'stuff' is.)

But I think the star of the show is the well maintained grounds.

Which includes the river that wrapped around two sides of our particular lodge

and plenty of wild life. (OK so maybe some of it wasn't quite so wild)

Including this bully who, in addition to the ducks and geese, felt he was also entitled to run off any humans he felt were encroaching on his territory, and his territory seemed to shift to wherever something or some else was at any given time. He would even come from as far as two ponds over if he felt that you were looking him directly in the eye for too long.

Turns out he was all bluff though so, even though I bravely offered up my body, I didn't get any actual attack photos.

 Our weekend included a kayaking trip on the river as well as a Chinese-fire-drillish hunt for the eagle's nest that was supposed to be just over the border in the National Forest, but I'm saving those for another time.

When the weekend was over and we gathered up our stuff, the debris, said our goodbyes and checked out around noon on Monday, I jumped right into a mad dash back to Texas in an attempt to get home and off the roads before the 4th of July'ers got loose on me.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tulip Trestle

Unless you're from there, Indiana is probably a place you might think of once a year around Memorial Day when the Indianapolis 500 is being run, but, even though it's east of the Mississippi, (Not my favorite place if you didn't already know!) in my opinion southern Indiana is highly under-appreciated.

Unlike it's northern half which is flat to rolling, and it sometimes seems that the emphasis is on flat, the southern part of the state between the river (Ohio) and Interstate 70 is a place where the land is crinkled up like yesterday's shirt and marked with pockets of  ridges and hollows, many of them hiding delightful little gems. I've sampled a few of these along the river and near Nashville in Brown County State Park in the past and I had plans to explore the area a bit more on this trip.

But we all know about plans. In this case it was a bad starter and Tropical Storm Bill. The first delayed the start of my trip just long enough for the latter to sweep on in and creep right up along most of my 1300 mile route. Because of that double-whammy delay I had to forgo my original plan of sampling the offerings of the Hoosier National Forest, but I did manage to stop by and check out the Tulip Trestle as I went on through the area.

I first heard about this place, largely unknown unless you're an enthusiast, from Steve when he blogged about it. Steve lives within a reasonable drive of the trestle and on my way there I even stopped at his house to visit for a bit.

OK, right about now those that know me have this confused, or perhaps even skeptical, look on their faces because that's just not me! I hardly drop by and visit people I know let alone strangers! It's not a habit I'm into nor one I encourage. In fact very few of my acquaintances, which include people I worked with for up to three decades, have the faintest idea how to get to my house, nor I theirs. But sometimes it's good to push yourself beyond comfort and sample something new once in a while.

Even so, between making the tentative decision to stop at Steve's and actually stopping at Steve's, I went through the process of coming up with reasons not to do, it then pushing them aside and returning to my original resolve, and then starting over again, several times. I guess it just so happened that on the day in question I was in one of the 'resolve' cycles.

All in all I'm glad I stopped though. We had a nice visit and now I have a face to put to the blog. (Though he nearly gave himself away once by unknowingly photographing a partial reflection of himself in the freshly washed window of his car!)

After leaving Steve's I carefully tracked the little green dot that is me on the Delorme Topo running on my laptop, the setup that I use for my vehicle-based GPS. I worked my way through the little community of Bloomfield, not to be confused with the larger college town of Bloomington further to the northeast, and on up SR157 to a series of little lanes that would eventually meander me on back to a valley formed by Richland Creek, which in Texas we'd actually call a river.

The final little bit of the way in to the trestle was gravel,

Looking closely at my Delorme Topo it looks like there may be two or three ways to drive into where the somewhat isolated trestle is, but we're talking about a map that, when zoomed in close, shows driveways as well as roads and sometimes 'road' is stretching the definition. For instance, not too far from Steve's house there is an abandoned, deck-mostly-missing steel through-truss road bridge yet my map still shows the county road going merrily on across.

We've all heard the stories about people following their GPS right down the boat-ramp and into the lake, but people keep doing it anyway. My advice, let your GPS tell you where you are, but never, ever let it tell you where to go!!! Let your eyes out the windshield and a little common sense take care of that part.

but most of it was paved.
So anyway, I can't vouch for any other way in there than the one I took, which originates north of Bloomfield. Though it's narrow, about a lane and a half most the way, the route was paved except for the last little bit up along Richland Creek and was easy to drive, as long as you can handle slow because there's many turns and a couple short but steepish grades. But if you're driving an RV be aware that along the way you have to negotiate two 11' underpasses, both of them under the same track that crosses the trestle. Fortunately the Van tops out at 9'8".

One of the two low-clearance underpasses I had to negotiate. At this one the road actually widens to two lanes, but only for a few feet.  As you can see, there's no markings on this one indicating how high it is. Between going in and then back out again, I duck under the two underpasses twice each and I only remember seeing only one warning sign and one actual clearance marker, so if you are going in here pay attention!

At a couple points, neither of them out where they can be seen from the state road, there were small signs indicating that I was on the right track.

This trestle doesn't carry the tracks over Richland Creek, it carries them over the whole valley!

At about 2300' long, (Give or take a few feet depending on who's doing the measuring.) the Tulip Trestle is the longest RR Trestle in the US and the third longest in the world. It's still an active rail line, though I've heard everything from a little as one train a day to as many as 6. I did hang around for as long as I could given my compressed schedule, but it wasn't long enough. No train for me. . .

This shot give a little perspective to the trestle. That's the Van parked next to it over there on the right and only 6 of the 18 support towers are visible.

I couldn't actually see either end of the trestle from the valley floor. There is a "path" climbing the steep bank just there off to the right of the photo above that I've read will eventually take you up to track level, but it's currently marked as no trespassing and wildly overgrown. And, of course, the railroad property itself is also no trespassing.

In this zoomed shot of the roadbed up there on the trestle, which is some 160' over my head, you can see the ends of the ties extending a few inches beyond the narrow steel structure. To give some perspective to the height of this trestle, the bridge carrying Interstate 40 over the Mississippi at Memphis is only 110 feet above the river.

And from directly below you can see just how little structure there is up there!

When they built this trestle they didn't add anything that didn't absolutely have to be there, which must leave the train crew with a terrifying sight as they approach!! I wonder how many first timers try to hold their breath for the nearly half mile trundle across 18 spindly riveted-steel towers on what must look like nothing more substantial than a spider's web?! I doubt it would make them feel any better about the whole situation to know that the bridge was build 110 years ago using labor paid a whopping 30 cents an hour!

Apparently this observation deck, down on the road approaching from the north side of the trestle, has been in the works for some time

But it's getting there, with a small gravel parking area (3 or 4 vehicles.) and pretty fancy stamped concrete platform already in place.

 Now I imagine it's waiting for some railings, seating and, hopefully, an information placard or two.

I was too busy making sure I stayed on track (No pun intended but it kind of does work doesn't it?) going through Bloomfield to notice, let alone stop and photograph the track which goes through town 8 or 10 miles after (Or before, depending on which way you're going.) it crosses the trestle, but I did manage to get this photo of the back side of main street in Worthington as I headed back out on my way north.

Maybe it's just me, but though the front side of streets like this can be pretty, the back side is usually more interesting.