Sunday, April 15, 2018

Voyageurs National Park: The Snowy Owl

We've been hearing consistent reports about a snowy owl that has been hanging around Black Bay, less than a mile from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Today I called Noelle and asked her if she wanted to come out to the visitor center and we could walk across the ice to see if we could find it.

After I had closed the visitor center, I changed into the clothes Noelle had brought me, we bundled up and headed out on the ice. As we approached the island where a skier had reported seeing the owl earlier in the day there was no sign of the owl and I was starting to worry that we had made the trip for naught. However, simultaneously Noelle and I noticed a form on a mound of snow in the distance. Soon enough the form started flying towards us and we were able to confirm it was the snowy owl!

We spend about 20 minutes in the cold wind observing the owl.
Sierra and Eric watch owl
We were able to get pretty close to it and took a few photos.
Sierra watches owl
snowy owl 2
It was one of the most interesting wildlife encounters I've had in my life; right up there with seeing a wolf walk across a frozen Rainy Lake from our living room when we lived in the lake house, and seeing a black-footed ferret at Wind Cave National Park. Seeing the owl inspired Sierra to add it, and a few other birds to her life list. 
Sierr'a bird list

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Mathiessen State Park: The Dells

Today was the last day of our Spring 2018 Adventure Road Trip. We're currently staying in Galesville before we drive back up to International Falls on Monday. We began our day in Bloomington/Normal and made the short drive north to Mathiessen State Park where we went on a very interesting hike into the Dells. The area is very close to and very similar to nearby Starved Rock State Park.

We bundled up at the trailhead parking area and hit the trail. Almost immediately we descended to the edge of a canyon, crossed a bridge and then headed into the canyon.
inside Upper Dells
There was a decent amount of water flowing through the canyon, and not wanting to get our feet wet on this cold morning, we opted to turn around where it would have been tricky rock hopping to continue on. We climbed out of the canyon and headed upstream on a trail along the edge. Soon enough we came to a trail and wooden stairs
more stairs
that led down to Cedar Point. Here we could see a group headed downstream from where we had come.
Cedar Point
We opted to follow the trail upstream.
hiking to Lake Falls
hiking further up canyon

On this section of trail we found an interesting little sandstone arch,
Daddy and Sierra in arch
and a small waterfall.
small falls from above
At a viewpoint of Lake Falls,
Lake Falls
the trail crossed the stream
crossing creek
and headed up a set of stairs to the top of the canyon. At this point we caught a view of what Sierra described as a "creepy" looking shelter house
old shlter
overlooking a lake.
looking out on lake
We used the restrooms near the shelter and then continued on the trail on the other side of the canyon. Every now and then there were interesting views down into the canyon.
side canyon

Eventually we made our way to the entrance to the lower part of the canyon,
looking down into canyon
what they refer to as the "Lower Dells". We made our way down an interesting set of stairs and started to make our way upstream.
Sierra and Mommy hike in Lower Dells
There were icicles hanging from the rocks in some areas.
Sierra below icicles
We decided to stop at a point where we probably would have gotten our feet wet trying to make our way upstream. Still, we could see a large waterfall off in the distance.
distant view of falls
We made our way back to the staircase, stopping at a rock shelter
Sierra in small shelter
and a view of a side canyon on the way.
side canyon falls
We returned to the trailhead via a trail on the opposite side of the canyon from where we had come.
Noelle on bridge
There were a few wildflowers blooming on the south facing slopes there. Then, we took one last look of the canyon we had just emerged from
Looking down
before heading back to the car for the drive to Galesville.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

We've spent the past day exploring the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. We arrived yesterday, after our drive down from Taum Sauk Mountain. We visited the visitor contact station in Van Buren for our passport stamps and some information, then we set off to explore. Our first stop was the appropriately named Big Spring. We explored the site where water seems to boil up out of the ground.
Big Spring
There's even a small cave behind the spring that I went inside.
looking out of small cave
We walked an old path that went behind the spring and then along a limestone cliff
hiking old trail
Sierra and Noelle hike
to the site of a now closed CCC-built lodge and some other CCC-built structures.
 CCC building
It was great to see lots of wildflowers lining the path!
yellow flowers
white flowers
Finally, a real taste of spring!

Our next stop was Rocky Falls.
Rocky Falls
Rocky Falls is what they call in these parts a "shut in". A “shut in” is formed where harder rock, in this case rhyolite, has “shut in” the stream. We enjoyed the view from the bottom of the falls
Mommy and Sierra at Rocky Falls
and then climbed a ridge to a view from the top.
view from top of falls
After our visit to Rocky Falls we headed over to the Two Rivers campground where we spent the night. The restrooms are still closed for the season, but that means we got to camp for free! There are nice views of the Current River from near our campsite also.
Current River

This morning when I woke up I had to use the restroom. The pit toilets were a long walk (probably over 1/4 mile) from the campground. However, along the way there were lots of wildflowers to look at and photograph.
Dutchmans breeches
Dutchman's breeches
Virginia bluebells
We ate breakfast, packed up camp and then set out to do some more exploring. We headed over to Blue Spring to check out the deepest spring in the United States. It was a short walk to the spring
Sierra hikes to Blue Spring
and once again we had lots of wildflowers to look at as we made our way there.
another trillium
We admired the view of the spring from a boardwalk just above the waters
Sierra and Noelle at Blue Spring
and then climbed a set of stairs to look over the spring from high above.
Blue Spring from above
We then retraced our steps back to the car for the drive to our next destination, Alley Mill and spring.

I would say that Alley Mill is the most iconic site in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. In fact, it was recently featured on the America the Beautiful quarter for Missouri.
Ozark quarter
We parked the car in the large parking lot near the mill and made the short walk to the beautiful red structure.
Alley Mill
Behind the mill we found Alley Spring
Alley Spring
and a trail that led along the limestone cliff that surrounded the spring.
walking around Alley Spring
looking at spring outflow
We found more wildflowers blooming along the trail
trout lilly
and lots of interesting limestone arches
looking out of arch
and small karst features.
We walked the trail back to the parking lot and decided that we wanted to do more hiking. We had noticed a sign for the "Ovelook Trail" and so we got a snack at the car (a bag of Cherrios that Sierra carried for the entire walk)
Sierra hikes
and set off to explore. It was an interesting trail with lots of switchbacks. Unfortunately the overlook was closed, so it was difficult to get a good view of the mill and spring from the high vantage point. We did see more wildflowers though,
and an interesting moth.

The last stop of our visit to Ozark National Scenic Riverways was an exploration of Devil's Well, a sinkhole that leads to a large, partially water-filled cave chamber. We walked down an impressive set of wooden stairs
another shot of Devil's Well stairs
and dodged a small waterfall
approaching the end
before finding ourselves at a unimpressive view of the underground chamber. Oh well, still a fun little excursion. At this point it was time to start making our way up north and back into winter. We made it as far as Bloomington/Normal, Illinois where we are spending the night in a hotel.