Heartland, Part 5 (Not Just Farmland)

On June 22, 2017 · 1 Comments

A previous article in this series noted the abundance of farmland with little else to be seen during my Heartland excursion. That didn’t provide a completely accurate picture. Variations appeared in unexpected ways although I needed to travel to the margins to find them. We charted our course purposefully. It allowed us to experience a few geological features that maybe didn’t fit cleanly into notional images of the American Midwest. Not everything out there fell within endless fields to the horizon.

Lots of Farmland, Of Course


Rural Iowa

Even the endless farmland offered scenic beauty although its prevalence sometimes made me wish for something else. I began to take it for granted. At some point towards the end of the trip I realized I hadn’t done much to capture its simple elegance. Then I had trouble finding a good subject. Suddenly this barn appeared along a quiet rural byway. It embodied what I’d been sensing all along in thousands of different places throughout the journey. The architecture seemed peculiar to eastern Iowa where I spotted it, and to adjoining western Illinois. The barn itself appeared fairly standard. However I couldn’t recall seeing a similar cupola — or whatever one might call it — quite like it in other parts of the country. I guessed it helped lift hay bales into the loft.


The Beach


Michigan City

Our journey reminded me once again of the magnificent sand dunes on the eastern and southern flanks of Lake Michigan. I recounted the geology last summer when I explored outside of Grand Rapids. Essentially, glaciers melting at the end of the last Ice Age left a lot of debris behind. Winds and waves pushed glacial drift eastward, forming those wonderful sandy beaches of Indiana and Michigan.

Back home, I would never try to drive to the beach during Memorial Day weekend even though the Atlantic Ocean beckoned only a couple of hours away. I’d pick a more obscure day to miss the crowds and traffic. Somehow, even though I should have known better, I failed to grasp that Lake Michigan served a similar purpose for ten million people living in the Chicago metropolitan area. The lake, with its massive size, looked a lot like an ocean with smaller waves and fresh water. Throw in sand dunes and pristine beaches, and it completed the illusion. Feel free to insert sarcastic remarks about Easterners and their ignorance of places beyond their noses if you like.

Thank goodness for Waze. It took us around the worst of the traffic heading into Michigan City, Indiana and saved us at least an hour. I still carried my trusty paper map as a backup although technology certainly saved the day this time. It allowed us to visit the beach at Washington Park (map).


Lighthouses


Michigan City Lighthouse

Actually, I targeted Michigan City for its lighthouses. The combination of Indiana and lighthouses seemed odd, and yet a few lighthouses actually existed along its Lake Michigan shoreline. I collected lighthouse visits, another one of those things I counted compulsively, so it led us that way. Michigan City included two lighthouses, one a museum and one a functioning navigational aid. The beach was just a nice bonus.

A land speculator wanted to create Indiana’s first harbor in the 1830’s. He purchased a site where Trail Creek fed into the lake and he platted a town there. A proper harbor needed a lighthouse to guide ships into its port so he set aside room for that too. The first one didn’t work out as planned so another one came along in 1858 (map) and it came to be known as the Michigan City Lighthouse.

As shipping in Michigan City increased, primarily grain and lumber, a brighter light was needed to guide ships into the busy port. In 1858, the U.S. Government constructed a lighthouse using Joliet stone for the foundation and Milwaukee or "Cream City" bricks for the superstructure.

That’s the one in the photograph, above, the current home of the Michigan City Historical Society’s Old Lighthouse Museum.


East Pierhead Lighthouse

Then came the East Pierhead Lighthouse (map), also known as the Michigan City Breakwater lighthouse, built in 1904. The lens and lantern moved from the old lighthouse to the new one at that time, too. Lighthouse keepers continued to live in the earlier structure while tending the light at the end of the pier. Sometimes ferocious storms pummeled the lake. I imagined what it must have been like trying to scoot along that narrow catwalk from shore to tower as icy waves crashed across the pier. We visited on a day with a light chop and even then a little water pushed onto the concrete.


Canyons


Starved Rock

Canyons seemed unlikely as we drove across the flatness of central Illinois. Yet, Starved Rock State Park included them with abundance. Many features resulted from a cataclysmic event and an unusual geology. The Illinois River ran along the park’s northern edge. A great flood tore through there sometime around 15,000 years ago, an event called the Kankakee Torrent. Melting glaciers had formed a lake and it burst, scouring limestone along the riverbank. It carved huge bluffs in a matter of days. Wonderful scenic vistas crowned those same bluffs today (photo).

The park got its name from one of those bluffs. The explanation tied back to a legend, probably untrue although the story persisted. Supposedly, in some sort of dispute, a tribe of Native Americans besieged members of the Illini tribe who then sought refuge on a bluff. Surrounded, and unwilling to surrender, they died of starvation. The place became Starved Rock.

The park also contained several canyons behind the bluffs. Small streams carved into the limestone in wonderful terraces accompanied by waterfalls. French Canyon, named for the early European explorers of this area, became its most iconic feature (map). That’s the one in the photograph, above. Lots of people traveled to the park just to see that one attraction. It wasn’t much more than an hour away from Chicago, making Starved Rock the most visited state park in Illinois, with two million visitors per year.


Mighty Rivers


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Of course I couldn’t fail to mention the Mississippi River, and the Illinois River was pretty impressive too. I’ve visited the Mississippi several different times in recent years including just a little farther downstream in April. I won’t bother to elaborate on its power again although I’ll note that I’ve always enjoy gazing upon it. Two of our races happened along the river on opposite banks. On one day the course went along a levee in Fulton, Illinois and the next day it did the same in Clinton, Iowa. I took this photo from the Illinois side (map).


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Michigan, Part 6 (Parting Shots)

On August 3, 2016 · 5 Comments

I wrote several articles about my Michigan trip and I still had a pile of ideas I hadn’t touched yet. They didn’t fall into common themes so I lumped all those leftover scraps together to finish the series. I hope everyone enjoyed — or at least tolerated — my ramblings from the latest journey. We’ll return to regular programming in a couple of days.

Interesting Concurrency


Lansing Michigan Interstate
Concurrent 96/69 in Lansing, Michigan
via Google Street View, September 2015

Highway officials defined a "concurrency" as a single stretch of road with two or more route designations. This happens all of the time on Interstate highways in the United States. Roads heading between different places converge, often near a city, and both numbers remain so drivers passing through don’t get confused. I noticed an oddity in the pattern in Lansing, Michigan. Interstate 96 ran across southern Michigan. Interstate 69 ran through the middle of the United States in several segments, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. They joined briefly on the western side of a loop bypassing Lansing.

That portion created a concurrency for Interstates 96 and 69, each number the reverse of the other (map). I didn’t know if any other examples existed elsewhere, probably because I didn’t bother to look. Please let me know if anyone can find another one. It didn’t mean much although I still enjoyed doing a double-take when I spotted it.


Gerald Ford Museum


Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

I went to another Presidential Library & Museum. It probably won’t become one of my regular lists although I’ll visit one if it falls along my route. I saw Woodrow Wilson‘s museum in March and Franklin Roosevelt‘s in May. Why not Gerald Ford?

I wondered what treasures might fill a museum dedicated to the presidential administration of Gerald Ford (map). He served as President for barely two years. Wilson guided the nation through the First World War, and Roosevelt brought the country out of a Great Depression and then the Second World War. They had plenty of material for a museum. Ford, well, he seemed like a nice guy from Grand Rapids who happened to be tapped as Vice President and became President unexpectedly when Richard Nixon resigned. His museum featured the expected Nixon connection and topics of the times such as the end of the Vietnam War. That still left a lot of space to fill. That’s probably why it included life-sized replicas of the White House’s Oval Office and Cabinet Room as they appeared while Ford served as President.


Muskegon Lighthouses

On the other hand, I continued to count lighthouse visits. I placed a couple more sightings on my lifetime list. I hadn’t really been thinking about lighthouses as I prepared for the trip so these were a nice surprise. We took a day trip to Muskegon to see the USS Silversides and the two lighthouses loomed over the harbor entrance. Certainly I could take a few moments to examine them a little closer.


Muskegon South Pier

The more impressive structure, and by that I mean the one that looked more like a traditional lighthouse, stood on the south pierhead. They called it the South Pierhead Light, not too creatively (map). See how that worked? Several versions stood there over the years and the current one began its service in 1903. It wasn’t open to the public most of the time, having fallen into a state of disrepair. Nonetheless it continued to remain an active light for navigation purposes. The Federal government transferred ownership to the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy in 2010, a nonprofit organization that hoped to restore the structure. We only saw this lighthouse from a distance and moved on.


Muskegon South Breakwater

We got a much better view of the nearby South Breakwater Light (map). This required a little hike of about a half-mile (0.8 km) from the parking lot at Pere Marquette Park to the tip of the breakwater. The kids complained the whole time although they needed a little exercise. They couldn’t spend the entire trip playing Minecraft and watching YouTube (simultaneously) so I dragged them down the concrete breakwater for a close-up view of a pretty ugly lighthouse. They’ll thank me someday. The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy owned this one too, and also placed it on its restoration list. South Breakwater Light came much later, 1931, long after the glory days of lighthouse construction. It filled a basic utilitarian purpose although it lacked a certain grandeur and elegance.


Sand Dunes


Saugatuck Dune Rides

Glaciers covered much of North America during the most recent Ice Age, some 16,000 years ago. Relentless pressure from accumulated ice ground into the underlying bedrock as glaciers advanced and retreated, creating fine sand and a rocky till. Winds blowing predominantly from the west pushed waves across Lake Michigan after the glaciers retreated, carrying this sand to its eastern shore. These natural forces created the "largest collection of freshwater dunes in the world" along Michigan’s shoreline.

Michigan had more sandy beaches than just about anywhere I’d been before. Some of the dunes reached hundreds of feet high. We didn’t make it to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on this trip, although the Saugatuck Dunes (map) offered a nice proxy closer to our temporary home.


Zoos


John Ball Zoo

Keeping the peace on a family trip meant taking time for activities I might otherwise overlook. I enjoyed zoos as much as anyone I supposed, although I didn’t feel any great need to go out of my way to see them either. We visited two, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (map) in Ohio and the John Ball Zoo (map) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That’s what my older son enjoyed so that’s how they found their way onto our itinerary. He wants to visit every zoo in the United States. He also wants to collect a map at each zoo he visits.

I can’t imagine where he inherited that relentless need to create lists and collect maps.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Islands and Cape, Part 3 (Lighthouse Crazy)

On May 27, 2015 · 3 Comments

Longtime readers of Twelve Mile Circle already know that I have a thing for lighthouses amongst numerous other counting-related quirks. I might have gone overboard on the recent trip to Cape Cod, however. That wasn’t my intent. It seemed as if lighthouses appeared every time I turned around, and the next thing I knew I’d photographed fourteen of them. In my defense it was a particularly lovely stretch of coastline, combining rocky shores, towering bluffs and lots of little towns that grew lighthouses in abundance. Lighthouses don’t appeal to everyone so readers should feel free to skip to the next article or simply scan through the pretty pictures and ignore the text if so inclined. I won’t take it personally.


Boston Light & Graves Light Station


Boston Light

I blamed it on my visit to Fort Revere Park in Hull where I noticed this wonderful alignment of the Boston Light (map) and the Graves Light Station (map) at the entrance to Boston Harbor. Boston was blessed with a wonderful natural harbor although it came at a price, an unfortunate array of dangerous navigational obstacles including islets, shoals and ledges. Even the most skilled navigators needed additional assistance to avoid shipwrecking disasters.

The Boston Light — in the foreground — was one of the earliest such structures built in the United States, first lit in 1783. It was also the last one automated, 1998, and actively staffed by US Coast Guard personnel. The website Lighthouse Friends described the Boston Light as the "ideal American Lighthouse" for its wonderful placement and appearance. The Graves Light Station on the Graves Shelf — in the background — was an added bonus from this particular vantage.



Duxbury Pier Lighthouse



I severely tested the telephoto capabilities on my camera with the Duxbury Pier Lighthouse in Plymouth Harbor (map). The lighthouse was so far away that the image seemed to resemble an Impressionist painting more than a photograph. I couldn’t imagine anyone living on the Duxbury light back when people used to do that, confined solely to a small room with a circular balcony around its perimeter. Nonetheless, someone needed to staff that light to protect mariners from the deadly shoal at Saquish Head. It must have required a special kind of character to willingly endure that level of confinement and isolation.

The local name for this lighthouse was the "Bug Light" although it didn’t appear to resemble a bug to me. It was also the first light built in a style that came to be known as the sparkplug design, a resemblance that seemed more appropriate.



Nauset Light



I found myself with an entire day to explore Cape Cod National Seashore as I drove up to Provincetown. The Nauset Light stood above one of the most popular beaches within the seashore so I wondered if it might be crowded. I arrived at the lighthouse (map) at a huge parking lot with an unmanned toll gate, completely vacated, the reward once again for traveling slightly off-season.

This wasn’t the original location. The cliff below Nauset Light continued to erode until it imperiled its foundation. The Coast Guard didn’t plan to preserve it because Nauset Light wasn’t needed anymore. Local residents rallied and funded its relocation farther inland in 1996. That was a much better solution.



Three Sisters Lighthouses



The Three Sisters Lighthouses (map) were said to resemble three women in white dresses and black bonnets, and stood maybe another quarter-mile farther inland from Nauset Light so visiting was easy. The Three Sisters were older structures, having been replaced by Nauset in the 1920’s. They had also been moved farther away from the cliff as it eroded. A marker (photo) explained their history and the reason for such an unusual number of structures on a single spot.

These lights, which replaced brick towers, were part of a network along the treacherous and busy Cape Cod. Ships approaching the southern Cape saw the stationary beams of the twin Chatham Lighthouses. The Three Sisters’ triple light configuration told sailors that they had reached the Cape’s mid-point. Sailors knew they were nearing the Cape’s tip when they saw the single flashing beam of the Highland Light.

Eventually lighthouses were given distinctive flashing patterns so multiple towers were no longer necessary.



Highland Light



My timing guaranteed smaller crowds although there was a downside to that strategy. The Highland Lighthouse wouldn’t open for another week. I could still enjoy the grounds that surrounded it though (map). This was the tallest lighthouse on Cape Cod (66 feet / 20 metres) and continued to serve as an active navigational aid. Like some of the others, it had been moved away from a crumbling cliff in the 1990’s. Apparently one shouldn’t build too close to the eastern shore of Cape Cod.

Highland Lighthouse had one additional historical footnote: Henry David Thoreau, famed as the author of Walden, used to enjoy visiting here in the 1850’s and even wrote an article about his experiences.

Over this bare highland the wind has full sweep. Even in July it blows the wings over the heads of the young turkeys, which do not know enough to head against it; and in gales the doors and windows are blown in, and you must hold on to the light-house to prevent being blown into the Atlantic. They who merely keep out on the beach in a storm in the winter are sometimes rewarded by the Humane Society. If you would feel the full force of a tempest, take up your residence on the top of Mount Washington, or at the Highland Light in Truro.



Wood End Lighthouse



The Wood End Light (map) was the only site that involved any meaningful effort during my journey. I’d spied it from the top of the Pilgrim Monument the previous day. It looked like it might be feasible so I went for a walk early the next morning to see if I could reach it. I stepped carefully across the harbor breakwater, then onto the sand of Provincetown Spit and along a rugged path to the lighthouse itself. I never saw another person. I stopped for a few moments, took photos and walked back. The stroll lasted about an hour each way.

Wood End marked the southernmost point on the Cape Cod hook for approaching mariners. I didn’t make it to the very farthest eastern tip though, a place called Long Point that also featured a lighthouse. That was simply too far for this particular trip. Maybe next time.



Brant Point Light



We left Cape Cod and then headed offshore, first to the island of Nantucket. It was cold and foggy. We’d spent the afternoon at Cisco Brewers a few miles outside of town, bicycling there for an afternoon of live music and beer sampling, then loaded a growler onto a bike for our ride back to town. Somehow we thought it might be a good idea to wander out to Brant Point Lighthouse (map) later that evening. There might have been some alcohol involved. It wasn’t a particularly daunting walk, certainly much easier than my earlier trip to Wood End, just that wiser minds may have remained indoors near a fireplace or something on such a dreary evening.



Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse



I didn’t have much to add about the lighthouse at Hyannis Harbor (map). Apparently it was built around 1849 and it’s privately owned. We passed the light four separate times on ferry rides to and from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard so I felt an obligation to take a photo.



Edgartown Lighthouse



I really went lighthouse crazy on Martha’s Vineyard. Sites were too far apart for bicycling so we rented a car for the day.

Three of the lights were stewarded by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum including the Edgartown Lighthouse (map). It was right on the edge of Edgartown, thus the name. The museum decorated the lighthouse for special occasions. Ribbons around lantern room during our trip marked Pink and Green weekend; a "celebration of Spring and Mother’s Day"



Gay Head Light



I will attempt to be the first site on the Intertubes to refrain from make a joke at the expense of Gay Head Light in Aquinnah (map). The weather had been wonderful all day except for this far western corner of Martha’s Vineyard. I could barely see the lighthouse. In fact I had to move much closer than I expected simply to take a photo. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any closer because Gay Head Light was in the process of being moved. Sound familiar? Here, just like many of the sites on Cape Cod, eroding cliffs threatened the very existence of an historic structure.



West Chop Light



Other lighthouses stood on Martha Vineyard’s northern shores near Vineyard Haven. The West Chop Light (map) was an active navigational aid. It also included a lighthouse keeper’s quarters that continued to serve as a home for people posted at the Menemsha Coast Guard Station located elsewhere on the island. Access was pretty limited for that reason.

Compare this to the image of Gay Head Light and notice the weather conditions. That was the stark difference between separate parts of the island on the same afternoon.



East Chop Light



However if there was a West Chop Light it made sense that there would also be an East Chop Light (map). That one was located within a small park overlooking the ocean. The lighthouse itself was closed at the time although we could relax on the benches along the bluff and enjoy the view.



Newport Harbor Light



Finally — and I am as relieved as the audience to get to the last one — I spotted a lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island completely unexpectedly. This was the Newport Harbor Light, also sometimes called the Goat Island Light (map). It was built in 1842 and automated in 1963. I didn’t check on it much beyond noting how nice it looked sitting in the harbor.


Islands and Cape articles:

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