Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thanks, Mr. Ferris!

This past weekend, the city of Woodhaven hosted the Uncle Sam Jam. We all know who Uncle Sam is but what does he have to do with jellies and preserves?

Oh wait. Jam as in music. I get it.

Believe it or not, this event is free. Somehow, someway, they manage to get bands here that have made quite a name for themselves.  Sure, some of the bands are surprisingly still together. Their hey-day has come and gone.

Take last years line-up.  Great White. Yes, THAT Great White. Night Ranger?  They're still around?  

This year?  Candlebox.  Sure, they still tour, but who woulda thought they would be in Woodhaven?  Skid Row? I'm serious. Of course, Sebastian Bach is no longer in the band, so one could argue it does not matter.  

So, sure, I could have seen some bands, but I really wasn't up for that.  Nah, I was all about photographing the name-sake of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.  

The year was 1891. With the World's Fair just two years away, planners for the event issued a challenge - build something cooler than the Eiffel Tower.  "Original, daring and unique" were apparently the words they used.  

Mr. Ferris, a railroad guy and bridge builder by trade, whipped up his plans and presented them to the panel.  They dumped it. Safety was a big issue (and rightly so).  After other reputable engineers reviewed the specs (Mr Ferris was a determined guy) and basically said "Yeah, this'll work..." , the panel finally agreed.  

With a capacity of 2,160 people (holy crap!), Mr. Ferris' Wheel, as you might imagine, became quite a hit.  A highlight might be considered the nine-minute non-stop rotation.  That sounds like a good ride to me!

While his original was demolished by 1906, Ferris Wheels continue to dot the global landscape.   The original stood what is now considered an anemic 264 feet tall.  The largest currently standing?  The Singapore Flyer at 541 feet.  Not to be outdone, the those crazies in Dubai are currently building one (The Eye) that will stand 689 feet at a cost of 1.6 billion dollars. Meanwhile, people around the world continue to starve....

In any case, the wheel at the Uncle Sam Jam was a far cry from the Dubai Eye. How tall was it? I don't have a clue.  I do bet, however, that if Mr. Ferris could see it today, he would be pretty proud.  

This particular wheel had lights that changed color and position. As it rotated during the 1-second exposures, the lights formed crazy patterns.  I have dozens of images showing greens and purples, lines and dots.  What fun.  I look forward to trying more images in the future.

Thanks, Mr. Ferris!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 16: Moths To Motown

Friday, June 28, 2013

After enjoying coffee on the beach and securing camp, it was time to move along. All good things must come to an end.  (Speaking of ends, a fellow stopped by to comment on our stone skipping expertise along the shore. He was proudly displaying his industrial-sized case of Preparation H swabs under arm. Couldn’t he have hid them?)

As required during any camping trip, one needs to check the bathroom.  Not the plumbing or the cleanliness.  The outside walls.  Throughout the night, moths, big and small, find themselves attracted to the lights. By sunrise, they hunker down on the wall and wait for bug-folks like Natalie and I to check them out. 

Take this Luna Moth, for example. What a life.  Eat as a caterpillar.  Pupate.  Emerge as an adult.  WITHOUT A MOUTH, they have about a week to find a mate and have a romp before they die.  That’s it. One week as an adult.  She lays the eggs before she dies.  The whole thing starts all over again.  Those colors are absolutely stunning.  This critter was at least 4 inches across.

The Polyphemus Moth is quite eye-catching, too.  They also only live for about a week as adults. This one is a male, for sure. Those crazy antennae are big so they can detect the female’s pheromones.  Think the pheromones as perfume that drives the guys nuts. She releases it and the guys come running…er, flying.  They can detect her from miles away. No joke. Miles.  They are bigger than Luna Moths.

The drive to the Soo (Canada) was uneventful.  Stopping off at a nice store to purchase gifts was a no-brainer.  We were crossing back into the United States at lunch time, just like we planned.

Finding ourselves struggling to find parking in the Soo (Michigan), we managed. It turns out it is the single busiest day of the year as they are having some street festival thing-a-ha-bob.  It was, after all, time to wet our whistle.

The SooBrewing Company in Sault Sainte Marie is really quite neat. They don’t have regular food options but you are welcome to bring in outside food. Deliveries are even allowed.  Soo Grand Cru, Monkey’s Dunkle (the coolest name ever), GoldiLocks Blonde Ale and the Slowhand IPA (#1468-1471) were all pretty admirable.  Of the four, the Dunkle was the best. The toffee/caramel tones on the tongue were quite impressive.  In a weird sort of way, the beer seemed oddly heavy and light at the same time.  Perhaps that added to its allure.

With a belly full of food, the drive home was uneventful. That’s always nice.

Here are trip details.

Bird Species Recorded: 111 species (at least…)
Total North American Ticks for Paul (sum of all lifetime checklists): 4660
Life Birds for Natalie: not certain as she has not totaled her list: perhaps 10?
Life List for Natalie: unknown at this time
Total North American Ticks for Natalie (sum of all checklists) unknown at this time (okay, so she’s busy…)

Wisconsin Birds List: 83 (from 35)
Minnesota Bird List: 128 (from 115)
Ontario Bird List: 249 (from 248)

Life Beers: 29
Total Lifetime Beers: 1, 471
Breweries Visited: 6

New National Parks Sites Visited: 7

Gallons of Gas: 86.4
Miles Driven: 3,776
Miles per Gallon: 40.4


Day 15: Stone Paintings And Sunsets

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The morning camp take-down was easy. By now, Natalie and I could do it in our sleep. I can literally start taking town the tent while she is in packing sleeping bags.  (To date, I have not actually rolled up the tent with her in it and stuffed it in the trunk.)    It would have been nice to check out the Visitors Center but the rain that had let up in the early morning hours had returned with a vengeance. 

Grumbling stomachs suggested the need for chow. With the town of Wawa around the corner (I’m not making up that name, by the way) only one restaurant seemed worth a stop. With a Viking theme, I immediately started crying about my boots.  (Not really.)  We settled in as the out-of-towners. This observation was re-enforced by the fact that almost everyone in the place (at least 40 people) was hugging and no one hugged us.  I have never seen such a thing.  It was really kind of weird. 

After crossing into Lake Superior Provincial Park, the South Old Woman River Trail is one for the books.  Requiring rock hopping to cross streams, careful foot placement over gnarled and exposed tree roots, this trail was simply awesome. Waterfalls. Flowers.  Birds (more of the same).  Sadly, the mosquitoes were the densest they had been on the entire trip.  With the trail one mile in length, we never stopped. To do so would have been death by blood-letting.

After checking in at the new and awesome interpretive center, we were encouraged to consider camping along the lake shore. Breezes would keep the bugs down and the first sight on the new day would be the lake. You can’t really beat that. 

Further encouraged by park staff, we took a short drive back north to the Agawa Rock Pictographs.  Long before the days of fancy paints or Photoshop, stories were told on these rocks by painting images with red ocher. Sadly, they are less durable that petroglyphs which were are carved into the rock.

The above image, as an example, shows what might be a sturgeon (left), giant prehistoric-like fish that still roams the great lakes.  The pictograph on the right suggests a snake.   But they don’t have horns or legs, so, in the end, these graphics are open to interpretation.   We may never know what they all mean or what they represent. That includes their age.  No one knows for certain their age.  Estimates range from 150-500 years old. 

One thing is for certain – you just might poop yourself trying to see them.

The trail from the parking lot is a delight. Down steps carved in ancient stone and walking between giant rocks walls, you almost feel like Indiana Jones. What a neat trail. It’s easy going, too, compared to the Old Woman Trail.

The final 100 feet is just silly as the photo below might show. 

Ignore the arrow for now. Note the ropes that are anchored to stone. In the foreground, just out of view, is a life ring (like you would see at a dock or on a ship). There is also a giant pole.  15 feet long, maybe? Notice the slant of the rocks. Notice the chilled waters of Lake Superior to the right.  The slant of rock tapers off to a edge which is maybe 3 or 4 feet off the water. The ropes actually dangle in the drink.

People have died here trying to view these images.  They have. Really.  The sometimes slippery slope combined with the occasional wave of the lake has taken people to their death.  The clumsy, ill prepared or the just stupid never made it back to their car.

A now-and-then proud member of the Club (clumsy, ill-prepared and stupid), I proceeded with caution.  Natalie never set foot on the rock.  She was only able to see the first two images (the sturgeon/snake due marked by the red arrow).  I made it this far….

Michipeshu may be the most famous rock art painting in Canada. Viewed by Indian culture as a feline with horns, he roams the lakes. Travelers would give him, the Great Cat, special offerings (tobacco, for example) for safe passage. Fisherman would do the same, hoping for a productive day.  (In this image, I am leaning with my left shoulder against the rock. My right hand has the camera and I am stretching out my arm to take the photo without looking.)

As I was little uneasy, I was prepared to give Michipeshu an unintentional offering of my own, if you know what I mean. No longer comfortable with the situation, I did an about-face and returned to the rocks were Natalie was waiting.  There were easily 10 more petroglyphs that I never saw. 

I suspect if I was a roofer, a fellow who spent a lot of time on ladders, or a member of the Falling Flying Wallendas, the walk would have been easy. But I’m not, so it wasn’t.  I managed.  I saw enough.

Returning to camp, Natalie and I had a quick meal (spaghetti again, but under more cool circumstances). Sadly, for me, I had reached the end of my rope.  The non-stop swatting and buzzing had taken its toll and I officially turned into a monster of my own.  Okay, maybe not a monster, but a supreme grump.

I need to defend myself here.  Imagine having a conversation with any random idiot.  Let’s say that they make a statement that is annoying.  For example, “Michelle Bachman would be a good President”.  Okay, you sluff it off. No big deal, right?  But you continue to hear it. Non-stop.  Your’re trying to find that bird but you hear it: “Michelle Bachman would be a good President”.  Every now and then, during this aggravating time, an invisible person pokes you with a tiny needle.  You hear it again: “Michelle Bachman would be a good President”.  Every now and then, something flies behind your glasses and makes you stop dead in your tracks.  You hear it again. And again.  You itch.  You get welts.  Eventually, the inane little comment, when compounded by physical interactions, becomes too much to deal with.  Mentally, I checked out. The only thing that kept me there was the lakeshore. If we were on one of the other loops in the woods, surrounded by hoards of six-legged biters, I would have shot myself got a hotel.

All my complaining aside, I managed what I think are two okay pictures.  One is the view from as seen from behind the tent.

This one is the sunset over Lake Superior.  Despite my grump-itude, I am grateful for the opportunity to take it.

The evenings sleep was about as good as it could get. The cool breeze coming right in the tent door was perfect.  After confirming the handsome bald guy did not leave the tent door open, we slept like babies.  

Day 14: Soup And Showers

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ravens are big. And loud. Forget the “caw” of an American Crow. The “crawk” of a Raven can rattle your bones.  While it was certainly in our campsite (not just the campground, our campsite), it might as well have been in the tent.  Needless to say, our morning got off to a rousing start. 

Heading back the Kakabeka Falls, I managed a few shots now that the lighting was a bit different.  They don’t call it “The Niagara Falls of the North” for nothing….

Moving out, we found ourselves heading east on Highway 17, the Terry Fox Courage Highway.

I sort of remember this fellow.  I was a youngin’ when he decided to run across Canada. No really. He wanted to run across Canada.  After has his leg was amputated as a result of osteosarcoma, he decided to run as a fundraiser. Getting by with a prothstesis that was certainly crap by today’s standards, he started in Newfoundland. His Marathon of Hope made it as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Sadly, his cancer returned.  A few months after he ended his epic run (3,300 miles in 143 days), he died.  The year was 1981.
Millions of dollars have been raised in his name. Not only did people pledge money during his run, but marathons in his name (non-competitive, per his wish) continue to rake in cash for cancer research.  Over half a billion dollars have been raised to date.  Roads, schools, ships, and even a mountain, have been named in honor of this man. He’s a hero of inter-galactic standards in Canada. For that matter, the world.   As it should be.

The north shore of Lake Superior is incredible. So, we’ve been told. Sure we could enjoy the road and shoreline, but the lake itself continued to be fogged in.  “Pea soup”, as they say.  Grand, sweeping vistas of gichigami were not to be had. 

A short detour was needed along the Nipigon River.  Why?

When Natalie was a kid, her dad read to her a book. I never read it, but it is now legend – Paddle To The Sea.  In it, a small Indian boy carves a canoe and launches it in the Nipigon River. As any geologist can tell you, the waters of the Nipigon River eventually reach the Atlantic Ocean. The book details the carving’s journey through the Great Lakes.  It is apparently quite a read.  When you're a kid, it is just awesome.

Paying homage to time spent being read to by her dad, Nat snitched a small piece of wood from the Lake Superior shore back at Pictured Rocks.  Doodling a man in a canoe on the fragment, she gave it a shove and sent it along its way. We’ll be watching for it at the Detroit River mouth in the coming years….

Terrace Bay was the place for lunch. By this time, Natalie and I were getting nauseous just thinking about having another sandwich.  A little restaurant with poor service was a nice little “pick me up” once we got the chow.  One beer in particular worked out. While the waitress called it “…just a bottle of beer…” (the shame!), the Red (#1467) by Rickard’s Brewing Company was really not that bad.  Certainly not good enough to change the world, but it tasted good with goat-cheese-topped burger.    

By mid-afternoon, after setting up camp at Pukaskwa National Park on Superior’s eastern shore, we were itching for some hiking (or itching after bug bites – one of the two).  The hiking here seemed mostly flat as we explored beaches and boreal-type forests. The birds were more of the same, including thrushes who were putting on fine shows as they sung from the treetops. Black-throated Green Warblers and Northern Parulas? Everywhere. The American Redstart clearly claimed our campsite as his own, but he never put in a show for the camera.

The beaches were so spectacular I was already framing shots in my head for evening photography.  Of course, I never told the weatherman my plans.  As dinner-time approached, the western skies darkened.  “Oh cool!”, I thought.  “Maybe I can get a neat picture of the storm over the lake…”

Yeah, well, dinner time saw rain.  It was not just cats and dogs; there might have been some Woodland Caribou mixed in (they are found in Pukaskwa, though we never saw any).  Dinner was at (I’m crying as I type this…) Pizza Hut in Marathon.  I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but it’s true.

Sunset found us sitting in the car reading by the overhead light reading about why it is mosquitoes suck (ba-dum-dum). When the rain eased up, we ran for the tent and called it a night….

…until we woke up at 2:00am.  We had discovered that some handsome bald guy accidentally left the tent door open. Not by much, mind you; we’re talking a hole less than one square inch.  Zeroing in on our carbon dioxide emissions, 1.9 million blood-suckers ended up inside with us.  Inspired by the actions of Richard Bong, the World War II Ace of Aces, we got ‘em. All of ‘em.  A fighter sweep indeed. No medals for us, though. Just good sleep.