Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Cedar River - A Blue Deluge

A blue deluge

Flowing down from the wilds of Minnesota, the Cedar River winds its way through central Iowa and joins the Iowa River just before emptying into the mighty Mississip. The voluminous waterway streams through the heartland at a fairly fast clip as the swift current is not something you want to underestimate.

The adjacent, fertile valley is distinguished by dark-forested hills and vast fields of corn. Back in the old days they called it the Red Cedar River because of the abundance of those junipers that thrive on the limestone cliffs overlooking the blue deluge.

One evening while we were up in Waverly, we walked along the Cedar and were astonished by the diverse variety of colorful wildflowers that decorated the pathway. At Mount Vernon, a steep stairwell escorted the explorers down to the water’s edge where the Cedar’s true power was revealed.

The American Midwest is a fascinating region to visit, characterized by high humidity, verdant hues and afternoons embroiled in severe thunderstorms. It was a peaceful change of pace that I’ll never forget with memories of down-to-earth people, vibrant arts and a beautiful landscape but still, it’s good to be home.

A voluminous waterway

Streaming through the heartland

Colorful wildflowers

Decorating the pathway

A steep stairwell

A fascinating region

Verdant hues

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Alderfer Park - A Steamy Wilderness

Alderfer Park

On a warm morning at Alderfer Park, a wave of clouds streaks across the sky, painting the landscape with blue shadows. The shallow ravine is running dry so yellow grasses have taken over the high ground.

The golden meadow is absolutely bursting with a profusion of pink and purple perennials. As I continue to wander, a grove of aspen offers some cool relief while that field of wildflowers thrives in the mid-summer sun.

Now in the forest, the light becomes dappled as it barely shines through a fresh canopy of transparent leaves. Even during an afternoon thundershower, descent from the steamy wilderness is a sweaty withdrawal.

A wave of clouds

The ravine is running dry

Golden Meadow

Field of wildflowers

Dappled light

A steamy wilderness

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mount Vernon, Iowa - America's Coolest Small Town

A midwestern oasis

Upon arriving at Mount Vernon, Iowa, numerous banners proclaim it as being America’s Coolest Small Town and after spending a few days there, I’m inclined to believe it. Artist Grant Wood immortalized the region through his landscape paintings and American Gothic, his most famous work, has been reproduced on a barn just outside of town.

One of my favorite places is a small nature park that is just bursting with wildflowers and outstretched trees that are a shady refuge from the sweltering heat. The most striking element is the profusion of sunlit tiger lillies that contrast so sharply with the dark-green forest.

Along the edge of Mount Vernon, the Cedar River sloughs patiently through ripe cornfields and the billowy, green hills. Despite its peaceful personality, the Cedar has a swift current so beware as it could definitely sweep an unsuspecting swimmer a long ways downstream.

The centerpiece of this midwestern oasis is a small pond where the reflections are so sharp that the placid pool seems like a mirror. As the day comes to an end, a window of lime green leaves is struck by late light while framing a simple composition of blue water and black trees.

America's Coolest Small Town

American Gothic Barn

Bursting with wildflowers

Sunlit tiger lillies

The Cedar River

Lime green leaves

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Cedar Bend Park - A Midwestern Swampland

Cedar River Bend

Just outside of Waverly, Iowa, a muddy trail descends into a dark passageway that whisks you to a bend in the Cedar River. A winding, wooden boardwalk emerges from the dense cover and expels the foreigner onto a sand dune beach.

The wide waterway snakes it’s way through the midwestern swampland while moving at a fairly fast clip. Connecting separate segments of the jungle trek, lofty bridges are built into the steep, broken hillside.

The damp woodland is overgrown with plants and teeming with reptiles and bird life but the occasional snag is spot-lit by the filtered light. The finish line is decorated with a bouquet of blue wildflowers that so eloquently bid the visitor a fond farewell.

A dark passageway

A wooden boardwalk

A wide waterway

Lofty bridges

A dead tree snag

A bouquet of wildflowers

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Beaver Brook Reservoir - A Dark Inkwell

Beaver Brook Reservoir

Along the trail to Beaver Brook and a grove of aspen is awash in golden ambiance while wavering in a warm, summer breeze. The sun is just beginning to set so the pine trees are backlit, making for a strange silhouette.

Glowing mountains brood over the water’s edge where tall grasses flicker in the fading light. Around the bend it’s blue hour and a rocky, forest outcrop is dipped precariously into the dark inkwell.

The Beaver Brook Watershed is a rugged ravine that has carved its niche into this remote wilderness. At the eastern edge during an unceremonious exit, the evening’s last light floods a soggy bog of orange woodland.

Awash in golden ambiance

Pine trees are backlit

Tall grasses flicker

A forest outcrop

Rugged ravine

Orange woodland

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Offering Inspiration

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

“We came in sight early this morning of the "Courthouse," a hill, or immense mound, which strongly resembles such a building, with wings; it rests imposingly on a bluff; the sides are near a cream color, with apparently, a black roof.” ~ Phillip St. George Cooke (1845)

Composed of Brule clay, Gering sandstone and ash, Courthouse and Jail Rocks are erosional remnants of an ancient plateau. They were formed by intense volcanic activity that happened thousands of years ago.

The Rocks are located just south of Bridgeport, in the Nebraska panhandle, at the eastern terminus of the Wildcat Hills. The impressive landmark ascends 400 feet above the nearby North Platte River Valley.

They’re an enduring symbol of the pioneer spirit, hope and home. During Westward Expansion, they were a famous benchmark as the Pony Express, Oregon, California and Mormon trails all passed by the geographic marvels.

The formation was first noted by Robert Stuart, in 1812, who from a far distance observed a solitary tower rising out of the open prairie. Only upon closer inspection did he discover that there were actually two.

Stuart thought the larger feature looked like a courthouse, while the smaller a jail. Locals originally began calling the place McFarlan's Castle while passerbys referred to them as the Lonely Tower, the Castle or the Capitol but by 1837, the name Courthouse and Jail Rocks had stuck.

During the 19th century, settlers on the trail relied on natural markers to guide them in the right direction. To emigrants from the European coast who had never seen a mountain or even a bluff, Courthouse and Jail Rocks were described as stunning, geologic features.

Being the first of several impressive monuments in western Nebraska, Courthouse and Jail are a proud palace of solitude. They’re a vanguard of unforgettable scenic wonders that travelers would encounter further west.

Fascinated by the strange peaks and because they knew they would never see them again, many people climbed to the summit and carved their names in the soft clay. Some of those signatures can still be seen today.

The Rocks provided confidence that the party was on the right track and encouraged optimism that everything was going to be okay. When feeling a bit under the weather, a powerful tonic can sometimes be a sliver of hope.

Back then, just passing near the monument gave comfort to weary pioneers struggling to find a better life in this strange, new land. Even today, the mere sight of the eternal peaks offers inspiration to those determined to overcome life's difficult obstacles.

The rocks are erosional remnants

An impressive landmark

Courthouse Rock

And Jail

A stunning geologic feature

The peaks offer inspiration

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Elk Ridge - A Stormy Afternoon

A stormy afternoon on Elk Ridge

It’s another stormy afternoon as Bergen Peak looms over a lush meadow of tall grass. A fantastically-shaped, red pine is a picturesque sentry marking the beginning of a grueling uphill climb.

Halfway there and a patch of rugged vegetation sways wildly in the midst of a midsummer squall. Up at the top of the ridge, a setting sun strains to spread it’s last rays through a murky atmosphere.

During the trek back down, a spiraling spruce writhes towards the sky like a van Gogh painting come to life. Upon return to the bottom lands as the storm drifts away, a last bit of golden light sweeps triumphantly across the grateful land.

Bergen Peak looms over a lush meadow

A picturesque sentry

A patch of rugged vegetation

A murky atmosphere

Like a van Gogh painting

Golden light sweeps across the land