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