Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Biking at Prophetstown State Park

Roger here..... Prophetstown State Park sits at the edge of a tallgrass prairie that greeted Native Americans and European settlers in what is now northwestern Indiana.  

A vast sea of tallgrass stretched as far as the eye could see.  Small open oak woodlands dotted the prairie landscape.  Steep, narrow bluffs dropped to connecting rivers.  Over time the land was shaped by ice, fire, water and human hands. 

One of our daily activities at Prophetstown State Park has been to use the excellent bike paths for our daily exercise.  The park has 3.2 miles of paved trails specifically designated for bicycles.  They are six feet wide and extremely smooth - in much better shape than many of the interstates we have been on lately.    We have been enjoying the bucolic views described above while pedaling the entire trail system twice a day.

 The easy, no hassle, trails have been perfect for helping Dianne overcome her bike-o-phobia.  This morning she actually pestered me to hurry up and get ready so we could go on our bike ride.  I am a happy camper.

There are several interesting stops along the bike trail -  picnic shelters, play grounds, basketball courts (this is Indiana after all), and trail heads.  In this post I will show you three of them that we pedaled to.

The stone bridge along the roadway and bike path was constructed entirely of boulders that the glaciers brought to Indiana as they slowly moved across this part of Indiana. 

 As the European settlers discovered that the soil here was excellent for growing corn and wheat, their first task was to clear the fields of the many boulders that the glaciers deposited from the far north.  

As we stopped to read about the interesting bridge, Dianne found a large rock surrounded by wildflowers to rest against. 

 I really wasn't ready to rest, but I sure did enjoy climbing up on the biggest boulder I could find and acting like a kid.  I never met a large rock that I didn't want to climb.  I am happy to be fit enough to still do that kind of thing in my old(er) age.  (Dianne here:  There is no chance I will end my days in a rocking chair, watching the world go by, so long as I am married to Roger!  Some men never lose their "inner boy," and I'm glad Roger is one of them.)

Along one of the pathways near the bike trail, we hiked to a small reconstruction of a Native American village.  There was really not much to see there, but the Native American history in this area was significant to our country.  It was here that Tecumseh's brother, The Prophet, defied the wishes of Tecumseh and attacked the U.S. Army, resulting in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. 

 As a side note; The Prophet earned his name for his alleged ability to predict future events.  One of the events he supposedly predicted was a great shaking of the earth as a sign from the spirits.  It is told that the 1811 New Madrid earthquake, the one that changed the course of the Mississippi River, took place shortly after his prophesy.  Pretty interesting, if it is a true story.

The most prominent man-made feature at the state park is the Historic Prophetstown living history farm.  Like many living history museums, the Prophetstown Farm takes you back to a specific time frame.  In this case, the 1920's.  All the farm produce here is raised using methods from the 1920's.  It really took us back to another time as we watched horses pulling the plows that till the fields.  The largest structures on the farm are the big red barn and the farm house. 

 The farm house is an exact replica of a prefabricated house that was ordered through a Sears and Roebuck catalogue. 

 Dianne and I especially enjoyed the old country store next to the house where we bought farm fresh eggs, tomatoes and elderberry jam - all produced on site.  The costumed lady talked with us while we wandered through the store.  She was busy sewing hand-made dolls that will be used as decorations for an upcoming barn dance in September.   We headed to our bikes after we left the store and loaded our fresh food into Dianne's bicycle basket. 

 Amazingly, the eggs made it back to our campsite without cracking, so I used them to make scrambled eggs for supper in a skillet on our outdoor grill.  Yum.
 We enjoyed the view from the back of our campsite while we had our breakfast/dinner.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dancing with Wolves

Roger here....   Dianne and I love being outdoors.  It is one of the reasons we enjoy our RV lifestyle.  We have always been intrigued by Wolf Park.  It is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of wolves in captivity and in the wild through behavioral research and education.  It is located just a few miles from West Lafayette, Indiana, but for one reason or another, we have never been there for a visit.  

Side bar ----  I almost visited twenty years ago when as a school principal I accompanied a group of 8th grade student leaders to an overnight leadership camp at nearby Camp Tecumseh.  One of my 8th grade teachers (Laurie) organized the trip and, as a science teacher, was excited to include a trip to Wolf Park on the way to the camp.  Unfortunately, this occurred in the days before GPS. We got lost and never did find the park.  Our poor bus driver (Tom) took us down nearly every gravel road in Tippecanoe County, crossing several bridges, and frequently finding dead ends at the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers.  It really is too bad that we missed it, because our kids would have loved it.  

Sorry for the digression, and on to the fun.  It was early Saturday evening when I searched the computer to see what programs might be available.  OMG, there was an evening "howling" program, and it was only  available on Saturday evenings.  We'd have to hurry if we were going to make it.  We walked the dogs and dove into the car.  When we arrived (at the right location this time), the gate was closed.  I misread the time.  The program did not start for another hour.  My bad.

We drove around the same Tippecanoe County roads that were so confusing twenty years ago, checked out a possible kayaking access point on the Wabash River, and went back.  Glad we did.  The program was fascinating.  While two different docents talked about the wolf pack and wolf behavior, I listened, but was more fascinated by watching the four wolves on the other side of the wire enclosure.  They were soooo close.  Kind of eerie when the four wolves of the main pack stared back at me. 

 They were frequently focused on a crying toddler - hmmm, dinner?  They trotted.  They jumped up on a log to establish dominance.  They ate a pumpkin.  They over-peed on the same pumpkin to claim it as theirs.  They growled.  They attacked each other.  Oh, and they often trotted over to kiss the docent.  Then they fought over who was going to kiss him next.

We did not dance with the wolves, but we did sing with them.  The docent urged us to howl.  We howled.  The four wolves howled.  And then.....  the invisible wolves and coyotes on the other side of the lake howled back.  It was amazing. (Dianne here:  When the wolves become too old or are unable to be in with the "main pack" for any reason, they are "retired" to a different section of Wolf Park to live out their days in peace.  These were the wolves we heard from across the lake.  They also have several coyotes, and at the end of the following video you can hear them chime in, as well as the wolves from across the lake.)

 Turn off all the lights in the room, watch the video below and have a listen.  You won't be sorry.  

This experience was every bit as cool as I thought it would be.  On our way back to the car, we made an obligatory stop at the gift shop to get a refrigerator magnet of Wolfgang, the leader of the pack.

For our daughter, Amanda, and granddaughter, Kaia, "Team Jacob" would love this place :-)

(Dianne again:  We've published two blogs today, so scroll down if you missed the last one.)

Flora & Fauna at Prophetstown State Park

Hi all -- Dianne here.  Some of you might find this blog about as exciting as the one about washing hairbrushes, but for those of you who like flowers and critters, here's a sampling of what we've seen on our hikes at Prophetstown State Park this week.

We don't always put up our tiki lights, but we were in such a good mood when we arrived here (free at last), that to celebrate, Roger strung our colored lights from the blue spruce trees at our site.  Almost immediately after turning them on, a hummingbird showed up to check out the red colored lights, looking for dinner!   Right away I went inside and got out my hummingbird feeder.  The hummingbirds found it immediately, and ever since that first day we've enjoyed the jockeying for position at the bird feeder.  They are territorial little critters!   Since there is only one species of hummingbird in Indiana, we know that these are ruby throated hummingbirds.  This one is a female, so no red throat.

The hiking trails here at Prophetstown are different than those at the other state parks in Indiana.  Instead of dense woods, the trails wind through tall grass prairie that has been reintroduced to this area.   This area of Indiana was the eastern edge of the tall grass prairies that extended west into Kansas.

 The hiking trail also goes along and through a fen (different than a swamp because it's alkaline from the bedrock below).  

To maintain the prairie grass here at the park, they do periodic burnings.  As we arrived with the motorhome we could see huge fires way from a distance and wondered "what the heck," only to discover they were controlled burns.  During our hike a few days later, we saw a small burn going on.  As we continued to hike, we passed by and through some of the recently burned areas and could see the new sprouts already coming up in the charred areas.

We often think of late summer as "ugly" because the spring flowers are done and gone.  Here's a slideshow to prove that beauty can still be found if you take a hike!

There's a large, grassy area next to our camp site that's a favorite hangout for rabbits.  So far, Jasper and Chaplin have not noticed them.

We saw so many butterflies on our hike that it became a game to try to photograph them (it's hard!).  This guy looked as big as the hummingbirds.

Here's a tiger swallowtail (above), and a monarch (below).

Check back soon for a blog entry on our trip last evening to nearby Wolf Park.  If you've never seen a wolf or heard one howl, you'll enjoy that one!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Butterflies Are Free - And So Are We!

Roger here....  Our daughter,  Robyn,  had the lead role in a university production of Butterflies are Free several years ago - a good memory, BUT this post is not about the play or our older daughter.  This is about US - Dianne and me.  The closing on the house that our younger daughter and granddaughter (now in Florida) lived in was Tuesday, so we are now free again to "roam about the country"!

We have been in Pendleton, Indiana (one of the best small towns in the country) since  early May, getting the little house in sellable condition - new flooring, new paint, new ceiling, new wall texture, etc., etc., etc.  After we put the house on the market (by owner), it sold in two days - unheard of for the two of us.  The inspection resulted in a new roof -- ouch -- but not unexpected.  After the roof, all we had to do was wait for the closing.  So, we did a few more things to improve the house for the buyer (an elementary teacher who we really like) and waited.  Several weeks passed, but all turned out well.

Dianne did her usual super-cleaning (sterilization, actually) of all visible surfaces.  We included a few pics of the shiny house.  We also included a picture of the empty garage that was my responsibility to clean - the only thing I was allowed to clean.  It is so clean that if you squirt a hose on it, it will suds.

All the cleaning was done before the closing, so Dianne was able to spend some down time under the RV awning.  Those of you who know Dianne know that she is happy doing this for a couple days before she needs to do something productive.  The last couple of days with not much to do were tense, but it is OVER.  

We are now at Prophetstown State Park,  just outside West Lafayette, Indiana, which has, in our opinion, the nicest state park campground in Indiana.  It is truly beautiful.  All of the butterfly pictures were taken here.  We would have taken more, but even though they are pervasive, they flit away so quickly.  More about the ten days we will be spending at Prophetstown soon..... maybe tomorrow?

For now, we are free to wander aimlessly around the country, just like the snail in the picture.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Little Night Music and Other Diversions

Hi all -- Dianne here.  The closing for the little house has finally been scheduled for Monday, August 23 at 4:00!  Obviously the photo on the right is NOT  the little house.  You'll need to read the rest of the blog to learn why people are arriving at our friends' back yard with coolers, blankets, and chairs.

When the closing is finally over, we'll feel like two birds let out of a cage!!  As soon as we heard the news, we made reservations for Prophetstown State Park (one of our favorite Indiana parks) for ten days.   We'll still be in Indiana until Labor Day weekend, when we have reservations with friends at Patoka Lake.   Then we will finally hit the road for New Mexico and on to California.

In the meantime, we've been filling our days by taking advantage of the best parts of Pendleton.   Roger has been riding his bike, even in the heat.  We took full advantage of a few below-ninety-degree days by hiking and geocaching in nearby Falls Park.  We were delighted to learn there are 10 geocaches within walking distance of the little house!  We never did find the first one, and we were deterred by mosquitos and poison ivy from the next.  It was fun nonetheless, and we might try again slathered with bug spray. 

  Jasper and Chaplin were very happy to go with us; Chaplin especially liked the fact that there are no fire ants in Indiana, unlike his geocaching misfortunes in Texas.  We're happy to report that Chaplin has now made a full recovery; the mysterious growth on his side finally healed, he has regained all of his weight, and is his former happy self.  We changed their dog food to a holistic brand (Solid Gold); don't know if that played a role or not.  

Last night we enjoyed a special treat.  Our friends Jay and Nancy  are very active in supporting the Anderson, Indiana symphony orchestra.  For a fund raiser, they graciously offered their expansive, beautifully-landscaped yard for an evening concert by a few members of the orchestra.  Since we had "connections," we were able to take our chairs over early to claim a good spot right in front of the musicians.  We took our places with a bottle of Chianti and my favorite Tillamook mild cheddar cheese and Triscuits.  

The weather was perfect and the fund raiser was a huge success.   The back yard quickly filled with people bringing chairs, blankets, coolers, and picnics, ready to enjoy the balmy evening.  The music ranged from Bach, opera, violin duets from The Magic Flute, and a Benny Goodman clarinet version of San Antonio Rose.   For a time we felt we were back in Texas! 

 The concert ended with several Dixieland selections, with the finale a Basin Street rousing rendition of "When the Saints go Marching In."  Reminded us of our parade through the French Quarter at Jennifer Kensill's wedding!  (See the "wedding" category on the left if you missed that blog entry).

Our friends have the perfect setting for such an event.  Their yard has a beautiful tumbling water feature (their little grandsons enjoy feeding the fish).  Nancy has always had a green thumb, but most of us could only dream of a potting shed like hers!   We have shared plantings over many years and I learned almost everything I know about gardening and cooking from Nancy.   

It will be hard to say good-bye to our friends, but to soften the blow a bit they have made plans to meet us in California in November for a week of touring wineries and San Simeon.   Can't wait!  Even though we've had our fill of Indiana this summer, we're glad we were still here to enjoy this festive evening with dear friends.