Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tug Boat Days in Grafton

OOPS! It's been a long time since taxes. Would you believe I was recouperating? How about procrastinating? I have a neighbor down the street that keeps telling me he has decided to stop procrastinating - one of these days. For me, I guess this is one of those days. I was writing to a good friend in Florida and my e-mail describing the weekend trip was taking on a life of its own so I thought, why not edit it and post it on the blog. Perhaps this will prime the pump and get me back on schedule.

It was Saturday morning and the weather map showed clear skies currently around St. Louis. The key word here is "currently" as we would find out later. But that was all we needed to make the decision. It's weekend, the sun is shining, the fledglings are long out of the nest so it is time to hit the road.

We headed south to Alton and drove in and out of threatening skies. At Alton, the sky was partly cloudy but there were building storm clouds to the north. White pellicans (black under wings) were enjoying the updrafts as they soured over the river. The darker skies served as a backdrop for their flight.

I got the bird pictures along with the cool bee shots at a wildlife refuge across the river from Alton in Missouri.

As I hiked down to the waters edge, I could hear thunder in the distance and saw a few lightning strikes. I was making the most of the sunny skies to capture the numerous white pelicans, egrets and blue heron. Below right, you can see the open wings on one of the pelicans; notice the black underside (click on the image to see it larger)

We then headed north along the great river road from Alton to Grafton. We drove into rain making a cool picture opportunity of the bluffs on the right and the river on the left but the picture through the windshield was not good enough to even keep. There was traffic on the road and the heavy rain made it impossible to stick the camera out to get the shot. If I had been able to get perpendicular to the view, I could have lowered the window and shot through the rain from inside but the only shot was through the windshield. So, this was one of those that "got away".

Along this road, is a small town called Elsah that is nestled between the bluffs. We can't drive this stretch without taking the detour through the town. Two one-way streets take you to the end and back past the small quaint residences. It is like a storybook land with the tiny cottages. It is an uplifting experience making the short drive. It was nearing lunch time and our favorite restaurant was in sight. The rain had let up and there was a parking spot near the door. Memories of past visits grabbed onto our senses and pulled us in. OK, there was not much pulling necessary. Even thinking about the home made pie makes my mouth water. WE got a nice salad to be "good" because we knew we would be getting pie, which was hardly on our diet. The salad was so filling, there was no room for pie but I had a solution for that! Make that pie to go!

Back on the road, we drove out of the rain and the pavement was dry. Wow, what luck because we were just pulling into Grafton to check out the Tug boat days. Advertisements called for tug boat tours and an antique boat show. The dirt parking lot showed no signs of rain. We got a close parking spot and I loaded up my gear into my photographers vest and we headed for the tug boat tour line. Just as we got under the canopy, the skies opened up and the rain started. Scattered thunderstorms just scattered themselves our way. I made certain my telephoto lens was securely covered in one of the big pockets and I pulled the vest up over the camera hanging from my neck. This is one of those decision times. Do we head back to the security of a dry car or take our chances at getting the camera equipment wet in the hope of getting some spectacular shots from inside the tug boat. This is one of those times a good pocket camera would come in handy!

The rain let up to a sprinkle so we stayed in line and ventured out from the protection of the canopy onto the tug boat deck. The 25 year old tug looked like it just came out of the boat yard with a new coat of paint on the slippery deck. The wet deck makes me wonder why they don't use a sand finish but there are ample railings to hold as you traverse the boat.

And traverse we did. From the galley and the lower engine room, we headed up to the Texas deck and then up a narrow inside stairway to the wheelhouse. Windows all around give the captain the full view of the tugboat and electronic monitors show weather, water depth, GPS maps and other boat traffic. It is a log way from the "mark twain" called out as the leadsman from the past measured the river depth.

This tug boat was one of the larger river tugs. It normally pushed barges up and down the lower Mississippi where there are no locks. It might have 30 barges in tow. That makes for one long boat. It takes great skill to maneuver such a large vessel between bridge supports and around bends in the river. Above St. Louis, where there are many locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, a normal load might be 15 barges. This is still equivalent to 870 Semi-trucks. It is by far the more efficient transportation method. For more information on the need to modernize the river lock system visit http://www.marc2000.org/ . If you would like to work on a tug boat go to http://www.ingrambarge.com/ . I can’t say it’s not tempting but they might want me to do something besides take pictures.

As we left the wheelhouse, descending the narrow wet outside stairs, the rain started again. This time it was more insistent that it would stay around a while. We made it down the stairs, across the deck and down more stairs. I had Pat's umbrella tucked into one of my pockets but I could not get to it without exposing the camera to the elements so, we carefully made our way across the bow of the boat onto dry land that was now running with water. From tent to tent, we scampered like little mice. I should say old mice because our scamper was more of a shuffle but we made it back to the car and I quickly took out the camera and lenses and dried them off. They were relatively dry so the vest was certainly a Godsend. We didn't want to wait around for the rain to stop to take the second tug tour, so we headed out, driving past the antique boat show. It was too wet to get out and view those boats so those pictures will have to wait.

A few miles down the road, we pilled off at a picnic grounds in Pere Marquette State Park. It was still raining and even the covered shelters couldn’t provide dry tables, so we got out our pie and ate in the car. I must say it was delicious. We decided we had filled the day as full as we wanted and it was time to punch in "current GPS position to home" on the computer. We headed north along the Illinois River and across the bridge at Hardin. This way we could take the free ferry back across at Kampsville. No trip along the river is complete with out at least one ferry ride.

We made one last stop at Carrollton for pictures of the county court house, one of Pat's projects, and headed for home. So ends another day in the life of the empty nesters.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where Eagles Soar

Last year I wrote an article on the magnificent eagles and where and how to find them. I have posted this article on my website. It is in PDF format. Here is a direct link: http://www.sriner.com/DSDigitals/Where%20eagles%20soar%20with%20pics.pdf

I have new eagle pictures from the Grafton IL area that I will share on the next post. I have been working on my taxes, what can I say.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Return of the eagles

As the winter winds brought the cold Canadian air further south into the Mississippi River valley, they also brought the eagles, in search of open waters, down from the North for their yearly fishing trip; eagle style. Warmer temperatures had delayed the migration; but, the recent arctic blasts forced the eagles hasty retreat. Pat and I were ready to continue our yearly ritual of searching out this wonder of nature. So, the quest began!

As I was just reviewing some pictures from Saturday's outing to Keokuk IA for this publication, I got an e-mail from my wife. Actually it was just a "cc" as she was writing to several family members. It contained the following passage:

"Dulany got out in the VERY cold and snowy weather and walked around "Evergreen Walk" took many pictures, which I am sure he now has downloaded onto his website, if you care to view them. http://em-t-nest.blogspot.com/ If they aren't up there yet, they will be in the near future. NOTE: look for Keokuk, IA trip.

OK, I get the picture. So, yes dear, here are the pictures you promised.

The pictures she is referring to in her e-mail and pictured here are from the now deserted campus of the old Carthage College in Carthage IL. Carthage College had actually moved to Wisconsin some time ago and the campus had been taken over by Robert Morris College. I will quote from her again:

It was pretty sad to see the buildings in the shape they are in at the present time. However, according to their website www.carthage.edu/ , the new college in Kenosha still has the THE OLD MAIN BELL and The Kissing Rock on their campus. I've been to the Kenosha Campus once several years ago, and it is a beautiful campus facing Lake Michigan...So glad they moved on.

It is always nice to go back to see places from your past because it gives a permanence but looking back and seeing it in disrepair is a bit depressing. Sometimes you just can't go back.

The picture at left tells the story. In the forefront is the limited remains of a broken down tree and behind it stands the street lamp which once lighted this walkway of learning. In the background, stands one of the old buildings as empty as the shell of the tree.

So, there we have the touch with the past. It was a thought provoking end for our Saturday outing.

Now, it is time to move out of the past and on to our quest of the day. If you have followed us on our journeys, you know we are looking for new beginnings not shells from the past and Saturday's outing was no different. It was the beginning of our Eagle days 2007. We headed out early Saturday morning with Keokuk IA as our primary destination. It was a cold but clear January morning and it was great just getting out to absorb some of the rays through the sunroof.

As we crossed the Illinois River on I-72, we didn't see any evidence of a mighty wingspan overhead. We had never had much luck there last year and we were glad that we were just passing through. As we neared the Mississippi River, we turned north up toward Quincy bypassing the river at this point; as again, it was not a good spot last year. Keokuk was a new destination for us and we were eager to see what it would bring.

As soon as we crossed the river, we pulled down into the riverside park and there in a tree just off the parking lot sat the object of our quest, the awesome American Bald Eagle. It brings a certain reverence to see them. You can see them in a zoo but it doesn't have the same impact as seeing them in the wild although the blacktop parking lot next to a construction site was not too wild. Once you crop out all but the sky and this elegant raptor, nothing else seems to matter. I stood almost motionless with glass aimed at the back of his head as I waited for him to turn around for a shot. As you can see at left above, he did turn to me before he flew off. I was there and I got it. What a beautiful shot! If this had been the last shot of the day, I could have been satisfied. I had to think back to our first eagle quests last year with inferior equipment. Now, I was in photo heaven. There was another guy there taking pictures with a small point-and shoot digital and although I'm sure it took good pictures there could be no comparison. I know because I had been there just last year about this time. We talked for a minute after the eagle flew off and I showed him a couple of my shots. "I have to get me a camera like that!" He exclaimed. I knew he was now hooked just as badly as I was.

It was morning so we headed back across the bridge into Illinois so we could travel up the east side of the river with the sun to our back as we looked toward the water. We didn't see any eagles along there. The one area across the river from our original vantage point was blocked off due to eagle nesting. They didn't even allow foot traffic.

Our next stop was Nauvoo Illinois, the Mormon settlement along the river. We had been there before but that was before photography was such an important part of my life. We looked around the settlement and came upon a couple missionaries talking to Gary and Gabe, a beautiful pair of Holstein Oxen. We got the complete beginners class, Oxen 101. For those of you who didn't take "Farm Animals 102", an ox is a neutered bull. They were used for draft animals because although they were only about 1/2 as fast as a draft horse, they were considerably less expensive. Any Bovine Bull can be used as long as he has horns to prevent the yoke from sliding forward.

Looking back toward town from down here near the river, we could see the Mormon temple rising high into the sky. It was beautiful white and gold sparkling in the winter sun. The two men on horseback in the picture below are Joseph Smith Jr. and his beloved brother Hyrum Smith making their final ride from Nauvoo to Carthage, Illinois where they were martyred. Additional information on the temple can be found at: http://www.lds.org/temples/main/0,11204,1912-1-160-,00.html

After taking shots of the temple from angles on all for sides, we headed north a little more and crossed back across the Mississippi to Fort Madison Iowa. We were now at our furthest point from home as we headed back down the west side of the river toward Keokuk again. We had several sightings of eagles along the way and even saw a couple Great blue herons as we headed back into Keokuk. We pulled back down into the riverside park to get a couple more shots of the many eagles we had seen earlier that morning. There wasn't an eagle in sight! Good thing we got the shots we did in the morning because this visit was a bust!

Now it was time to head back across the river and eventually back to Springfield after our previously accounted Carthage College viewing.
The timing was good as the snows were starting to swirl around us and temperatures were dropping. A warm meal and cozy fire in the fireplace were looking really good right then.

Thanks for joining us as we traversed the state in search of the beauties of nature and the creations of man on these roads less traveled.

A special blessing to Pat's brother, Jim and all his family who might have come here to take a look back and recount old memories.

Love and Light,
Pat & Dulany

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blue Spring State Park

Our visit to Florida included a stop at Florida's Blue Spring State Park for a view of the Manatees. Here you can see an adult weighing in at about one ton. That is 2,000 pounds of lovable sea mammal. The clear 72 degree spring water makes viewing from the observation platforms outstanding. In the cool winter months, the manatees move up into the Blue Spring run of the St. John's River for the natural warmth. As the waters warm, they will move further out into the bay. For that reason, it is best to view them in the morning or later in the afternoon on warmer winter days.

Here a mother can be seen with her young as they head out into the bay. This area was rich in other natural wildlife and my camera was often drawn to the beautifully majestic shore birds. While the Great Blue Heron is not exclusive to this part of the country even in the winter months, the surrounding moss laden Live Oak trees make a stupendous background as seen below.

As I add more pictures to my website from Illinois to Texas, you will see this magnificent bird in all these locations. They are one of my favorites and therefore often captured in pictures.

The White Ibis is common to the southern regions and is often found in large groups. I saw this one walking the shoreline looking for food. Another inhabitant was not nearly so active. The alligator below was sunning himself/herself ( I didn't care to check up close for gender) on a fallen tree. It was at this point, I decided the swimming area was not so inviting if I had to share it with even this less-than full-grown reptile. Although I was less than anxious to share its swimming hole, I was eager to capture its likeness in memory.

One last look down the river and we would be on our way to the next stop along the roads less traveled.

Be sure to check back as we have lots more places to see.

Also check out www.DSDigitals.com website for more pictures. For picture taking tips visit my other Blog: http://dsdigitals.blogspot.com/ There you can find more technical information about cameras, computers and photography in general.

Pat's 60th Birthday and a visit with the Dershimers

Those of you who know us, are aware that we both turned the magical 60 this year. Pat's turn came just after Christmas and for her birthday gift, she was treated to a surprise trip to sunny Florida. The day the kids left after Christmas break, we had lunch out and along with her other gifts, she got a card that read "Pack your bags, we leave in two days for 10 days in Florida." I had it arranged with her boss and most of our friends knew about it because I had also planned a card shower for her at her birthday dinner. This was all preceeded by a surprise party at work where I presented her with a large cake depicting the road of life as seen above.

It was December 28th and we were approaching Montgomery Alabama. I got a call on my cell phone from our Florida hosts asking about our progress and I told them we should reach the night's destination very shortly. They wished Pat a happy birthday just about the time the GPS showed the stopping point of Longhorn Steakhouse. She saw the notation and her eyes lit up because she had expected McDonald's for dinner. We walked in and the hostess asked about seating and Pat responded with the usual, "two, non-smoking." But I said "No, we are here for a birthday party. This is her 60th birthday!" I looked around and there waiting for us were the Dershimers from Florida. Their recent call was to let me know that they were there as planned. Pat was overwhelmed.

The next surprise was the card shower. I took out the cheese cake box I had brought into the restaurant and opened it. Inside there were 60 birthday cards from friends all over the country that I had either e-mailed or snail mailed or hand delivered the card request. This was the culmination of the birthday surprise but only the beginning of the adventure that included a wonderful visit with Elizabeth Dershimer's brother in Montgomery area where we spent the night before heading down to Florida. When we reached Orlando, where we stayed with Wil and Elizabeth, it was dark. We had chosen to take the long way down avoiding Interstate 75 during Christmas vacation season. Our stay was highlighted by grilled Salmon steaks at Wil's son's house and visits to many of Florida's non-theme-park attractions and wonderful down time visiting with our hosts. We didn't let a minor car repair slow us down much and we were out every day. Future posts will briefly summarize our outings with short narrative and pictures. Additional pictures will soon be available on my recently improved website at: www.DSDigitals.com.