Petrified Forest National Park

Although a bit west of what is considered the tradition Midwest, Petrified Forest National Park is an American national park in Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona. Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, park covers about 230 square miles, encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands.

The Petrified Forest is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch.  The sediments containing the fossil logs are part of the widespread and colorful Chinle Formation, from which the Painted Desert gets its name.

The park’s seven maintained hiking trails, some paved, vary in length from less than 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to nearly 3 miles.  These named trails are Painted Desert Rim, Puerco Pueblo, Blue Mesa, Crystal Forest, Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House.  Hikers and backpackers may also visit the park’s wilderness areas.

1000px-Shortgrass_pano_Petrified_Forest_NPPanorama of shortgrass prairie near Dry Wash in the southern section of the park.

Some of the larger animals roaming the grasslands include pronghorns, black-tailed jackrabbits (hares), Gunnison’s prairie dogs, coyotes, bobcats and foxes. Bobcats and bullsnakes hunt smaller animals, such as deer mice and white-tailed antelope squirrels in the park’s riparian zones.  More than 16 kinds of lizards and snakes live in various habitats in the park.

 

 Here are a few great resources.

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America’s Best Day Hikes       Great Hiking Trails of the World

Discover the magic of Secret Falls — Plateau Daily News

https://videopress.com/embed/zllGK5II?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0

ecret Falls is a hidden gem nestled just south of downtown Highlands that makes for an excellent day hike.

A half-mile hike leads to a multi-tiered Secret Falls off Horse Cove Road. Visitors can see the falls from the top, by the swim hole at its base, or a riverbend downstream with several small drop-offs. The view from the bend in the river is a 180-degrees of waterfall splendor.

Pictured below is Secret Falls

Brandon Anderson made the trip from Waynesville and said he had the day off and wanted to hike something in Western North Carolina.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Anderson. “It’s tucked away down here so it’s not crowded, and it’s not too much of a hike and it’s really scenic.”

There are two creek crossings that are spanned by logs and the trail is well marked by blue rectangles making it easy to follow.

Directions from Highlands:

Head east from Highlands on Horse Cove Road and drive approx. 4 miles and turn right on Walking Stick Road.

Directions from Cashiers:

Drive southeast on Highway 107 for approx. 2 miles and turn right on Whiteside Cove Road. Travel approx. 9 miles on Whiteside Cove Road and turn right onto Horse Cove Road. Drive a mile and turn left on Walking Stick Road.

Beautiful Badlands of South Dakota

Here’s what 47 million years of deposition…tossed with a steady rate of erosion…looks like.

The rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here. The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today. (https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm)

The Lost Mine Trail: We Found Hiking Gold, but No Mine — BIT|Hiker

The Lost Mine Trailhead is on Basin Junction Road near the Chisos Basin Campground. The parking area is small (about 15 cars), so it’s a good idea to get there early. In case you’re wondering, 9:30am is not early. There were no spots, but we found another tiny lot about a quarter-mile east and road-hiked back to the trailhead. The mileage on this hike includes that extra distance, but the coordinates represent the actual trailhead.

Your mileage may vary.

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As on our South Rim Loop hike (read here), we were starting in the shadow of Casa Grande Peak; this time to the east of that majestic alp. We started off uphill directly into the blinding morning sun. The temperature was hovering around 50°F, and the sky was a brilliant azure broken only occasionally by a fluffy white cloud. The first hundred yards or so was paved, but the trail soon turned to gravely dirt and began to narrow. We were hiking into the same autumn-colored forest that we had enjoyed a few days before. Casa Grande again peeked over a mottled sea of red, orange, and brown.

IMG_4780IMG_4786After gaining some altitude, we we were able to look west through The Window and see the rumpled Texas desert stretching off to the horizon. The higher we climbed, the better the view. Soon we were getting views to the south as well, down into Boot Canyon. Twisting and turning, we wound our way east toward Lost Mine Peak. The countryside was stunning; much more open than the South Rim Loop (the rim itself being a noteworthy exception, with some of the most expansive views we’ve ever seen).  Still, this climb was a delight; at every turn in the trail we had a different vista to view.

IMG_4794IMG_4815We were headed in the direction of the Lost Mine Peak, but we would not gain that summit. We found it a little peculiar that the Lost Mine Trail doesn’t go up Lost Mine Mountain. The trail instead eventually turns south and culminates on a rocky bald about three-quarters of a mile southwest of that peak. Legend has it that somewhere near the summit of the Lost Mine Mountain was a particularly lucrative gold mine run by Spanish explorers. So protective were the Spanish of their find that they made the miners (usually life-term prisoners) wear blindfolds as they marched to work from their barracks. The legend holds that a band of indigenous people of the Comanche Tribe, resentful of the European invaders, slaughtered the Spaniards, leaving no man alive who knew the location of the mine. No one has been able to find it since. Curiously, the legend also states that if, on Easter morning, one stands at the former location of the door to San Vicente’s mission (sixteen miles to the southeast on the Rio Grande), the sun’s first rays will fall on the mine’s entrance. For our part, we couldn’t have cared less about gold, except for that which gilded the leaves of nearby trees; our coffers were full to the brim with sunlight, fresh air, and magnificent views. We were rich.

IMG_4821IMG_4838IMG_4844We continued to climb, and eventually we were high enough that we were looking over some lesser peaks to the landscape beyond. A mile and a half into our ascent, we reached a series of intense switchbacks. The next mile would be a dusty back and forth to the apex of our hike, alternately looking up a wooded incline or out over the valley to Casa Grande. Due west was The Window and miles of Texas desert beyond. Immediately below us, we could see Chisos Basin and the Basin Junction threading its way through the sage and brown countryside. We bent to our task.

IMG_4880IMG_4877IMG_4851IMG_4865IMG_4859Leaving the switchbacks behind, we emerged onto a spacious, rounded bald. Here, the view truly opened up. The trail followed a ridge toward a large rock formation to the south. Other hikers were milling around, snapping photos, and chatting. Small children buzzed about, climbing on the boulders that were scattered around the ridge. The general consensus seemed to be that this was the end of the line. It was not. The trail dipped into a shallow draw and climbed back toward the distant rock formation. We continued on, determined to tramp every foot of trail available. Focused on the jumble of massive boulders ahead, we hiked on, now virtually alone.

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via The Lost Mine Trail: We Found Hiking Gold, but No Mine — BIT|Hiker

66 Hikes Along Rt. 66 – Mark Twain National Forest

Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri

 

The once Historic Route 66, of the most famous roads in the United States that ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona and ended  in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covered a total of 2,448 miles.  It has always been iconic for roadside stops….dinners…antiquing…and many historical sites.  Although it longer exists, you can still “get your kicks” on the path it took through the United States on other highways and roads.  In this series, I will highlight the many places you can stop to explore nature along this route….focusing on spots in the Midwest.  Looking for more stops….check out this guide.

 

The Mark Twain National Forest,  Missouri’s only national forest, encompasses roughly 1.5 million acres, mostly within the Ozark Highlands. Located across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, the Ozark Highlands are an ancient landscape characterized by large permanent springs, over 5,000 caves, rocky barren glades, old volcanic mountains and nationally recognized streams. Portions of the Ozarks were never under oceans, nor were the areas glaciated.is a U.S. National Forest located in the southern half of Missouri.   It was established on September 11, 1939. It is named for author Mark Twain, a Missouri native. The park covers 3,068,800 acres with abundant Wilderness and Wildlife and a National Scenic River area. This huge park spans 29 counties and represents 11% of all forested land in Missouri.

Some unique features of the Mark Twain include Greer Spring, which is the largest spring on National Forest land and part of the Eleven Point National Scenic River, and pumps an average of 214 million gallons of water per day into the river.  The public can also visit the Glade Top Trail National Scenic Byway, which offers views of over 30 miles to the Boston Mountains in Arkansas. The 350-mile Ozark Trail system winds through much of the National Forest.

Wilderness Areas   The park has 9 Wilderness areas to explore

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And here are a few other great hiking resources.

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America’s Best Day Hikes       Great Hiking Trails of the World

Amazing Waterfalls of the Midwest

 

 

Hickory Canyons National Area – Missouri

Hickory Canyons

This area is botanically rich, supporting 541 native vascular plant species and 152 bryophyte (liverworts and mosses) species. A number of these species are considered glacial relicts. Glacial relicts are species that were more common in Missouri 12,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. Since then, the climate has warmed, forcing some species to inhabit micro-climates that mimic the cool, moist conditions of glacial times. Glacial relicts at Hickory Canyons include hay-scented fern, fir clubmoss and winterberry. The area is rich in fern species with over a dozen species represented.

The Lamotte sandstone here was formed from the sandy beaches of a shallow ocean that existed 500 million years ago. Layers of limestone were deposited over the sandstone, but millions of years of erosion and uplift of the Ozark Plateau exposed the sandstone we see today. After a rain event a wet-weather waterfall can be enjoyed from the end of the hiking trail on the east side of the county road. In the spring the headwater creeks here are a good place to spot a Louisiana waterthrush.

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/hickory-canyons

 

Starved Rock State Park – Illinois

 

There are over 13 miles (21 km) of hiking trails in Starved Rock State Park. There are 18 deep canyons in the park; French, LaSalle, Ottawa and St. Louis Canyons feature the more long-lasting waterfalls at Starved Rock.  A trail along the river offers scenic views from attractions such as Lover’s Leap Overlook, Eagle Cliff Overlook and Beehive Overlook. Camping, boating and fishing are among the other activities offered in the park.There are 133 campsites at Starved Rock State Park, of those 100 can be reserved. There are also horseback riding trails at Starved Rock on the far western side of the park.

 

French Canyon

From December through February bald eagles can be viewed at the park, either fishing below the Starved Rock Dam, where turbulent waters stay unfrozen during the cold winter months or roosting on the Leopold or Plum Island. The Starved Rock State Park Visitor Center loans out binoculars to aspiring birders in exchange for the birder’s drivers license. During the winter, sports such as ice skating, tobogganing, cross-country skiing and sledding are allowed in parts of the park. Snowmobiling is not allowed at Starved Rock State Park.  Waterfalls become constantly changing ice falls during the winter as well.  14 of 18 waterfalls transform into scenic ice falls, with those at LaSalle, French, St. Louis, Tonty, Wildcat, Hennepin, Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyons being especially scenic.   Ice climbing is another winter activity allowed in select canyons.

 

Hocking Hills State Park – Ohio

 

Hocking Hills State Park is a state park in the Hocking Hills region of Hocking County, Ohio, United States; in some areas adjoining the Hocking State Forest. Within the park are over 25 miles of hiking trails, rock formations, waterfalls, and recess caves. The trails are open from dawn to dusk, all year round including holidays.
The park contains seven separate hiking areas: Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow (nature preserve), Old Man’s Cave, Rock House and Hemlock Bridge Trail to Whispering Cave. 

The area is very popular with tourists and collectively is known as the Hocking Hills Region. It features many private inns, campgrounds, cabins, restaurants, and other related businesses, including a recently developed zipline.

Cataract Falls – Indiana

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Cataract Falls is a waterfall located in northern Owen County in the west central part of the U.S. state of Indiana. The largest waterfall by volume in the state, it is part of the Lieber State Recreation Area.

Cataract Falls consists of two sets of waterfalls on Mill Creek separated by about 1 mile (1.6 km). Both falls consist of a series of drops. The total height of the Upper Falls is approximately 45 feet (14 m), while that of the Lower Falls is about 30 feet (9.1 m).

Immediately downstream of the Lower Falls, Mill Creek enters the southern end of Cagles Mill Lake, near the towns of Cunot and Cataract. The falls are just off State Road 42 and close to State Road 243.

Hike & Go Seek! The Rail Trail – Nebraska

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The Cowboy Trail is a rail trail in northern Nebraska. It is a multi-use recreational trail suitable for bicycling, walking and horseback riding. It occupies an abandoned Chicago and North Western Railway corridor. When complete, the trail will run from Chadron to Norfolk, a length of 321 miles, making it the longest rails-to-trails conversion in the United States. It is Nebraska’s first state recreational trail. The trail runs across the Outback area of Nebraska.

Long trestle bridge; twelve trestle pillars

Trailheads are located in Valentine and Norfolk. Completed sections of the trail are crushed limestone. There are 221 bridges on the trail; all bridges have been converted for recreational use. The bridge across the Niobrara River east of Valentine is a quarter-mile long (400 m) and 148 feet (45 m) high; the bridge across Long Pine Creek at Long Pine is 595 feet (181 m) long and 145 feet (44 m) high.

The trail parallels US 20 and US 275 for almost its entire length. A variety of landscapes are found along the trail: the Pine Ridge, the Sandhills, and the valleys of the Niobrara River, Long Pine Creek and the Elkhorn River.

Trekking Devil’s Lake – Wisconsin

If you can only hike one trail...Devil’s Lake State Park is located in Baraboo, Wisconsin and is Wisconsin’s most popular state park with about 3 million visitors per year. The over 9,000 acre park anchors more than 27,000 acres of parkland and natural areas.

A great place to start – The Nature Center. A three-dimensional landform model of the park will bring the park terrain into sight from a bird’s-eye view. A series of panoramas make clear the formation of the valley, once 1,000 feet deep, now half-filled with rock and sediment and topped by the 50-foot-deep Devil’s Lake. Hands-on items include various bones, furs, shells, and rocks.

There is a lot to keep you busy at Devil’s Lake State Park! Devil’s Lake has 2 large, sandy, beaches, large picnic areas with charcoal grills, reservable and non-reservable shelters and over 29 miles of hiking & mountain bike trails. Concessions offer kayak, canoe and paddleboat and stand-up board rentals as well. Local Outfitters provide rock climbing and bouldering instruction as well as guided backcountry hikes & step on guide services.

Devil’s Lake State Park is known for it’s amazing rock formations and expansive vistas from the top of the Baraboo Bluffs! If this is what you’re looking for and you only have time for one trail, we recommend the East Bluff Trail. Plan for 3 – 4 hours.

If you’re looking for a flat trail, there are paved paths that go through the beach areas on the both sides of the lake near the beaches. The best flat trail options are the Tumbled Rocks trail along the bottom of the West Bluff or the Grottos Trail on the South Shore.

Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

 

Fabulous Birds of South Dakota

“Birds are the most popular group in the animal kingdom. We feed them and tame them and think we know them. And yet they inhabit a world which is really rather mysterious.”  David Attenborough

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Let’s start with the state bird, the colorful Ring-Necked Pheasant which name is used for the species as a whole in North America and also the collective name for a number of subspecies and their intergrades that have white neck rings.

It is a well-know and of regional importance perhaps the most widespread and ancient one in the whole world. The common pheasant is one of the world’s most hunted birds; it has been introduced for that purpose to many regions, and is also common on game farms where it is commercially bred. Ring-necked pheasants in particular are commonly bred and were introduced to many parts of the world; the game farm stock, though no distinct breeds have been developed yet, can be considered semi-domesticated. It is one of only three U.S. state birds that is not a species native to the United States.

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The amazing American Avocet measures has a wingspan of 27 – 30 inches and weighs on average about 12 ounces.  The bill is black, pointed, and curved slightly upwards towards the tip. It is long, surpassing twice the length of the avocet’s small, rounded head. Like many waders, the avocet has long, slender legs and slightly webbed feet.  The legs are a pastel grey-blue, giving it its colloquial name, blue shanks. The plumage is black and white on the back, with white on the underbelly. During the breeding season, the plumage is brassy orange on the head and neck, continuing somewhat down to the breast. After the breeding season, these bright feathers are swapped out for white and grey ones. 

 

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The sandhill crane is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to habitat like that at the Platte River on the American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the lesser sandhill crane  with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.

The sandhill crane was formerly placed in the genus Grus, but a molecular phylogenetic study published in 2010 found that the genus, as then defined, was polyphyletic.  In the resulting rearrangement to create monophyletic genera, four species, including the sandhill crane, were placed in the resurrected genus Antigone that had originally been erected by the German naturalist Ldwig Reichenbach in 1853.  The specific epithet canadensis is the modern Latin word for “Canadian”.

 

Grebes are small to medium-large freshwater diving birds. They have lobed toes and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, they have their feet placed far back on the body, making them quite ungainly on land. Six species have been recorded in South Dakota.

The western grebe is the largest North American grebe.  It is black-and-white, with a long, slender, swan-like neck and red eyes. It is easily confused with Clark’s grebe, which shares similar features, body size, behavior and habitat, and hybrids are known. Western grebes nest in colonies on lakes that are mixed with marsh vegetation and open water. Western Grebe nests are made of plant debris and sodden materials, and the nest building begins roughly around late April through June. The construction is done by both sexes and is continued on throughout laying and incubation. This species of waterbirds is widespread in western North America, so there is no specific place of abundance. Its subspecies, Clark’s grebe generally populate more of the southern part of North America.  The western grebe has black around the eyes and a straight greenish-yellow bill whereas the Clark’s grebe has white around the eyes and an up-turned bright yellow bill. The downy young of Western are grey; Clark’s downy young are white.

 

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Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds that usually nest on the ground. They have long wings, short legs, and very short bills. Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically colored to resemble bark or leaves. Four species have been recorded in South Dakota.

The common nighthawk is a medium-sized crepuscular or nocturnal bird of the Americas within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. Once aerial, with its buoyant but erratic flight, this bird is most conspicuous. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

This caprimulgid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The common nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

 

Here are some good resources if you like birding:

         1591934060

  National Geographic Birds               Birds of the Midwest

Birds of Minnesota

The barred owl, also known as northern barred owl or hoot owl, is a true owl native to eastern North America. Adults are large, and are brown to grey with barring on the chest. Barred owls have expanded their range to the west coast of North America, where they are considered invasive.

The common loon or great northern diver is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Breeding adults have a plumage that includes a broad black head and neck with a greenish, purplish, or bluish sheen, blackish or blackish-grey upperparts, and pure white underparts except some black on the undertail coverts and vent. Non-breeding adults are brownish with a dark neck and head marked with dark grey-brown. Their upperparts are dark brownish-grey with an unclear pattern of squares on the shoulders, and the underparts, lower face, chin, and throat are whitish. The sexes look alike, though males are significantly heavier than females.

Here are some good resources if you like birding:

           

  National Geographic Birds                          Birds of Minnesota