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Archive for the ‘Parks and Rec’ Category

Black Hills National Forest and the Black Elk Wilderness

Black Hills National Forest and the Black Elk Wilderness

I’m typing this blog from around 8,500 feet over the South Dakota Badlands. My friend Tim is piloting his Cherokee 6 towards home and his wife and my husband round out the crew on board. We’ve had an outstanding long weekend in South Dakota and it’s clear to me looking out over the wing that it’s all thanks to taking the road less traveled.

Rushmore snap!

Rushmore snap!

An adventure vacation doesn’t always mean going to an exotic location, but if you’re lucky enough to go somewhere different, my suggestion is to do your research and find the little gems that make a place special.

Day one in South Dakota served up the obligatory visit to Mount Rushmore, but day two started bright and early in Custer State Park near Sylvan Lake at the base of Harney Peak.

Harney Peak is a a mountain in the Black Hills that tops out at about 7250 feet; it’s the state high point of South Dakota as well as the highest peak east of the Rockies in the entire USA!  There is a fire lookout on top of the granite mountain that on a clear day gives a bird’s eye view of the entire Black Elk National Forest; that was our destination.

This is Harney Peak Lookout as viewed from the top of Little Devil's Tower

This is Harney Peak Lookout as viewed from the top of Little Devil’s Tower

Besides being a high point, Harney is also a place of special significance to the Lakota Indians. Their Chief Black Elk was on the mountain as a child and had a vision of the “great hoops of the world” which he recounts in the book Black Elk Speaks. I highly recommend the book for a read.

When we planned our route we decided not to take the most commonly hiked trail and opted for trail #4.  4 is a more rugged path that traverses wildflower meadows before turning rocky and passing amazing granite formations like Little Devil’s Tower and the Cathedral Spires.

The meadows in the early morning were lovely beyond words. Gray jays and juncos called out over the grass, a few mule deer and some marmots ran around just off the trail. The meadow was in full bloom with familiar plants like fleabane, dandelions, and black eyed susans, along with dozens of flowers in dazzling colors whose names I didn’t know.

The Little Devil's Tower intersection

The Little Devil’s Tower intersection

We moved along at a pretty good clip and came to the intersection leading to Little Devil’s Tower before the dew was off the grass.

Little Devil is so named because it resembles the famous Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Little Devil is just shy of 7000 ft tall (making it almost as big as Harney Peak) with about a 1000 foot prominence off the trail we were on.

Justin in one of the tight spots on the Little Devil's Tower Trail

Justin in one of the tight spots on the Little Devil’s Tower Trail

The climb to the summit of Little Devil was a rocky and steep boulder scramble which included a fun section where we needed to wedge ourselves between two huge granite slabs and shimmy up a few dozen feet.

Little Devil's Tower as viewed descending trail #9

Little Devil’s Tower as viewed descending trail #9

We were richly rewarded for the tough scramble up Little Devil because the clear blue sky offered us impossibly beautiful views of the park. To the west we could view the famous Cathedral Spires and to the north, we could see our second destination: the lookout tower on Harney.  We snapped photos, soaked in the view, had a snack and were on our way.

The glorious view from atop Little Devil's Tower!

The glorious view from atop Little Devil’s Tower!

It was almost tougher going down Little Devil than up and it took a little time to get back to the beginning of the spur. At the intersection we met the first other people we’d seen all day: a group of women from Springfield, IL! They asked about Devil and we quickly told them it was tough but totally worth it! (PS Kathy from Springfield: if you found my blog.. I hope to see you on the Capital City Century!!)

The trail then wound around the Cathedral Spires and through some lodge pole pines for a few miles before beginning to really climb. A section of steep switchbacks with feldspar scree was the final obstacle before Harney Peak Lookout came into view.

Adventure Foot on the lookout!

Adventure Foot on the lookout!

The lookout was crammed with people who had taken the shorter trail to the top. It was neat to be there at the top of the Black Hills, but our group agreed that Little Devil had been a bit more exciting since we got to stand on it alone.

Still, the vista was gorgeous and we could look back at Little Devil and see how far we’d come. Pretty amazing to have the two summits all before noon!

As it is with all summits, we had to leave all too soon. We eased back down the common trail. Trail #9 is less rugged and is down in the forest section, so views weren’t as pretty as they had been on #4. Occasionally though, we’d round a corner and be greeted by an enormous chunk of granite we didn’t even know was there!

Justin on top of Harney Peak

Justin on top of Harney Peak

As we reached the bottom of the mountain, we could see an afternoon thunderstorm firing up over the ridge and were happy to be back down at the lake.

You could spend weeks and weeks in Custer State Park and the Black Elk Wilderness and not see all there is to see. I’d love to go visit again and backpack to some back country areas. This was a short trip though and a second adventure awaited us underground at Wind Cave the next day…

Adventure to be continued….

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Did I start a fire without matches on television in only 30 seconds? Gotta watch the video to find out!

I hope you enjoy my KHQA Morning Show appearance. Huge thanks to host Kristen Aguirre and cameraman Mark Schneider! Also huge thanks to my husband who was kind enough to camp on a Tuesday night and get up at 4 am so I could be “TV ready!”

Note to self: I should do video blogs more often! It’s so much less typing!!

 

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Earth Day 2012! On far right is Ashley, who organizes this event each year!

Earth Day 2012! On far right is Ashley, who organizes this event each year!

Save the planet, one park at a time!

Quincy’s Harrison Street HyVee store is once again hosting an Earth Day Park Clean up at South Park (12th and Harrison) this Sunday, April 21st starting at 3pm.  Last year, I was fortunate enough to be able to help with the clean up at Quincy’s Gardner Park.  The event was fun and we all felt like we had made a real difference at the end of the day.

This year, organizer Ashley Hibbard, has planned an extra special event.  HyVee will be providing food, bags and dumpsters for both trash and recycling.  Local musicians Esther Moore, Beau Becraft and Cheeks McGee will be providing music.  All you need to provide is yourself, your friends, a pair of work gloves and a great attitude!   This event is a positive way to impact our community and celebrate Earth Day- and it’s a lot of fun too!  I hope to see lots of Adventure Foot readers at the park!  Happy Earth Day!

earthday

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Mid-race going under the bridge to Quinsippi Island

It’s been a hectic week, but I’ve just been dying to write a race report from the 1st (or 63rd) Annual Quincy 5 Miler Hand Powered Boat Race!

Justin and I before the race.

The Quincy 5 Miler is a revival of a race first held in 1872 along the same route as we traveled last weekend.  Quincy, once known as a national rowing powerhouse, hosted the event 62 consecutive years until the race was discontinued because of transfer of interest to louder, more motorized modes of transport along the river.

Ray Heisey, of Portland, Oregon by way of Quincy, saw the opportunity to partner with Kevin Dempsey of Kayak Quincy and several other local organizations (Including me, here at Adventure Foot) to revive the race.

When I was approached about the race this spring, I agreed to help with publicity and prep work, but I told the team that I was unable to help on race day itself, because I really wanted a chance to put my paddle to the water and see what I could do in competition.  Here is a shortened version of one of my KHQA TV interviews regarding the Ladies Night Kayak events I hosted in the run up to the race.

Safety paddler Ryan Craven.

So that brings us to race day!

I woke up to weather that simply couldn’t have been nicer.  It was cool, the breeze was blowing lightly, and as I drove up to the Knapheide Landing at the Canton Chute Public Use Area, the backwaters of the Mississippi looked like glass.  In the grassy clearing near the ramps, over 70 kayaks, canoes, race shells, rowboats and more were laid out in kaleidoscopic rows.   I made my way over to my 17’ Valley Avocet kayak and proceeded to ready my boat for the race.

My husband and our friends Ryan and Adam had volunteered to be safety crew for the race, so while I got ready, they helped other boaters ready their crafts and worked on adorning their own kayaks with orange safety flags.

After a brief safety meeting, all of the boaters made their way down the ramps and took their places out in the starting area.  The safety boaters separated the racers from the recreational paddlers, and after some directions about the route from the loudspeaker, there was a count of three and the race had begun!

To assure an exciting start for the television cameras, we all took off quite fast and water was splashing everywhere.  A 5 mile race is a decently long way to go on a kayak though, so everyone slowed down not far from the start line and began to find their groove.

Dan Vale and I before the race. Dan paddled SUPER fast and will be in the competitive category next year!

My head wasn’t really in the game at the start- I spent a lot of time adjusting my foot braces and just kind of paddling along straight ahead.  Most of the boats were behind me, so I just took my time.  About a half mile into the race though, the course turned left on to the main channel of the river and I first noticed that there was another female paddler out in front of me.  In fact, she was way out in front of me (far enough that I was only about half sure it was a girl out there).  I’d estimate the distance at about 300 yards or better.   I was kind of shocked to see that someone had opened a lead up that was that large in the first half mile of the race.

Now listen, in a foot race, it’s never really in my nature to get competitive about it.  I’m a slow-and-steady runner who just tries to enjoy the experience.  I’m never even close to contention for placing in races and such so really racing anyone doesn’t often cross my mind.  It was almost a surprise to me when I felt a surge of competitive spirit and decided I was going to catch that girl.

I gave myself a pep talk thinking- “Hey, this is my home water where I paddle all the time.  It’s just a stone’s throw from the place I’ve spent most of my life.  And moreover, I don’t get a chance to be competitive in a race for speed ever…this is my race to lose.”  So with the new goal of, “Catch the woman in the blue boat with the black hair,” I really set to paddling hard.

With no distractions, I concentrated on form. I worked on pulling with my core instead of just my arms and using my brace leg to add power.   I paid special attention to evening out my strokes to maintain my line and none of the drifting off to the left that plagues my recreational paddling seemed to be a problem.  Normally I do a lot of daydreaming and bird-watching from my kayak, but this time around I focused on strokes, watched each paddle pull through the water and even counted sets of four to myself.  It was exhausting.

Right after the win!

Two miles and at least twenty minutes of focused paddling later, and I had to have a break.  I sat my paddle across my deck, grabbed a drink of water and as I stretched my sore shoulders, I realized I had really closed down the distance between the blue boat and myself.  She was just about to turn into the backwater area we call the “Cut” which leads to the regular bay, and I was only 3 boat lengths behind.

With renewed energy, I went back to paddling and, because I was familiar with the route, I took a better line in the curve and passed the other female boater before the Cut emptied into the bay near the Quincy Ski Club ramp.

And that, my friends, is where the wind really picked up.  The breeze out of the South had turned into a steady wind, and with little to block it, the paddling got really difficult.  The other female boater was only a couple of boat lengths behind me, so I decided on a risky strategy.  I figured that paddling in the shallow water near to the island on the west side of the bay would offer the most protection from the wind.  It would add some distance since we would have to cross the finish line on the east side, but I was hoping that avoiding paddling into the direct wind would help me to have some energy left near the finish line.

Kristen and I after the race.

Sensing the end was only a mile away, the other female paddler and I were suddenly and simultaneously sprinting toward the finish.  I was already very worn out from the struggle to close the distance and catch her in the beginning, and she closed the lead I had opened up surprisingly fast.  I dug deep and decided that I wasn’t going to be happy with second place and I got down to business.

I didn’t really look up at her much- I was too worried about my paddling.  My stroke, which in the beginning was fluid and graceful, had become ragged and formless.  I was very aware that my tired muscles were causing me to change what had worked this far, and I’m pretty sure my paddling started to look more like a canoe stroke than a kayak one there towards the end.

We passed the Pier Restaurant and then the Northside Boat Club in rough waves and whitecaps.  I couldn’t believe we were still neck-and-neck.  I spotted the flashing lights of the finish line and ferociously paddled the last few yards until we heard the bullhorn.

I’d won… by half a boat length.

My first trophy since high school??? 🙂

My husband was at the finish along with my friends Jon, Adam and Ryan, and I pumped my paddle in the air once, very excited about the win.  The second place boater (named Kristen, I later found out) and I brought our boats close together and snapped a picture.  We both agreed that without the other, we wouldn’t have pushed so hard.  I’d have never paddled so hard or so fast or so long without someone to really race.  It was awesome!  My finish time was 1 hour, 11 minutes and 15 seconds.  Kristen’s was listed as 15 seconds behind me.

I talked a little with Kristen after the race.  She’d had a baby a few months ago and was just getting back in the swing of racing. She’s done a lot of neat kayak races including an incredible 340 mile Ultra Paddle Race across Missouri.  I guess we’ll put that on the list of things I need to try!  She was an incredible competitor and an amazing paddler.  I was very impressed!

Anyway, the race was super tough, and while I’m stoked to have won first overall female, the thing I’m most proud of is finding out that it’s in me to really RACE!  I realized that even though I’m not in place contention in the 5k/10k/half marathons that I’m entered in this fall, there is enormous satisfaction to be had from just trying to find someone in the race to work hard to close distance on.  Not to necessarily target someone to beat, but to challenge myself to do better than I would have done without a worthy opponent!

After the race I enjoyed a local beer, Quincy Gems IPA, provided by O’Griff’s Pub and Brewhouse, and got my trophy.  “Another Board Company” from Lake St. Louis was at the event, and Adam, Justin, Ryan and I went out to demo some stand-up paddle boards.  I’m going to write a blog about that later…

I had a great time at the revival of the Quincy 5 Miler Hand Powered Boat Race, and am looking forward to seeing this become a Quincy tradition.  I’m also thinking I should look into some other kayak races in the area, because this was a ton of fun.  It goes to show, you never know what excitement is in store when you put your Adventure Foot out the door!

Here’s my KHQA TV Interview after the race!

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Thanks to the nice people who took our photo even though we scared off their fish!!

Let me tell you readers, it’s not for lack of stories that I haven’t been posting quite as often, it’s for lack of time to write!  In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of adventures that I have yet to tell you guys about… today’s slightly late recap is:

Kayaking with Jess

Adventure Feet

My friend Jess’s father-in-law owns a couple of sit-on-top kayaks, and for a long time we had been saying, “Someday we ought to take those over to Wyconda and paddle.”  Well, someday was taking too long so I sent her a message on Facebook asking if “someday” could be “Sunday.”  She actually replied no at first but quickly reversed and said, yeah- let’s do it.

We headed across the river with the boats in the back of my dad’s truck to Wakonda State Park in La Grange, MO.  Our destination was not the busy and crowded main lake, but rather neighboring Agate Lake.

Wyconda State Park Map (Click to view larger)

I learned via the park’s website that Agate Lake was one of six man-made lakes in Northern Missouri created by the excavation of ice-age deposited gravel pits.  The horse-shoe shaped lake is deceptively large, and Jess and I had a great time paddling, exploring, and chasing geese around the small island in the middle of the lake.  My primary paddling experience has been in ocean kayaks (covered), and this was a great chance to try the sit-on-top variety.  Clearly, this kind of kayak isn’t built for speed or tight maneuverability, but it’s really comfortable, steady and perfect for a relaxing day on a local lake.

Some of the Wyconda Trail Heads near Agate Lake

Because I’m silly and couldn’t resist, I had to see how far I could push the kayak onto its side before it would tip. The answer: pretty darned far.  The things are designed to be super-stable and forgiving.  When I finally did tip the thing, I easily flipped it back to the right side by myself, and since it wasn’t full of water the way an ocean rig would have been, I just kicked my feet a little, hauled myself back up on deck, flipped over to sit back in the seat and we were back on our way.

Jess and I had a really nice afternoon on the lake, and I enjoyed being able to catch up with what was going on in her life and tell her about what had been going on in mine.  Really, the most important part of getting out to follow your Adventure Foot is being able to share the experience with a friend.   Kayaking on a small lake is so quiet and relaxing that it lends itself especially well to great conversation.

Jess had no problem with the choppy water 🙂

If you’re looking for a great little park nearby, I’d highly recommend Wakonda.  In addition to Agate Lake where we paddled, there is also Wakonda Lake and its beach and swimming area, there are RV hookups and campsites, several small trails, and a concessions building with small boats to rent.  If you’ve got kayaks there are plenty of opportunities to do short portages to the other lakes in the area- Quartz and Jasper- and I’m told that if you head the right direction, you can portage a few times and be right back in the Mississippi.   The lakes are also stocked with fish and are a great place to take a family for a fishing trip.  The park is smartly laid out with a central parking lot, so you’re at the center of the lakes, the ranger station, the playground, the swim area, the campsites and the boat launches.  It’s only a 15 minute drive from downtown Quincy, which makes it very convenient, even on a whim.

For more on Wakonda State Park, visit their website here!

Peace out. 🙂

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Do you need a fun family adventure this weekend that doesn’t break the bank? Celebrate National Get Outdoors Week with FREE FISHING in Illinois!

The free fishing event runs June 8th– 11th and it means that anyone can go fishing on any DNR site (state parks and rivers included) in the state without a fishing license, inland trout stamp or salmon stamp these four days only.   I blogged last week about Siloam Springs State Park- and it’s the perfect place to go to take advantage of the statewide free fishing.   Crabapple Lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, redear and green sunfish, carp, crappie, channel catfish and rainbow trout. Rowboats are available to rent at the rates of $8 for 2 hours, $11 for 4 hours or $15 for the day, and canoes are $8 per hour.  There is also a bait shop on-site and a boat ramp for personal craft (only electric motors allowed).   For more on Siloam Springs including trail information, click here!

Fishing Rodeo Saturday June 9th

Moorman Park in Quincy.

In addition to the statewide event, local children and adults can try their hand at angling on Saturday, June 9th at Quincy’s Moorman Park.  The Quincy Park District, KICK-FM, Y-101, and Gamemasters are presenting the annual Fishing Rodeo. It’s free to attend, and since June 9th is a free fishing day in Illinois, no fishing license is required! There will be four different age groups, from kids to seniors! The person that catches the longest fish in each age group will receive a one hundred dollar gift card from Gamemasters! Many other prizes will also be awarded. Registration starts at 1pm, and you’ll fish from 1:30 to 2:30. For more information, contact the Quincy Park District at 217-223-7703.

National Get Outdoors Week is also being celebrated at many national parks this weekend, with many locations waiving camping, entrance or facilities fees.  Check local parks for specific information.

Bluegill can be recognized by a distinct black dot behind the gill, spiked top fins and a round shape. Photo from fish.dnr.cornell.edu

Did you know?

The State Fish of Illinois, as voted on by school children in 1986, is the Bluegill!  Bluegill are common in rivers, lakes and streams throughout the state.  Bluegill are actually a carnivorous fish and eat bugs, larvae, snails, crayfish and algae.  They grow to be around 9 inches long and weigh 12 ounces.

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Photo by Brandon Glasgow of humming birds at Siloam Springs State Park. There are feeders in the parking lot by the boat launch area with many hummingbirds always around!

This Saturday is National Trails day, and I’ve got good news if you’ve a mind to get out on local trails: the weather is going to be beautiful!  Sunny, highs in the 70s- a perfect day to follow your Adventure Foot!

Deer Run Trail runs near open prairie lands and is great for birdwatching!

There are many, many good trails at every state park in the area, but I wanted to take a minute to highlight Siloam Springs State Park.

The 3,323 acre park was purchased in the 30s and designated a state recreation area in 1940, but underwent major improvement in the late 1990s.  The park provides ample ideas for fun- there are great shelter houses, a playground, around 12 miles of hiking trails, campsites with restrooms, showers and electricity or primitive campsites, 23 miles of equestrian trails, and a large lake which is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, rainbow trout and more (you need to purchase an Illinois fishing license with trout stamp before fishing at the park.)  At the lakehouse, you can rent canoes and row boats very affordably.  There is also bait and tackle for rent.  The park is only about a 30 minute drive from Quincy or a couple of hours by bicycle if you’re in the mood for a nice long (65 mile round trip) ride!

Great Blue Heron at Siloam Springs State Park

I had the opportunity to visit Siloam last weekend, and was once again reminded how wonderful outdoor recreation close to home can be.  My husband, my friend Clint and I headed to the park in the very hot weather to spend some time on the lake.  We brought along a kayak (important note: if you bring your own kayak/canoe/boat you must have a current IL sticker to use the lake) and also rented a 2-person canoe.  The canoe cost $8 per hour and included lifejacket rental.   We had a nice time paddling around the lake and exploring each shoreline.  I especially enjoyed seeing wildlife including several great blue herons and lots of turtles!

After our paddle, we headed out to Crabapple Trail. This trail traverses 1. 5 miles of woodland, crosses a creek, and has neat outcroppings of limestone every so often.  It’s also one of my favorite trails in the springtime for mushroom hunting.   If you’re looking for a nice easy hike that you could do with a family, Crabapple trail is a good one to try.  It starts and ends in the parking area by the lakehouse, so its location is ideal.

Emerald Jewel Wings are common around the lake shore.

Mmm marshmallows! There are great campgrounds at Siloam Springs!

Another good route to try, especially for groups of adults or those with older kids along, is a combination of the Deer Run, Hoot Owl and Old Village Trails.  Deer Run Trail picks up at the Ranger Station and heads past some open prairie and down a moderate hill to the main Springs area. The prarie area is a great place for bird watchers- there are purple martin boxes and I’ve spotted indigo blue buntings, many types of finch and woodpeckers and even Baltimore Oriels in this area.  When you get to the end of this trail you’re at a great little creek.  I highly recommend fossil hunting in that area!  There are lots of shells, snails and crinoid fossils to be found in the creek bed.  After fossil hunting, you cross the park area and pick up the 1.5 mile Hoot Owl Trail.  This trail goes steeply uphill for a few hundred yards but is fairly easy after that.  I like it because it’s got the best view of the valley in the park, and also a dense stand of pine trees where I always spot deer or red tail hawks.    When you exit Hoot Owl, cross the county line and the bridge and, maybe after a stop for a picnic lunch at the shelter house, go find the Old Village Trail.  This short trail will take you up the bluff and back toward the Ranger Station where you started.  The whole loop ends up being 3-3.5 miles and will give you a great tour of the entire park.

I hope you get out and enjoy some trails this weekend.  Remember to keep our parks clean and leave no trash behind.   If you’d like to read more about another close-to-home State Park- check out this blog from last year about Cuivre River State Park in Troy, MO (1.5 hours from Quincy).   For more info on Siloam Springs including campsite fees, hunting regulations and other amenities, click here!

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