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winter fun up north

We sneaked a couple of days up north before school began and enjoyed a bunch of winter fun. We spent a day snowshoing our property, went ice skating, snow tubing, hiking, and I even got in a trail run along a segment of the North Country Trail–with beautiful Lake Superior by my side. Every moment I spend north, I feel renewed in body and spirit.

hiking, history, and the i&m canal

Last Sunday, we all headed out for a day about town in beautiful Lockport, IL. The focus of our trip was the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal (I&M). The I&M Canal was commissioned in 1823 in order to connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River (via the Illinois River). This marked the first complete shipping passage from the east coast to the gulf of Mexico upon its completion in 1848. The Canal cost $6.5 million to build and stretches 96 miles from the mouth of the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Illinois River at LaSalle. The Canal–in its original state–was 60 feet wide and six feet deep. Now, from observation it looks to be about three feet deep and 20 feet wide, as it slowly trickles its way around river rock and through a thick sludge of mud and leaves. It closed for good in 1933.

So, the three of us journeyed back through time as we walked onto the porch of the old I&M Canal Headquarters building, which is now the site of the Will County and I&M Canal Historical Museum. With a creak, we opened the screen door and stepped inside the cramped foyer lit dimly by a single incandescent bulb overhead. We paid our modest $7 admission fee and had the museum to ourselves. (Seriously, other than a single volunteer sitting alone in the back room, we were the only time travelers this day.) We saw all kinds of cool stuff–turn-of-the-century doctor’s equipment and supplies, old tools and sewing machines, looms and spinning wheels, an original civil war Union Army uniform, old maps and all sorts of local 19th century artifacts. We even walked inside the original iron vault to see bits of history strewn about yet to be cataloged. (I think the museum needs more volunteers.)

After our visit in the museum, we continued our journey through history to walk along the historic I&M Canal tow path. We strolled (and Aidan “scooted” a while) along the path that mules used to tread upon, towing the heavy barges with long ropes through the canal. The mules would tow a barge the distance that they could walk in a single day. (Incidentally, the towns that grew up around the canal were spaced about this same distance.) During our walk, we took our time and enjoyed the fall colors and the cool autumn breeze. We visited Lock 1 along the canal, took some photos, and read the interpretive signs. All in all, it was a beautiful fall day for such an adventure. Perhaps we’ll travel there again soon.

the petrifed forest, where the wood is stonier

Well, we’ve been busy (and a little lazy, which is what vacations are all about, right?). Since we arrived in Sedona, AZ last Thursday night, we’ve spent much of our time just hanging out around the house. It’s a nice place–much nicer than the house in Santa Fe–but not quite as remote or private. The bed is much more comfortable, I can say that, which has made a big difference in terms of rest and relaxation. Like I said, we’ve been sticking close to the house for the most part–enjoying time on the deck, barbecuing, reading and writing.

We did venture out on the fourth to Flagstaff to catch some fireworks–apparently the first in several years due to fire hazards. Aidan had a good time, sitting on the roof of the Jeep watching the show from the BestBuy parking lot–not exactly an idyllic spot in the park, but I think “Fire Safe Fireworks” means over pavement. The hum and glow of the mercury vapor lamps in the parking lot didn’t seem to bother Aidan any. He’s a good sport (most of the time).

Yesterday, we hiked into the nearby Coconino National Forest and hiked a 2.6 out-and-back trail up to Crystal Point. It was a beautiful trail through the woods and up the side of a red-rock mountain. It wasn’t too easy, though, as the trail was strewn with red volcanic rocks and boulders. Plus, Aidan was getting rather tired half way up the mountain. He made it, though–out and back–with just a few scrapes, a few tears, and a little whining. In the end, he said he was really glad he did it, and he was excited to have the opportunity to sign the logbook stowed at the summit. He’s a trooper.

Oh, I forgot to mention, last Thursday, before arriving here in Munds Park, where we are staying now, we made a little side trip through the National Petrified Forest. It was quite something–a barren but beautiful landscape strewn with the fossilized remains of an ancient forest 225 million years old. Some of the logs, long ago washed across the prehistoric flood plain, look like they could have fallen last week. Closer examination reveals that they have turned to stone and crystal over the course of eons. We drove through the portion of the park known as “The Painted Desert,” stopping along the way to take some photos, and then spent a good portion of our time in floodplains of the Rainbow Forest that I described above. We also spotted a couple Pronghorn antelope grazing near the road. It was a good time. Check out some of the photos below.

Oh, I can’t forget to mention that Aidan earned a Junior Ranger badge while visiting the Petrified National Forest. He completed a series of activities for his age range, talked with the ranger, raised his right hand, and took his ranger oath. He even repeated the oath word for word after the ranger (which is a big deal for Aidan, as he becomes quite reserved around people he doesn’t know). Note one of the photos in the collection above where he is holding his badge and raising his hand. (That one was posed for the camera.) More later.

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