Thursday 20 August 2015. Some Good Miles to the South on a Clear Morning 

It was 55 degrees F, the sky clear, at 5:55 this morning. Was so glad to get out on Rhododendron, its front wheel and crank bearings repacked and well-lubed. 

Today’s destination was for parts south, by way of Race Street. Wanted to take advantage of the daily-shrinking window between the first morning light and the activities of the post-summer break day and go for a little, but long-as-possible, ride. 

Really tried to refrain from stopping for pictures (though I did check, without finding anything, the mushroom site). Noticed the stealthy silence of Rhododendron’s pedal crank and was surprised to feel like I missed the bird-like sound of its squeaking, a sound that used to distract and annoy me. Go figure. 

Soon approached the corner of Race and Windsor, but, alas, south Race Street was closed. Windsor itself was under construction, hardly inviting to bike traffic, so doubled back to McHenry and south again on Vine. Crossed the constricted Windsor Road and alas, did not stop at Meadowbrook Park. Did notice that a sculpture (iconic of Meadowbrook, I thought) that I liked had been replaced by one of a rather cartoon-y representation of a person walking a dog. Haven’t decided whether I like it. 
Fortunately the long sidewalk along Windsor was accessible, and it was a lovely ride into the sunrise over Philo Road.  

 Was happy to see a clear path to the right and southward. 
Did stop on Philo road for a shot of these dressed-up corn stalks.  

 This is ag-research country!

Rode to the end of Philo and had to decide between a left (eastern, Yankee Ridge Road) or right (western, back to Race or on to First Street) and chose the left. 

Had not planned to view the sunrise from the magical crest of Yankee Ridge, but there it was!   

 Ah, mid-August dawn in central Illinois!

So went south on Yankee Ridge Road, which has a pleasing bit of vertical roll but today also a dusting of distractingly loose gravel.  

 
Tried to remember my ice-riding skills: not to try to grip the road but balance (like flying!) over it. Actually the road was mostly pretty firm. 

Turned around at Champaign County highway 18, I believe, and headed back to Old Church Road. Decided to avoid the whole Windsor Road project and come back via First Street. 

Stopped at the Barnhart Prairie Restoration and was pleased to see the blooming compass plants and big bluestem grass  

 
as well as fairly abundant prairie dock. 

  
Was pleased also to see a path through the little prairie, which I did make time to traverse a short way.  But got my feet quite wet and then back on the bike felt cold in the extremities, to go with my already running nose. Who would think there could be issues of cold in mid-August?

Turned north on First Street, where traffic was already starting to build. Decided it wasn’t so bad to ride in its company; kept me from stopping too much. 

Enjoyed the new, slightly swaying extensions of Gerty Drive and Fourth Street as I made my way back home. 

In spite of the traffic and cold loved this satisfying, healing almost 20-mile mid-August morning ride!

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Sunday 16 August 2015. Dawn at Meadowbrook and Some Miles on First Street 

It was 68 or 70 degrees F (consecutive readings on the phone weather ap, and really thought I could feel both temperatures in the layers of air. 

Really wanted some therapeutic miles this morning, but also knew Meadowbrook Park would be full of late-summer flowers (e.g., cardinal flowers), grasses, and images of them in the early light.  So decided to loop Meadowbrook and then head south on First Street. 

First stopped at “my” organic apple tree.  

 
A little farther down was drawn to a full cluster of surprise lilies.  

 
The trip was not quite so express, already. 

Noticed fog down toward Windsor Road, more photographic temptation.  

 
At Meadowbrook, the light still was too low  to get a decent shot of my main objective there: cardinal flowers. So turned toward the Race Street pavilion and walked Discovery II  over the little wooden bridge across McCullough Creek (rather low and

 quiet these days) toward the “Art and Billee Spomer” prairie.   

Once there was greeted by blooming big bluestem, beaded spiderwebs strung among its blades and the sun coming up behind it all through the waning fog.  

 

It was not hard to find things to photograph.  

 Every step presented beautiful images (the sky and the spiderwebs alone!)  

 
and knew I had to stop and leave or would be there a LONG time not doing anything else before it was time to go home. 

So with great resolve turned around and got back on the paved path, headed for the rabbit-statue bridge and the cardinal flowers. 

On the way saw a nice view of the sun coming up over the fog and some early goldenrod. 

  

And on below the rabbit-statue bridge, the blazing red cardinal flowers were not disappointing!  

 Was glad to see the several plants on both sides of (mostly dry) Davis Creek 

 

which promised their continued presence at this site in the future. 

Again tore myself away to make some miles on South Race Street. Caught the sun above the southwest edge of Meadowbrook, the ground soft and misty. 
  

Then turned west on Old Church Road and then south on First Street and stopped at the prairie garden with all the cup plants on the west side of the road.  Not long ago royal catchfly had bloomed here, but could not find any trace of them left. Still, plenty of joyous yellow cup plant and compass plant flowers remained. 

  

Then continued south till the trip odometer hit 11 miles, to the edge of Tolono. 
 

Turned back and enjoyed a mostly uninterrupted, reasonably comfortable ride, satisfied especially with the balance of  catching the visual beauty on the way and feeling the soothing sensation of riding. 

Thursday 13 August 2015. West on Windsor 

It was 66 degrees F at 6:35 this morning and mostly clear. 

Ah, so much is going on these days! Had a particularly great need for another long ride, as continuous as possible, so chose Windsor Road to the west. 

Rhododendron was in the shop to repack the crank and front wheel bearings so rode Discovery II

Did stop for a shot of “my” apple tree

with its many smallish, spotted apples and interspersed bare branches. 

Rode on Race and turned west at Windsor, and rode some more. It was good to ride without stopping. There was a fair amount of traffic, which tends to discourage me from stopping for photos. But felt safe in the bike lane and rode on, savoring the feeing of smooth, continuous movement. 

Felt grateful once again for the new bridge over I-57 with its bike lanes; remembered how narrow it used to be, and carrying  all that traffic. 

Rode past I-57 up to a residential street, Mullikin Drive, where I looked north and noticed a bridge over a stream (Copper Slough, according to Google Maps).   Turned onto Mullikin and stopped just long enough for a look into the stream. There noticed a great blue heron standing in a riffly place.  

 
Always it’s a treat to see those tall, handsome wading birds. 

Then rode on, unbothered by the morning rush traffic. Was beguiled, though, by a particularly velvety dark green carpet of soybean leaves and could not resist getting an “iconic” portrait of central Illinois. 

  
Farther on was taken by the apples dropped from an overhanging tree, and especially the morning sun hitting them and making long shadows on the bike path. 

  Rode toward home. Approaching Race Street there still was construction, and this time opted to risk the sidewalk being open to the intersection rather than thread among the construction materials or line up with the cars.   It was!

 
The long, continuous ride was so soothing, as if mixing all the jumbled lumps of concern and difficulty into something smoother and more integrated.  Cycling like this does help me stay sane. 

The hybrid bike was comfortable, making me wonder whether or not my big bike investment should go into a road bike. Need to gather more data….

Meanwhile, I am liking the longer rides!

Tuesday 11 August 2015. Back to Homer Lake

It was 66 degrees F at 6 am under “loosely” cloudy skies. Today I would make the second trip this summer to Homer Lake.  It would be good for the miles and to see whether there might be cardinal flowers like I’d seen there the last couple years. 

Headed east on Washington and tried very hard to stop as little as possible. But the sky was worth a pause. 

 
Heard dickcissels in the soybean fields and occasionally saw one up on a utility line. But no stopping for photos. 

At 5-6 miles the hips and knees complained and then felt better, though they peeped again intermittently. So the comfort level wasn’t super high the whole way. Which sowed a seed of doubt about how much fun this was. But kept on, looking forward to the possibility of seeing cardinal flowers. 

Stopped at the marker of the historic Kelly’s Tavern,  

where Lincoln allegedly stopped on his judicial circuit.  It has a nice garden of prairie plants, including plenty of common milkweed. Did not see any monarch caterpillars, but there were these picturesque milkweed bugs. 

 Also, behind the marker, on the other side of the row of conifers, was an elk, or some deer-kin, farm. Did see two or three exotic deer or elk as I passed the entrance but didn’t stop for a photo. 

Stopped at the bridge over the Salt Fork and got a shot of clouds on the water.  

 Arrived at Homer Lake  and heard a great splashing sound: a deer crossing the water. Usually they are so quiet.   

 Then heard a big squawk: great blue heron to the east, and then another to the southwest.  But didn’t get a photo. 

Saw swirls in the water near shore and just made out a large carp.  

 

Looked for cardinal flowers but did not find any. Did see dragonflies (center of the photo).  

 Guess at least some of them are out in the early morning. 

The diversity of wildflowers was not as high as I remember from a previous visit, but the hoary vervain were nice.  

 I suppose there may have been cardinal flowers lurking close to the shore among the high vegetation, but didn’t want to spend too much time walking through it.  So turned around and headed back. 

 Had to wait, though not for very long, for a train.  
Had to admit that my knees and hips were a little cranky and the ride was not 100% comfortable.  But on I went, on to the next mile, “corn to the left of me, soybeans to the right, here I am, stuck in central Illinois.”

 
Saw vultures circling tightly over the same trees they were near 

Monday 10 August 2015. Surprise Cardinal Flowers and Mushrooms 

It was 6:30 am and 73 degrees as I made my way under a cloudy, foggy sky from a quick stop at Starbuck’s (for the mood-enhancing effects of coffee and writing on this blog) to the pool at Crystal Lake. It wasn’t a planned cycling trip, but saw something I wanted to report. 

Decided to avoid the traffic of University Avenue and rode on the sidewalk, next to which was a nice municipal planting of semi-native plants. I say semi-native because along with the mostly bloomed-out Liatris there were white flowers I didn’t recognize, purple coneflowers in odd, dark colors.  The first feature that caught my eye was the mushroom, pale beige with a scalloped edge.  

 
And there were more of them, with plainer edges.  Then noticed, of all things, cardinal flowers!  

They didn’t look quite the same as the ones I saw at Meadowbrook and the Japan garden pond.  

 (After looking at the photo I suspect the grass is prairie dropseed.)

They were a slighty less intense shade of red, and the flowers were of a slightly different shape.  

 
Still, it was a happy discovery. 

Another curiosity of the place was what looked like fungus on a Liatris flower/seed head that resembled a frozen waterfall. 

 
On the ground were more clumps with just the filamentous part, but they were hard to photograph. 

Liked being drawn in to and sharing this unplanned  observation of surprise wonders of gardening, if not exactly of nature. You never know what might be right next to you to see till you stop and look!

Friday 7 August 2015. Touring the Prairie with My Old Friend Sherri

It was about 10:30 am, about 74 degrees F, and the sky mostly clear when my old friend Sherri (on Discovery II) and I (on Rhododendron) departed to seek out the hints of mid-summer prairie splendor to be found in Urbana IL. 

Sherri, who was in town on a circuit of visits to family and friends, has lived for the past twenty-something years in California, where the landscape tends to be more dramatic than it is around here. But she grew up in Illnois and misses the prairie, so we agreed: what better way to renew our friendship than to ride around town and sample the bloom of the prairie?

We started at the mini-prairie on Florida and Orchard, which was blooming with various yellow flowers like Black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, false sunflower, rosinweed, cup plant, (stunted) compass plant, and this lovely, full example of tall Coreopsis .   

Also there were plenty of pink-purple-blue things like purple coneflower, hoary Vervain, Monarda

 and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

 
Sherri noticed a false sunflower plant with a curious arrangement of aphids lined up on the stem.   

The little prairie was full of swooping bursts of yellow-and-black: twittering goldfinches, and, wonder of wonders: an indigo bunting!

Then we rode to the Japan House garden, the pond in particular.  

We saw a green heron fly over the pond and land on the shore among the cattails. 

 
A little imagination required. 

At first we saw evening primrose and Liatris, also saw great blue Lobelia, but no cardinal flower so did not stop for photos.  We made a loop around the pond, and then halfway around, did after all see those magical splashes of red.  

 
And a little way down there were more.  The flowers were like a column of red birds taking flight!  

 
 Could hardly imagine anything more graceful and beautiful!

Perhaps not quite so spectacular but still extremely lovely were the blue spikes of pickerelweed flowers.  

 Lots of a variety of dragonflies zoomed around.  

This was a feature that I don’t get to see so much around sunrise. Dragonflies are pretty solidly diurnal and not sentinels of the dawn. 

The water itself teemed with turtles, large koi, and frogs. The pond was even more beautiful than I could tell last time. And across the water noticed a dock under construction. The vision and devotion that go into developing and sustaining this place just blow me away!

Then Sherri and I headed to Meadowbrook Park to see the cardinal flowers there and maybe also the royal catchfly. 

The cardinal flowers were holding forth in a spot along the bank of Davis Creek (now pretty much dry) where it joins McCullough Creek.  There were only three stems, but the one with most of the bloom was glorious.  

 Again had to carefully brave the brambles–but felt kind of glad that this treasure was so protected. 

Then on to the interior via the “soft” path to see the royal catchfly. 

Which were declining  

 but still offering plenty of red stars.  

 
Saw the first blooms of cream gentian!   

We looked for monarch caterpillars on the common milkweeds, without success, but did see s number of adults.   
The sun was rather high by now, and we hadn’t applied sunscreen, so it was time to return for lunch. Talk about a perfect morning!

 

Saturday 1 August 2015. Weaver Park and North High Cross Road. 

At 5:35 this morning it was, according to the phone weather ap, 61 degrees and clear, the just-past full moon getting close to the western horizon. But the air felt warmer than 61 and didn’t bring a jacket. Hoped I wouldn’t get cold.  

  

Today the destination was north High Cross Road, by way of Washington Street and Weaver Park. 

Thought this sign at the entrance to Weaver Park was humorous, if a bit sad. 
  

At edge of the “buffalo-wallow” pond caught the clear western sky behind a group of three of the “Sylphium sisters”: cup plant (S. perfoliatum), compass plant (S. lacineata), and rosinweed (S. integrifolium)
  

And prairie grasses were starting to bloom: the first big bluestem, I believe,

and, I’m guessing, switchgrass (Panicum virginiana–there actually is a group called “panic grasses,” must be a story behind that!). 

  

It really is time for me to get serious about distinguishing at least the common prairie grasses beyond big bluestem and Indian grass.   

Zoomed in a little to the pond, largely covered with water lily (I guess) pads and cattails. 

  

Saw these pads move, clearly, but didn’t spot the creature responsible for the movement. 

Then cut across Dodson Drive and east on Main, across University through the Beringer subdivision and North on High Cross Road. 

Passed the site on the northeast corner of the bridge where I used to follow the breakdown of a possum road kill and stopped to see whether any evidence of possum bones remained.  None did, only new garbage. Could probably have found some with a bit of effort but overruled that notion and went on. 

Out in the country on High Cross Road, the air was cooler than it was in town.  The temperature reading this morning must have come from outside of town. The change was pleasant. The ride was pleasant. It was not high exhilaration but reasonable comfort, with an awareness of how much better it was than so many other possible states or situations. 

Rode on and stopped at the edge of Brownfield woods for a shot of pale jewelweed 

  

and Joe Pye weed. 

  

Joe Pye weed (another provocative name with a story I don’t know) for some reason doesn’t tend to make me stop and photograph it, but got pulled in by this amazingly full clump. 

Continued north on pleasant High Cross Road and had to document the absurdly vigorous corn

with its absurdly tidy edges and extremely close proximity to the road.  Welcome to the  central Illinois, the icon of fertility!    

Thought the sight of morning glories on corn stalks had gotten mundane and not make me want to stop, but these were hard to resist. 
  

Then High Cross jogged where it crossed Leverett Road, and on the other side of Leverett was greeted by a male red-winged blackbird that hovered over me and made a cheep (complaint or warning, I guess) I hadn’t previously associated with red-wings. 

  

And it followed me a while. It was fun to imagine that this bird was trying to tell me something or was sent to protect me, though I think it simply didn’t like my being in its territory.  

There also were a number of dickcissels, those “mini-meadowlarks” with their distinctive call, in this area. 

Rode as far as county road 2200 N and turned around.  The red-winged blackbird near Leverett Road hovered over me when I passed through its territory again. 

On the way back saw spiderwort (a different species than the prairie one, I think) at Brownfield Woods. 
  

Also saw American bellflower, another favorite, which had completely escaped my notice on the way out. 

  

Returned via Main Street and stopped at the wildflower garden across from Weaver Park to see the royal catchfly. 
 

Was glad for the miles and the colors of summer!