Friday, July 31, 2009

Iowa's Best: Maquoketa Caves State Park

Contrary to common opinion 42N country is rich in diverse topography. Nestled off the rolling prairie is Iowa's best known cave park - Maquoketa Caves State Park. The park (latitude 42.11N, longitude 90.78W) was established in the 1920s and took shape as a modern managed property with construction from the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Workers Progress Administration (WPA) projects. These Depression-era entities helped to construct stone walkways and picnic shelters within the park.

In 2009 the park is in good shape with improved walkways within the caves, updated picnic shelters, and working lighting systems in the large cave - minimizing the need for flashlights. The latest addition to the park is an outdoor shower area for cavers to hose off mud from a day of exploration. Today two park rangers escorted a group of hard hat wearing children to one of the caves within the cave where they disappeared into the wall after a short climb. Kids love it of course.

One of the big lures of the caves is the natural air conditioning offered in the summer time. Walk through the large caves and be prepared to see your breath. Enter the creek if you dare but be prepared not to feel your feet after the numbing cold sets in. The park is a good alternative to the peak of summer heat. In the winter time the main cave is closed for hibernating bats but the smaller caves remain open. Check out Cave #1 in the winter for ice formations that resemble stalactite and stalagmite formations. Know that.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Des Moine's Blank Park Zoo Gang

Got a few hours and a camera? Get yourself over to Des Moine's Blank Park Zoo. There you will discover a growing collection of animals from around the world. From sea lions to large cat lions you will find many photo opportunities to impress yourself with subjects both large and small. The zoo (latitude 41.520430N, longitude: 93.624638W) is located close to the DSM airport and is easily accessible by dropping down half a degree of latitude from 42N. After artistically snapping your best photos of the animals you can choose to refuel at the Cheesecake Factory in West Des Moines or nudge back north to the solitude of the 42N latitude.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Inch Size Hail Damages NE Iowa Corn Crop

On Friday, July 24 a powerful storm rolled through 42N country around the Clermont, Elgin and Wadena area (42.839N and 91.652W.) Up to inch size hail, strong winds, and heavy downpours concentrated their destruction in this picturesque portion of NE Iowa in Fayette county. Damage photographed on July 26th shows how these elements wiped out much of the corn crop between Elgin and Wadena. Normally the corn is several feet high and has started to tassel. These damaged stands measured about three feet high and smaller. Click on the my photos above for a larger view of the crop's destruction.

With the warm temperatures today essentially drying the fields, the smell of fresh corn was all around like that of shucked sweet corn. This time however the stalks look like sugar cane stands with green bedding material on the ground. All of these green stalks will yellow in the coming days as farmers and landowners check their crop insurance policies and figure out how they will proceed for the season. Some farmers will have to determine how to feed their cattle with no corn crop available.

Just outside this roughly 80 square mile area damaged by the hail, the corn crop looks outstandingly wonderful as a result of timely water and low stress conditions. Know that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Little Depot in Vinton, Iowa

A relic in 42N country is the Vinton Depot located in Vinton, Iowa (42.168N, 92.023W.) Dedicated on March 1, 1900 this portal to past rail traffic now preserves the area’s history as a museum. At this rail station you can find a Rock Island Line caboose from the 1950s and assorted road crossing warning signs. But here's the rest of the story of these tracks...

In the town of Vinton there is a facility formerly known as the Iowa College for the Blind. One of its most famous students was 16-year old Mary Amelia Ingalls, the sister of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mary's sight declined during the years at On the Banks of Plum Creek (Walnut Grove, Minnesota) and worsened when the family moved to DeSmet, South Dakota. Her parents, Charles and Caroline Ingalls, also known as Pa and Ma, took Mary by rail from DeSmet to Vinton for the start of school on November 23, 1881 on the recommendation from a missionary who knew of the sight college.

Mary graduated in 1889 and moved back to DeSmet to live with her family. On October 20, 1928, Mary died and was buried in the family plot near DeSmet. In the 1930s her sister Laura began writing the Little House stories that would immortalize the family including Mary's story of blindness and her connection to the town of Vinton.

Aside from the Little House books which are still in print, much more original material on the Ingalls family can be found at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa. Laura’s only child, Rose donated her professional papers (as a journalist and novelist) and much of her mother’s manuscripts for the Little House books to the Hoover library for archiving.

While the Ingalls passed through Vinton a decade before this depot was dedicated perhaps they used the same area to board. The specialized school is now known as the Iowa Braille School and can be more readily reached car. Some 128 years ago the school was reached by rail - this rail. Know that.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Air Tractor At Vinton, Iowa Airport

Crop dusting, also known as aerial spraying, is used for insect and weed control and is big business in 42N country. To tackle the job you need a versatile machine and pilot. Tied down at the Vinton Veterans Memorial Airpark (42.2186389N, 92.0259167W) three miles north of Vinton, Iowa is this Air Tractor (AT) 300 series agricultural aircraft. From the looks of the fuselage, the aircraft has been in service for several years.

While this model may have been manufactured in the 1980s several electronic advances have emerged to assist the farmer who contracts for aerial spraying. One of these advances is a GPS-based process called precision aerial application which can direct spray to those areas of the field that actually need the treatment. This technique results in less chemical use, reduced cost of operation and improves yield results -- sounds just like one of many ag radio commercials heard in 42N country during football season. Know that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grant Wood's Indian Creek

Sometime between 1924 and 1928 renowned 42N artist, Grant Wood painted an oil portrait of nearby Indian Creek. Two blocks from the 42N Observations blog origination site is this same creek which runs from the north in Linn county, Iowa generally southward before joining the Cedar River. Somewhere along that path Wood painted the scene and titled the work, Iowa Autumn, Indian Creek. The painting is currently displayed at the Dubuque Museum of Art. Photo of the Grant Wood work is courtesy of the museum web site.

You can see Wood's work at many locations in the Midwest including Cedar Rapids, Iowa which houses many public and private collections of his work - including his restored studio at 5 Turner Alley. If you walk the Sac and Fox trail from the East Post Road terminus you might get a glimpse of the portion of the creek where Wood painted this scene. Much of his work is held by the Cedar Rapids school district in various locations around the city.

I do recall seeing a Grant Wood pencil sketch of Indian Creek at Franklin Middle School. That drawing may have been the working model for the eventual color oil featured above. Someone at the Dubuque Art Museum may know for sure. My photo of the creek was taken last fall near Thanksgiving. When exploring 42N country (especially around the 91.66W longitude) you also discover Grant Wood country.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Terry Shelswell, Military Vehicle Convoy Director: Patriotism is Alive and Well

The Military Vehicle Preservation Association concluded their reenactment of the 1919 Lincoln Highway transverse of the USA four days ago. The 60-some military vehicle convoy is made up of privately owned jeeps, trucks, cars, and motorcycles which are about 40 to 60 years old. Some vehicles are much older. The convoy began in Washington D.C. on June 13th and ended at the San Francisco terminus of the Lincoln Highway 26 days later on July 8th. From time to time local enthusiasts joined the convoy by riding in their own military vehicle for a few hours, a day or longer.

When the column stopped in 42N country's locale, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (an actual stop location during the 1919 trek,) Convoy director Terry Shelswell talked to the local media. He was interviewed following the debriefing of the convoy participates at the Clarion Hotel parking lot - located not too far from the original Lincoln Highway route through these parts.

Terry's June 21st media interview with 42N and KGAN (CBS 2) can be heard here. Though obviously tired from a long day on the road he expressed a few major themes of the trip. One is the outpouring of community support for the convoy especially among the smaller towns along the route. Another theme is the unique reason why each convoy member is on the trip. "Patriotism in this country is alive and well and is a wonderful experience," says Terry.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fairfax, Iowa Celebrates USA's 233 Years of Freedom. Recalls Ronald Reagan Visit.

Independence Day 2009 is celebrated in many ways throughout the USA from parades to speeches to family gatherings and of course fireworks. One of the traditions around 42N country is the display of American flags. This arrangement of Old Glory is located at Saint Patrick's Cemetery (41.895N, 91.794W) near Fairfax, Iowa.

Twenty-five years ago, then President Reagan spoke at the Fairfax Saint Patrick's Catholic Church located a couple of miles north of this cemetery. Below are his concluding remarks from that day, September 20, 1984. The Great Communicator knew his audience. His full speech can be found here. Know that.

"How many of you weren't at the [Cedar Rapids] airport rally today? Then, I'm going to tell you. Those who were there are going to have to hear something again. I hadn't told it, I just thought about it for the first time in many, many years, a little personal experience I had in 1948. I'd gone to England to make a picture called ``The Hasty Heart.'' And on the weekends, never having been there before, I'd hire a driver and a car and have him show me the countryside outside of London. And -- --

[At this point, the President was briefly interrupted by a train whistle.]

Quiet! [Laughter]

Is that his campaign train? [Laughter]

But he stopped one evening, as the Sun was going down on one of those weekends, a pub that he said was 400 years old. And we went in, and a matronly woman, a very nice lady, was serving us. And down, some tables down, was an elderly gentleman, and he was -- they were the only two, evidently, running this place.

And when she heard us talk for awhile, she said, ``You're Americans, aren't you?'' And I said, ``Yes, we are.'' And then she said, ``Oh, there were a great number of your chaps stationed just down the road from here during the war.'' And she said, ``They used to come in every evening, and they'd have a songfest.'' And she said, ``They called me `Mom' and they called the old man `Pop'.''

And by this time, she's not looking at me anymore. She's looking kind of out into the distance with memory, and there's a tear on her cheek. She said, ``It was a Christmas Eve. We were here all alone.'' And she said, ``The door burst open and in they come, and they had presents for us.'' And then she said -- and this is why I'm telling you the story -- she said, ``Big strapping lads they was, from a place called Iowa.'' [Laughter] And then I had a tear on my cheek.

Well, I thank you so much for your very wonderful hospitality and for the warmth and kindness that comes so naturally to Iowans. And I want you to know that I enjoyed both the beef and the pork for lunch. [Laughter] No argument about that.

Thank you all, and God bless you."

President Ronald Reagan
Remarks at a Community Picnic
Fairfax, Iowa
September 20, 1984

Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. on the lawn of St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Grand Rapids, MI.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nature's Fireworks - Canadian Thistle

The State of Illinois calls it a noxious weed. Look around 42N country and you will find Canadian thistle in full bloom. This miniature fireworks was found at the Amana, Iowa train depot. Know that.