Thursday, November 29, 2012

Late Fall in Echo Valley

Oak leaves float along a spring-fed waterway in Iowa's Echo Valley State Park near Fayette. While air temperatures are certainly cold enough for ice and snow formation, the lack of falling precipitation continues to reinforce the year old drought. Last week Iowa's state climatologist actually predicted a worse drought in 2013 based on over a hundred years of state climate records. Hope not.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Peek Under Iowa's Topsoil

Near the fringe landscape between rolling farmland and northeast Iowa's driftless area, where the most recent glaciers missed scouring the land, there lies a variety of topography. An example is just north of Fayette, Iowa where this limestone quarry operation carves out some small hills. Notice the relatively thin soil supporting the meadow vegetation. Most of the Hawkeye state is built on sedimentary layers like these from ancient shallow ocean deposits. This is the source of many shell, coral and marine bottom creature fossils found throughout the state. Today this solidified mud and ooze from shallow seas makes great gravel (once ground to size) used for rural roads and paved road shoulders. Take a drive on Iowa roads and you'll now think about where the source material is found.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dressing Up a Steam Locomotive in High Heel Pumps

Independence, Iowa's static display of an Illinois Central steam locomotive is a favorite spot for photographers. Late Saturday was no exception. Despite 28 F temperatures a photoshoot was underway when I reached the site after a day spent photographing barns, state parks and civil war memorials. This young model reacted to instructions from a student photographer as a mom watched from a warm truck nearby. After talking to the point-and-shoot photographer I covered the scene with several photos of the train with and without the model. In comparison a photo of a young woman model on a train offers a much higher marketing value than those images without – if I were marketing a train.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lighting Up Burlington' s Masonic Temple Alley Door

Cobblestone Alley in Burlington, Iowa is perhaps as not as famous as its close neighbor Snake Ally located just a half block away. But a stroll down the real cobblestone pavement reveals a few home entrances and this interesting door.

Look a little closer at the door knob and discover a Masonic emblem, positioned a third turn to the right. Turns out this alley is the backside of the local Masonic temple. The building’s front faces east with its northeast corner, the traditional cornerstone location receiving the first rays of light each day. That orientation means this weather beaten door receives the last light of the day. And in between, according to the Masons the walls hold enlightenment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Oelwein Yard's Retired Locomotives

Oelwein, Iowa once was home to a massive railroad maintenance yard. The expansive facility was located just a couple of blocks from downtown. And as with many changing industries, the Oelwein Yard diminished as lines no longer needed the facilities. However in an effort to preserve the past, local train enthusiasts several years ago secured some remaining building structures, rail related equipment and created the Oelwein Railroad Museum, part of the Hub City Heritage Corporation. 

Some of the rail collection exists outdoors. These locomotives are among the fleet of rail cars which also features an old wooden caboose from the 1910s and restored last year. The outdoor site is also an attraction for photographers.

While I was there a few weeks ago, a family of three arrived and were greeted by a woman with an array of photo gear. She led the young family around to the various trains, posed them and took their portraits. She told me that the family will use these photos as part of their holiday cards. She also said that the family loves trains - especially the preschooler and his Dad. My reaction was, well who wouldn't like these old beauties? Just as long as they don't block your way from point A to B.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day 2012 - Spirit of the American Doughboy

Just off the Lincoln Highway in Mechanicsville, Iowa is a tribute to World War I American soldiers. Known as the "Spirit of the American Doughboy" the sculpture was designed by E.M. Viquesney and sold to cities throughout the 1920s and 30s. A detailed story of this design and history including its similarity to the Statue of Liberty can be read here.

Some 300 of these statues may still be found in cemeteries, parks or near government buildings throughout the country as a tribute to the American fighters of World War I. On this day with its genesis as Armistice Day, we remember all veterans and their contribution to American freedom and liberties.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Reaching for the Sun

Late autumn reveals interesting tree growing behavior. These rocky cliffs are north facing which does not allow for much direct light on developing trees. As a result stands are generally branch-less until they reach a certain height to create a canopy. Now that the leaves have fallen the nearly vertical trunks can be observed reaching for the sky without impediment.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Underwater Animal Tracks - Protofossil Factories

Animal tracks can be found around water sources. Such is the case with these Canada geese and deer tracks through backwaters of the Cedar River at Palisades-Kepler State Park near Mount Vernon, Iowa. Given the right weather, geologic conditions and time these now watery tracks could become hardened fossil tracks. However, even in drought times that eastern Iowa has experienced in 2012 it is unlikely that these tracks will survive intact following the next rainfall let alone the eons of time. But somehow fossil tracks do show up in the geologic record. We shall see.