Fine camping and exploring

Yellow-petaled flowers with large brown corollas backlit by the sun.
Ox-eyes on the fishing trail

We went camping at Yellow River State Forest in northeastern Iowa’s river bluff country. There was hardly anyone there when we arrived Friday afternoon, except for the camouflage-clad fishermen squatting in our reserved campsite. I don’t blame them; it was a nice shady spot under some big maple trees to set up camp on a hot afternoon. The nearby fishing trail led down to a sunny, florid opening on Big Paint Creek. We expected more weekend arrivals but they never came. We almost had the campground to ourselves.

Northeastern Iowa is hillier, rockier, and more heavily forested than the rest of the state. Lore loved the change in scenery. “This is so different from Iowa!” she exclaimed. “This is Iowa,” I said.

Carved wood scene from the Passion titled Jesus Meets Women.
Jesus Meets Women in Saint Boniface Church

We stopped in New Vienna on the way north. Lore noticed it as a “point of interest” on the map. There’s a big (for a little town in Iowa) basilica, Saint Boniface Catholic Church. More impressive than its limestone exterior was its interior with ornate woodwork and stained-glass windows. The carved-wood scenes of The Passion decorating the walls had amusingly succinct titles like “Jesus Meets Women” and “Jesus Gets Nailed”.

Shiny round saw blade in a sawmill.
Saw blade in the state forest sawmill

Near the campground was the park headquarters and sawmill. The state runs an active forestry program at Yellow River and apparently has its own sawmill. It was after hours and the sawyers were off-duty but there was a big round saw blade and some logs waiting to be sawed up into lumber on Monday.

A car and tent in a park campsite.
Our campsite

Lore and I were both annoyed that this was our first camping trip in two years (since our honeymoon in Hawaii). We’re out of practice so it took us a while to get ready, even though camping with the car means we can just throw stuff in the trunk and not worry about packing. We still forgot a couple of things, like instant oatmeal for a hot breakfast. Despite the early sun shining on our picnic table, Saturday started out a little briskā€”the kind of chilly morning I associate with back-to-school time.

The sun shines through a spider web across a forest trail.
We found a spider web across the forest trail

We spent our day on a leisurely 6.5 mile hike in the hills and along Paint Creek. Forest trails can be lacking in nice views but they force you to look at the smaller stuff like spiderwebs, mushrooms, and frogs. Like the campground, the trails were pleasant and well-maintained. The state forest has a few backcountry campsites that we checked out for future reference. We broke for a snack near an old metal fire tower which we weren’t allowed to climb. Many of the trails are well-used equestrian trails that are not too messy except for right near the equestrian campgrounds, which were much busier than ours.

Two riders hitching their horses to a post in a forest campground.
Riders hitching their horses to a post in the equestrian campground

The day wasn’t all bluebirds and trail mix: I got caught in some stinging nettles. Not being a frequenter of forest trails, I am not very familiar with them (John showed them to me once in New Jersey). I had the good sense to back out when I realized what I was into so I didn’t get stung too bad but, man, they were painful.

A young green frog sticks its head out of muddy water.
One of the frogs we found in a puddle on the trail

The skies clouded up after we got back to the campsite and the biting gnats came out swinging. I wonder where they were on Friday night. One bugger gave me a welt about 50 times its own size. It was still quiet though; so quiet I hated to do anything like go to the toilet or cook a meal.

A courthouse and water tower on a hill overlook a small town main street.
Bridge Street in Elkader

We’re both out of hiking shape, so even Saturday’s moderate hike wore us out. Since we don’t have a yard at home, we took our time cleaning and drying the tent Sunday morning and, after a brief stops in the picturesque towns of McGregor and Elkader, we made it home for showers and naps.

I posted a full gallery of photos on August 28.

Around river bluff country

Cicadas and carpenter ants

I work in a small park and we don’t often see big animals, but we see insects when we’re observant. This summer has been good for grasshoppers and damselflies, and the season of daddy long-legs and monarch butterflies is just getting underway. Today, though, it was all about the cicadas and the carpenter ants.

I encountered a bunch of Girl Scouts who were fascinated by something on the ground. Turns out it was a cicada emerging from a hole in the lawn. They had an earnest debate about whether it was just hatching (“they lay their eggs in the ground”) or if it had somehow been grounded by an injury (“it’s too big to be a newborn”). Ever the useful naturalist, I weighed in on the side of “just hatching” since I know cicadas live underground for a while before emerging as adults.

Later our blacksmith pointed out a little pile of sawdust accumulating in the corner of our blacksmith shop, and where they were coming from. Every half a minute or so, a black ant appeared on one of the ceiling beams and dumped a little fragment of excavated wood over the edge. There was something very anthropomorphic and workmanlike about these ants that made me laugh. Of course we’ll have to poison them; eating historic buildings is a no-no.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

So many plot spoilers below…

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was fun. I’ve read some criticisms of it, mostly from reviewers who took it way too seriously. Even with some good actors like James Franco and Brian Cox, the humans are the least interesting characters in the movie.

I have the original “Planet of the Apes” movie on DVD here at home. It has perhaps the most spoiled movie plot on… the future Planet of the Apes. Long before I first saw it in college, a clip from the end had appeared in a television documentary about the Statue of Liberty. Mel Brooks also spoofed its ending in “Spaceballs”.

Ape #1: Dear me. What are these things coming out of her nose?
Ape #2: Spaceballs!
Ape #1: Oh, shit. There goes the planet.

“Spaceballs”, 1987

But the worst plot spoiler for “Planet of the Apes” was the cover illustration on the old VHS box which included a picture of the Statue of Liberty. That’s like putting LUKE I AM YOUR FATHER in 48-point Helvetica on the cover of “The Empire Strikes Back”. I saw it a few years ago in the video store and couldn’t contain my disgust. I complained to a nearby stranger and probably ruined it for him too. If I had never seen the movie I would have watched it wondering whole the whole time why there was a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the cover, and then finally at the end… well, I would have demanded my $2.50 back from the video store.

For that matter, the mere existence of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a massive plot spoiler for the original. This madness must stop. Please everybody stop talking and writing about “Planet of the Apes” and quit making other movies about it. You’re ruining it for everyone else.