Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Midewin - 8.15.10, Post 1

This was so very clearly not the world's most thought out trip ever.
The Chicago weather had, theoretically, broken.  We were out of the 90's and into the lower 80's... or so the weatherman said.  So I wanted to get out and shoot.  And I wanted to get out of the city.

I did a little Google roulette and decided to try the Midewin National Tallgrass Preserve.  It's in Willmington, IL, just south of Joliet, an area I was familiar with since I used to live down there about 10 years ago.

Long story short, during World War II, Korea and Vietnam the military had a munitions manufacturing plant in this area.  They made TNT, bombs, shells, the whole nine yards.  In 1970 they shut down the plant.  It took them 25 years to clean the land of the contaminants and in 1995 the land became the property of the National Forest Preserve and it was turned back into a proper Illinois prairie.

It's a very, very large prairie with several different distinct ecosystems - savannah, woodlands, wetlands, etc...  And you need to drive from one to get to another.  It's very, very big.


Problem The First:  My cursory glance of the website did not reveal that the welcome center is not open at all on Sundays.  Guess when I went.  Of course.  But there was this nice little literature holder with a map of the park and some phone numbers.  I see one that says "After Hours" and call it to see if I can still hike even if the welcome center is closed and to see if there's a place to park, since the gate to the main parking lot was locked.  I called and got a machine.  I hung up, figuring that there was no one there.

So as I continue looking over the info I notice that it actually says, "Emergency and After Hours".  Oops.  I've hung up on an emergency number.  I really do know better than that.  So someone called back to make sure everything was okay and I apologized for being stupid and he told me that I could still hike and where I could park.  He was very nice in the face my huge Oops.

Problem The Second: The weatherman lied.  Hugely.  When I got back to my car after my hike it said it was 92 degrees.  I'd gone through all the water and Gatoraid in my bag and eaten all my pickles (I like to pack pickles with my lunch - they add water and salt :) by the time I got back.  Good thing I keep a gallon of drinking water in my car in the summer!  This is not the kind of place where you can just nip over to the nearest 7-11 and grab something.  There's a porta-potty in the parking lot.  That's the only 'convenience' outside of the (closed) welcome center.  In fact, you're so far out that each trailhead has sign in book so people will know you're out there.  In my 8 hours out there, I saw one couple on horseback and one guy on a bike.  That was it for the day.  (On the flip side, I did have a cell phone signal the whole time (except for IN the bunker) so I wasn't too freaked out about being in the great unknowns on my own.

Problem The Third: After having survived almost 38 years without ever getting a tick in my life, I saw the "Tick Area" signs and went, "Okay, note to self, brush off bugs."  And then continued to hike around in my shorts and t-shirt.  Yeah, I was all the way home when I realized I had a tick in the middle of my right calf.  I didn't feel a thing, so it's a very good thing that this little monster was somewhere where it was easily seen.  Anyway, this thing caused huge amounts of drama.  I called the E.R. and said, "I have a tick, I can't get it out."  They had me call my doctor, who of course, wasn't in on 6:30 at night on a Sunday.  So her service called her, she called me and the long and the short of it was I had to go to the E.R. to have it removed.

I hate anything that goes through my skin.  Needles, pins, BUGS!  So this thing had me pretty freaked out.  The nurse was great though and got it out completely painlessly.

But here's the part that sucks.  I'm on antibiotics for two weeks to make sure I don't get Lyme Disease.  I've read enough on Lyme Disease to know that I never, ever want to get it.  But wow, these drugs are no picnic either.  Both the E.R. doc and my doc insist that this one is the best one for the job, but my body really hates it.

So, you know... if you see Tick Area signs, take them very, very seriously.  Wear long sleeves and long pants, tuck your pants into your socks, the whole nine yards.

I have never been so grateful that I wear a bandana over my head almost every time I shoot.  I really don't want to think about one of those little blood-suckers being lost in my hair where I wouldn't be able to see it.

Problem the Fourth: If I did want to go back, it would be further into the fall, when it's cooler and the flora will have changed. Unfortunately, Midewin is also a hunting ground.  In the fall it's apparently deer season (Spring is turkey season - that said I didn't see one turkey or deer all day).  A.) I don't want to see people hunting deer.  I certainly don't want to see them succeed.  B.) I'm sure the park has it sorted, but I'm not entirely sure that I want to be hiking in the general vicinity of people shooting guns.

So!  Anyway, I spent the day out there doing a five mile trip around the Bunker Group 63 Loop.

While the munitions plant is gone, and obviously, so is anything that might blow up, the storage bunkers are still there.  Row after row after row of these things.

Throughout the grounds there are a few open ones.  They have signs on them that they can be used as inclement weather shelters.  I used one as a place to stop and eat lunch. :)  They aren't ridiculously huge, but they are smooth concrete.  The echoes in these things was amazing.  Just unzipping my bag made enough noise to echo for five or six seconds.

 Unless you're a huge insect fan, this place - at least the section I explored - was kind of a wash.  Lots and lots and lots of bugs (I got attacked by a swarm of - wait for it - butterflies!)  But other than the cows used to maintain the prairie (and kept behind barbed-wire away from the hiking paths), I didn't see a mammal all day.  But like I said, there was an insane number of insects.  Here's a little red ant on a Queen Anne's Lace.

[Ant's Anne Lace]
 Here's a bee on a milkweed plant.  I like how you can see, so clearly, the stripes on his abdomen.

[Milkweed Bee]
 The place is butterfly central.  If you want a place to catch 'flutterbies' in their natural environment, this totally is your place.  I this case a female black swallowtail feeds from a bull thistle.

[Floating Female Swallowtail]
 The prairie was pretty dry, so where there were ruts in the road, water tended to collect.  Around these little watering holes would be hundreds of butterflies.  These are Clouded Yellows.  With their wings open, they were maybe two inches tip to tip.  Very tiny.  And there were huge flocks of them all over the prairie.
[Clouded Yellow Butterflys Get Together for a Drink]

 I'm fairly sure this is an Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly (though I found that name on a Wisconsin butterflies site - but I don't think Butterflies get caught up in the cheddar curtain or anything, so...).

Anyway, what I love about this shot is that not only is the little 1 inch butterfly a beautiful purple, so is his shadow!

[Me and My Purple Shadow]
 The Buckeye Butterflies were very calm and tended to land in the middle of the paths.

[Basking Buckeye]

Okay, that's post one.  More from this hike tomorrow. :)


  1. Very nice shots. By the way, I think Deer season is only the first week of December and it only lasts a few days.

  2. I'll have to check more closely. I just saw in their literature that you can get a permit starting in September - but I don't know if that means that you can hunt starting then, or just that you can pick up the permit for use later.

    Glad you liked the photos. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. :)

  3. Midewin is a wild place. I bow hunt out there.
    season starts oct 1 but we try to stay far, far away from any other people. you might see us walking to and from a tree stand. i have seen more critters at midewin than you could imagine. just by sitting there scent free and quiet. most bowhunters don't want to see any other people.bow range is only like 20 yards and we are up in tree so there is very , very little chance of problems with us. I hunt a lot and rarely get a deer. the deer definetly have the upper hand when you use a bow. gun season is only 5 days out of the year usually starts the weekend before thanksgiving then there is a break until the weekend after thanksgivig. gun hunters are much less subtle and I even prefer to stay out of the woods during that time. most bowhunters hunt primarily because we love nature and to participate in it as success rates are very low.

  4. Thanks so much for the information, it's always good to hear from someone who knows. :) The website isn't terribly clear about things like that. Are there specific areas or times of year that you'd recommend for 'critter spotting' at Midewin?

    And I have to say, I love your last comment about how bow hunters love nature, as evidenced by the fact that you usually miss. :)

  5. Best time of year to critter spot is late fall and winter. Right now the brush is so thick and high that a deer could be 20 yards away and completely invisible. If you really want to see alot of cool wildlife act like a hunter but bring a camera. Wear camoflage, use scent free soap, stay downwind of where you think the critters will be and sit motionless, also walk like a critter when getting to your spot. pick a spot by exploring and finding areas that are way off the trail with alot of tracks or animal trails. when you are walking to the spot pretend you are a deer. humans make alot of noise when walking through the woods and we walk for long periods of time before stopping, a deer will walk like three steps then pause for awhile to browse or look for danger. usually when you first get to the spot you have chosen it will be quiet because most things heard you approaching but then as you sit quiet and motionless the woods come alive. you will be amazed at what you can see. Last friday, i saw a raccoon climb down from a tree and an owl catch a squirrel. you would be happy to know I did not see any deer. oh and the biggest thing is to listen, you will start to be able to know the difference between a raccoon, deer and squirrel just by the sounds they make as they walk. good luck to you. I hope you get some awesome photos and see some really cool nature. best time of day is around dusk and dawn. I like 8-11 bunker field north in the winter. you can sit on a bunker near dusk and see lots of deer, pheasants,coyotes and hawks.oh here is one tip- if you are walking and start hearing some unusual noise that sounds like a person could be making it- it could be a hunter. they are just letting you know they are hunting there so you can move out of the area. I am telling you this because I have bumped into other guys that were hunting a few times and that is what they all seem to do, I just wave and walk the other way and everything is cool.