These birds have a particular “dance” they do. It incorporates all the necessary elements necessary to impress a potential romantic partner: strutting, wing-spreading, hopping about, as well as the occasional tossing of straw or dirt clods into the air. We witnessed the last maneuver, but my shots of it were too blurry to be of use. Suffice it to say that witnessing this spectacle of crane dancing is worth getting up at six AM for.
Since this blog has taken a turn toward animals lately (both dead and alive), we’ll stay on theme with a post or two on Sand Cranes. These are large migratory birds that converge by the thousands on the same field in Indiana every fall and spring. Until this weekend, I had no idea such a sight was to be had within ninety minutes’ drive of Chicago. When a friend suggested taking a trip to see them, the Idiot Photographer and I jumped at the chance. After all, road trips are always fun, and we needed some photo opportunities since the urbex has been in a little lull of late. So 6AM this past Sunday found us on the road, trying to get to the wildlife preserve shortly after dawn when these birds would be most active.
Some quick lessons learned: the lenses optimal for shooting decaying buildings are not so hot when it comes to capturing birds in flight. I had thought my 250mm lens was quite the zoom; it was neither “zoomy” or fast enough to get the kind of shots I was hoping for. Live and learn. I will post a few more shots tomorrow, including a couple of the cranes’ famous mating dance.
Two shots of birds from last weekend’s trip to the Brookfield Zoo. First, the instantly recognizable Greater Delta Mardi Gras Bird. (Bourbonaisse Plumarius)
And a portrait of the handsome Tufted Blue Gargler (Indigo Emesis)
The following is a bit of a rehashing and expansion on a subject already covered by the Idiot Photographer here. This is my turn to throw in my photographic two cents’ worth.
There is a ravine that runs through a part of southwest Cleveland which kept two racially disparate neighborhoods separated. The city built a 680 foot long suspension footbridge spanning the gorge in 1931. Amidst racial tensions in the 60’s, someone burned the wooden deck of the bridge, leaving it unusable. Ever since, it has been completely forgotten. Now, it is so overgrown it can’t easily be seen from the streets it once connected, and most Clevelanders have not heard of it.
There is a certain feeling one gets upon finding an object of which landscapers working mere yards away were wholly unaware. That feeling, for me, is the essence of urbex.
From a shuttered amusement park in the middle of Ohio. Nature has reclaimed most of what there was to see, with rusted rails furtively peeking out of dense foliage before plunging again into the thicket.
My entry in the ongoing plant-off that the Idiot Photographer and I are engaged in, good naturedly, of course. We need JuniorBBQ and Moribund to come in with some prairies and pianos soon lest this blog become the botanist’s illustrated guide to armageddon.
For all of winter’s austerities, there are riches to be found for those who look.
The sun was barely peeping over the horizon when Tabula Rasa and I stumbled forth from our hotel into a cool Sunday morning in St. Louis. This was the day we were going to explore the old Armour meat packing plant which was in operation from 1903 to 1959. The reason for our early rising was the many reports of the elderly gentleman who patrols around the building and chases off people like us whenever he can. I was hoping to meet him since the rumors are that he once worked there and I had some questions, but I’d rather it would be at our exit than entrance. This building was the reason we were in the St. Louis area to begin with, everything else was just icing on the cake.
The building itself, or buildings, since this is a whole complex of which only two large buildings remain to any degree, is in a barren stretch of East St. Louis and tucked away in a mini forest of dense vegetation full of spiders and creeper vines. A short hike through the tall grass and into the woods brought us to the back way in and my first close up sight of Armour told me that even if we failed to gain entry into another building in the upcoming week, this trip was worth it.
Early morning is my favorite time for an explore, much to Tabula Rasa’s dismay. This day was perfect, and the only sounds to be heard was the dawn greetings of birds I am mostly unfamiliar with, the chirruping of crickets and the crackling of the vegetation as we approached. The light filtering in through the trees lent the whole place a magical air and I forgot my weariness at the early hour and trepidations over the reports of how dangerous this location could be.
It didn’t take long for us to wander apart and get lost in the silence and it would be well over an hour before we would see each other again.
The green has swallowed these buildings whole, and we were in the thick of it. One building has gone so far that it is nothing but a skeleton of itself, and the creepers have scaled its bones, slowly tearing it down, making it part of the green once again.
This is not a place of humankind any longer, and our trespass into this land is against the reclaiming forces of nature rather than human law.
I haven’t really wanted to get to this point, as finishing this series on Iceland would feel like the experience was finally lived and digested, truly over. But all things must pass, no? These are the remaining pictures I wanted to share, in no particular order. Mouse over each shot for additional commentary.
A campground in a remote valley was where I spent my third night in Iceland. Getting there was an adventure; high winds and rain made driving treacherous, and dense fog kept my destination obscured. When I woke the next morning, the winds had calmed and the fog had lifted somewhat, and I could see my surroundings. The flat valley where I had camped was surrounded on three sides by steep mountains, cut through by gorges that trailed up into the hills until fading into the mist. I’m not prone to using adjectives like ‘magical’ or ‘enchanted’, those words having been worn out from repeated use on Disney movies, but here I humbly suggest their meaning might be restored.
Clearly visible for miles when approaching from the west, the glaciers of Skaftafell are easily reached by a short hike. A long tongue of ice slaloms between mountains down to a lake, where the glacier calves, setting afloat scores of miniature icebergs. The weather on the approach noticeably changes; the temperature drops as a cold wind blows down from the hills over the top of the glacier. Here is the lake with the Skaftafell visible in the background.
Perhaps nothing instills a sense of otherness in the visitor to Iceland than glaciers. To drive along on a fine summer day and come across a swath of ice a mile across is incredible. Jokulsarlon, a bay connecting the Atlantic ocean to the tongue of a glacier inland, is teeming with icebergs. The scene is uncannily quiet, save for the eerie rumbles, squeaks and splashes of the ice as it calves from the main glacier Vatnajokull. The color of the ice varies, but the day I visited, most was a vibrant blue. Most of the icebergs are bobbing and drifting very gently, in a way that is hard to comprehend for objects that big. The motion, however subtle, made HDR sets hard to shoot. In the couple of shots that worked, however, the super-reality and detail that the process adds really made the ice pop.
One of the most striking things about the Grief Brothers factory is how empty it is. The main building is massive, and yet there is not one bit of machinery left behind. In one of the smaller outbuildings I came across this floor mount and breaker box for 460volts, yet another hint as to what might have once been here.
In another, larger outbuilding which is curiously wedge shaped, I found Number 4 sitting next to an office. What Number 4 is I don’t know. I find myself wondering how many other numbers there were, or if there were multiple machines with a giant “No. 4” on them? I also wonder who made the machines. It is a curiosity to me, the manufacturers of manufacturing machinery. All these things have to come from somewhere, and who made the machine that made this machine? Were I a little more capable of conducting research I’d look all this up. Somewhere out there is a company that not only makes machines for other companies to make stuff on, but manufactures their own machines. And that would be super cool to see.
Next to the wedge building there is a mysteriously uncovered and mostly wall-less building. Here one can find large steel barrels not just sitting in the open but also hidden in the undergrowth to either side of the building. Why are these here, what were they for? They are the little hints that speak of the time when this place was a busy, bustling industrial location.
Last week was a bit of a wash for me. Honestly in my eyes it was damn near a total failure, sure I got a couple of decent photos but nothing that really evoked any emotion in me. It was more of the “I was there, I saw that” photography that I have been striving to rise above.
This week we took Bent Bottle along with us and decided to repeat locations since he had been to neither. We started at what is now my favorite location to shoot in, the Grief Brothers Cooperage Company, Screw and Bolt Division. Great name, right?
As you can see from the satellite image this is not a small location and our first visit was insufficient to explore it fully. The three of us split up pretty much right from the get-go and it was hours before I saw anyone again, it is just that big. It was this location that offered me my redemption, while some of shots didn’t go as I had planned them I still managed to capture some of the weird beauty this place has.
Like where the trees have grown up against the windows and even crept inside through the broken panes of glass.
Or the delightfully creepy old office with the canvas shrouded insulation hanging from the ceiling.
This location is going on the yearly visit list, as well as my “locations to photograph while it is snowing” list, though that will have to wait for a few months for obvious reasons.
In the places of human industry nature is driven back, controlled, and in some cases even extinguished. It is forever the enemy as it decays and consumes that which humans attempt to preserve. However, once industry moves on nature returns and lays claim once again.
Reaching higher, finding escape from the walls humanity has placed to impede it.
One day the walls will fall, and nature will reclaim even that which once held it back.
Before Illinois was hit with the spring monsoon that put every waterway into the highest flood stages seen in a very long time, Tabula Rasa and I found ourselves sitting on the banks of the Fox River, mesmerized by the flock of tree swallows dancing over the surface.
It wasn’t a great day for attempting to take photos of very small, fast moving, twitchy birds. The heavy rain clouds over head only dropped a little drizzle on us, but it sure did take away the light.
These birds are fast, and it took me a few minutes to get used to their pattern of flight. In the end I think I walked away with a couple of decent shots, considering I only had my wide angle zoom lens with me. I had not anticipated attempting a bird photo shoot on this trip.
It would seem that spring is indeed actually here, the crocus do not lie.
Already we’ve spotted a few brave mallards who have returned to claim the best nesting spots in the area.
In some cases, they are still looking for their lady loves, so band together in little bachelor groups.
The geese never leave, they are shocked, shocked I say! At the new arrivals.
I could title this post “How Tabula Rasa Led Us All Astray (sort of)”, but I won’t.
This past weekend was a bit crazy for me. On Saturday Tabula Rasa and I went out and had a full day of wandering with no buildings explored, not for lack of trying. We just found ourselves in a place with a few good buildings that were locked up and impossible to explore. In the end we ended up at Morton Arboretum, but this is not that story.
Sunday we had made plans for a larger than usual group (as in more than 3 of us), Tabula Rasa, BentBottle and I were going to take some friends to a couple of our favorite locations to show them around. We ended up off in the southwest suburbs looking for a graveyard. In a forest preserve.
The Bachelor’s Grove graveyard is one of those popular local “haunted” places, mainly by virtue of being really old by American standards and being located in a slightly creepy part of the woods. Literally. Tabula Rasa knew where Bachelor’s Grove Woods were, and being the human GPS that he is we trusted him to lead us to the graveyard with few problems. We struck out on the trail with more than a bit of excitement and enjoying the early spring song of frogs. In retrospect that was probably our first clue that we were not where we thought we were.
Soon enough we came to end of the trail. It was not a graveyard though. Instead we found the home of the frogs that had been serenading us all along our way down our rather short walk. We were faced a choice, do we go back down the trail and see if we can find another way around to the graveyard that we think is there, or do we strike out off the trail and walk around the pond to see if we can find it?
I freely confess that I agreed we should try walking around it, and I was the tie-breaker vote. Silly me. Tabula Rasa broke out his magical technological device known as a “cell phone” and loaded up the GPS, you know, so we wouldn’t get lost.
We quickly found a game trail that, as game trails do, quickly petered out into nothing. We found ourselves slogging through mud and shallow flooded prairie and I discovered that my previously waterproof shoes had developed a leak sometime over the winter. As we squished our way around the pond we realized that (as the city folk we are) none of us really had any idea of what direction we were headed in. We could hear the sound of far off traffic from our right, but that was it.
At this point I decided if I was going to be stomping around the woods in the early spring I had better find something interesting to photograph. We had kind of spread out and everyone was taking a slightly different path, just keeping Tabula Rasa in sight and following his general direction. Our merry little band of adventurers was rapidly turning into a sweating and overheating band of mildly concerned doubters.
We found ourselves back on the edge of the pond, and decided to take a bit of breather so our fearless leader could explain to us that he thought he had found the graveyard on the GPS, we just needed to head off in “this” direction. Jo took the time to show us all up and conquer a tree while we tried to revive ourselves.
During our little break I noticed something odd about the moss of the fallen trees around us. It seemed, shaggier, than regular moss.
At some point I began thinking we were living in a post-apocalyptic world searching for the bastion of humanity. We bravely headed off in the direction indicated to us by the person with the magical direction-finding device, acquiring new bruises in the process. (The largest of my bruises is amusingly bird shaped. And hurts. A lot.)
Then we found the parking lot and drove the mile to the part of the forest preserve where the graveyard was actually located. Tabula Rasa, being the person that he is, was immensely proud of himself for leading us ALL THE WAY AROUND THE POND and back to the parking lot. I, being the person I am, mentioned that he had bothered to consult his magical technological device BEFORE we headed out we would not have to walk around the pond.
I did neglect to mention that perhaps I had really enjoyed our little adventure in the woods, and would like to do it again someday, but I did imply it.
Chicago, I think we need to have a little sit down with a therapist. You’re weird, deeply weird. This time, you may have gone too far.
Those poor trees, what did they ever do to you to deserve this?
Just because you thought joggers needed something colorful to look at during the drear winter months. How about they watch their footing rather than looking up at an impossibly orange tree?
The tyranny of cheap soft drinks brought low, Crush Superior Beverages!
A corkscrew willow tangled with grasses.
A house with a hole in the side.
A rare optic occurrence.
This particular location has an air of disquiet all its own. After parking in a suburban neighborhood and crossing a playground and empty field you enter the woods until you come out on a dirt road. Of course, you could walk up the dirt road in the first place but that is a great way to get noticed.
The building complex itself consists of three grain silos, and 3 large red brick buildings connected by questionable walkways and rust. We started by walking around the building which has easy access on pretty much every side. The property is unposted but no one in their right minds would spend too much time in it. Which is why we spent about 4 hours there, twice.
Sometimes you find the damnedest things in the woods.
On our first trip it was exceptionally windy, so all you could hear was the wind howling through the building shaking and banging various pipes, along with the occasional bird call and trains from the nearby railroad tracks. The second visit provided us with with much less wind so it was even quieter, until the children showed up on the playground.
The old boiler has grown a coat of moss and vines, the better to blend in to surroundings.
During my wanderings around the exterior I find myself feeling like I was in some weird fairy tale straight from the mind of Neil Gaiman. I think the light quality had a lot to do with it.
In Zion National Park I took a moment to deviate from one of the paths at a bridge and follow a set of steps down to the creek. There wasn’t an actual path at the creek, I think the steps were there so you could cross it on some stepping stones as there were another set of steps on the other side, but I took several minutes to explore up and down the creek bed to see what I could.
Dragonflies, a profusion of dragonflies! And not a picture to show of them! There were little darting red ones, giant orange dreadnaughts, elegant bright blue and ominous iridescent black. The creek itself was full of little fish and despite the speed of the water there were even Water Striders. I found myself wishing desperately I had a better macro lens, but I am ok with the simple memory even if I can’t share the photo.
As I worked my way upstream (and seriously pissed off a ground squirrel by standing right in front of it’s bolt-hole) on a tumble of fallen tree I saw a flicker of movement. It was too small to be another ground squirrel, too big to be a bug. I crept closer and was treated to this sight.
Talk about adorable! I spent a good 15 or 20 minutes watching him sun himself and catch a few bugs while trying to take a good picture of him. I was careful to stay back enough to not disturb him too much though. Back at the visitor center a ranger helped me identify him a splotch sided lizard, but he mentioned that they are also known locally as “fence post lizards” which I think is some what more pleasant name.
Just look at that little face, I want to hug him!
Welcome to Cedar Breaks, the highest national monument in the United States. The wind was strong and cold and my fear of heights challenged by a total lack of safety rails (which is a bit of theme in the Utah Parks) but I still managed to get a couple of photos.
Of course, I simply must share a dead tree with you all, being that I haven’t posted one in a bit.
I was planning on doing some long series of Utah, being that I hadn’t been very active with the camera all summer and I was in a bit of a funk. Yet all the sudden I find myself going out on a regular basis and I now have an actual backlog of photos requiring editing as well an interest in trying out HDR. So what is a girl to do? There will be more Riverdale photos, and today’s adventure yielded a veritable treasure trove of photos, not to mention I haven’t even touched the pictures I took 2 weeks ago on a night trip through the south side of Chicago.
Today though, we’re heading back to the red rocks and green hills of Utah.
I really cannot get enough of the Bryce Canyon hoodoos, they are just mind blowing.
Still, just outside of Canyonlands you’ll find the most amazing green rocks calling out from the hillsides.
Red is still the predominant color of Utah; time, wind and rain have sculpted it into some pretty fascinating formations.