Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Our trip to the U.P.- no hero shots for me

It's been a month since we returned from our trip. We've actually taken a couple shorter trips since, which may have helped contribute to my writer's block (or "blogger's block" as my good friend Jenny let me know it is called). Kelly and I have been really busy lately, but I think it's finally time I tell about our great northern adventure.

Our trip to the U.P. didn't produce a single picture of me holding a fish... not one. I caught a couple of Rock Bass in the fittingly named Rock Creek in Kankakee River State Park on our way northward, but nothing worth a photograph. Kelly on the other hand caught a couple Smallies, the best of which I've already shared in my last post.

Aside from just catching a fish, I had two personal goals for the trip:
  1. Catch a native Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis).
  2. Find a Western Fox Snake (Mintonius ramspotti) in the wild.
As I already mentioned, there were no "hero shots" of me holding any fish so I obviously failed on the Brook Trout effort. As for the Fox Snake, the first one we saw looked like this...

Dead on road ("D.O.R.") Fox Snake

Kelly spotted it on the shoulder of I-57 in Illinois as we zoomed up the road at 65 mph (we would never speed) and thought we should at least go back to ID it. In the process of making the big loop using interstate exits to go back, we witnessed a minivan on the opposite side of the interstate flip over at high speed several times. We didn't see the cause of the accident, but it was a very surreal and scary scene... and we were right there as it happened. We slowed down to see if we needed to help anyone get out of the vehicle now resting on its roof, but amazingly a complete family emerged one after another- a mother, a father, and three daughters all walked away from what could have been a tragic accident. I wish I could tell you what type of vehicle it was (because it held up so well after rolling over repeatedly), but I'm not as good at identifying upside down cars as I am at identifying snakes.

Just up the road from where we saw the accident, we pulled over to check out the dead snake. I was excited to see a Fox Snake for the first time, but wish it could have been under better circumstances. Sadly, we saw about a dozen Fox Snakes during the trip and they all looked pretty much like the one above.

We took lots of pictures on our trip, and you know what they say about the value ratio between words and pictures... so I'll try to keep the words to a minimum from this point forward. The pictures mostly speak for themselves. I'll just explain here and there as needed.

On the way, we camped at Kankakee River State Park in Illinois and stopped to visit the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

The Shedd Aquarium on the waterfront of Lake Michigan

On a Wednesday morning at around 10:30 AM, there was quite a long line to get in. I would hate to try and visit on a busy Saturday.

From this point it took us about an hour to get in.

We liked the aquarium, but it really was a bit too crowded to thoroughly enjoy.

One of the first sights we saw in the U.P. was Miner's Falls. I wanted to fish for Brookies in Miner's River below the falls, but Kelly didn't want to hike down there. I guess we'll never know...

Under a log alongside the trail to the falls, I found this little guy...

Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)

We spotted a pair of nesting Sandhill Cranes in a roadside wetland, and Kelly "communicated" with them so she could get some better photos.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

On Friday, we went on our kayaking tour of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Our day started out bright and sunny...

But quickly became cloudy and foggy. The weather can change in the blink of an eye on Lake Superior.

Our guide, Mark, did the best he could to take a picture for us through the mist. It's pretty hard to dry off a camera lens when everything is wet.

Kelly got a pretty neat shot of one of the shipwrecks by blindly clicking the camera underwater.

Our guide paddling through the archway at "Lover's Leap."

The next day we headed south and camped at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Wisconsin... that's right, the Bong Recreation Area. They have a minor problem with park sign theft for obvious reasons. We fished in one of the park lakes in hopes of hooking up with a decent bass or pike, but I was skunked once again. I missed the strike on my only hit of the morning, while Kelly landed two little ones.

"Bong Bass" a.k.a. Largemouth (Micropterus salmoides)

Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)

Even when the fishing isn't that hot, I still get outfished by a girl.

On our way home we once again stopped in Chicago. This time we had new cargo strapped to the roof.

Our purpose for stopping was to visit our very old friend Sue.

While we were at the Field Museum, Kelly got the chance to fulfill a childhood dream. Ever since she saw the movie The Ghost and the Darkness when she was twelve years old, she wanted to see the "Maneaters of Tsavo" in person.

I think the fulfillment of this dream was a bit anticlimactic... not unlike the fishing we experienced during our trip.

Despite the less than stellar fishing, we had a great time and learned a lot about a unique and beautiful area of our country.

Maybe one day we'll go back... and I'll get another shot at being a hero.


  1. Thanks for the photo journey.

    Well done

  2. Love Chicago, favorite big city. The Shedd is one of my top aquariums and the Field is great too. Nice photo of the arch. Sometimes when the fishing is bad the memories are great!

  3. Looks like a very nice trip regardless of fishing success or failure. Loved the sandhill crane shots, those are some neat birds. I've been out in western Kansas and had large groups circling high overhead , the sounds they make are pretty interesting.

  4. Fish, snakes or no, that trip looked like a ton of fun. Some memories for myself in those photos, thx for the flashback Jay! mike

  5. Despite the fishing, looks like you and Kelly had a great time! The sandhill crane's are amazing creatures, it's always a treat to see them.

    Sorry you didn't get to see more snakes that weren't on the side of the road, next time :-)

    I smiled when you mentioned you stayed at Richard Bong State Park. I have stayed there many a night, but mostly, just to rest my head before and after Jimmy Buffett concerts at Alpine Valley.

  6. Excellent. Been waiting on your post about your trip to the UP. That's a place I have wanted to visit for a long time. Definitely going to take the guided kayak trip when I get up there. That was way cool.

  7. Shots of Superior....looks awesome....sand beach..those formations...any sign of the Edmund Fitz...Gerald!

  8. Thanks for all of the comments.

    Sanders, so you're a "Parrothead", huh?

    H-bone, no sign of the Fitz. The boat we saw was much smaller, much older, and not made of steel.

  9. SOunds like a fun trip. Are Fox Snakes found in Missouri?

  10. Kevin, it was a fun trip. The Western Fox Snake is supposedly found in MO according to my field guides. It would be on the fringe of its range in the northeast and northwest corners of the state and a small area just north of St. Louis. Of course I've never actually found a Fox Snake in MO... only dead ones in IL and WI. You also have Great Plains Rat Snakes in MO that look very similar, and their geographic range covers more than half of the state. The two species are very closely related and it wouldn't be very easy to tell them apart.

  11. What a great trip. When things don't go like you expect, sometimes the memories stick a little better. Awesome shots. I would LOVE to kayak Superior. Just amazing. Thanks Jay.

  12. David, our kayak tour was pretty cool. You're right about the memories.