Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hill on Fire!

Shot a lot of black and white on this one- Something that does not usually work well with our fires. I guess that we started burning early enough to take advantage of the morning light.
Twenty acres is the largest (prescribed) burn that RockyPoint Glades have had- and every acre burnt well!
Winds became iffy, but the thin fuel loads were extraordinarily dry! Our 10-15mph southerly winds turned into a light one and some scary gusts popped out of the east! We watched the eastern line well and had no problems.
Several City people came- the city gave some equipment for the day, too. Other volunteers joined us on the glades- everyone excited for the first local burn in almost a year!
The torches dripped and that familiar smell filled my face- The smoke got thicker and you could taste it. It billowed from the thickest beds of litter and started to cook your eyes... and in some weird way it felt nice. The dirtiest, hottest, most destructive thing to hit the glades, other than a good severe storm, is as refreshing for me as it will be for the soil and vegetation.

all of the black and white was fun, but you've got to get some COLOUR!
At the base of the hill- along Oldham road- the flames grew tall. Any line was invisible, but the leaf-litter was easy enough to manage. A tall stand of thistles and oats lit up and the radiant heat was enough to create a sun-burn sensation on exposed skin. FUN!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The City-Kind of River

As the Missouri River flows into the Kansas City Area, it enters one of the most developed, engineered and polluted stretches of it's 735-mile channelized route from Sioux city to the Mississippi. Here, the river that created the city- with the construction of the first crossing in 1869, the Hannibal bridge- is degraded, abused and partly destroyed by pollutants. Chemicals as common as fertilizers and herbicides, litter and even the noxious amounts of silt and sediment from it's own floodplain are saturating every part of our local watersheds. Incredibly, the river has been able to endure over 170 years of such disgrace- because we live with the water (and rely on it!) everything we do impacts the river in an unnatural manner- from the electricity we use to the channelization that was ordered by the Pick-Sloan Plan in 1944.

More recently (even in my lifetime!), as Kansas city has become the largest city in the Missouri's basin, increasing sand-dredging operations have degraded the riverbed within city limits as much 4.5ft, according to one 15-year study completed in 2005. The sand is used in the production of cement and our intense rate of growth feeds the industry to the point that we are seriously injuring the river's bed...At the turn of the millennium, about 7.4 million tons of sand and gravel were removed from the navigation channel annually, primarily south of Rulo, Nebraska. (rulo is only like 80miles as the crow flies)
Even as channel dredging poses an increasing threat to the river, it is only a small portion of boat and barge traffic here, and an almost insignificant one compared to the sediment, chemicals and litter dumped into it by other industries and sources in our city. Sand dredging operation: This one, near kaw point, was anchored but not operating.

Please do not think that I find the river disgusting- I love the Missouri!
I cannot say that I dont find it's neglect pretty sickening, but even this is something to be learned and appreciated about the river.

I was invited to cruise the section of river between riverfront park (I35) and Parkville with fellow River relief volunteer and trainee John Jansen while he developed his driving skills on calm water. Dave brought the boat- he played supervisor (and tour guide!) I sat on the trash near the bow- the elevated front of the boat protected me from an icy wind. John and Dave, however, sat in the worst of it and even John's arctic outfit left him frozen! We zipped upstream and Dave gave a history or identification to almost every landmark, bend or barge we spotted!

John and I arrived a bit early- spent our time collecting simple litter at Riverfront's boat ramp. There is no obvious dump here, but the amount of trash left by park visitors wasn't uncommon. Again, fast-food Styrofoam was the most abundant litter, but glass bottles, cans and fishing gear were also bad.

I found several medical-syringe-type bottles and fortunately no needles. An odd contraption anchored to shore with some rusted wire- a trap I guess- The thing was made of a tin can with many holes, about eight feet of wire and a piece of iron rebar. We collected two hefty bags worth of litter, and still the place needed help!
A cold, cloudy February day, but still it was so nice to be out on the water! Thanks John and Dave!
....AND LOTS OF BRIDGES! My favorite of this stretch has got to be the 7th street pair- bottom photo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Old Plank

It was already late in the day when I reached columbia and the river. The wind was wicked- 'blew strait down the channel from the south, creating an incredible series of white-caps on the Missouri River. The air was warm- like the rest of the weekend, this beautiful Friday's forecast was sunny and upper 60's! ... perfect for the last-minute Old Plank road Clean Up. Still the wind was tough!
The sandbar was very exposed- more so than Ive ever seen it before and I NEEDED to get out and explore it. My small kayak would surely be beaten by the wind and waves; The water was WAY to cold to swim.

I spent some time taking the ol'e 35mm for a walk around the area, but the sandbar was screaming for me every time I caught a glance of it.

I slipped the lil' 9-foot boat over the mud and hopped in off the backside of a wing dike slightly upstream of the sandbar. ' made a few strong strokes with the paddle and shot off the edge of the dike and into the current- and the wind. It immediately swung the light nose of the kayak upstream, so to minimize my resistance to that nasty wind.
I paddled continuously and as best as I could. The icy waves came over the back of the boat and the wind made it near impossible for me to keep on a strait track- I decided I was not going to be able to reach the sandbar and turned back near half-way; the point of no return!

Got to shore- most of me pretty wet and numb despite the warm air and hot sun. I had not reached the sandbar and it's temptation seemed many times worse than before I'd failed. The thing continued to drive me nuts through the evening.
I changed and returned to the Medfly. Folks I did not know and those River Reliefers I was familiar with continued to accumulate through dusk- A GORGEOUS SUNSET!
Steve, Mel and Anthony were kind enough to put me up in the trailer (really had no idea where I was going to be spending the night!)

There were no more than a few dozen volunteers on Saturday morning; I had a fine meal from one of the Landing's fine cooks and Steve gave a rough plan for the day- Mr. Brady volunteered (or maybe he was volunteered) to take a group of folks up to Hwy K and I joined.

I stuck close to Anthony- We hit Hwy K and had walked our first mile in no time! Anthony caried bags to collect recyclables- Much of the litter we removed Saturday was recycled- Most of the largest trash had already been removed, but the little stuff was everywhere!

Lighters, Cigarettes, fast food containers, beer cans, bum lottery tickets and empty Skoal cans filled many bags pretty quickly, but the torn wrappers of Swisher Cigars were the most common things found on the side of the road...

And whats a clean up without the weird things?
A nearly full bottle of Kiwi Liquor, a dump of glass Clorox bottles, a dead barbie doll and a decapitated dog. Our small group worked about 2.5miles of road, and another group did the other 2.5- All in all, though, we removed only like 35bags of trash!?

The Old Plank Road clean up has maintained this stretch of the road annually; Saturday being it's fourth clean-up.... The trash is less and less every year- last year, Steve said, they picked up over eighty bags of trash. CONGRATULATIONS VOLUNTEERS!

This year was my first time picking trash off of the road as part of this group- Maybe next year the amount of trash will not be worthy of a clean-up event!?
We found other things on the side of the road, too; Folks claimed feathers and skulls for themselves and I found this odd bunch of juicy red berries hanging only a few inches from the ground on a rotting stem. They kinda reminded me of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but would such things still exist so many months after being produced?

The bags were piled into a long trailer and all troops were returned to the Landing only a few hours after we'd started. A quick group photo and a meal donated by Cooper's Landing; many volunteers disappeared pretty quickly, a few stayed behind to yak with friends..

The air was growing warmer and the thick grey clouds which had smothered the morning were lifting and moving north. It wasnt all good; The wind that had been barely noticeable when we woke up was ripping down the channel almost as viciously as it was yesterday- I still needed to get to the sandbar...

Arrowheads that were taken from the bar had been flashed around all day- big, beautiful tan ones and some that had a hint of pink and purple.- Even a long white spear point- perfect and about 5 inches! I'm bound to find one someday!

Intimidated by the wind and water, I resorted to a stroll down the Katy trail- Its only a minute or two until you reach the BOAT HENGE!

I made my way down to the water and I felt so close to the sandbar- it would make a fine swim if you were not risking HYPOTHERMIA! The wind was a bit more calm down on the water-I decided to try again.

The kayak slid down the steep bank underneath the trailer easily- I tossed a life-jacket on and made a mad sprint upstream in the fastest currents. The wind was certainly not as bad as it was up topside, with a few gusty exceptions.

My paddles tore at the surface of the river in an attempt to squeeze upstream of the tip of a wingdike- The water at the end of the structure moved so quickly as to push me downstream when I was caught putting less than one-hundred percent of my energy and focus into paddling. 'Overcame two of them- smooth, slow water in between- before I was able to pull my boat to the side of Cooper's boat ramp. I made a quick peek up at the trucks and let John know where I was headed- he could only wish me good luck, and I know that he wanted to get onto the islands as much as I did.

Though the wind was strong, it came at an angle that allowed it to be partially blocked by the trees and topography on the west bank and made for an easier headwind rather than one that would push me sideways. The water was cold- a few drops that ran down from the blade felt like ice on the parts of my skin that'd been warmed by the direct sunlight

The first step from my craft landed me knee-deep in a soupy pool of sand- the same spot that appeared firm when I ran the kayak onto it. I feared the loss of my loose shoe, but it stuck with me for the few steps it took to find land. that same icy sensation met the wet part of my legs, though it took an extra second to realize. I pulled the boat until I was sure it was safe from floating away- it would kinda suck to be stranded on the other side of such a cold river!

... It would be several hours before anyone would hear from me again... I finally got my sandbar adventure, and though I never found that arrowhead, I did get a lot of cool stuff! Some shards of ancient pottery and some knappings, a cool scraper. The small dunes that held the largest sediments appeared much darker than the sand-

The materials were sorted by shape, size and density and were painted onto the sandbar like clouds in the sky- I imagine you could learn alot about hydraulics and the river here- universal knowledge that could be used to understand any flowing body of water, and even things like weather and the geography of the mountains and the badlands. It can all be had by studying the tumbled, experienced debris- they are laid in the river's language...

I waded into the cold water- maybe I would have a better chance for an arrowhead if I searched the parts of the sandbars that were submerged and likely undiscovered. I was surprised that my legs and feet withstood the ice for as they as they did- little pain until the end, though not much feeling, either! .. Nor were there arrowheads.. at least none that I found. Still, more cool petrified wood.

The sun went in and out of the clouds and the wind began to die down. . . The sandbar was becoming clam and peaceful; it would be the first time since I saw the sandbar that it could been perceived as such. My thin leather shoes were tight on my feet- Maybe it was the cold, or simply the globs of wet sand in them. It didn't matter, and certainly was not worth the taking the time from my hunt time to investigate!

I walked downstream- maybe a quarter-mile to a small channel that made this bar an island. It looked shallow, and only about ten or twelve feet across. I stepped into the water and it felt much colder than the wading I did just a few minutes earlier- I began to walk across, though my feet led me at more of a diagonal as I discovered more wet gravel piles. The diagonal didn't last long though; The water was turning painful! On the other side there were many more sandbars- about two hours worth with some fast-paced skimming. I gathered two more handfuls and a pocket of the most valuable materials, but no arrowhead. The sun poked out again and light the sandbar- I snapped a photo and then one of the melting ice-lilies that had become trapped in a small cove behind the nicest gravel bar. They were beautiful- had a texture on 'em that was something you could only find on ice- a smooth, polished checkerboard-like pattern. THe black, glassy water and ice made for a kind-of surreal look,

I turned back- It was nearly a half-mile to the kayak! The boat could hardly be seen. It took me a second, but I made it as far as the small channel. TOO MUCH treasure; I filled my pockets and made a pouch out of the front side of my t-shirt. One last wade- I only made it knee- deep before I felt the burny-stingy frozen pain this time- It seemed, also, to go deeper into my skin, as well. I gave it a quick burst of energy and made it out. Alive !

The pain got worse, but then quickly receded; For the last of my short trek my feet would grow increasingly tender and I soon became aware of just how much sand filled my shoes.

Another boat- the big, aluminium canoe that usually rests on the boat ramp was beached near mine. It's two bare-footed paddlers were exploring the sunken part of the sandbar as I had. I made a pit-stop at the kayak to drop my camera and offload all of the wonderful things I'd collected before approaching the men. They, too, wore swollen, jagged pockets and handfuls of rocks. One paddler was excited to share all of his cool agates and the other gave a very enthusiastic spiel about all of the cool flint-workings that they have recovered in the past, and those they'd found today. He showed me some very cool things- scrapers and knappings like I found. They visited my kayak for a glance at my treasures and were most excited about some of the unusually large amber-coloured agates I brought from the other side of the small stream. We exchanged the appropriate wills of good-luck and I slid the boat into the water for the last time.

I tooled through the shallows ahead of the sandbars for only a few moments- the water was clear, but the accumulations of larger stones and such were uncommon. Someone shouted my name from the medfly and I gave a quick sprint across the Missouri. Anthony helped me at shore- I nearly fell into the water! We carried the kayak up to the truck and several folks seemed eager to see what I brought back. Mel loved the clearest agates and I think Steve was as surprised as I was with the amount of Petrified wood- much of which was actually agatized and colourful!

I spent some time ashore; John shared a great history of the land which we sat on... The natives, the old river channels and first settlements. He told me stories of exploring the surrounding hills, many of which, he said, are topped with multiple 'Indian mounds.' I cant wait to do some more exploring! (and I WILL find an arrowhead!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Full Moon TONIGHT!

January's Full moon- a gorgeous gold when it was low on the eastern horizon for sunset. It rose up high and appeared just as plain as any other full moon like it- nice, clear skies too! It just lost that extraordinary detail and colour that made so noticable.
Tonight the Moon will be visibly fullest as it rises from the eastern horizon about 1/2 hour after sunset.- The moon is 100% illuminated at about 8:49 this morning, but will be somewhere on the other side of the planet by then and we will not get to see it. It will be just a bit over a 225, 660 miles from Kansas City. Ought to be a cool rise- you should expect the moon to appear coloured when it is closest to horizon; an effect produced when light passes through greater amounts of our atmosphere than when the moon is directly above us. Light reflected off of the moon pick up colours from the pollutants and impurities in the air. ENJOY!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Prairie Sunset

I headed back for home after the last of my Friday classes; The drive was the best one yet!
The remains of last week's big snowfall reflected everything the sky had to offer... Clouds marbled the sky between the sun and me in a beautiful and threatening way-
The rolling hills north of Savannah were orange, black and white and it all came together to send a mixed message of peace and turbulence.
All sorts of hawks and kestrels- even the occasional eagle. The birds of prey, a few flocks of crows and an early party of American Robins were much closer than all of the geese above, but not as noticeable.
The non-stop black chains of Canada Geese stretched to and from all horizons, as they had all day, but the late-afternoon light kinda forced them to my attention-
Traversing such calm country with no camera batteries was killing me, but I got home soon enough- I made a quick exchange of things and made it to JerrySmith Park as soon as I was able. ..
Almost felt bad for stopping home without seeing or greeting my parents (almost)-- haven't been home in a couple of weeks, but if they had been paying any attention to the spectacular sunset, they would've understood! I spent only a few minutes on the property- I hate having the park's kind caretaker chase me out...
Still, I got some cool photos and a much-needed breathe of something a bit more natural and peaceful than Campus. . enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

DayTrip: Kansas

My mother and I took advantage of the stunning day yesterday with a last-minute adventure westward. It was forecast to be in the mid-60's and sunny! !
My mother wanted to go to the Konza Prairie, near Manhattan, and I had a few side-trips in mind. Black smoke billowed over I-70 in Topeka; smelled like a building fire- like plastic and treated wood. We exited on hwy 4.
I'd read about a spot to collect invertebrate fossils Northeast of town- where the hwy passes under Hwy24. The directions, from a KGS article on the spot, told us to pass the first ramp and hit a dirt road on the right before we passed under the bridge.
The spot was great! The fossils and rocks were pouring out of the shale and limestone- It is very similar to the fireman's memorial in Kansas City. We spent an hour or so collecting all sorts of reef-type critters; corals and sponges, chrinoids and handfuls of brachiopods and bivalves. No trilobite, but this one is something that is rarely found in Kansas. Many of the fossils had wonderful details like scars ans spines- they've eroded so well from the soft grey matrix that even the hollow spines on the two shells below were clean and clear of any mud. Gorgeous! The ones that were only partially exposed were just as detailed as he loose ones- sometimes scooped out and polished and apparently set on the rock, but still attached. The erosion here is truly art! I placed two of the shells which had good texture on my leg for a photo- what a cool spot! Mom liked the tiniest ones best, but I couldn't get enough of those with so much detail! We never fount the deposit of coal here, or the pyratized wood. Still so worth it! We hopped on Seventy for another while and found ourselves on 177 in no time! I got a kick out of the giant, ugly, 'WELCOME TO THE FLINT HILLS" which is written on a giant slab of limestone above I-70, though I know Ive seen it before. We had to turn around to catch our 'exit.'- McDowell Creek rd- And paralleled the Kaw for several minutes. The river seemed so blue- a great difference from the muddy, frozen Kansas River which we passed and crossed a few times coming from the city.
Konza's small gravel parking area was packed- dozens of other vehicles carrying people enjoying the same great weather! The hills around us- the flint hills- were very impressive! The topography was a surprise to me- Ive never really seen them other than the few times Ive driven the interstate.
The grass was endless- an infinity interrupted only by the occasional woody draw.
The backside of the parking lot was full of trees- many cedars, elms, oaks... One short, gnarly one could have been over four feet in diameter- there for hundreds of years, Im sure. One of the TRAIL signs was leaned against one of the trees- several more signs lay horizontal and beaten.
The woods were most dense near the windy creek, which we crossed twice on a pair of thin wooden bridges. The sides of the creek were very eroded- the gravel was flint and limestone and the water was crystal-clear.
Then we found the prairie- The trees stopped and the grass started and we were back on the surface of a vast ocean of grass. Each and every inch of it was full of detail- I cannot imagine what the place is like in the summer- Big and lively I would assume- It should certainly make a good trip when we find that season.
Lots and lots of native tallgrasses, but not too much else. we passed though a cluster of dried, brown compass-plants on the way up to the 'radio tower' summit. Such structures are the only things interrupting the view behind the hill- from our side, there are many miles of flat farmland visible.
There were many people on the trails- you could see them crawling all over the hills, which resemble the more familiar loess hills in size and steepness.
At the top of the 'mountain' was a spectacular view and an incredible wind- the wind started started when we got about three-quarters up- blowing at a constant 20mph-
at least strong enough to make you remember your hat and jacket. ...
I caught a few people-less panoramas with the 35mm, but the stream of people was hard to work around. The crowds certainly put a damper on our visit, but the area was top of the hill was well worth it!
The windy walk back was a short, beautiful 1.2miles through the same prairie and into a long woody draw. The people were thick near the old homestead. I was tempted to confiscate one of the many fallen, bent and scratched trail signs, but I re-planted a few instead. Maybe next time.
We headed back towards Manhattan and made a couple of quick stops on and over the Kaw for pictures and a 'walk on the beach.'
The large sandbar under hwy 177 is smothered in footprints; 'Cant imagine that the thing hasn't been picked clean of all of the nicest artifacts, but I sure hoped for an arrowhead- Ive only ever found two!
CLOSE ENOUGH! A small shard of pottery.
We gathered up some shards of bones and the fossilized lower jaw from a small deer or something. Some other dark, rusty-coloured bones like a large pelvis and a pair of vertebra were newer- only starting the process of river-aging. The wind was even stronger here- gusts strong enough to force me a step or two sideways or backwards. My mother was often turned from the wind and ducking from the painful clouds of swift sand that constanly pelted and tore at us. I put some extra effort into gaurding the cameras, but the wind worked the sand into every crack. The clouds of sand snaked down the long gravelbar like those wierd lines of snow on the road- and went many feet into the air- I imagine that even the cars on the bridge far above us and dowstream felt some of it.
Finally, a quick run up the east side of Tuttle Creek Reservoir to check out a volcanic Kimberlite formation that I'd read about in another KansasGeologicalSurvey report. The lake was pretty cool- off of the dirt road were rows of harvested corn that stretched to the shore. It made for some nice photographs, but I cant imagine that its any good for the water quality of the lake.
an increase in the turbidity of the water, from adding a fine sediment like cropped dirt, would have a negative impact on the amount of Dissolved Oxygen that fish and invertebrates can use and the amount of sunlight that aquatic-thingies use to decompose matter on the bottom. Somehow, its sure that all aspects of the under-water environments and communities will be influenced by the additional sediments alone. Who knows what kind of chemicals are being spilled into the lake because of the farming!? The poorer water-quality of Lake water is not limited to the Lake, either.
The poor lake-water is sent downstream, eventually landing in the Kansas River, the Missouri and the Mississippi! (Never did find the kimberlite...)