With flying colors

_MG_4271.JPGI got a dose of wildness right next to a Sam’s Club and an interstate highway in Fayetteville. A 121-acre wetland prairie called called Wilson Springs Preserve sits there, owned and managed by the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. It’s strange in some ways to call the place wild: A lot of human effort and machinery is almost done mulching trees and invasive shrubbery to get it back to its original state. But, to me, it felt wilder than some others I’ve hiked.

It might be because of the green and blue and white and gold-flecked dragonflies that continuously zoomed around me, or the vivid, metallic ebony jewelwings and dogbane leaf beetles. There were the tiny tadpoles that filled short-lived puddles to the brim and later emerged as toads the size of a fingernail. I heard the huffs and grunts of startled deer and carefully stepped over two box turtles. There was no avoiding the squads of ticks, some just a couple millimeters across, pulling themselves up my legs like gung-ho rock climbers scaling a cliff. And I had two experts with the land trust on hand to introduce the area and some its inhabitants to me Friday for a newspaper article. They’re probably the real reason for how I felt about the preserve. They helped me see it’s thick with life.

Speaking of that article, here’s what’s happening: The land trust works to either preserve or restore tracts around this corner of the state and is launching a campaign to bring 5,000 more acres into its protection in the coming years. The trust says wetlands like this one and other pieces of land, even farms, can clean rainwater and soak up its floods, protect rare species of fish and reptile and insect — the benefits go on and on. I’ve got a lot more information in the story here.

I didn’t have my camera with me Friday, and with all of these living things buzzing or growing in every direction, I had to go back. So I was up with the bugs the next morning.

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_MG_4229.JPGThe land trust holds tours here, but the preserve generally isn’t open to the general public; I had to sign a waiver to get in. Trust director Terri Lane told me it could open fully sometime in the next year or so. If you end up going one way or another, I’m not kidding about the ticks. I recommend a good coating of repellent, khaki pants to make the bugs obvious, and a thorough screening when you get home. That’d probably be a good approach for any hike, really, since tick-borne diseases are surging around the country. But don’t let the ticks stop you.

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_MG_4169.JPGThanks for looking.

Dan

Twin Cities

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I’ve neglected the tail end of my recent trip north to see the solar eclipse and the Badlands. My last stop was the Twin Cities area in Minnesota to see one of my oldest friends. I was only there for a day, enough time to see two very different sides of the twins.

First up is the Mall of America in Minneapolis, a four-story, multimillion-square-foot monument to American capitalism. It holds about every store I can think of, sometimes more than once. The place is mostly a cacophony of thousands of visitors and a few roller coasters, but it’s also home to “Hot Lunch,” an installation of thousands of yarn strings by an artist who goes by HOTTEA. It’s meant to honor the people who serve us lunches and their unseen, inner lives. I liked it.

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We went over to St. Paul for something very different: bonsai trees, exotic plants and quiet at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.

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IMG_2742.JPGI hope I’ll get back someday and see a little more of the home of more than 3 million people.

Thanks for looking.

Dan

The center of the world

_C1_3223.JPGThis mountain bears the likenesses of some of the most influential people in United States history and took more than a decade to carve. It’s a striking and masterly monument, without question. But even more impressive, at least to me, is the other history tied to Mount Rushmore and the rest of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

From a geological perspective, some of this rock is about half the age of the planet. Some of it is the rounded and durable granite you see above. Other outcroppings have been squeezed and deformed, sometimes until the original rock layers are vertical, and sparkle in the sun with countless flecks of mica. All of it is topped with rugged pine and spruce that give the Black Hills their name.

As for humans, they’ve been living around here for at least 12,000 years. The hills are therefore heavy with myth and religious significance, including ties to Oglala Lakota creation stories. A holy man named Black Elk called this place the center of the world, and his people called Mount Rushmore The Six Grandfathers, referring to the earth, sky and four cardinal directions, which might make Rushmore something like seizing and then carving into the Sistine Chapel. The U.S. swore it wouldn’t take these lands but broke the promise because of gold. (The U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 ruled several tribes were owed compensation now worth more than $1 billion because of this, but they haven’t taken it, preferring to get at least some of the land back.)

Despite all of this, it isn’t hard to see much of the Black Hills as they have been for ages, even just around the corner from the monument.

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IMG_2719.JPG(Note the climber there in the lower middle)

The Black Hills also hold more wonders hundreds of feet underground, and I don’t mean that gold. Wind Cave National Park, about 20 miles south of Rushmore, holds at least 150 explored miles of passages that could connect to several times as many unexplored miles, according to the National Park Service. Those passages are often brimming with formations called boxwork — tangled, glittering, translucent blades of calcite about the width and sturdiness of tortilla chips. I couldn’t photograph it adequately, but try to imagine this coating the walls and ceiling around you:

IMG_2681.JPGSome chambers feature calcite in other forms, like spiky frostwork and little rounded blobs called cave popcorn, or, in this case, both:

IMG_2682.JPGIn the end, all of the Black Hills’ contents have something to offer. Just remember where you’re standing.

Thanks for looking,

Dan