Friday, October 9, 2015

From Denver to Dallas

Over the next two days, I will be traveling from Denver to Dallas.  Though plans can and do change due to unforeseen complications or opportunities, I currently expect to take the following route.

From Metro Denver, I will climb southward through the Plum Creek Valley (a tributary of the South Platte), cross the Palmer Divide and then descend through the Fountain Creek Valley (adjacent to the Rampart Range and the Pike's Peak massif) to its junction with the Arkansas River, in Pueblo.  Another gradual climb along Interstate 25 (passing the Wet Mountains, Spanish Peaks and Culebra Range) will lead to Raton Pass, where I will enter New Mexico and the watershed of the Canadian River.  At Raton, I intend to turn eastward, crossing the Tertiary volcanic landscape of northeast New Mexico, and will then angle southeastward to Dalhart, Dumas and Amarillo; just south of the Canadian River (north of Amarillo), the highway ascends the north escarpment of the Llano Estacado, a vast High Plains plateau of West Texas and eastern New Mexico.  After dropping through the Caprock Escarpment of that plateau, I plan to parallel the Red River to Wichita Falls before angling southeastward to Dallas.

Though I have crossed most of this landscape a number of times, one never knows what sightings might occur along the way; such is the nature of road trips.  Details of my adventure will be offered in coming posts.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Too Nice to Leave

Our Littleton farm sits on the west wall of the South Platte Valley, less than a mile from the scenic floodplain and several miles from rugged canyons of the Front Range foothills; within an hour's drive, we can explore mountain forests and alpine tundra.  Despite these magnificent nearby ecosystems, it was just too nice to leave the farm today.

Sunny skies, warm temperatures (low 70s F) and a gentle breeze kept me on the property where autumn colors now adorn the landscape.  While the farm maintains itself at this time of year, I managed to find a few chores to address and otherwise potted around our three acre refuge.  I wasn't alone; the calls of magpies, flickers, blue jays and collared doves echoed across the farm, chickadees and bushtits twittered in the hedgerows, cottontails scampered across the drying pastures, our lone spotted towhee scratched in the leaf litter and flocks of robins fed in the junipers, not yet having to compete with wintering solitaires and roaming flocks of waxwings.  Even fellow humans likely peered down from above as a parade of commercial airliners drifted NNE toward DIA.

My decision to hang out on the farm was also influenced by my shortened visit.  While I usually stay for weeks or even months, I have plans to visit friends in Dallas on my return journey to Missouri and will thus be leaving this weekend.  More on that side trip in the coming days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Human Imagination

Endowed with a large brain, we humans have long been governed by our imagination, for better and for worse.  Early man, exploring his environment, imagined powerful beings that ruled the forces of nature; such mysticism, ingrained in our species, has surfaced as religious faith in modern society.

On the other hand, imagination also propelled humans across the globe and fed the major cultural revolutions: domestication and cultivation, industrialization and the advance of science and technology; in effect, it has taken us from the Stone Age to the Space Age.  Of course, it has also spawned artistic expression (art, music, dance, film and literature) and athletic competition throughout human history.

Indeed, our imagination is a double-edged sword, fueling both science and mysticism, incompatible elements of human culture.  Whether we put our faith in the scientific method or allow mysticism to derail its influence will determine the future of our species and the health of our planet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hazy Sunshine in the Valley

Cool air and hazy sunshine enveloped the South Platte Valley this morning.  Both were products of an upslope flow, triggered by a center of low pressure as it creeped eastward along the Colorado-New Mexico border; counterclockwise winds around the low swept Gulf moisture toward the Front Range, forcing the air to rise and cooling it to its dew point.

Down at South Platte Park, in Littleton, I took my usual hike around Eaglewatch Lake, including a short walk along the river.  Waterfowl species were limited, not yet hinting of the large congregations that will descend on the Park later in the month.  Double-crested cormorants were most common, lounging on a log at the south end of the lake or fishing in the calm, blue waters.  Ducks were represented by mallards, wood ducks and hooded mergansers; a few pied-billed grebes dove from the surface and a lone horned grebe hunted at the north end of the lake.  While a few ring-billed gulls settled on the water, no Canada geese were encountered during my hike, a rare experience during any season and one that will be impossible within a few weeks (their Front Range population triples during the colder months of the year).

The upslope flow intensified throughout the day, culminating in bands of thunderstorms by late afternoon.  Given the dry conditions on our Littleton farm, the rain was more than welcome.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ferrets Reintroduced in Denver

Returning to Colorado today, I learned that my arrival coincided with the introduction of 30 black-footed ferrets at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, in northeast Denver.  Renowned as the most endangered mammal in North America, black-footed ferrets were thought to have become extinct by the 1970s (due to habitat loss, disease and the removal of prairie dog colonies) until a colony of ferrets was discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981 (thanks to the scavenging activity of a farm dog).

Since 1986, a captive breeding program, coordinated by the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center near Carr, Colorado, has been conducted at the Center and at a number of zoos across the country.  Beginning in 1991, ferrets were reintroduced to the Shirley Basin of Wyoming, followed by sites in Montana and South Dakota; later, colonies were reintroduced in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Saskatchewan and Mexico.  To date, more than 1000 black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced to their former range; breeding success has been documented within some of the colonies but close monitoring continues.

Once a production center for munitions, chemical weapons and insecticides, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was selected as a Superfund Cleanup Site and has since become an urban National Wildlife Refuge, hemmed in by Metro Denver and the Denver International Airport.  Plenty of shortgrass prairie and large colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs make the refuge an ideal location for the ferrets; the latter are solitary, nocturnal hunters, known to feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs (supplemented on occasion by mice and ground squirrels).  Members of the weasel family, black-footed ferrets are the only ferret native to North America.

Data for this post was obtained from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October Songbirds

Early October is a great time to observe backyard songbirds in the American Heartland.  Autumn migrants such as warblers, vireos and flycatchers are still passing through on their journey to the south and most summer residents (gray catbirds, brown thrashers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, house wrens and chimney swifts, among others) have yet to depart for their wintering grounds.

Of course, permanent residents, including blue jays, northern cardinals, flickers, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina wrens, house finches, American goldfinches and black-capped chickadees add to the variety and will soon be joined by winter residents and visitors (dark-eyed juncos, white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, fox sparrows, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creepers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, to name a few).  Finally, cedar waxwings, those colorful and polite nomads, are especially prone to visit during this glorious month.

Best of all, the cool, sunny weather of October invigorates these songbirds, making them more active and conspicuous.  So too does it enhance the experience of birders, drawn outside to enjoy the pleasant weather and rewarded with a wonderful diversity of avian life.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

East Coast Flooding

Heavy rain and flooding are occurring along the East Coast of the U.S., primarily from South Carolina to the Mid-Atlantic States; this deluge, expected to persist for the next two days, is triggered by three atmospheric factors.

First of all, the leading edge of an atmospheric trough lies along the East Coast; cool, dry air behind this stationary front knifes beneath the warm, moist air ahead of the trough, producing lift.  Secondly, a dome of high pressure sits over the North Atlantic, east of Nova Scotia; clockwise winds swirl around this high, sweeping Atlantic moisture toward the East Coast.  Finally, as Hurricane Joaquin moves NNE, paralleling the coast, its counterclockwise winds will augment the onshore flow.

These three factors are expected to produce copious rainfall throughout the Carolinas, perhaps totaling more than eighteen inches in some areas; significant but lesser amounts of rain are forecast for the Mid-Atlantic region to southern New England.  Heavy rains in the mountains (most likely to occur in northern South Carolina) may be especially destructive, unleashing mudslides and valley floods.  In addition to the torrential rain, wind driven waves are expected to cause beach erosion and coastal flooding throughout the region.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Pelican Pool at Eagle Bluffs

On this bright, crisp morning, I headed down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain.  Near the entrance, a barred owl sat on a powerline, a potential omen that birding would be productive at the refuge.

Alas, an armada of tractors and trucks was harvesting the corn crop and initial sightings were limited to turkey vultures, great blue herons, killdeer, eastern bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds and a lone bald eagle.  Further south however, away from the human activity, birds were more numerous, including flocks of American coot and blue-winged teal; a few pied billed grebes and double-crested cormorants were also observed and great egrets fed with the more numerous great blue herons.

Scattered flocks of American white pelicans also graced southern portions of the refuge, lounging on sandbars or moving between the lakes and pools.  Just before I left, the pelicans began to congregate on a single, elongated pool, apparently drawn by fishing activity of the first group to arrive.  Within ten minutes or so, several hundred pelicans were crowding the pool, ducking their bills to scoop up prey and driving competitors (egrets and herons) from the shallows.  The intense activity died down as rapidly as it developed and the pelicans dispersed across the refuge; soon they'll be joining their brown cousins on saltwater bays along the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Catbirds in the Pokeweed

We have a large "crop" of pokeweed on our Missouri property this year and, over the past few days, gray catbirds have emerged from their woodland retreats to feed on the purple-black berries.  Usually seen alone or in pairs, at least a dozen catbirds were feasting in the stand today, joined by a large flock of cedar waxwings; indeed, though I have been a birder for almost forty years, this was the largest congregation of gray catbirds that I have ever encountered.

Perhaps the catbirds have already established a flock in preparation for their migration; then again, two or three families may have been attracted to the same patch of pokeweed.  In either case, the berries will soon be consumed and they'll move on, eventually heading to the Gulf Coast for the winter.

Nature watching often provides new and unexpected experiences, even for veteran naturalists.  While we may be intimately familiar with certain plants and animals in our environment, we occasionally encounter them in new settings or under new circumstances.  Today's assembly of gray catbirds was a fascinating discovery, even after decades of birding.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Papal Hoopla

During our recent travels, I would check in with the Celebrity News Network (that is what the initials stand for, isn't it?) to catch up on world news.  Almost without exception, the reports were focused on Pope Francis and his visit to Cuba and the United States.

There is little doubt, from what I have learned, that the Pope is a kind, humble and generous man; his comments on tolerance and his devotion to the poor and disenfranchised add to his positive image.  Of course, as a naturalist, I am also pleased that he has expressed concern about global warming and its disproportionate effects on impoverished populations.

On the other hand, his Church, and organized religion in general, have been responsible for a great deal of human suffering throughout recorded history.  Even Pope Francis, admired by most Catholics and many non-Catholics alike, will not likely alter Church dogma when it comes to gay marriage, women's rights, contraception and other important social issues; neither has he adequately addressed the scourge of sexual abuse among his legions.  To win my support, he would have to admit that organized religion is a divisive force in human society and that our focus should be on kindness, cooperation and generosity, not on rituals, ancient scripture and entrenched dogma.  Unfortunately, I don't expect that to happen.

Monday, September 28, 2015

From Huron to Door County

U.S. 2, from St. Ignace to Rapid River, Michigan, is a beautiful highway.  Paralleling the north shore of Lake Michigan, it offers spectacular views of the lake (often from convenient pull-offs and roadside parks) and passes through scenic woodlands and wetlands.  The towns are clean and inviting and Manistique, about halfway along the journey, entices visitors with a paved path and boardwalk that stretches along the marshy lakeshore.

Turning south along the northwest edge of Lake Michigan, the highway is not as scenic.  Larger cities and private lakeshore properties limit views of the water and only a few county parks provide access to the beaches.  At Green Bay, Wisconsin, we curved eastward to Door County, a long peninsula that juts between the bay and the open waters of Lake Michigan; it is also a component of the Silurian Rim that we have followed from the Bruce Peninsula of Ontario.

Door County is a landscape of rustic farms, orchards and woodlands, many harboring billboard ads for wineries, antique shops, fruit markets and lakeside inns.  The towns offer a mix of upscale shops, restaurants, lodges, galleries and, as one might expect, marinas.  Since our stay was short, we had little opportunity to explore the varied State and County Parks of Door County; however, we did visit (and highly recommend) Cave Point County Park, south of Jacksonport, where waves sculpt the dolomite cliffs, and Whitefish Dunes State Park, just to its south, where trails lead through a scenic and fragile ecosystem.  Later in the day, we had lunch along the river in Milwaukee, which (of course) sits atop the Silurian dolomite that rims the Michigan Basin.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Cup and Saucer Trail

Reported to be one of the most popular hiking trails in Ontario, the Cup and Saucer Trail climbs onto the Niagara Escarpment on Manitoulin Island, about 14 miles SSW of Little Current; the trail head is off Bidwell Road, just east of Route 540.  The entire trail network is 12 km in length while the hike describe below is approximately 5.5 km roundtrip; visitors should be aware that two sections of the trail are especially steep and rugged.

The primary trail, marked with white blazes, climbs onto the ridge of Silurian dolomite to offer spectacular views east and north of the escarpment cliffs; a vast northwoods spreads out below the ridge, broken by Lake Manitou and several smaller lakes.  Near the East Overlook, a side trail (blazed with blue) leads westward to the other side of the ridge; there, one enjoys broad views of the North Channel and its component bays, backed (to the north) by the La Cloche Range.  The latter chain of white rock hills is composed of Precambrian quartzite, some 3.5 billion years old (among the oldest rocks on our planet); the hills represent the eroded base of a massive mountain range that once crossed this portion of Ontario.

Leaving Manitoulin Island, we headed west to Sault Ste. Marie and crossed into the U.S.; there we watched two large ships pass through the Soo Locks.  We then drove south to St. Ignace, Michigan, where our motel room offers a fabulous view across Lake Huron to Mackinac Island.  Tomorrow we'll  resume our journey along the Silurian Rim, exploring the north shore of Lake Michigan.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Across the Blue Desert to Manitoulin

Early this afternoon, my wife and I left Tobermory, Ontario, headed for Manitoulin Island via ferry.  Sitting on the upper deck of the large ship, we watched as the islands of Fathom Five National Park receded in the distance.

Crossing the broad channel between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, I was reminded of American desert landscapes, where flat, seemingly lifeless terrain is broken by islands of life (mountains in our western deserts, forested islands on the Great Lakes).  While life teems beneath the waves, there is little to observe from above; unlike coastal ocean waters, where whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and a wide variety of seabirds may be encountered, only the occasional gull, loon or cormorant was seen on the blue expanse of the channel.

Ninety minutes after leaving Tobermory, our peaceful journey ended and we docked on Manitoulin Island, the largest island of a freshwater lake on Earth.  Heading toward Little Current, we took a short side trip to Bridal Veil Falls on the Kagawong River, which empties into Mudge Bay of the North Channel; the cascade, protected within a nature preserve, was definitely worth a visit.  After a night in in Little Current, we plan to hike the Cup and Saucer Trail (some 14 miles SSW of town) before moving on to Sault Ste. Marie.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Flowerpot Island & Dyer's Bay

Yesterday, we joined a horde of other tourists and boarded a boat for Flowerpot Island, a few miles off the coast of Tobermory, Ontario.  En route, the pilot took us over the remnants of two sunken ships (there are 22 within the boundaries of Fathom Five National Park) and past several of the islands that lie across the channel between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.  Dropped off on Flowerpot Island for two hours, we joined a parade along the popular coastal trail that provides access to the Large and Small Flowerpot formations (dolomite stacks that eroded from the adjacent cliffs), a large recessed cave and the lighthouse overlook; we returned to the dock via a rocky path that climbs across higher terrain (and is thus avoided by most visitors).

Today, seeking a less crowded venue, we headed south of the National Parks and hiked along segments of the Bruce Trail atop the dolomite cliffs that line Dyer's Bay (a coastal portion of Georgian Bay).  There we enjoyed spectacular vistas, two secluded rock formations (Michigander's Arch and the Devil's Monument) and a walk along the rocky shore; we also appreciated the solitude, far from the tourist crowds in the Parks.

Such is the nature of ecotourism.  Popular sites, designated Parks and equipped with manicured trails and comfort facilities, are often congested with tourists; though they often harbor some of the most spectacular landscape on the planet, it is difficult to enjoy their ecosystems amidst throngs of fellow humans.  For those who care to do a bit of investigation, comparable landscapes, accessible to the public, can be explored in relative solitude; such locations include most (though not all) wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, conservation areas and federal lands.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bruce Peninsula National Park

Bruce Peninsula National Park stretches across the northern portion of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada.  The Park encompasses a wide variety of ecosystems, from sandy shores and dunes along Lake Huron to magnificent dolomite cliffs along Georgian Bay.  More than 20 species of fern colonize the Park which also harbors ancient cedars and 43 species of orchid.  Among the animal residents are black bears, martens, porcupines and eastern massasauga rattlesnakes.

On our first hike of the day, we parked along Cyprus Lake and climbed to the bayside cliffs where erosion has produced Boulder Beach, the Grotto and Indian Head Cove, some of the most popular natural features in the Park.  Our second hike took us along Dorcas Bay on the Lake Huron (west) side of the Peninsula, where inland dunes and wetlands harbor a wide variety of rare and threatened plants.

Once again, wildlife was rather sparse on our hikes, represented primarily by common forest songbirds and red squirrels (also known as chickarees); Canada geese, ring-billed gulls, red-breasted mergansers and double-crested cormorants were observed on the lakes and bays.  A special sighting was that of a green snake; sunning himself on a trail, he escaped to the adjacent foliage as we approached.

Monday, September 21, 2015

North into Autumn

After spending the night in Port Huron, Michigan, we crossed into Canada and zigzagged northward across the Bruce Peninsula.  Crossing a landscape of scenic farmlands, wetlands and wind farms, we visited sandy beaches along Lake Huron and limestone cliffs along the coves and sounds of Georgian Bay.

Wildlife was rather sparse on our journey, dominated by Canada geese on the farmlands, ring-billed gulls at the marinas and flocks of red-breasted mergansers on the bays and inlets.  During a brief stop at Bruce Peninsula National Park, we climbed an observation tower that offers a spectacular panorama, especially of the islands within the Fathom Five National Marine Park, north and west of Tobermory (more on that Park later in the week).

Throughout this pleasantly cool, sunny day, we watched as autumn colors intensified on our northward journey.  Leaving summer in eastern Michigan, we entered a new season in Ontario, one that will surely energize our hikes and travels in the days to come.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Off to the Silurian Rim

This afternoon, my wife and I will leave Cincinnati and head northward across the Glacial Plain of western Ohio.  In northern Ohio, we'll cross the Silurian Rim of the Michigan Basin, buried deep beneath glacial till.

Our eventual destination is the Bruce Peninsula of Ontario, Canada, where Silurian dolomite outcrops between the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.  There we'll stay in a Bed and Breakfast near the northern tip of the peninsula and spend a week exploring the trails and rocky shores of the Bruce Peninsula National Park and adjacent areas.

We then plan to follow the Silurian Rim across the northern coast of Lakes Huron and Michigan and down through the Door County peninsula of Wisconsin.  More on our adventures and discoveries in the coming days.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Algal Bloom on the Ohio

In Cincinnati for a wedding this weekend, I learned that the largest algal bloom in recorded history has developed on the Ohio River.  Five hundred miles long, from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Louisville, Kentucky, a layer of blue-green algae on the river's surface is threatening wildlife and humans alike; toxins from the algae can induce a variety of ailments from mild rashes to liver damage.  Fortunately, modern water treatment systems are capable of removing both the algae and the toxins, so the water supply of the larger cities is unaffected.

Algae blooms generally develop when water is nutrient-rich, excessively warm and relatively stagnant. In this case, nutrients are supplied by agricultural run-off and wastewater effluent; summer heating and relatively low rainfall throughout the Ohio River watershed has provided the warm, sluggish water.  According to local hydrologists, the river flow is currently less that 0.25 mph (normal rates for this time of year range from 0.5 to 1.0 mph).

Depending on regional weather conditions, the massive algal bloom is expected to dissipate within a few weeks as the weather cools; of course, heavy rains in the Ohio Valley would also serve to disperse the algae.  Until then, residents of towns and cities along the Ohio are advised to stay out of the river; unfortunately, wildlife species do not receive such a warning.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Music People

Almost all humans enjoy music of some kind.  After all, it is the universal language of our species.

Some of us, however, might be described as "music people."  We appreciate a variety of genres and prefer to have background music for most of our activities, including reading and studying; indeed, I have I-tunes playing as I write this post.  Granted the convenience of modern technology, we are able to enjoy music without the interruption of commercials or chatty DJs (and without changing the record or CD every half hour).

For most of us, music is relaxing, inspiring and, for those of a certain age, nostalgic.  Some prefer songs with lyrics, words that speak to our joys and sorrows.  Others lean toward instrumentals, stirred by the melody and its rhythm, whether classical, jazz, rock or some other genre.  While many think of music as just a form of entertainment, a diversion from the trials and responsibilities of life, music people accept it as a vital part of life; indeed, it is one of humanity's few gifts to the planet, partial compensation for the damage that we inflict.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An Attractive Killer

A large Cooper's hawk (likely a female) has been hanging around our neighborhood for the past few days.  Strafing the trees to snare victims, the accipiter's presence has caught the attention of a blue jay posse, determined to evict her from their territory.

Larger and heavier cousins of the sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawks are also identified by the rounded end of their long, banded tail.  They favor large to medium sized avian prey, zeroing in on flickers, jays, starlings, pigeons and doves; Coopers may also grab a squirrel on occasion.  Victims are killed by suffocation, squeezed in the hawk's powerful talons.

Permanent residents throughout most of the U.S., Cooper's hawks, like many raptors, are perhaps best observed during the colder months, when deciduous trees have dropped their leaves.  Of course, the barren trees also aid their hunting, making prey more visible and accessible.  Though once primarily a resident of forests, these attractive raptors have become increasingly common in suburban areas and wooded farmlands, likely attracted by songbirds at feeders and pigeons in barnyards.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Illness & Control

Once we are old enough (and mature enough) to be independent of our parents, we strive to have control in our life, a factor vital to our happiness and self-esteem.  We make personal decisions regarding our career, friendships, lifestyle and geographic location.  Should love strike, some personal control must yield to compromise but partners soon learn that granting each other a reasonable degree of freedom is essential to sustaining the relationship.

Unfortunately, our need for control may be challenged by external factors such as accidents, social upheaval and natural disasters.  At some point in our lives, almost all of us face serious medical illnesses and those that are life-threatening are especially prone to upend our sense of control.  While management plans often have a calming effect, the knowledge that unseen pathology is smoldering beneath the surface, likely to erupt at some point, threatens our self-confidence.  Treatment schedules and dietary restrictions disrupt our lifestyle and the effects of the disease, or of the medications used to treat it, alter our sense of well being.

By staying informed, adhering to a therapeutic regimen and developing contingency plans, we retain some degree of control.  Nevertheless, medicine is an inexact science and illnesses do not always unfold as expected.  More than the symptoms themselves, the loss of control in our life is perhaps the most unsettling aspect of disease, however mild or severe it might be.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

September Chill

The first significant chill of the season enveloped Columbia this morning; the overnight low was in the upper forties (F).  At Forum Nature Area, in the Hinkson Creek Valley, patchy fog covered the floodplain and steam rose from the seasonal lake.

Goldenrod, sunflowers, thistle and purple ironweed provided color amidst the fading greenery, which shimmered with dew in the bright September sun.  Invigorated by the morning chill, flocks of restless Canada geese circled above the refuge while barred owls called from the creekside woodlands.  Out on the misty lake, great blue and green herons stalked the shallows and noisy killdeer raced along the mudflats.

Humans seemed to enjoy this respite from muggy summer heat as much as the wildlife and a steady parade of visitors, most with their canine companions, moved along the graveled trail.  While more heat will surely invade the region, this morning's chill signals that summer is losing its grip on the Heartland. The glorious days of autumn lie ahead.