Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Off RAGBRAI's Beaten Path...

While the RAGBRAI bike riders are off peddling across the state, I usually have a little time on my hands.  I often try to linger over breakfast and read a newspaper, though I've never been able to find my normal New York Times outside of Iowa City.  Of course, there is the occasional stop at the midpoint town to pick up or drop off bikers, and there is the daily shopping for snacks, keeping the cooler stocked with drinks, and the approximate 30 pounds of ice per day needed to chill same.

And then, there is the occasional roadside attraction that catches my eye.  I'm trying to be better at hanging out more, but often it seems the route assigned for support (which we are advised to follow to avoid interfering with bike traffic) is often pretty dull.

And then on Wednesday morning, coming out of Knoxville, as I was crossing the mile-long bridge spanning Red Rock Lake (which the bikers came in on the night before), I spotted an unusual structure.  Shown at left, it is an observation lookout at Cordova Park, which was fortunately on the support route!  Pulling up, for a mere pair of quarters, you could climb the 169 steps to get a bird's eye view of the surrounding territory.  Finished in the late '90s, in a former life it served as the water tower supplying the park (built in 1972), but when it transitioned to a pipeline it was re-purposed into an observation station, as well as a night-time navigation light to lake traffic.  If you click on the image at left, you can spot a student and teacher about halfway up the stairs.

It was a magnificent view!  A display claims you can see the Iowa State capital building, as well as nearly a half dozen nearby towns.  In the early morning view I had, the view of the reservoir was about as good as it can get in the Midwest, and the view to the west shows the above-mentioned mile-long bridge across it.  Shown at left is a 10-frame panorama, unfortunately limited to the 1600 pixel limit of the blog...  Even the vertical panorama of the tower's shadow at right is interesting with the spiral stairs.  Other trivia facts - the observation level is 106 feet off the ground, and it is recognized as having the tallest and longest fiberglass stairway in the world!

And while the structure and view were great, I'm easily entertained, and a patch of prairie nearby also called out to me.  I'm a big fan of milkweed and the creatures they attract, so immediately went to some nice plants with the macro lens.  I was in luck - a couple milkweed beetles were posing for me!  Seemingly a little more rare than the milkweed bugs that dominate near our home in Illinois, the beetles are some of the few creatures that can feed on the toxic sap of the milkweed.  Both milkweed bugs and beetles are aposematic (brightly colored) to advertise to predators that they have absorbed toxins and are poisonous.  Both of these views are of the same fellow who was checking me out from the safety the leaf afforded.  Taken with the 100mm F/2.8 Canon macro, I tried to balance the on-camera flash with available light to get a reasonable exposure.  Both genus and species name (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) comes from the latin for "four-eyes".  These shots show how the antennae nearly bisect the eyes on each side.

While the above beetle was mostly hidden, another on a nearby leaf reveals the red body and black spots they sport, as well as the microscopic hairs I've missed before...  When I finished taking 30 pictures to get the above 3 shots, a bit of motion caught my eye on a nearby plant - a Harvestman!  This fellow didn't want to pose and I was only able to get a shot or three, this one being the best.  Harvestmen are arachnids with their 8 legs, but are not spiders since they lack the multiple-segmented bodies. 

Anyway, I enjoyed a nice diversion from filling the cooler and driving the bus.  I ought to aim to do it daily!

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