Just before darkness, cold, and snow appeared last December we decided to try a new winter travel adventure. We purchased a “Great Course” called the Ancient Civilizations of North America that took us on a virtual trek across North America over a 10,000 year plus time.
The course contained 24 lectures on a CD with a paper book paralleling each class.
A Good Way to Enjoy Winter Evenings
Dr. Barnhart is the director of the Maya Exploration Center.
A few evenings a week we’d sit by our fireplace and enjoy a 30-minute lecture. Our professor was Dr. Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center. He’s also a Fellow of the Explorers Club and has traveled extensively. His knowledge of ancient cultures is extraordinary and his delivery impressive. As we watched him on our television it was as if he was speaking directly to us.
His course started with archeological terms and the first people known to cross the Bering Land Bridge and enter our continent in pursuit of mammoths and other gigantic now-extinct animals. Later lectures brought us forward in time to Native Americans along the East Coast just before Europeans arrived.
During the class, we “visited” such fascinating places as Chaco Canyon, Cahokia, Meadowcroft Rockshelter, and many others.
A Chat with Dr. Barnhart
Shortly after finishing his course, we had a delightful phone conversation with Dr. Barnhart. He lives in Austin, Texas, and was attempting to replace a water line that froze and bust in the late winter freeze that hit the Lone Star State and other southern states. Curious, we asked him a number of questions about archeology and how the Great Course we took was so effectively presented. Here were some of our questions and his responses:
- Do archeologists often have a feeling of awe when at a place where people lived hundreds or thousands of years ago? “Yes, very often.”
- We live in Iowa where ancient people often created large earthen mounds, often on high ridges above streams and rivers. Might we have mounds near our home above Indian Creek and how might we spot them? “The name Indian Creek sums it up. Yes. There might be mounds, but many may have been destroyed. Keep your eyes open. It’s important that these places be protected.
- When we mentioned that the area had been hit but a derecho’s 140 miles an hour wind that had uprooted many trees he responded, “Often artifacts are found in the root balls of uprooted trees. Look carefully at them and you might find stone tools or pieces of pottery.”
Keeping the Conversation Lively
- When we asked him about how he made his course delivery so interesting he replied, “We’ll I organized the class and its content but the technical people who did the filming for the Great Course are skilled in helping make and keep presentations interesting.” Among the aspects of the class and delivery that kept us fascinated were background murals that changed with each lecture, excellent graphics and maps, and Dr. Barnhart looking directly at us (the camera). He would also rotate about 90 degrees every ten or fifteen minutes and look at a different camera. Then he revealed a secret. Because he knew the material well and had written the script keeping a flow of conversation was easy. And, he quipped, “My notes were on a teleprompter.”
We thank Dr. Barnhart for his vast knowledge and ability to communicate it. We will take future Great Courses. They range from lifestyle topics to learning advanced calculus to European history and music. For information go to www.thegreatcourses.com.
Author note: We purchased and reviewed the Great Course on our own with no special consideration given to us.
Actually, 2020 has been incredibly busy for Winding Pathways writing in 2020. This winter we invite you to grab a warm beverage, curl up, and take in some of our features in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
December 20, 2020. Walking Cemeteries. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/a-peaceful-outdoor-walking-option-20201221
December 14, 2020 Iowa Meat Lockers: https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/a-meaty-adventure-20201214
Nov 11, 2020 Iowa’s Inland Seas. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/enjoying-iowas-inland-seas-20201111
Sept 27, 2020: New Life to dead Trees. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/dead-trees-give-life-20200927
September 20, 2020: Walk Outside Safely. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/get-outside-and-walk-but-stay-safe-20200920
September 9, 2020: Rebirth Amid the Rubble https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/a-rebirth-among-the-rubble-of-trees-20200906
August 22, 2020: Iowa’s National Parks. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/iowa-national-parks-guide-effigy-hoover-20200822
July 27, 2020: County Parks. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/take-advantage-of-iowas-county-gems-20200727
July 11, 2020: Tenting. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/why-rv-live-isnt-for-these-senior-tent-campers-20200711
June 26, 2020: Bear Sightings in Iowa: https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/why-rv-live-isnt-for-these-senior-tent-campers-20200711
April 12, 2020” Walk on Wilder side. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/recreation/take-a-walk-on-the-wilder-side-20200412
Amazing Autumn Across America
You can still catch the color this fall as these amazing days stretch on. Even in the derecho band of destruction from Eastern Nebraska through Illinois, some trees offer eye candy in November to lift our spirits. Outside the narrow tunnel of downed trees, the world is quite stunning.
A recent Iowa outing found us motoring north on IA 150 and US 52 past fields of ripening corn and bean of various hues – green-yellow and earth-brown to russet – undulating over the rolling landscape. The descent into the Volga, Turkey, and Upper Iowa River valleys offered pleasing, pastoral scenes of church spires, roadside stands replete with pumpkins and apples, trails busy with bicyclists, and rivers dotted with bright kayaks.
Asters of all varieties brighten the ditches.
The roadsides and hillsides are most interesting where patches of prairie have been planted, and milk cows and horses graze. New England, many-flowered, and heath asters contrast purple, pink, and white against the tawny hues of big and little bluestem waving in the wind.
Country tree color is more subdued. Walnut, hackberry, locust, and catalpa tend to turn dull yellow and drop their leaves early. Shrubs like flowering, red twig and grey dogwoods, and ninebark do form pleasing borders of various reds and tans. You can always spot the brilliant sugar maples often the only remnants of a long-gone farmstead. All contrast with the varied greens of pines, spruces, cedars and even, verdant cover crops.
Color is most vibrant in towns, parks, cemeteries, and on golf courses. Overflowing flower baskets and bright banners line the main streets of towns like Independence and Calmar. Ashes and maples brighten residential streets. The streets radiate yellow of green ashes and deep plum of white ashes. These contrast with the maple coloration which ranges from fiery orange/yellow to brick red to wine.
Around toward the Mississippi River, the vistas could not be more pleasing. In autumn, a light mist rises over The River. The sun slants through brightly colored leaves spotlighting golden Cottonwoods dancing in the breeze.
To get a sense of the close-up beauty of fall, pull into any of the several state or county parks, preserves, or recreation areas and step onto the trails. One of our favorites is Effigy Mounds National Monument. The short climb up the bluff offers a spectacular view of the Mississippi. Along the way, we noted yellow-green grape leaves framed by merlot-infused Virginia Waterleaf.
Around Cedar Rapids, as trails open up, look closely at the goldenrod and Maximillian sunflower where pollinators still busily work. Late migrating Monarchs rest and snack waiting for the next north wind to head south.
Go South for Color
It seems that as the winds knock early changing leaves like maples off, the oaks come into their own and linger into the fall. All the oaks, especially our state tree, the bur oak, sport handsome ginger, tawny, sepia and, rufous shades. Pin oaks with their downward slanting lower branches often hold their leaves through winter.
A short drive south offers even more opportunities to catch the oak colors. A great source to decide your route is the scenic byways of Iowa. Not surprisingly, most routes follow The Mississippi or other Eastern Iowa rivers. The pdf includes pictures, text and routes to follow.
A scarlet maple.
White, Pin, Red Oaks all turn different colors in the fall.
Travel early or late in the day to catch the most vibrant colors.
Enjoy the eye candy of Iowa’s fall colors.
No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, early November holds color in surprising places. Go early in the morning or later in the afternoons to catch the sun’s lowest angles highlighting trees and landscapes. America’s Byways is a state-by-state resource of interesting trails to follow. And, any country road is sure to bring delightful surprises.
Winding Pathways invites readers to enjoy past features in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Wandering Nebraska and South Dakota’s Rich Fossil Freeway. Follow US Highway 20 across northern Nebraska while exploring its fossil-rich history. Along the way wet your line in trout streams, paddle clear rivers through sandhills, camp in a National Forest in the Great Plains, and bicycle parts of the Great American Rail-Trail. Then, end up in the enchanting Black Hills of South Dakota.
Alaska In Winter. Most folks experience Alaska in summer. Winter has its rewards, too! Plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and mild-mannered indoor types. Museums. The Bear Tooth Theatrepub. Great eateries. Iditarod Ceremonial Start. XC ski races. Campbell Creek Science Center. And, perhaps most wonderful of all – no skeeters or bears!
Indiana Dunes National Park. A great stop while speeding along I-80 is the Indiana Dunes National Park. A cooperative venture among city, county, state and federal government, this necklace of preserved areas rings the southern end of Lake Michigan. Soft sand beaches to explore, dunes several hundred feet high to scale, charming villages, bicycle trails to follow, and varied places to rest your head at night. This new national park can fulfill any family’s vacation dreams.
America’s Magnificent Mounds line the Mississippi River and many other waterways in North America. While most mounds have been lost to “development” many remain. And, travelers can learn so much about ancient cultures and appreciate why preserving these mounds is important.
As dusk enveloped us, Sandhill Cranes winged over in groups of three or four, heading for their overnight roosting sites. We were at the Aldo Leopold Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Conservation philosophers often cite three authors who framed the modern environmental movement. Perhaps Thoreau’s WALDEN is most famous. Somewhat later, John Muir penned the value of wilderness and national parks. More recently Aldo Leopold’s 1949 book, A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC, articulated society’s need to embrace a land ethic.
Extinction of Species
During Leopold’s life waterfowl, Passenger Pigeons, Sandhill Cranes, and many other birds declined in number under widespread habitat destruction and market hunting. The pigeon became extinct, and Leopold believed Sandhill Cranes would soon follow.
Happily, thanks to protection, education, and habitat improvement thousands of cranes now gather each fall near the Leopold Center on their way south. We had the good fortune to spot and hear many.
Foundation of Personal and Professional Life
In the winter of 1971 Rich worked as an elementary school custodian. “If I hustled and got the restrooms cleaned and the halls swept, I could take a short break in the janitor’s closet. There, surrounded by mops and brooms I read WALDEN and SAND COUNTY. They framed my personal and professional life,” he said.
Leopold was one of the first scientists to encourage making degraded land healthier through ecological restoration. His words inspired us to devote 40 years restoring prairies in Kansas and Iowa. Our Winding Pathways yard of waving wildflowers and tall grasses are a living tribute to Aldo and Estella Leopold.
A Walk into the Past Connects Us to the Present
Recently, Leopold Foundation Fellow Eudora Miao led us down a narrow path between tall pines to a former chicken house. In the 1930s the Leopold Family converted it to their weekend getaway cabin and called it simply, “The Shack.” Starting in 1935 they planted thousands of pines and acres of prairie on their eroded and barren land. It was here that Aldo penned words that have inspired people for the past 70 years.
The Foundation strives to inspire an ethical relationship between people and nature through Leopold’s legacy.
We were thrilled to visit the Foundation, tour their amazingly energy-efficient headquarters, visit The Shack, and interact with staff. Put SAND COUNTY ALMANAC on your reading list and visit the Foundation. It’s about ten miles from downtown Baraboo, Wisconsin, and about an hour’s drive north of Madison.
For information visit The Aldo Leopold Foundation
Photos (mn) by Mark Norlander.
The converted chicken coop is on the Historic Register. mn
A skilled Fellow of the Leopold Center shares about The Shack. mn
Sand hill Crane populations have increased.
The main building of the Leopold Center has Platinum LEED designation. mn
Iowans share history with Baraboo, Wisconsin. Two famous families began their lives and careers in Iowa and landed in Baraboo. This fall we toured the charming town of Baraboo, took in Circus World, and basked in the glow of the Leopold Center’s work on sustainability. Read about Baraboo and plan your own adventure in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.