Saturday, August 19, 2006

Night adventure

We took a little road trip down to Southern Illinois where Jay and I went to college and wanted to show Hunter some of the things we remember from our time there. There was much reminiscing about the campus and places we had lived. We ate at a few of our favorite restaurants which were still in business and made a few side trips to other places. The best one by far was our night trip to Bald Knob Cross in Alto Pass, Illinois. The cross is one of the places I remember visiting many times. It is the largest cross in America and sits on private land that is open to the public. The story behind it's construction is fun to read and adds a little local flavor since it involves a lady and her pig.

The cross is situated on the highest point around for miles. During the day at the cross site you can see for miles across the Shawnee National Forest. A small road (no line down the middle) takes you winding through the forest for about 5 miles before you reach the site but every once in a while the road winds through a clearing and you get a view of the cross up ahead. We visited at night because I wanted Hunter (the bug maniac) to see what kind of visitors the cross had at night. Since the cross is privately managed there have been times when it is lit at night and times when it is not. I suppose it all depends upon how much money has been donated to the coffers for the electric bill. At the time we decided to go we had no idea if the cross would be lit and just hoped it would.

Luck was on our side as we rounded the final turn toward the cross and found it to be lit! This was a great discovery because we wanted to see the amazing creatures the lights attract. MOTHS! I know, if you thought I was nuts before, that just confirmed it! Actually, the cross attracts the most amazing moths in North America. There are quite a few factors which come together to create the perfect night time environment to attract moths and all are in place at the cross. Hunter was excited when we arrived because there were loads of insects for him to see, touch, and (considering how big some of them were) refuse to touch. Of course, if you don't like things flying around you then you're in the wrong place! There are literally hundreds and hundreds of flying insects buzzing all over the place.

Some of the wonderful things we were able to see included Sphinx moths, sweetheart moths, tiger moths, a yellow and pink "strawberry/banana" coloured moth, and a giant silk moth. It was difficult to see the exact colouring of these creatures because it was so dark but we held them in the light of our headlights and it worked rather well. There were also a variety of large tiger beetles skulking around. They were obviously there for the buggy buffet the lights created but none of the moths we were looking for were in any danger from the beetles. We saw very large Katydids and grasshoppers hanging out on the higher elevations of the cross and were happy to leave them alone. The giant silk moth was really what we had come to see.

The silk moth is about 6 inches across when it unfolds its wings and is a bit intimidating. There are glassine windows in its wings you can see through! Apparently, this moth only lives for about a week as an adult and doesn't even eat...its only purpose is to find a mate and make more moths! All in all it was a very "educational" evening and well worth the trip just to see the look on Hunter's face when he could hold a moth which was bigger than his own hand.

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