Thursday, August 16, 2012

Don’t burn through cash, buy the best firewood this season

INDIANAPOLIS – September and the cooler temperatures of fall are nearly here, and homeowners nationwide will soon begin enjoying the warmth and beauty provided by their homes’ fireplaces.
The following tips for selecting the right kind of firewood this season will help homeowners save money and avoid potentially dangerous chimney conditions.
       Seek out well-seasoned wood. Well-seasoned logs were cut at least 6 months prior to your purchase date, providing ample time for excess water and moisture to evaporate. Seasoned wood typically has a moisture content of 20%. Fresh cut wood can be nearly 50% water. It’s clear which logs will burn more efficiently, providing more heat for longer. Plus dryer wood is less likely to cause the dangerous build up of creosote on your chimney walls, which can be a fire hazard if not seasonally cleaned by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®.
       The meter doesn’t lie. If there is any doubt as to the dryness of the wood you want to purchase, think about investing in a moisture meter. Available at just about any home improvement or hardware store, a meter can quickly indicate the moisture content of a log and save you the trouble of purchasing lower quality wood.
       Apply the smack test. If you don’t have access to a moisture meter, try the smack test. When you strike two pieces of wood together, the sound they make is a good indicator of whether they are ready for your fireplace. A clear, ringing “clunk” sound means the wood that you plan to purchase is seasoned and a good investment. If you can only muster a dull “thud” when smacking two pieces of firewood together, it is probably best to leave those logs at the store.
       Track your firewood’s travels. In many states, firewood can only be sold in the county where it was cut, because officials are trying to reduce the spread of invasive pests like the ash borer and pine bark beetles. So while it may not have traveled far to get to your local store for sale, how firewood has been stored prior to purchase makes a big difference. Ask the seller how and where the wood was stored in recent months, and if you get any indication that has been exposed to the elements – like rain and snow – it’s probably better to take a pass. The best firewood has been stored off the ground in a dry and well-ventilated shed or other enclosure.
       Choose hardwoods first. While all species of wood will work just fine in your fireplace, seasoned hardwoods, because they are denser, will burn hotter and longer, keeping you warmer and saving you money on the purchase of additional wood.
For more information about selecting proper firewood or to locate a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, visit and click on the Homeowner Resources tab.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hiking the Spectacular Palisades in Idaho

By EC Heileson

A picturesque view of Palisades Peak (9778’) from the trail a little before the bridge crossing at
Split Creek (Upper Palisades Lake is below and to the right of this peak). 
Palisades Creek Trail is a gateway to one of the more popular areas to hike in eastern Idaho. In addition to great scenery, hikers will usually come across wildlife (especially moose). Also, fishing is plentiful along the trail.

Three main attractions are generally considered potential destinations for those hiking the trail.  These include Lower Palisades Lake, Upper Palisades Lake, and the falls at Waterfall Canyon.  The lakes should not be confused with Palisades Reservoir, which is a few miles southeast of the area.  Most people hike the trail on foot but going on horseback is also an option.

The trailhead to Palisades Creek Trail is located just off Hwy 26 near the small town of Irwin, Idaho, between Swan Valley to the northwest and the Palisades Reservoir to the southeast. 
If you are coming from Idaho Falls or from Jackson using the Teton Pass (Hwy 31) into Swan Valley, you will follow Hwy 26 southeast towards Palisades Reservoir for about 7 miles from the junction of Hwy 26 and Hwy 31 and then turn left onto Palisades Creek Road (Forest Road 255).  If you are coming from Palisades Reservoir, you will travel northwest on Hwy 26 for about 4 miles from the point of the dam and then turn right onto Palisades Creek Road (FR 255).
After turning onto Palisades Creek Road (FR 255), you can follow the road all the way to the trailhead where there is single car parking and a public restroom (vaulted toilet with no running water).  However, there is also a parking area and horse unloading area near the campground located just below the trailhead.  There is also running water at the campground.
A U.S. Forest Service Map of the Palisades and Teton Basin Ranger Districts can be found here (Palisades Creek and the lakes are located on the map at E11-F11, with the trail numbers being 084, 112, and 099):
The hike to both Lower and Upper Palisades Lakes is moderately difficult while the hike from the upper lake to the falls at Waterfall Canyon is a bit more difficult (for the first half anyway).  The elevation at the trailhead is around 5600 feet.  The Palisades Creek outlet at the lower lake has an approximate elevation of 6250 feet and the elevation at the top of the hill overlooking the upper lake is around 6700 feet.  The falls at Waterfall Canyon are at an elevation of about 7550 feet.

Investigating a “beaver” pond to the right of the trail.
It is approximately 4 miles from the trailhead to the lower lake and about 2.7 miles further to the upper lake.  Once you reach the upper lake, a trail follows along the left-hand side of the lake for about 1.5 miles to the southeast end of the lake or you can hike down to the lake on the right.  To reach the falls at Waterfall Canyon, you must hike the 1.5 miles to the southeast end of the upper lake and then about 3 more miles beyond that point.

Due to the popularity of the area, you are likely to encounter many other hikers, fishermen, individuals on horseback, or campers.  Youth groups frequent the area during the summer.  Weekends and the months of July and August are the most crowded.  The trail is usually littered with horse manure which can be a bit of a nuisance. 

Lingering snow and fallen timber can sometimes make hiking difficult or impractical far into June, especially past the upper lake.  Both heat and cold are potential hazards, so be sure and check the weather forecast and be prepared for inclement weather as needed.
A large number of people just hike to the lower or upper lake for a day hike, perhaps fishing along the way or in one of the lakes.  Others hike to one of the lakes and camp for the night before continuing on to the upper lake and/or up Waterfall Canyon the next day.  Upper Palisades Lake is several times larger than Lower Palisades Lake and the water can be extremely cold, even in mid-summer, so extra caution should be taken if entering the lake for any reason.
You are likely to encounter quite a bit of wildlife on this hike.  The most common small game encountered are squirrels, chipmunks, garter snakes, frogs, toads, foxes, beaver, pika (in rocky areas), ducks, and occasionally coyotes.  Big game include moose (very common), deer, elk, mountain goats, and rarely mountain lions and black bears. 
Fishing is good in many areas of the creek and is possible in both lakes, though the upper lake is much more accessible and should provide far better fishing than the lower lake.  Artificial flies, lures (spinners), and worms are the most popular bait.  The water is very clear with willows and brush being the greatest obstacles to accessing the creek in most areas along the trail.  There are six (6) well-built bridges crossing the creek between the trailhead and the lower lake and another one crossing the creek between the lower and upper lake. 
Mosquitos, horse flies, and other flying insects can be a nuisance but not as much during the middle of summer if it has been dry.  Stinging nettle is located along the trail in many places but if you stay on the middle of the trail it should not cause you too many problems.  Wild raspberries, thimbleberries, and blue huckleberries grow in many different places along the trail (mostly above the lower lake and up toward Waterfall Canyon) and are usually ripe for picking during the late summer months.  Much of the trail can be fairly dusty if it has been dry which can leave your shoes/boots, feet, and legs pretty dirty at the end of the day.  You will almost always be near a water source except for most of the trail up to the falls in Waterfall Canyon. 

The first bridge crossing Palisades Creek
can be seen from the trailhead parking lot.
Though I have hiked and fished Palisades Creek and the upper lake a few times, this was the first time my wife and I had hiked this trail together.  We began our hike up Palisades Creek Trail on August 2nd at approximately 9:00 AM.  Though it was a Thursday, the parking lot at the trailhead was fairly full.  The weather was sunny the entire time with very few clouds, though there was a little haze in the sky from wildfires burning in the region.  An on-and-off breeze arose during the day and highs were expected to reach the mid-80s in Irwin.

A bridge immediately crosses Palisades Creek at the trailhead leaving the parking lot and the area is quite forested and shaded until you reach the second bridge crossing.  The creek has some access points for fishing but also has a lot of willows but we did not bring any fishing gear.  In this section, the trail sometimes diverges away from the creek further to the right.  The mountains and canyon walls rise quite high on both sides providing some great scenery.

After about a half-hour of hiking (stopping occasionally to enjoy the view or to take pictures) we came upon a floating-type bridge that left the trail to the right to what looked like a man-made levy and a beaver pond (though I’m not sure the dam was built by beavers).  The trail continued to the left to the second bridge crossing to the left side of the creek. 

My wife sitting on the second bridge crossing the creek.
Once you cross the second bridge to the left side of the creek, the trail provides intermittent periods of shade and sun.  The trail also rises high above and away from the creek along the left side of the canyon at times.  There are a couple places to stop and rest along the trail in the shade and some rocks to sit down on if needed.  We were moving at a good pace though and we didn’t take any time to stop and rest. 

The distance between the second and third bridge provides the longest interval between any of the bridges up to the lower lake (it took us about an hour and a half to reach the third bridge from the trailhead).  There are some spectacular views of the opposite canyon wall, mountain peaks, and the creek itself along this portion of the trail.  A favorite stopping point for hikers is a flat rock overlook (or as we call it, Bernie’s Lookout).  It is just a few minutes away from the third bridge crossing and provides a great view of the creek below and some steep rocky cliffs on the other side of the creek.

Standing atop Bernie’s Lookout, a favorite stopping point for hikers along the trail.
The third, fourth, and fifth bridge crossings are just a few minutes away from each other and the trail stays pretty close to the creek for the most part during this section.  There is a small bridge lying over a stream-bed (it usually contains water earlier in the year) between the fourth and fifth bridges as well.  There are some great views of the creek and the canyon walls and there appear to be quite a few good fishing holes along this part of the creek if you can find a way to access them.
Looking upstream from the fifth bridge.
The fifth bridge crossing takes you to the right side of the creek and soon after this the trail ascends upward toward the lower lake.  There are a few switchbacks here and it is a little more strenuous.  Rock mounds clutter the area as evidence of the rock slide that formed the dam making the lower lake.
Before reaching the lower lake, the trail will come to the top of a hill with a camping area to the right.  Here you will also find signs showing distances to the upper lake and other areas.  We veered off the trail and rested and ate in a large outcropping of boulders overlooking the lower lake.  While eating and enjoying the view, a pika crawled out onto the rocks and began squeaking (perhaps to let us know we were intruding on its turf).

The lower lake looked as scenic as ever.  We spent probably a half an hour resting here and taking in the sights.  A few other groups had stopped in the area and it was evident that some of them had reached their destination and would be returning to the trailhead instead of heading onward.  We had passed a few people traveling up or down the trail but we had mostly had the trail to ourselves thus far.

View of Lower Palisades Lake from an outcropping of boulders.
The sixth bridge crosses the creek immediately where the creek exits Lower Palisades Lake.   The trail follows the left side of the lake to the opposite end.  The area just above the lower lake is very green, with lots of willows and grassy meadows along the creek.  This part of the trail is pretty exposed to the sun, so it can get hot, but it is also prime habitat for moose.  I can’t remember ever not seeing a moose when hiking this trail and today was no different.  Within a few minutes after passing the lower lake, we encountered a couple people on horseback.  Just before they passed us we all noticed a large bull moose standing in a watery meadow below us to the right.  It was taking its time eating and drinking and it did not mind us or the horses, so we spent some time watching the moose and taking some pictures.

A large bull moose seen from the trail.
Within 10 to 15 minutes of seeing the moose, we had reached an area called Chicken Springs.  Just before Chicken Springs, the trail forks left up the hill and dead ends next to a spring and to the right across a stream via a makeshift log bridge.  Here the trail enters an open clearing.  The stream to the left gushes out of the hillside and has been popular place for hikers to refill their water containers.  We filled our water bottles and canteen using a Katadyn Hiker water filtration pump and added some water purification drops as an extra precaution.  We had to navigate some fallen timber to get up close to the stream at the point where it pours out of the mountainside.

A moose and her calf walking along hillside above the springs.
As we moved on to Chicken Springs (which are larger than the springs where we stopped), we ran into part of a Scout troop from Pocatello.  They were busy watching something and we soon found out that a cow moose and her calf were walking along the hillside above the springs.  We kept our distance, of course.  They took a few looks at us before eventually wandering off into the woods.
A group that hiked to Upper Palisades the day after us saw a bear on the trail between the lower and upper lakes. It stopped and watched them for awhile and then wandered off into the woods. This is the first time I have heard of an encounter with a bear on this hike but it proves that it is possible to see bears up there.

"Closed" cabin at Chicken Springs. 
To the right of Chicken Springs is a small locked-up cabin with as sign reading, “Closed to Camping.”  I have often wondered what its purpose is but have never found out.  There are mileage signs posted along the trail here (the sign says 1.2 miles to Upper Palisades Lake) and there are some dilapidated wooden bridges to the right but the trail does not follow them.  There is also an old outhouse on the left side of the hill to the left of the trail just past the cabin.  However, it doesn’t look usable. 
After Chicken Springs, the trail slowly moves far above and to the left of the creek so that the creek is no longer visible but we could still hear it.  The views of the canyon and mountains from here are impressive.  Sun and shade was intermittent here and with it being early afternoon, we both felt this was the hottest part of the hike.  However, it wasn’t too long before we came to the bridge crossing Palisades Creek to the right and into more forested terrain.  Palisades Creek Trail continues to follow Palisades Creek up the canyon to the left of the bridge crossing.  Another creek flowing out of Upper Palisades Lake (known to us as Split Creek) meets up with Palisades Creek just below the bridge, and the main trail follows this creek up the hillside toward the upper lake after crossing the bridge.
Spectacular view of Upper Palisades Lake.
The hike is a little more difficult as it climbs from here to the upper lake, with several switchbacks along the way.  It took us close to half an hour to hike from the bridge to the top of the hill overlooking Upper Palisades Lake.   The view of the lake from here is amazing.  The water in the upper lake is crystal clear.  Lighter-colored sediments on the lake bottom close to the shoreline make a nice border around the turquoise blue that makes up the rest of the lake.  The island in the lake is affectionately known to us as Anniversary Island.  At this point, you can follow a trail down to the lake shore to the right, or continue along a trail on the left side of the lake for about 1.5 miles which will take you to the southeast end where another creek empties into the lake.

Soaking feet in cold water of Upper Palisades Lake.
Rather than stopping, we continued up the trail along the left-hand side of the lake, which was exposed to the sun for almost the entire way and was generally high above the lake.  Not too long down the trail, we came upon a blue rope swing tied to a tree hanging high above the lake.  I’m not sure who tied the rope to the tree or how they did it.  You have to walk down a steep incline to reach the rope hanging near the shore.

It took us nearly an hour (with a couple brief stops) to reach the southeast end of the lake, which might give you some idea of how long the lake is.  Once we reached the southeast end of the lake, we found a sign that stated Waterfall Canyon was another 0.2 miles.  This is misleading and what we think it meant was that the trail leading to Waterfall Canyon was 0.2 miles ahead.  We did find another sign about 0.2 miles further up the trail that said Waterfall Canyon was 1.5 miles.  This is not the distance to the falls in Waterfall Canyon but to the canyon itself.  There is a log bridge with a rope that crosses the creek to the right soon after this sign and another sign with an arrow pointing to Waterfall Canyon.

A log and rope bridge crosses the creek above Upper Palisades Lake on the trail leading to Waterfall Canyon (an arrow on the tree at the right of the bridge points the way to Waterfall Canyon).
A log and rope bridge crosses the creek.
The actual falls are more than 3 miles from the southeast end of the lake.  Not knowing this, we ventured on up the trail to find the falls until we ran into a group who were returning from the falls who told us we still had nearly 2 miles to go after hiking about 1.5 miles already.  They also said the falls weren’t that big (they are quite beautiful in late June I have heard).  Though the trail levels off at this point and is much easier to follow, we decided to turn back.  The hike to Waterfall Canyon from the upper lake is much more challenging, and I would not recommend that anyone try to reach the falls in one day from the trailhead. 

On the way back to the lake we found several blue huckleberry bushes and we stopped to pick and eat huckleberries along the way.  We also picked and ate thimbleberries, which look almost like a raspberry.  But there are also wild raspberries along the trail in several places, especially on the trail up to and along the upper lake.  We stopped at the upper lake to dip our feet in the cold water and ate again before making the decent to the trailhead.


Our entire hike took us about 12 hours up and back.  We were pretty exhausted and our feet were sore.  If we could do it over again, we would have stopped at the northwest end of the lake and enjoyed ourselves rather than hiking on.  Next time we return, we would like to spend some time fishing in the upper lake and/or spend a night camping at the lower lake before hiking to the upper lake the next day.  Hopefully our experience will help others decide if this is a hike they would like to try.  It still is one of my favorite places to hike and my wife found it very much worth the trip.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vision problems misdiagnosed as behavior disorders

At the beginning of the school year, many children showing signs of learning and behavioral issues will undergo testing for common disorders such as ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia. Visual dysfunctions – problems with eye coordination, focus, and tracking – can limit a child’s concentration, self-esteem, and school success, much like the aforementioned disorders.

However, 20/20 vision testing, also commonly administered test at the beginning of the school year, does not detect such dysfunctions. By certain estimates, 20% of school age children in the US are affected by visual dysfunctions, which in many cases are misdiagnosed as learning or behavioral disorders.

"Commonly prescribed medicine may promote more predictable child behavior, but if that behavior is driven by visual dysfunction, the child will continue to experience limited comprehension and will still know that something isn’t quite right," says Dr. Joel Warshowsky, a behavioral optometrist and author of the new book How Behavioral Optometry Can Unlock Your Child’s Potential.

Through his two practices in New York City and New Jersey, Dr. Warshowsky conducts visual tests to detect dysfunctions and offers vision therapy, a combination of optometric technique and behavior modification to improve the way the eye and brain link perform, to correct the problem. Through vision therapy, many children no longer need medication, experience a renewed sense of confidence and progress through school with greater ease.

As children return to school, it is an opportune time to raise awareness amongst parents of visual dysfunctions and the possibility that such dysfunctions could be at the root of behavioral or learning issues instead of commonly diagnosed disorders such as ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Dr. Warshowsky indicated that the various types of visual dysfunctions can be the root of behavioral and learning disabilities, thus having an adverse effect on children’s self-esteem and confidence.

Visual dysfunctions can be misdiagnosed behavioral issues and learning disabilities such as ADD, ADHD, or dyslexia, thus potentially leading to mistreatment and over-medication, he said.

He recommends vision therapy to redevelop visual function through enhanced eye coordination, focus, and subsequent perceptual and motor development, by retraining and reframing messages that the brain sends to the eye.

His book How Behavioral Optometry Can Unlock Your Child’s Potential describes some of the exercises and tools involved during the vision therapy process. It also recommends that parents seek research behavioral optometrists to see if visual dysfunctions are at the root of their child's behavioral or learning issues.

How Behavioral Optometry Can Unlock Your Child’s Potential: Identifying and Overcoming Blocks to Concentration, Self-Esteem and School Success with Vision Therapy can be purchased from,, and through all major booksellers.

Dr. Warshowsky's Website:

See earlier article at