Sand Lake a summertime treat

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Sand Lake is a very close and easy to access water recreation source for folks living and working in Marshall County and Marshalltown. The area now has 193 acres of land and water, with most of the water being ground water fill-in from excavated materials. The pits were created as the removal of sand and gravels were accomplished over past decades by the Martin-Marietta Company using a floating dredge. Sand and gravel are an important source of building materials for construction. Now those waters of this site are a public recreation resource for fishing, paddle boating, or electric only boating, wildlife watching, picnicking, and hiking along the perimeter dikes. Boundary signs indicate where public land/water ends and private areas begin. Respecting private land is expected so do not trespass. Today’s image was made May 23, 2024. The Iowa River lies along the north side of Sand Lake as it flows along toward Furrow Access and Three Bridges County Park.

Summer arrived on Thursday. Hurray! While we celebrate this milestone of Earth’s orbit position around the Sun, the longest day of the year has been “averaged” and is set as June 20.

Our longest daylight hours began on June 18th and will continue through June 24. The day length is, for us in the Marshalltown area, 15 hours and 15 minutes. The further one travels north along the earth’s latitude, the longer the days get.

For example, friends and acquaintances living in Fairbanks, Alaska had a June 20 sunrise at 2:56 a.m. and sunset at 12:48 a.m. During their first day of summer, natural light outside was enough to easily see, a kind of twilight for about three hours.

At the Arctic Circle, a series of circumpolar points on earth’s spherical shape at about 62 degrees north latitude, the sun never sets below the horizon. The southern hemisphere has its southern counterpart where the sun never rises at all. When our next winter comes upon us, those roles are reversed.

From a practical standpoint, summer could be defined by traditional holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. From an astronomical earth orbit around the sun perspective, summer solstice dominates from June 20 all the way to Sept. 22, the autumnal equinox.

An interesting natural history fact is that our day lengths slowly begin to get shorter beginning June 25, but not so much that less sunlight runs out of influence. The northern hemisphere is basking in much more direct sunlight radiation now, and heating the atmosphere to a much

greater degree than the southern hemisphere.

Solar radiation and its heating will take a long time to slowly decrease as the fall season begins in three months time. This lag time is what we humans may call “Indian Summer” until the earth has passed through another phase of its orbit.

For our little portion of the Milky Way galaxy, our sun is about 26,000 light years from the center and located on one small arm of a tremendous series of spiraling arms of other suns and stars. Since outer space is so vast, and almost unimaginably distant and appearing ’empty,’ it is hard to grasp the concepts of space distances.

Planet Earth has a diameter at the equator of about 7,925 miles. The center of Earth is a tad below 240,000 miles from the center of our moon.

Earth’s orbit is not a true circle being a bit lopsided as an ellipse. For this discussion, we can use the number 93 million miles as the average distance of Earth from the Sun.

Our sun has a diameter of about 864,240 miles. It would take 109 earths all lined up like a row of blue marbles to equal the diameter of the Sun, and the nearest star is 4.25 light years distant.

Our galaxy is only one of billions of other galaxies in the universe. Space telescopes like Hubble and Webb are able to look deep into seemingly dark and devoid places only to discover that even more and more galaxies exist.

No matter how powerful the lenses are on space telescopes, the universe just continues into more far away places. What I am constantly made aware of is how special earth is to life — just far enough and not too far away from the Sun to have life be possible.


Sand Lake is a manmade location. Sands and gravel are needed for construction purposes. When an area is mined out, the hole in the ground is back-filled naturally with groundwater.

The level of the lake at Sand Lake defines what the water table line is at any one time. Since the Iowa River is so close by and all these features are located within the floodplain of the Iowa River, what the river does regarding high or low flows is ultimately reflected by an equalization of water levels in Sand Lake.

It is like yo-yo always trying to balance out. Water from high river flows slowly percolates through underground soils and sand layers into Sand Lake. The reverse is also true. If high levels exist in Sand Lake and the river runs very low like it did for the past several years, water percolates out of Sand Lake through soil layers into the river.

The Iowa River had a brief flood event around May 23, 2024 when it crested at 20.06 feet. A short duration closure of Highway 330 near Timmons Grove was necessary.

A day later, the crest moved downstream to close Highway 14 for about one day. These closures were a far cry from the all time flood of July 2, 2014 when it crested at 22.25 feet and took a long time to recede.

As of mid week the river water is about six feet lower than it was on May 23. The river waters are excellent for kayaks and canoes right now. Even with the weekend rains that watered the soils of the watershed, a new rise may only be a mere 12 to 18 inches.

As always, respect the power of the river at all times. It will not discriminate toward those who are careless when on the river.


Bald eagles, named D-17 and D-18, at their nest near Decorah, got a quick dose of reality this last week. The nest they were hatched in fell to the ground due to too much weight from the large nest itself and recent soaking rains. The remote camera on a nearby tree branch recorded the slow and inevitable fall of the nest.

As you watch the video, you will listen to the snapping of the tree branches as they succumb to forces of gravity. The young eagles were able to fly away safely just as the nest gave away. You can find the video at the Raptor Resource website.

A similar eagle nest fell to the ground several years ago in Marshall County. It was located west of the round house near the south end of Mormon Ridge Road, then about 1/4 mile south in a pasture.

The big oak tree had been strong for many years. However, a combination of a heavy nest, strong winds and time took its toll. The nest fell into a pile of sticks. The eagle pair had to look elsewhere the next year for a new nest tree. I have no doubt they adapted and overcame this natural happening.


Another very interesting online video featured cicadas, those underground insects that spend either 13 or 17 years slowly feeding on the roots of trees, and then seem to know when it is time to crawl to the surface. It was an excellent program to watch. The science behind the script was correct and accurate, and the narration was good and clear.

Filming of cicadas in action was spot on and well edited. Overall, it was a really good program of science education. Most of the overlap emergence of Iowa’s 13 and 17 year broods of cicadas will take place in the southeast half of Iowa.

The rasping mating call of the male cicadas can reach 100 decibels. Relax and enjoy. It is only temporary.

The website is called Real Science. Check it out please. Thanks.


A big thank you goes out to Emily Herring, director of the Marshall County Conservation Board, for being my guest and stand-in writer of Outdoors Today last weekend. My wife Bobbi and I took a little vacation to Fairbanks, Alaska to visit a granddaughter and her husband and family. We enjoyed our time in the 49th state immensely. We did some typical tourist things of going places and doing unique visits to sites.

On our list was a flight-seeing airplane ride up close and personal to Mount Denali, plus museums including an excellent one at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a float trip on a steam ship on the Chena River and stopping by the little town of North Pole, Alaska.

We observed living caribou, musk ox and a moose mom and her single calf, Dall Sheep and several birds not common to the lower 48. Alaska is a really big place.


“We are learning too, that the love of beauty is one of Nature’s greatest healers.” — Ellsworth Huntington


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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