We climbed canyons at Starved Rock Park, all day. Little feet, tirelessly, up and down the mountain, over the creeks, across the forest trail.
Life happens… We drive for an hour and 15 minutes to get there, to the #1 attraction of the state of Illinois to only find out that I left camera battery charging on the kitchen counter. Camera is my security blanket, I cannot go anywhere without it. So I kick myself a couple of times, and we take off, just enjoying the views. I was able to capture a few moments with my cellphone, before it died also. I suppose it gives us a good excuse to get back really soon, when the forest is turning green.
Bald eagles made a nice comeback to Starved Rock since 1997 and nest on the islands of the Illinois river. We did not spot any, some probably already headed north, best time to watch them is in winter. But we did see quite a few hawks circling overhead, and hundreds of blackbirds, nut finches and woodpeckers by the feeder by the visitor center.
We followed the well marked trails, and the beaten path, first, up to the Starved Rock, 125-foot sandstone bluff, where members of Illinois tribe starved to death, and down.. Up to the Lover’s Leap Overlook, and down, up to the Eagle Cliff, and down.. Up to the Beehive Overlook, which was my girl’s favorite due to nice climbing rocks, and down.. Up and down, a million times. Just like in life, up and down, enjoying the peaks and valleys. And the forgotten cameras. Ok, I am still mad about that one.
The French Canyon was impossible to access, over the narrow muddy passage I was not able to pull both kids through. So we headed over to the Wildcat Canyon. To our surprise, the waterfall in Wildcat Canyon was mostly frozen, and the ice was still at least a foot thick in the canyon. The sun never reaches there, it is a good place to cool down in summer’s heat. Stream of water coming down Wildcat Canyon under the thick crust of ice, showing as much perseverance as the teenagers and some of the braver (or crazier) dads clinging to the canyons walls like sticky spidermen trying against all odds to climb up. Maybe not exciting as the ice climbing they have in the winter on the frozen waterfalls, but still. We enjoyed the crowd of boys, having fun wading deep up to their knees and wastes in the ice cold water, determined to get up on the rocks. And we pondered about angles, as we stood in the mouth of the canyon, and then on top, watching the tiny people below us. The river changed angles, the forest looked different when we turned around and looked back, the fungus changed colors in the sun.
Once our standard 3-mile hike was complete (which took some four or five hours for the little ones), we headed over to the path less beaten, to explore the Owl and LaSalle canyons up the river. I especially enjoyed the quiet forest walk, far from the crowds, early evening bird songs, and kids loved the Owl, the Hidden and the Hennepin canyons because they had no enclosed lookouts to stand in. Here, you were free, on your own, slip and fall, at your own risk. Just a couple hikers passed us, but the whole forest was ours, the river was deep blue as the sun started to set, and from this angle you could not see the dam that is an eye sore greeting you from Starved Rock lookout. So we stood, right there, like the Native Americans did before us, on the canyon’s edge, creeping slowly, treading lightly, and watched the river flow, a hundred feet below us, flirting with death, enjoying the freedom to be alive.
And the little one, who was so scared of the heights just last October when we visited here, now insisted to stand on the edge, without holding my hand, his fears defeated. He has changed, grew from a toddler into a boy, and was now dragging his sticks all through the forest, talking to leaves, searching for treasure in the creeks. The forest was changed since we last saw it covered in golden leaves. We could see further now, no leaves obstructing. We walked over amazing formations of roots, tangled together holding on to seemingly bare rocks. And I was changed, seeing just a little bit more than I saw last time, enjoying just a little bit more. The hiker who lost his backpack and climbed the canyon rocks barefoot showed us a secret way to get down to the bottom of the Hidden canyon and a way to climb back up, but this time we passed. Next time, we agreed, when the little ones are just one inch taller and all fears are gone, we will do it, completely off the beaten path.
We headed out as the sun hid his beard behind the horizon. As we headed up to historic Ottawa, IL, we stopped at the riverside and watched the sunset over Illinois river, listening to the sounds of nesting geese on the many islands along the river. Kids fell asleep in the car, I watched the last rays of sunset in the rear view mirror, heading east on an empty highway. As we entered the sea of city lights, this was still so foreign, the lights, the structures… Soaring with eagles, the spirit of the soft moccasins that we touched up there, that we will carry with us through the city lights.