After our we watched the eclipse this past week, we went back to our room at the Starved Rock Lodge, built in 19xx by Roosevelt’s Conservation Corps, and hung out, spending some time in their new indoor hot tub. You know, to recover from the hiking we were, uh, about to do.
I also took a few minutes to cross over the LINK Illinois River and visit the Illinois Waterway Visitor’s Center. Here I got to get my first definitive sighting of a bald eagle roosting on Plum Island–at the visitor’s center, they have a balcony outside with scopes to see. Besides that, the waterway museum is limited but compelling–if you are at all interested in the environmental history of the area, it is a broad and deep look at the topic, and particularly how the waterways of the area have been shaped and utilized by humans since the arrival of Europeans.
After a big lunch at the Back Door Lounge in the lodge, we waddled out to the car and drove east to the parking lot for Illinois Canyon.
The hike into Illinois Canyon was worth the price of admission alone, holy cats! We were able to cross over an icy creek multiple times to further check out the sandstone rock formations. PLEASE BE CAREFUL CROSSING OVER ICE. We were able to walk maybe three quarters of a mile into the canyon and scaled over one small waterfall before we could go no further and turned around, but this canyon must be one of the longest at the park and set the stage for a truly excellent hike.
After hitting the car one more time to strip off my coat and snag a water bottle, we continued hiking on a pretty flat dirt trail a little too close to a road for my tastes. Fortunately, the next opportunity to explore came quickly, as we took the trail to the left for the Council Overhang. A name like that foreshadows a truly awesome cavern, and our voices grew hushed as we came upon it. There’s not much to do here, but the silence and reverence felt in the cave seemed to stay the whole day.
Right after Council Overhang, we veered left to check out Kaskaskia and then doubled back to hit up Ottawa Canyon before continuing on. Both of these canyons are smaller than Illinois, but still absolutely gorgeous.
Exiting this area, we walked a little further on to cross the road, Illinois Route 71. Right before this crossing and right after, it is an uphill slog, although not for a terribly long time. Not to worry, though, as the trail rewards you well with beautiful bluff views of the River and surrounding area. We walked the last quarter or half of a mile and got to the Hennepin Canyon Overlook before deciding to come back.
But, it was on this bluff trail that we got our biggest surprise of the day, when we spotted several bald eagles roosting in trees along the way just a few hundred yards or, more often, less, from the trail, usually in the white pines that they prefer big-time. As we sat and took in the splendor of a 45 degree January day, catching up on water consumption, we even saw one fly by within a hundred feet or so of us. Walking back in the waning sunlight and chillier afternoon, we were alight with having been allowed so close to these wonderful creatures–and this wonderful place.