Illinois. It is both complicated and simple with its windy city of Chicago that Carl Sandburg immortalized in his City of Big Shoulders, nestled at the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes carved out of ice eons ago. It has some of the richest soil on earth that produces corn and soy beans and pumpkins. The historic town of Galena sits in the northwestern corner of the state with modern day ski lifts and once rich deposits of lead. while the Shawnee National Forest, on the state’s its southern tip, was once populated by native North Americans and remains resplendent in its natural beauty. Illinois is like a family; complicated, conflicting, often argumentative, always proud of where it has been, what it has accomplished, and where it is headed.
The Land of Lincoln. The Prairie State. Illinois is rich in resources, both natural and human, and much of its terrain was carved from the great glaciers that cut into it long before man settled on it.
Tom and I met in college toward the center of the state. Even though both of us were raised in the suburbs of Chicago; he a south suburban lad, myself a gal from the west side, we had never been to Starved Rock State Park together. Tom remembers, as a very young boy, sitting on the top of a rock, Starved Rock, looking out across the tree tops. So, we deemed Starved Rock as our destination, booked a room at the Lodge, and headed out on the road to discovery.
Starved Rock is only about ninety minutes from our house, mostly interstate driving. We arrived on Sunday just in time to have lunch at the Lodge, check in, then wander about the park. This is the scenery from the restaurant where we ate lunch.
This lush, forested park has eighteen canyons surrounded by rock formations born out of glacial melt thousands of years ago. The canyons provide a majestic gift to the flat fields of this part of Illinois. especially when the spring rains give rise to their waterfalls. Starved Rock State Park has become the wintering over locale for eagles, drawing visitors to the park even in winter.
Throughout Starved Rock are statues; old trees repurposed as eagles and bears, settlers and dogs, and all manner of creatures carved out of wood. I am always appreciative when I see new life coming from old life.
We decided to take one of the closer and less strenuous paths, though even the path we chose through French Canyon involved plenty of climbing up and down stairs, looking down into the magnificent canyon, with the forest floor coming alive in native columbine, shooting star, bloodroot, native violet, and ferns. It is amazing how life will cling to the walls of a canyon and how trees seem to arise out of them, determined to live and grow.
Can you find our shadows looking down into the canyon? You may have to click onto the picture a time or two, but, there we are, tiny shadows in the great, big forest.
Jennifer and Jason recommended a Cajun restaurant for us to try. Yes. A Cajun restaurant. After all that climbing, we needed some nourishment, so, off we went to Ron’s Cajun Connection, not much more than a road stop diner on a country road in a town called Utica. It was loud, busy, and full of welcome mat hospitality. We devoured our gumbo; the best one will find in this neck of the cornfields. Yum. Good means are always a part of travel, don’t you agree?