Saturday, October 03, 2015

If I were to suffer a heart attack, it would have happened at Starved Rock

I am a firm believer of vacations. Besides the obvious benefits of R&R, it is good to get out of town once in a while, and see something different. When my daughter changed jobs, she took no time off; in fact, the two jobs overlapped for a while. Crazy! I said, and urged her to take some time off, somehow, someway. Since I am sharing the inheritance from my dad with my kids in the form of subsidizing travel, money was not a real issue. All she had to do is take a few days off and choose a destination.

The end result was a girls weekend away, my daughter, granddaughter, and me, with guest appearances by my son and his pseudo-stepdaughter (that is a long story and not mine to tell). My daughter chose Starved Rock State Park because 1) it is close enough not to be an ordeal to reach, 2) it offers plenty of hiking experience, and 3) it is not in Indiana.

Fast friends

Starved Rock consists of 18 canyons along the Illinois River, near Utica, IL. The 13 miles of trails are well marked, including little signs that indicate whether one is moving toward or away from the visitors center, very helpful when one decides enough is enough. Going off trail is an invitation to disaster: the last time I was at the park, with my SO, a young boy slipped and fell into the river; he was rescued by a boater, but his uncle, in an attempt to save the boy, drowned. A more recent incident resulted in a spinal fracture.

Starved Rock itself as viewed from Lovers Leap overlook

Knowing this, it was tempting to put a leash on the granddaughter. Fortunately, she understands (at least, for now) the necessity of following rules, even when those around you are not. I was a little shocked that parents let their kids scramble around off trail, even taking pictures of the little monkeys. I hope they all get poison ivy, a distinct possibility because it was all around.

Anyway, we had a good time. It would have been nice to stay at the lodge or in one of the cabins, but they are booked well in advance. Instead, we took up residence at the Hampton Inn in Ottawa (not the best Hampton Inn I've stayed at, but perfectly adequate, plus free breakfast! And a pool!) We arrived on Thursday night, so we could have a full two days of fun before returning on Sunday. We hiked the trails for about two hours Friday. My daughter signed up for a guided hike Saturday, and my original plan was to do something outside the park with the granddaughter, but when I told my son our plans, he decided to join us on Saturday. I figured he would not find the Scarecrow Festival in Ottawa all that fascinating, so we hiked the trails again.

One of the shorter stairways

Here is the thing about the trails at Starved Rock. Hiking there involves going up and down a LOT of stairs, especially if one decides to visit a canyon floor. Even though we did not traverse the whole park nor visit every canyon over the course of our visit, my Fitbit registered 80 flights of stairs in two days. The map displayed symbols I originally took for bridges on the trails, but in actuality were "major stairways". Climbing those lifted my heart rate to its maximum, requiring a rest or two on the way up. Some stairs were so steep I insisted on walking in front of the kids on the way down, in case one tripped. I am surprised there are not more injuries, but off trail antics aside, people must be careful enough most of the time.

Wildcat Canyon

Starved Rock is open year round. When it is rainy, there are waterfalls. Migratory birds stop by (we saw white pelicans on the river) and bald eagles nest there in the winter. Fall wild flowers include mostly asters, golden rod, boneset, and jack in the pulpit. There is a dam on the river, and we watched tug boats push barges through the locks. I recommend visiting during the week, because it gets quite crowded on weekends.

My daughter brought work along, for which I properly chastised her. On the way home, she admitted the work had gone untouched. Instead, she hiked and swam for two days, read a whole book, enjoyed some quality time with her daughter but also some grown-up time away from her. Mission accomplished.