A week and a half ago, after dropping Jim off at Elmhurst College, I had the opportunity to visit Starved Rock State Park. I’d driven past the exit for the park dozens of times—it’s on the way between St. Louis and where several members of Jean’s family live in Northern Illinois—but we’ve never taken the time to stop and check it out.
Driving home by myself, I took the time.
First, I went to Starved Rock Lock, a navigation lock across the Illinois River from the state park. I got lucky: the towboat Mike Kennelly was just approaching the lock with four large tank barges. I got to watch as the boat pushed the barges into the lock chamber, where the deckhands tied off the barges. The towboat backed out of the chamber and the lock gates closed, so the chamber could fill with water to raise it up to the level of the pool above the dam. Then the upper lock gates were opened, and the lock’s tow-haulage system pulled the barges out of the chamber; then the lock was closed again, the water level lowered, and the towboat was allowed to enter and the process was repeated until the boat could tie up to the barges again and they could proceed on up the river. This lengthy process is required because the Depression-era lock is only 600 feet long; the towboat and barges won’t all fit in the lock at the same time. I didn’t stick around to watch all of it, but from what I could see from across the river when I got to the state park, the entire process took about two hours.
The lock’s visitor center is very nice, and in fact while I was there, they were dedicating a recently completed addition. They also had a nice collection of Waterways Journals, which made me feel good.
After hanging out there for a while, I drove across the river to the state park. I’d heard bits and pieces about the park over the years, but never really knew what it was all about. During my visit, I hiked for about two hours, and from what I understand I left a lot unseen.
The park will turn 100 next year and, judging by the traffic and the size of the parking lot, is hugely popular. It features 13 miles of hiking trails, camping, fishing, boating, etc., and there’s a hotel/lodge to stay in if you want to spend the night inside. During my brief visit, I confined myself to hiking.
First, to the summit of the Starved Rock itself. I’m not sure of the elevation, but it’s not a terrible climb, and the reward at the top is a beautiful view of the river, the lock and dam, and the surrounding countryside.
I could have left then and gotten back on the road, but I still wanted to explore some more, so I took off on one of the trails along the river. The trails there are an adventure; everything from unpaved forest paths on dirt, or sand, to planks, and even, in some places, concrete. I was wondering how they had gotten concrete that far into the woods, but then it occurred to me; they probably brought it in by boat. That fit, since most (or all) of the concrete-paved sections were right by the river.
Anyway, the trails wind up and down on the south bank of the river; at one moment you’ll be just a few feet above the water, and a little while later you’re atop another bluff. In this picture, you can see the “starved rock” from another bluff further upriver. In between, there are some fascinating (but sadly, hard-to-photograph) canyons. I guess during the rainy months the park has a number of high waterfalls, but sadly, it apparently hadn’t rained much in the days or weeks before I visited, because I didn’t see one waterfall.
No matter, I had a great time. I walked most of the trail along the river and the upper trail back; there were more trails that went further east, but I didn’t really have time. I’ll save those for the next visit, whenever that is.
Here are a few more pictures from that day. As with the pictures above, click for a larger view: