After we leave the skyline of Chicago behind us, we drive through the perfectly flat lands of Illinois. A small town here and there are the only disruptions in an otherwise monotonous landscape. Yet, we are on our way to the canyons of this Mid-West state. After driving through Utica, we cross the Illinois river, take another left, and find ourselves at the entrance of Starved Rock State Park. We get maps and advice at the information centre, and set out directly for Starved Rock. A short climb takes us to the name-giver of the park. According to legend, the Ottawa tribe avenged the death of their leader, Pontiac, by attacking the Illiniwek tribe. After they sought refuge on this very rock, the Ottawa besieged it until the tribe starved to death. The butte, rising directly from the Illinois river, now makes for a good viewpoint. We can look ahead over the park, over the brown trees, under which we know are the hidden canyons that we are about to discover.
After descending Starved Rock, we hike towards French Canyon following the well-marked and easy-to-walk trails. There is a narrow pool at the entrance, and when we walk up the slippery, narrow valley floor, partly through a small stream, we reach a circular, moss-covered rocky cliff from which a waterfall tumbles down: the French Canyon waterfall. We continue on the Campanula trail towards Wildcat Canyon. This time, we are above the canyon, and can see the Illinois River through the trees that have all but lost their leaves. We walk around the top of the canyon with another viewpoint from which we see a delicate trickle of water falling from the cliffs into the dark canyon below. A little further east, we walk down to the riverbank, pass Lonetree Canyon to reach a bridge over a river: LaSalle Canyon. After a pleasant walk over a leaf-covered trail, we reach a small pond and above it, a semi-circular rock from which a modest waterfall comes down. We walk behind the curtain of water, to have views back into LaSalle Canyon with the spray of water right before us. From the soft and moist ceiling above us, drops of water come down one after the other.
We walk back to the Illinois riverfront, and this time, stick to the trail right on the riverbank. We are now able to walk into Wildcat Canyon, stand right under the tall waterfall that ends up in a pond at the foot of the rock cliffs. Just to think that in winter, these waterfalls freeze into icefalls! From the riverfront, we now have good views of the trees rising up from the Illinois, and see Eagle Cliff right ahead. It is our next destination, and a short climb takes us to this best viewpoint of the park. Below, we see the dam, and lock through which long river vessels sail. A little further on, we stand on top of Lover's Leap Overlook, which offers views over islets in the Illinois river below. From here, it is a short walk back to the visitor centre, and after a hearty lunch, we take the trail leading west, passing Aurora, Sac, and Kickapoo Canyon to reach St. Louis Canyon which again has a waterfall at the end. It is about to get dark, so we take a shortcut back to the trail above: the last rays of sun pierce through the forest on our walk back to the car.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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