Friday, December 30, 2011

Hiking Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is located on the south bank of the Illinois River, opposite the village of Utica, about nine miles west of Ottawa, six miles east of LaSalle, and 94 miles from Chicago.  It can be reached via Illinois 178 a couple miles south of Interstate 80. After crossing the Illinois River, turn left into the park.  The park is noted for its eighteen canyons within its 2630 acres, fourteen of which feature waterfalls. Thirteen miles of trails take visitors to the canyons. The park celebrated its 100th year in 2011 and is said to be one of the first state parks in the country.

Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette were the first Europeans recorded as exploring the Illinois River Valley, and by 1683 the French had established Fort St. Louis (named for King Louis IV) on a large sandstone butte overlooking the Illinois River.  Starved Rock is reputed to have derived its name from a Native American legend of injustice and retribution. In the 1760s, Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa tribe upriver from Starved Rock, was slain by an Illiniwek while attending a tribal council in southern Illinois. According to the legend, during one of the battles that subsequently occurred to avenge his killing, a band of Illiniwek, under attack by a band of Potawatomi (allies of the Ottawa), sought refuge atop a 125-foot sandstone butte. The Ottawa and Potawatomi surrounded the bluff and held their ground until the hapless Illiniwek died of starvation, giving rise to the name "Starved Rock."  The butte area was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960.

There are over 13 miles of hiking trails in Starved Rock State Park taking hikers to 18 deep canyons in the park (14 of which feature waterfalls during rainy times) including French, LaSalle, Ottawa and St. Louis Canyons which feature the more long-lasting waterfalls at Starved Rock.  The River Trail offers scenic views from attractions such as Lover's Leap Overlook, Eagle Cliff Overlook and Beehive Overlook. Below is Wildcat Canyon...

St. Peter sandstone comprises the primary rock formations, the result of a series of floods as glacial melt broke through moraines, sending torrents of water across land and creating the canyons nestled against the rise of the bluffs that form the park.  Certainly not the terrain one would expect to find in the flatlands of Illinois!

La Salle Canyon and its waterfall were highlights of this hike.  Visitors can hike behind these falls and take photos through the water.

From December through February bald eagles can be viewed at the park, either fishing below the Starved Rock Dam where turbulent waters stay unfrozen during the cold winter months or roosting on the Leopold or Plum Island. The eagles, some local residents joined by many migrants from upper Minnesota, winter here.

The Starved Rock Dam is a nice side trip while at the park.  It features an informative Visitor Center with indoor and outdoor observation decks to view the locks.  You might be fortunate and see barge traffic utilizing the dam as seen here!  And the bluff formation across the river in this photo is none other than the famed Starved Rock.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hiking Matthiessen State Park

Frederick Matthiessen of LaSalle, Illinois, was a wealthy man and also an extremely charitable man well-known for his philanthropy. He provided his community with a high school, a gymnasium, an athletic field, a public library, a hospital, and an electric light plant, among other improvements. And he developed a private jewel of a retreat named Deer Park, which his heirs donated to the State of Illinois in 1940 with the stipulation that it be preserved as a nature area and wildlife sanctuary.  It was later renamed Matthiessen State Park in his honor.

The park is centered around a stream that flows from Matthiessen Lake to the Vermilion River. The stream has cut partway through the sandstone layers, leaving interesting rock formations and drops. The Upper Dells begin at Matthiessen Lake with the Lake Falls, which drop into the canyon below and continue downstream to the 45-foot-tall Cascade Falls where the Lower Dells begin.

The park has grown to 1,938 acres with the addition of former prairie land and forest land south of the original park and significant natural areas along the main canyon. The canyon itself provides a perfect habitat for many mosses and liverworts that thrive on the damp, shady walls. Ferns abound, and throughout the entire length of the canyon, falling water and marvelous rock formations delight visitors.

Matthiessen State Park is located a few miles south of the more famous Starved Rock State Park on Illinois State Route 178 just south of Utica, Illinois.  Its principal attraction is the mile-long canyon which is nearly 100 feet deep in places and from 50 to 140 feet wide.

It's a well-developed area for hiking and offers a network of staircases and bridges, where visitors can stand and marvel at the beauty not only surrounding them, but far below. In more than one place, the steps lead to the very floor of a gorge where clear, ice-cold water is dotted with stepping stones. Be prepared for mud in many places!

At the end of the Lower Dells, there is a cave with two entrances you can hike through, seen in the photo below...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Eve Family Festivities

Continuing a 70+ year tradition in our family, the cousins gather and celebrate the birth of Jesus!  Hallelujah!

The next generation poses for a photo...

Additional photos of the evening's festivities are available here (and can be downloaded)...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas in the Village

Last weekend was the 16th Annual Christmas in the Village, a free concert given to the people of the Barrington area each year, featuring the church choir and orchestra (click to enlarge)...

Here's a link to a brief 3 minute video with snippets from some of the songs...!prettyPhoto/0/

Monday, December 12, 2011

Home Small Group Christmas Party

Our church home small group celebrated Christmas yesterday with our annual Christmas party.

Our group leader, Dick, and his wife Ingrid...

Edgar, Betty, Jim, and Tish...

Amy, Edie, and Ingrid...

Our hosts, Joyce and Paul...

Ellen surrounded by Chucks...

The evening hours flew by quickly, filled with fabulous food, festive fun, and fine fellowship. Here are Amy, Karen, and Ingrid...

The annual grab bag gift exchange...

The evening provided a wonderful conclusion to the year's Bible studies!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ray Lake Forest Preserve Opens to Public

The 555 acre Ray Lake Forest Preserve, site of the former Ray Lake dairy farm, is now open to the public.  The farm's signature sculpture has been refurbished and proudly welcomes visitors to the preserve.

The entrance is on Erhart Road north of Gilmer Road and west of Fremont Center Road.  (From  Fairfield Road, go east on Gilmer and then left - north - on Erhart.  From Route 60, go west on Erhart past St. Mary's school, cross Fremont Center Road, and go north to the parking lot.)

The parking lot accommodates  25 vehicles and offers washroom and drinking facilities. It appears to have one of the new solar powered gates that open daily at 6 am.

The 2.4 mile blue trail loops the property, passing meadows and wetlands and traversing several small woodlots. The Fort Hill Trail (which begins at the Route 176/Fairfield intersection) follows the left side of the loop and will eventually head east to Fremont center Road and then over to the Lake County Fairground on Peterson Road. (Click to enlarge map.)

Halfway around the loop you'll find this intersection.  The Ray Lake blue loop trail continues to the left, and on the right is the Ft. Hill Trail heading a half mile to the Gilmer Road underpass currently under construction.  When the underpass is completed, visitors will also be able to park at the Gilmer parking lot (between Fairfield and Route 176) and walk the underpass to reach this intersection.

The trail utilizes three boardwalks to cross wetland areas. Squaw Creek is located on the southwest corner of the preserve.

A grass trail takes hikers on a .4 mile side loop around a wooded area, with a branch trail to the Fremont Elementary and Middle schools on Fremont Center Road

An observation area overlooking the wetlands and woods has a plaque announcing that the area "is in memory of Lucy Holman, nature lover and biking enthusiast, whose generosity helped to construct this trail."  Fittingly, from this lookout I spotted a large buck 200 feet away at the tree line.  

Thank you Lake County Forest Preserve District, for yet another wonderful preserve

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"It Is Well with My Soul" by The Isaacs

Sonya Isaacs relates the story behind this hymn, explaining the tragedies suffered by the composer, Horatio Gates Spafford, including losing his young son, then losing all possessions in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and later the death of his four daughters in a shipwreck, and how when passing over their watery grave, he composed these words, sung by the Isaacs in their incomparable a cappella style...

For more on the Isaacs, see my post here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Palatine Concert Band Performance

Another evening of magnificent music by the Palatine Concert Band last night. Conductor Ron Polancich led the group in four selections, and then after the intermission, he turned the baton over to Colonel Arnald Gabriel, conductor emeritus for the United States Air Force Band, for six rousing numbers.

The Palatine Concert Band is a volunteer adult organization which provides an outlet for both avocational and professional musicians to perform fine wind band literature.  While some members are highly-skilled, active performers, most are teachers, business professionals or retired individuals with one common characteristic — a love of learning and performing the finest musical literature.

Rachel Barton Pine and Ars Antigua Concert

The 22nd Chicago Humanities Festival presented "The Adventurous Violinist" featuring Chicagoan Rachel Barton Pine, internationally acclaimed violinist, accompanied by equally acclaimed Ars Antigua as her "backup band."

Rachel is a Chicagoan and as a child was a prodigy on the violin.  She began playing when three and a half, and at age seven she debuted with the Chicago String Ensemble, and three years later she played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  At age 14 she was forced by circumstances to contribute significantly to her family's expenses by taking jobs playing at weddings and in orchestras. She says she managed by "putting on a lot of makeup and pretending I was older than I was."

Her interests and talent take her from classical music to heavy metal and she plays with groups from both these genres.

For 17th and 18th century pieces she prefers to use an unaltered 1770 instrument of Nicolo Gagliano, and for tonight's concert she played the rare Viola d'Amore, a 12 string instrument with a beautiful warm sound, also crafted by Gagliano as she enhanced the audience with Vivaldi concertos.

She founded and runs the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation (using her maiden name) to promote the study and appreciation of classical music, including string music by black composers.

Ars Antigua is a term that refers to the music of Europe of the late Middle Ages (1170 to 1310) and they perform music from the Renaissance through Classical eras on period instruments. They are renowned for their technical excellence, emotional impact, and historical scholarship.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Leaf Raking Project

Today, 24 of us from the Village Church of Barrington assembled at the 2 acre home of an older lady who had lived in the house since 1946, and we raked her leaves as a service project by two of our church's small home groups (click to enlarge photos).

The weather cooperated, with bright sun and mid-fifties temperature...

Many hands (and rakes) made fast work of the 2 acres of fallen leaves...

The grateful woman supplied cider and donuts for the workers, which was much appreciated...

About 55 bags were filled and placed near the road for pickup next week...

Here are some of the volunteers along with "the lady of the house" (third from left)...


Additional photos can be seen and downloaded here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ansel Adams Photo Exhibit

The Lake County Discovery Museum, located in Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda, Illinois, houses displays depicting the history of Lake County in a fun learning environment. It also displays the nation’s largest permanent exhibition on the history and significance of postcards. Finally, temporary exhibits in the special exhibition galleries take inspiration from art, history and popular culture.

The current exhibit is a national touring exhibition featuring works by celebrated nature photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) and runs through January 8, 2012. Today after hiking 5 miles in the preserve, we visited the exhibit which is comprised of 70 of his photographs. Below is his self-portrait photo...

Born and raised in San Francisco, Adams took his first photograph at the age of 14 using a Kodak Box Brownie while on a family holiday in Yosemite National Park, and by the 1930s, he was a famous American photographer and on the way to becoming internationally acclaimed. He tied his two great loves of photography and the outdoors into a reputation as celebrated photographer and vocal environmentalist and devoted his life to capturing the changing beauty of the natural world, from the monumental in size to the smallest in stature. (The silver gelatin photographs in this exhibit are the Museum Set Edition from the Anne Helms Collection.)

This shot particularly appealed to me because last year, on a trip to Utah, I stayed in the town of Manti in the Temple View Motel, a small ma-and-pa place across the street from the magnificent Manti Temple (click to enlarge photos). Though not allowed to enter the structure, I was able to walk the grounds and observe and photograph it from all sides (though none as spectacular as Adams' shot of course!)

A few years ago I backpacked in Arizona's Canyon de Chelly and enjoyed seing Adams' photo of the famous White House Ruins...

Yosemite National Park was Adams' favorite area, and having camped there 4 days just 2 months ago, I loved seeing his photos of this majestic scenery...

Half Dome, Merced River, Winter

Vernal Falls

Moon and Half Dome

The exhibit runs through January 8th and a token charge of $6 is collected at the door, with a special price of only $3 for those over 55 and students between 18 and 25.  Children are $2.50.  For more info, go here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Biking in Lakewood Forest Preserve

Biked 20 miles in Lakewood Forest Preserve today on the Millennium and Ft. Hill Trails, including the former Four Winds Golf Course property which is now part of Lakewood. Here are a few shots...

Today's ride puts me over 320 miles for October, a new personal record for October whose changeable weather often precludes high mileage riding.

I am also over 2400 miles for the fourth year in a row and only a couple dozen miles from passing 2500 miles for the second year -- and hopefully we still have a few more October days and a number of November days to bike before the weather shuts us down until Spring.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Birthday wish from Frank...

This was sent to me by my colleague from Fremd HS, Frank, from those geniuses at JibJab...

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mushrooms, anyone?

A bit chilly for biking today (45 degrees) so we hiked 6 miles in Lakewood FP and spotted these mushrooms.  This first one is like a Gemini and was growing off a tree trunk about 8 feet off the ground...

...and this one was huge (notice my shoe in the photo to give it perspective)...

The dirt over the 5 foot tall culvert has gradually been washing away for years, so now it's a balancing act to get across the two chasms on either side of the culvert -- just adds to the adventure of hiking...