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.

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