Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mo Hype, Mo Tourists

For Labor Day weekend we spent a little time exploring the state park offerings of the state of Illinois. The smart move was to head to the most-hyped of our selected parks first. Starved Rock State Park is noted for several things: winter nesting sites of bald eagles, hoardes of foreign tourists, wedding receptions at the lodge, and a large lock on a canal.

We took a look at the lock.

It's very large. Apparently there is a lock visitors' center on the other side of the canal that one can visit and, along with the hoardes of sweaty international tourists, learn all about the history of these locks on this canal. For some reason we were unable to fit this in to our weekend.

For all the hype, Starved Rock was disappointing. We agreed that in the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, the hoardes are gone, and the eagles are around, it could be magical. We'll need to check back in about that.

Next, we checked out the place that was recommended to us by some locals: Mattheisson State Park. It was tough to find a parking space there, on account of so many family picnics, but eventually we found a spot and headed to the lone hiking trail. Which took us down to this:

(click for a better look)

Mattheissen State Park, it turns out, is a gem. That lone hiking trail leads directly into a dramatic canyon complete with beautiful waterfalls and some frickin' large rocks.

We wound up spending hours down in the cool canyon, climbing around on rocks and meeting new friends who were doing the same with their holiday weekend. My favorite characters included this kid:

Who climbed to the top of a slippery tree trunk:

And then challenged his brother to do the same:

While a father or uncle or other troublemaking guy with them was alternately encouraging them to climb, taking pictures, and telling them he wouldn't try a stunt like that because he's not stupid.

The perfect family vacation.