Photographs by Anneh632

Good things usually come in twos. “Base”, “basket” and “foot” would be ordinary and boring words without the word “ball” attached. “Ice” and “cream” taken separately won’t have me salivate. “Starved” and “rock” are two potentially threatening words, but put together they make Illinois’ first recreational state park and one of the “Seven Wonders of Illinois,” according to the state’s Bureau of Tourism.

The 2,700 acres that is Starved Rock State Park can be enjoyed anytime of the year and is located an hour and a half southwest of Chicago, just 90 miles away. Get lost in vehicular chatter and you won’t even feel the drive. The park is only 3 miles off I-80 in the town of Utica on the southern shore of the Illinois River, directly in front of the dam. Visitors first pass through Utica’s downtown with its small shops lining the street, then quickly arrive and are ready to be greeted by the clean and efficient Visitor’s Center.

The Starved Rock experience will vary depending on the season. Spring blossoms with over 200 flowers that grow in the wild, along with accessible waterfalls roaring down and carrying winter rain. In summer, cool down by the river or under the waterfalls, and witness plentiful foliage. Once things cool off, the autumns in Starved Rock have been voted “One of the Top 10 Places for Fall Colors in the Midwest.” Winter will allow you to hike or ski through trails and photograph frozen waterfall formations. Open year-round, there are 13 miles of trails, 18 canyons, views of the Illinois River and an assortment of activities to keep anyone entertained. Guests can camp, picnic, canoe, horseback, fish, bike (not on trails), cross-country (in winter), and enjoy special events throughout the year.

The canyons were formed by erosion and glacial melt water over millions of years and now form a four mile sandstone bluff, giving visitors the opportunity to either hike river-side or enjoy higher views from the trails atop. In 2009, over 2 million guests took pleasure, but don’t be dismayed: there is enough room (and parking) to accommodate a crowd, and most visitors leave only after a two or three mile venture. Some are just there to picnic. For hikers, the first couple of miles will be on constructed wooden platforms and walkways, but more serious trekkers can continue onward to experience true hiking in a more isolated, quiet and natural environment. Dog friendly. And don’t worry about getting lost in trails since they are nicely marked, letting you know whether you are heading to or away from the Visitor Center.

I first wondered if the park’s name derived from the eroded and “starved” appearance of the canyons (or perhaps by how starved of muscle I felt after climbing the wooden stairways up to the river views), but there is true history here. Humans have roamed the area for thousands of years and it is rich with Native American history and culture. The name itself springs from a legend of the Ottawa and Pottawatomie tribes surrounding the bluff and forcing the helpless Illiniwek Indians to die from starvation in the successful attempt to avenge a previous murder.

But for the sake of your summer visit, bring lots of drinking water! If you want to go under the falls, tag along sandals, shorts and a towel. 14 of the 18 canyons are capable of having rainfalls. The current at the LaSalle Canyon waterfall is strong enough to feel like a pressured massage on the back, but not enough to snap your neck. Of course, this will depend on the recent rainfall, or on your age!. Either way, refreshing under a waterfall is a definitely a highlight here so abuse the freedom given by the park and take delight.

And if you’re like me, after good exercise and water play, you’ll need a filling lunch. Pack a sandwich and enjoy the river view from the bluff; the dam provides an entertaining sight. Don’t forget that for details about your trip or to ask about the strength of the falls, visit their website and contact them for more information. 2011 may be a busy year, it’s Starved Rock’s 100th birthday! Plan ahead.

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