Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter Morning Drive

After returning from Starved Rock a few weeks ago, I noticed an old weathered barn on top of a snow covered hill which I figured could make a nice sunrise subject. On the weekend, I got up before sunrise, drove half an hour out to the barn only to find out that the front of the barn was in shadows. It was a very very very cold morning and I was tempted to return home but since I was up, I decided to take the long way back to see what I would stumble upon.

I drove around some familiar roads for the next couple of hours and only photographed from close proximity to the car (got to keep warm!). The cold was (literally) painful on my finger tips in the first hour while I photograph around Millbrook. Although the sky was clear, the sun golden light was painting many of the barns of this small community.
Golden Millbrook Farm
Green Barn Winter
I revisited the Fox River in the Millbrook/Plano area only to find it still frozen but in Aurora, the water was flowing near one of the banks. Fog must have covered the area in the early morning hours as the trees and shrubs along the back were covered in hoar frost. A couple of eagles were flying not to far away probably looking for breakfast.
Fox River and Hoar Frost
Fox River
Although I returned home without the image I was looking for and it was painful to be out of the car for more than a couple of minutes, it was a great morning drive in the country. In the end it felt great to see the beautiful rural landscape that surrounds me in a cold winter day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Starved Rock Revisited

My first visit to Starved Rock was on 2006. Since then, I've visited at least once a year. The interesting thing is that out of the at least 18 canyons in this park, I had seen less than half by the end of 2012. This meant that there were plenty of trails left to hike and explore. Starting in early 2013 I have slowly gone to many of those unknown areas.

In prior post I've included images from Illinois, Kaskaskia, Ottawa, Owl, Lasalle, Wildcat, French, Basswood, Lonetree and St. Louis Canyon. Still missing were Hennepin, Pontiac, Aurora, Sac and Kickapoo canyon (to name a few) . Of this last list, Hennepin is the most prominent as the road curves around it when one drives on Rt 71. This canyon is about the halfway point between a trail leading between two parking lots. My first attempt to reach the canyon was from the Parkman’s Plain parking lot. The trail meanders the bluff bordering Owl Canyon and the Illinois River. It was a fairly easy hike until I was in the vicinity of Owl Canyon Overlook. Here the trail went downhill with the added challenge of being covered in ice.After a few minutes of thought, I decided to go back to the car and attempt the hike from the other end.

Hennepin Canyon Trail
My van was the only car parked on the parking lot for the head of the trail leading to Hennepin Canyon from the east. Even on warm months, I've never seen any cars on this parking lot which implies that perhaps this is not a well traveled trail. 

The trail starts on Rt. 71 not too far from the parking lot but the snow piled high along the sides of the road made it hard to find. I wasn't the first one on this trail but the soft snow that not many had ventured ahead of me It was a very quiet hike and I didn't see anyone along the way.

Once one reaches the canyon, the trail borders along the edge. A short wooden bridge spans over the creek at the head of the canyon. There are no stairs or visible trails leading down into the canyon so all views are from the top. Unfortunately, the trees and brush blocked any clear views of this deep canyon so I did not photograph it during this visit. Perhaps the spring will provide a different perspective.

Starved Rock Bluff
With still plenty of snow on the ground, I made another trip to Starved Rock with the goal was to view and photograph the Aurora, Sac and Kickapoo Canyons, canyons that area along the trail leading from the Lodge to St. Louis Canyon. In principle this looked like an easy hike but the elements threw in a few wrenches in. The hike was shortly after a couple of warm days. The end result was that several spots on the trail were completely iced over. I can walk slowly on a frozen puddle of water; however going up and down several flight of stairs (or any incline for that matter) proved to be a big challenge. So much so that I was tempted to go back to go back to the car at least twice. And in case you are wondering, I do have YakTrax for added traction on snow but I left them where they would be more helpful – the trunk of the car.

Canyon Poses
In either case, I did make it (very slowly) all the way to St. Louis Canyon. Just like in Hennepin, views of the Aurora, Sac and Kickapoo canyon from the trail are obstructed by trees and brush so I have no pictures of these canyons, at least not from this trip.
St. Louis Canyon Sunburst
Sac Canyon Stream Waterfall
I only have a few short hikes left before I can say that I’ve hiked all the trails at Starved Rock State Park. An although this may proved to be true at some point, the constantly changing scenery during the seasons and years always makes it feel like is a new world out there. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Three Counties - Three Preserve

We had another 5 inches of snow on the first weekend in March. And we are not talking about the light and fluffy kind. It was heavy so it took a while to clean the driveway and sidewalk of the house. By the time I was done, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds.

I had a few more places I wanted to visit this winter so I hit the road. First stop was Black Partridge Forest Preserve in Cook County. It's been a while since my last visit and I found quite a few fallen trees along the creek. Officially the forest preserve was closed but I hiked in. Snow was deep. I felt like a moose trying to march my way around. The creek was flowing on a portion of the preserve and with the fresh snow on top of the rocks and ice, made some great images.

Black Partridge Forest Preserve
From Black Partridge I drove up the road to Waterfall Glen to check out the waterfall. I was in lock as the plows were coming out of the street just as I was driving in. The only issue with this is that I couldn't find the trail. This is not an area many people explore so the trail is not well defines. With the snow on the ground, all hints of the trail had vanished and the plows covered any indications of the trail head. The waterfall is in a ravine about 20 feet deep. Going down safely was a slippery ordeal (going back up proved also to be challenging). As in Starved Rock, the small waterfall had turned into an icefall all glistening in the mid day sun.
Waterfall Glen
This was my originally planned last stop but a friend had texted to visit another preserve further south. In was early in the evening so I made the 30 minute drive. Unlike my prior to stops, Hickory Creek Forest Preserve tails had been heavily trafficked. As I was hiking down to the creek, I could feel clumps of ice underneath the snow.Not the most comfortable hike but at least easy compare to the prior the hikes on the prior two preserves.

From the parking lot, this forest preserve doesn't look very interesting. There is a lot of brush and no sign of the creek. But it one hikes down to the creek, the bush gives way to wooded areas somewhat similar to Black Partridge. I had a great hike along the creek, in some areas I put the first tracks in deep snow (well, after the deer). There was plenty of additional areas to explore but I was tired and hungry and it was starting to get cold. Perhaps I'll revisit this area in the spring or autumn.
Hickory Creek Forest Preserve
Oh yeah...looks like we may have more snow this week. We are very close to breaking the record.