The temperature was supposed to be around 80° for the high last Saturday. Russ and I were going hiking, no matter what! We hadn’t been out in several weeks. It was too hot and he’s still having problems with his hand. Crystal even decided to go with us! Yay! Saturday morning rolls around…Russ doesn’t feel well and my favorite person in the world is at my house for the weekend, my 8 yr old grandson Sean. His mom and step dad hike a lot and take him sometimes but it’s not really his thing. I was afraid there would be no hiking for me until Sean asked if he could go too. You betcha! So I got to hike with 2 of my favorite people and my heart was so full, I didn’t want the day to end!
I wanted to do a trail that was close to home, not too long and not to challenging since Crystal is just getting started hiking. A few weeks ago, our friend Scott and his adorable dog Cooper took her on the Lewis and Clark Trail. They go so fast, it about killed her legs! That’s a tough trail and long. So we went to Matson Hill Trail. It’s a little over 3 miles and rated easy, but it’s not easy! On the easier side of moderate, but not easy, especially when the creeks are running, which they weren’t. Sean had evidently been there more than once because he was our guide! He was pointing out land marks and such. It was so fun to listen to him sound so grown up!
Most of the time Sean and Crystal were way out in front of me. My ankle and foot were really hurting so I was going extra slow. That turned out to be a good thing. Sean and Crystal hiked together and talked non-stop! Sean told Crystal jokes, stories about his pets, talked about books, all kinds of stuff making her laugh! My heart just melted listening to them!
We were beat…hot, sweaty, dirty and tired. But it was a great day! A day I’ll treasure!
Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail. We changed the name to Stairmaster From Hell Trail! This is the park Crystal and I went to on Friday afternoon, took a look at all of the stairs at the trailhead and said “No thank you!”. I hate stairs! I fell down icy stairs a few years ago and broke my ankle and heel and split a tendon. Eventually had surgery to remove a piece of bone and repair the tendon which resulted in major nerve damage and the tendon repair failed. A second surgery to attempt to repair the damage resulted in a severed nerve and I’m pretty sure the tendon repair has failed as well. Half of my foot and my heel are numb and I walk with a weird gate and take stairs one at a time, leading with my left foot. Over time, this has effected my knees…they don’t like stairs either! It all hurts like heck, but I finally decided I needed to get up and start moving, I have the rest of me to take care of. My feet are going to hurt no matter what I do, sitting at my desk, watching TV or getting outside and enjoying nature and my friends and getting much needed exercise! So, I decided to conquer those stairs! With my BFF at my side, I could do anything! I wish I would have counted all of the stairs we went up and down that day. We did count one section going up from the lower dell to the middle trail…142 stairs! We went down 75 of them from the bridge into the lower dell. That was just a small portion of the stairs we went up and down!
We were at the trailhead by about 8:45 am. The parking lot was almost full! I have mad parking skills and always get good parking places, which I did. We took our time going down the stairs. We had no idea what we’d find once we got down there. Tons of people and a bridge over a stream and waterfall/lake! And of course, more stairs if you want to go down into the dells and get to the stream!
Crystal and I headed for the upper dell stairs. Just going down the stairs it was beautiful! The stairs end right in the water but there are round concrete stepping pillars to use. I didn’t take many pictures in the upper dell because there were so many people. I feel funny taking pictures of random strangers unless they’re far away or really cute guys, haha!
After exploring the upper dell and dodging people, we went back up the stairs and followed the road-like trail to a sign that said Lower Dell and yep, more stairs! A lot more stairs! A family…grandma (younger grandma), dad, pregnant mom and 3 little ones had gone down the stairs before us…pregnant mom carrying a toddler 😲…I was impressed! Down we went. I’m guessing 150+ stairs until we got to another bridge. Crossed the bridged then another 75 stairs (I did count these) down to the stream. It was even more beautiful than the upper dell! And more people. The weather was beautiful, people were taking advantage it and I don’t blame them. This time, the sun was just right for most of my pictures. I think they turned out pretty good for a phone camera. Once we got to the end of the canyon where the waterfall was, there were several caves I would loved to have explored but I didn’t have a flashlight and there were a lot of people going in and out of them in the dark…just didn’t want to go there! There’s a big stone face carving in front of one of the caves that’s really cool. I have no idea how old it is. While searching for information about the carving, I found a website with a really good article about Matthiessen State Park and the dells. https://hubpages.com/travel/Matthiessen-State-Park-Oglesby-IL
I’d love to go back and do this trail & yes, the stairs, again in the fall when the trees are changing but I can only imagine the crowds! So maybe I’ll try to get back there in the winter when the trees are bare and maybe not so many people. Ottawa is about 70 miles from Chicago, 250 miles from St Louis…it’s a beautiful area to visit, a fun weekend getaway. https://pickusottawail.com
Tree growing upside down. There were several like this throughout the canyon!
I’ve never had a fight with my BFF Crystal! We’ve been friends since 7th grade. We just celebrated our 55th birthdays! We’re both Leo’s…whatever that means. We’ve cried together, we’ve laughed & laughed & laughed & laughed until we cried & cried! We’ve gotten ourselves into so many predicaments…lost, stuck, stranded, lost, bad dates! We always have so much fun together! The one thing we haven’t done together is hike. Since I started hiking, I’ve been trying to get her to go with Russ and I. But it never worked out with her schedule. Until our sort of annual road trip to Ottawa Illinois Riverfest. The Riverfest is a great weekend (for us) of live bands and local food! The drive up is just as fun as the stay in Ottawa! This year was going to be extra special. Our favorite tribute band, and the reason we started going to Riverfest, Silver Bullet STL A Tribute to Bob Seger (Bob Seger is the reason I live and breathe 💖) was playing Saturday night which happened to be Crystal’s birthday! What a perfect way to celebrate! And, there is a state park just a few miles from Ottawa, Starved Rock State Park, that has fabulous hiking trails, or so I’ve been told. So we made plans to do some hiking on Friday and Saturday during the day and we’d rock out to the bands at night. Sounds simple, right? I forgot to mention that Crystal and I are easily distracted! On our first road trip to Ottawa, we ended up getting lost with the help of GPS Kelly (we both know a Kelly we don’t like & we didn’t like the GPS when the snarky voice got her name!) in the little town of Atlanta Illinois trying to find a gas station that was open! In the process we found a giant man holding a hot dog with feet on Route 66! OMG, we laughed until we cried!
Isn’t that thing creepy?! What in the heck does it mean? We were too busy laughing to think about investigating. Of course, we’re talking about giant man on this trip again and there on the side of the highway is a giant man and a lot of other giant beings! We had to go back and check them out.
Needless to say we were cracking up! There were so many giant beings there, but we decided to go with a theme…We Like Big Men and We Can Not Lie…posted it on Facebook along with the original giant man picture. The comments were hilarious! Our next stop was for gas, yep…in Atlanta! We didn’t realize it was the same little town at first until we saw the sign for the library. We drove around and sure enough, there was giant man with a hot dog with feet! Turns out, the feet are really his fingers and thumb! I still don’t know the significance of this giant man with a giant hot dog but there was a girl named Crystal selling hot dogs from a cart on the sidewalk by him. A guy offered to take our picture together next to giant man.
You guessed it, another picture was added to our theme Facebook post! Our friends think we’re still as nuts as we were back in the 70’s! Maybe they just wish they were having so much silly who cares fun?! We’re driving through the cute little town of Utica illinois and there on the side of the road, yep another big man…of sorts! Oh man were we glad I turned around and went back for that photo opp! Happy Birthday Crystal!
You just have to stop when you see a pepto-bismol pink sasquatch wearing an apron with a cupcake on it! He’s the lure for Two Girls and a Cupcake. The best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted! (Yes Crystal, my Jilly’s cupcake that you got me for my birthday was wonderful 💜💜) we went to that dang shop 3 times! Talking about a sugar high! Yikes! Here’s the Facebook page link to their page https://www.facebook.com/twogirlsandacupcakeinc
Yes, we did hike! Starved Rock State Park was insane busy! They have overflow parking lots…for a park that’s mostly about hiking! I couldn’t believe the cars! The people walking to…I don’t know! We weren’t about to park in an overflow lot then walk forever to the park HQ just to find out we had already passed the trailhead. It reminded me of trying to get into 6 Flags! Not the way I like to hike…too many people. We headed to another park, Matthiessen State Park. Again, overflow parking lots but not nearly as many cars or people. But still a lot. At the trailhead…stairs! It looked like thousands of stairs! I hate stairs! Not gonna happen late on Friday afternoon after driving for hours. We decided to just go listen to music and hike somewhere in the morning. Feeling a little bummed we headed back to the hotel on a different road and saw a sign…Illinois Canyon Trail. That was one I wanted to do at Stared Rock! WOOHOO! We found a trail, only 2 cars in the parking lot and it was just about 2 miles in and back. We didn’t have much daylight left so this was perfect for our first hike together! It was easy, relatively flat terrain. But we were really going into a canyon! It was so cool. There was a stream that wound around through the canyon and we had to cross it several times. At the end there was a small waterfall that spilled into a pool. It was so pretty and peaceful. It was a great first hike with my BFF! I’m glad we didn’t do anything harder or longer that day because we ended up needing every ounce of leg & butt muscle we had for our adventure on Saturday morning!
As I said at the end of my last blog post…I didn’t think anything else we’d encounter would top Hop Hollow. Wrong! We knew there was a place called Beaver Falls somewhere within the institute’s boundaries. We ran into a family looking for Beaver Falls and we could hear running water so we followed the sound. Never did see the family again. Guess they didn’t find the waterfall. We did! 😄 like I said before, I didn’t check out the Nature Institute’s website before we started and we didn’t have a map. There was a map posted at the trailhead with points of interest but no information about them. We were expecting a little waterfall like the ones we’ve seen on other trails that were said to have waterfalls…pretty, but they’d barely get my knees wet. So Russ and I are following the sound of running water and come to a pretty little stream. We’d had heavy rain that week and could see how far the stream had been out of its banks. It must have been crazy high and fast!
After a little bit we saw The Waterfall up the stream a way!! Woo-hoo! I wanted to get a picture of it straight on, so I proceed to rock hop out to the middle of the stream. I don’t make it but a couple rocks and I find the ejector rock! Waterproof boots don’t mean a thing when the water is deeper than your boots are tall! Luckily I didn’t drop my phone or land on my butt! Kinda pulled a groin muscle and smashed my left toes into the end of my boot but it was well worth it…the best had yet to come.
It turns out, there was a succession of waterfalls as we followed this stream up. None of them were very high but the sound…wow! They sounded huge! I want that sound right outside my bedroom window. On 3 different trips to Colorado, I stayed in cabins with a rushing stream right outside the cabin…amazing! It doesn’t get any better than that…well, yes it would if I lived in one of the cabins!
At the last and biggest fall, so far, there was a Wilson soccer ball floating in the pool below the falls. Of course, I think of the movie Cast Away, when Tom Hanks’ friend Wilson was floating away in the ocean and he’s standing there on the raft yelling “Wilson!!” Yep, I made my own mini movie remake of that scene! Unfortunately or fortunately more than likely, I can’t post it here! Russ thinks I’m crazy when I do that, but I have fun and if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point of having fun?!
At this point the terrain was getting pretty steep. It was pretty hot that day and we were getting a good workout. We were both using our new hydration backpacks, something I had balked at because I like to use my waste pack to carry my must-haves…my phone (the size of a barge), chapstick, tissues, zip lock bags, small first aid kit, my pain meds, car key, cliff bars. But it only holds 2 water bottles. I found the hydration packs on sale at Aldis, of all places, for $14.99 & thought what the heck. My daughter uses one. She puts a frozen icepack between the water bladder (she keeps that in the fridge until she’s ready to go) and the back of the pack so her back feels the cold too. It worked great! Russ and I were thrilled with our choice of hiking destination, with the packs and still 100% happy with the mosquito and tick spray we had been using…Repel Tick Defense. This place was thick with mosquitoes! We haven’t had a bite or seen a tick since we started using it! We still didn’t think our hike could get any better…it did! After I bid Wilson goodbye we continued to follow the stream. Then we heard a distant roar. The trail had been gradually getting higher than the stream. Then, there it was…THE WATERFALL! The biggest waterfall we’d seen while hiking yet! Way down below us! I’m going down there, Russ thinks I’m crazy and I’ll probaby break something! It was a bit treacherous getting down to the bottom. A fall would have been really bad. Going back up was just as hard, but omg it was so worth it! My pictures don’t do it justice. The sun and the water dripping from the over hanging rock and vegetation and the spray from the falls made getting pictures difficult. Russ didn’t want to get wet and I didn’t want to get my phone wet. I was soaking wet by the time I climbed back up! I think that was the first time I’ve ever played in a waterfall! By the way, Russ sucks at taking pictures! He took several of me but they got deleted! It was absolutely gorgeous down there! And LOUD! We had to yell to hear each other.
I had a blast! I was a little worried about hiking the rest of the day in wet clothes and boots but it was hot out…being wet felt great and I dried off pretty quickly. There was another waterfall above the big one that was pretty far off the trail and down a really steep hill, plus it wasn’t very big…you’ve seen 5 or 6 small waterfalls in 1 day, you’ve seen them all!
The last small waterfall in the background
Well, that was it for waterfalls! We hiked up out of the valley onto a very flat trail and preceeded to get completely turned around and ended up in a farm field! Good grief, sometimes we absolutely suck at following signs! Thank goodness for the GPS map in the alltrails app! At one point we were going through an old growth forest. Massive trees everywhere! Again pictures just didn’t capture how spectacular, how beautiful it really was. I gave up trying after a couple shots. Then the terrain and vegetation changed again. It was so green and damp. Ferns everywhere. It was like a rain forest.
According to The Nature Institute’s website, we missed several points of interest. Bald Eagle nests…gotta go back in the winter to see them! One thing we happily missed…Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes…Oh My!
The Nature Institute is quite the little gem. I can’t wait to go back and see what we missed, sans snakes of course! I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the winter.
Oh, we followed deer tracks on one trail for a long time, adult and tiny ones. Russ caught a glimpse of a deer bounding away into the thick trees.
Here’s the link to the website. Check it out. Plan a trip. I know you won’t be disappointed!
Back in June, before the blast furnace hit the Midwest and called a halt to hiking for me, Russ and I decided to head for Illinois and see what we could find. To find hiking trails we use an app called Alltrails. It’s a nifty little thing. You can search for trails near you, or you can search by city, state, park, difficulty, distance, activity…there are all types of filters. Most of the trails will have photos that others have downloaded to give you an idea of what the trail is like. Once you find the trail you want, the app has GPS directions (Google Maps) to get you there. You can record your route (distance, elevation, time, speed) on a map of the trail. This comes in handy if you’re on a trail that isn’t marked well and you happen to get off the trail or turned around…yep, I know first hand! So, I found The Nature Institute in Godfrey Illinois. 3 miles, moderate, features a waterfall, lightly trafficked. 40 miles from home…SOLD!
Our hike started out on an old crumbling blacktop service road and I’m thinking…crap, this isn’t what I thought the trail would be like! I hate walking on blacktop!
The blacktop didn’t last long! We eventually came upon an open area with a fantastic view of the Mississippi River, the Olin Nature Preserve Skeet Range. I’ve been reading through TNI’s website as I’ve been writing…it’s a pretty amazing place and I wish I would have checked out the website before we hiked!
On we went down into a hollow. It was beautiful! My pictures do not do it justice. There were several old growth trees that were massive and again, my pictures don’t capture just how big they really were. We came upon a little monument/plaque with a couple of log benches. Hop Hollow. The plaque tells how from 1790 to 1863 the picturesque Hop Hollow was an entry point on the Underground Railroad. Sympathetic landowners helped hundreds of slaves try to reach freedom. Gave me chills. I’ve read dozens of books about the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and slavery but I have never knowingly stood in a place that was part of the Underground Railroad. I want to take my grandson there so he can see it and maybe when he’s older, have a better understanding of what the Underground Railroad was, how difficult it was to travel… There are a couple of big old dead trees at the site. I wonder, could they be from way back then? Probably not, but I like to think that they were part of that history too!
I didn’t think the hike was going to get any better than that…boy was I wrong again!! Part 2…coming up ASAP!