One of my favorite places to visit is Starved Rock State Park. The serene trails, being one with nature, spending a day with friends or family while also getting in a decent cardio workout - I love it. The General and I used to visit their once a year for the first few years of our relationship until he decided to keep it real and let me know that yes, he loved me but no, he does not enjoy walking the trails of one of our state's greatest treasures. As a result, I think the last time we visited their was in 1996, the day after my senior prom.
So, naturally, there's little that will make you feel old like showing up at one of your favorite locations from your teenage years light years later with your two school aged children in tow. Today I traded in my former attitude of "what does my future hold?" for "Nowhere in the near future am I going to hold you along this trail, child". The weather was beautiful, the girls were prepped for lots of walking, and all in all it was well worth the long wait for a return trip.
Basically what is going to follow is a giant photo bomb of our day at Starved Rock yesterday, or as Punkin referred to it early in our day "Hungry" Rock. No she was not trying to be funny, but yes I did laugh loudly at her mix-up. I'm trying to limit the number of photos, but I love them all even though they all basically illustrate the same point: my kids are cute on gently shaded trails along sandstone bluffs and sunny scenic river overlooks. Let me please draw your attention to two ongoing themes before we continue. First, I believe Shortcake is looking more and more like her dad with each passing year. I continue to be shocked when people claim she looks just like me. Second, additionally with each passing year Punkin seems to add to her collection of facial expressions and poses while having her picture taken. I'm sure you'll enjoy them as much as Shortcake and I did witnessing them live and in living color.
We started out our day with a quick tour of the relatively new visitor's center. We arrived just as they were starting a brief movie about the history and legend of Starved Rock. As demonstrated by Punkin's face in the upper right picture, she started out the day with some characteristic sass making me momentarily question my sanity in bringing her along for a day's worth of hiking. I'm happy to say it was merely the first of many opportunities for her to ham it up a bit. Following the movie we made the trek up to the top of Starved Rock. Overall, the girls were underwhelmed and Punkin complained loudly when she claimed all she could find out of the on-site viewfinder was the sky. I'm sure that had nothing to do with user error.Following our descent, we walked briefly along the river and then decided it would probably be a good idea to enjoy our picnic lunch before trying other trails. No good ever comes from trying to make Punkin partake in physical activity on a half-full belly. After we were sufficiently full, we studied our trail map and decided to make some of the canyons our next destination. We had made it approximately one-tenth of a mile from the vistor's center before Punkin decided she needed to rest. The walking stick she found soon after kept her endurance from complete failure, while Shortcake continued to carry the torch as best adventure partner in the history of all time.
Less than a half-mile later, we navigated some semi-steep terrain and made it into French Canyon. The lack of rain had us prepared for the absence of a waterfall, but even without that visual spectacle all three of us were still impressed. We spent time admiring ferns, hanging vines, tadpoles, birds flying into nests built into the sandstone wall, echos, and water reflections off the sandstone above. Punkin really wanted to scale one of the more accessible walls but I repeatedly told her no, reminding her of her newly acquired fear of heights and general ability to freak out when afraid.
After leaving French Canyon, we made our way back up on our way toward Wildcat Canyon. It was about this point in the day when heat started to take its toll on both girls leaving me to dig into my pre-packed bag of tricks for some Gatorade and handkerchiefs soaked in water as a method for cool down.
Newly rejuvenated, we continue our journey upward toward Lover's Leap and Eagle Cliff.
Deciding it was much too sunny on the outlooks over the river, we started back toward Wildcat Canyon at Shortcake's request. We were about mid-way down the first set of stairs when Punkin announced frantically, "I have to pee" which I'm sure surprises no veteran parent reading this considering we were close to a mile away from the nearest bathroom. There were a few close moments but thanks to some clever distraction techniques we made it to the Starved Rock Lodge just in time. Additional things that make me feel old: walking into a place you last visited as a sophomore attending prom while now ushering your six year old doing the frantic pee-pee dance to the nearest bathroom taking down any slow moving person in your path.
We collectively decided to save all additional trail walks for a return visit (sidenote: Punkin declared Shortcake and I can come back on a Saturday or Sunday so she can stay home with The General. Also see: two peas in a pod). In a brief moment of weakness I gave in to the girls' request to take the boat tour offered nearby instead. We were able to enjoy a relaxing narrated ride on a paddle boat while also treated to a unique view of Starved Rock, an up close encounter with a blue heron, as well as one deer and several turtle sightings on Plum Island. Before we left the park our hiking trip would not have been complete without a stop for some cool treats before heading home.
It's been way too long since I've been to Starved Rock, and I don't intend to let that happen again. Shortcake has already said she wants to come back this winter when the bald eagles have returned and I would love to come back before that when the leaves start changing in the fall. Whether we travel there as a party of two or three (or, fingers crossed, four?) remains to be seen.