Illinois Canyon 8This past weekend Whirl and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary at Starved Rock State Park outside Utica, Illinois. I have been to Starved Rock several times but I had not been back to the park since college and I don’t recall ever spending the night there. We stayed in the historic lodge (a lodge that is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary) and spent much of our time on the park trails exploring. We took the opportunity to haul a bunch of our photography gear with us and I am quite pleased with the results of having done so. (Even if my back is a little annoyed with me for asking it to lug that stuff up and down the canyons).

We had mostly great weather — comfortable temperatures and lots of sun — for most of our stay. Saturday afternoon was rainy and we stayed indoors after a leisurely morning exploration of Illinois Canyon at the far east end of the park. The rest of the time we tromped around the trails unencumbered by computers or cell phones or other people. It was a great opportunity for us to just spend time with each other doing something we both enjoy. And doing it together.

The Lodge was bustling with activity. At least three weddings, and two major family reunions happened while we were there. One of the women working the front desk remarked that they were booked solid through the end of September and had been steadily busy most of the summer.

American White Pelican Pod

As far as wildlife, we were far too late to see the famous Bald Eagles that winter above the Lock and Dam on the Illinois River. But we did see plenty of other animals. Dozens of Great Blue Herons, scores of Double-crested Cormorants, rough-winged swallows, chipping sparrows, wild turkeys, an Egret, deer (complete with a spotted yearling fawn), blue birds, Indigo Buntings, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and what we’re pretty sure was a muskrat swimming along the riverbank. Perhaps the most surprising sighting for me were these huge pods of American White Pelicans traveling west down the Illinois River. On Sunday we perched on Eagle Overlook above the Lock and Dam and watched as pod after pod flew by in formation. Most of the groupings were ten to twenty birds in size, with the largest grouping number well over fifty birds. Over the course of a couple hours we must have seen two hundred pelicans flying west along the river. Spiders, dragonflies and damselflies were out in force feeding on mosquitoes. The spiders provided particularly intriguing opportunities for macro photography.

If you’ve never been to Starved Rock State Park, I highly recommend visiting. It is a wonderful little oasis in the middle of the state.