Ok everyone, let’s see how this goes! We have loaded up the (rental) car and we are setting off for our first Illinois road trip. We have decided that we are heading in the direction of Starved Rock State Park. This is Illinois’ most visited park and the pictures we saw were really pretty. There’s also river rafting on the Vermillion River, taking you through 9 miles of whitewater (well, they call it whitewater but it’s really Class 1’s and 2’s and sometimes 3’s after a heavy rainfall) rafting. In any event, we’re game!
After about an hour’s drive on the freeway, you get into very open spaces. Everything you see is green. Everything. There’s green out of every window. There are no mountains and very small hills so you can see for miles and miles. And for miles and miles, everything is green. Hmmm … what in the world are they growing? And then … it hits us. As we get off the freeway and onto a 2 lane road, we can see that the green that is everywhere is CORN! Corn stalks galore! I’ve never seen so much corn. I thought I had, being that I have family in the Central Valley and they have the best corn on the planet. But this? This was incredible. It’s almost surreal when all you can see forever is corn. Weird … and, the best part? We’re eating all that corn (well except for the rows marked “Used for Bio-fuels”)! Just ask Janice’s son, Jeffrey, to give you a little lesson on how we’re addicted to corn as a nation. Now I know why!
We arrived at the park just about noon and after looking at all that corn, we were hungry (again?) so we decided to have the picnic that we brought along with us. We set it all up as we were enjoying the sights and sounds … sounds?? What’s that sound? Bzzzzz Bzzzzz!! OMG, we’re being attacked by giant mosquitos!! Holy Moley, and we didn’t bring any “Off” … are we crazy? Well we ate as fast as we could with our arms flapping around like a bunch of crazies and then set out to find a pharmacy, grocery store, or any place that would sell us any type of bug repellent. And, I’m not kidding when I say giant … they could have carried me off they were so big!! I’m serious!
We eventually ran across a little sign that said, “Jack’s Country Store” with an arrow pointing in the direction that we were supposed to go. Now picture this because I didn’t take a picture of it … when I say “sign” that’s a very liberal description of a piece of cardboard nailed to a tree with painted red letters. Can you picture it? Yep, pretty funny. After a few mis-turns, we finally found Jack’s and jumped from the car to hunt down some repellent, in the country “store” which is really Jack’s garage …. attached to his house! HAHA!! And Jack, who is over 80 as it turns out, should really have been named “Cathy” … as in “Chatty Cathy!” He was a delight and shared stories with Jason and me about the last time it ever rained so much here in the state (apparently the crazy weather really is crazy!) … “back in 1934, it was raining just like this and we had so much rain no one knew what to do.” We just thought it was Illinois normal to rain like this. Another lesson learned!
So after a few stories and about 15 minutes later, we got our prized can of “Off” and kept on going. Now, I should mention that one of Jack’s stories also turned into a comparison of the two state parks … Starved Rock (which we were planning on visiting) and Matthiessen State Park, which was down the road from Starved Rock. In Jack’s humble opinion, Matthiessen was the hands-down winner if you wanted to see the prettiest park, rather than the most popular park. Well, since we know nothing, we took Jack’s advice. And as you can see, it was definitely a winner. The parks here are so different from ours. First off, they’re quiet! We literally passed about 3 other families hiking the same trails. Secondly, they are like jungles! The plant life is overflowing because of the many, many rivers flowing from everywhere. And thirdly, their lakes are green! It’s the weirdest thing … I’ve never seen anything like it.
Eddie was very curious to know why and what makes the lakes green. So I went to my friend, Google, and found this: Blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) are microscopic organisms that naturally occur in Illinois lakes and streams. Blue-green algae can reproduce very quickly in warm, shallow, undisturbed-surface water that receives a lot of sunlight. This rapid growth of algae is referred to as a “bloom.” Algal blooms can discolor the water or produce floating scums on the surface of the water, especially along shorelines.
Anyway, it was a great afternoon of exploring and seeing the beauty of this state. We were pooped and so headed off to find another recommended stop in the town of Oglesby. And look what we found!
Just what we needed after that long hike and almost being carried off … put me right again with the world!
Next stop … the Mighty Mississippi! Talk to you tomorrow!