With the recent rain, J. thought Saturday, April 20 would be a good day to visit Starved Rock State Park — we might have a chance to see waterfalls powered by spring rains.
It sounded like a good idea. I’d been working from home during the rain, and when I looked out there seemed to be only the typical puddles — the kind you expect to see after a little rain. I’d seen flood warnings and heard about some flooded basements, but I had no concept of how much rain there had been or how bad the flooding was. This journey would open my eyes.
We met at Starbucks in Homewood (RIP, Caribou Coffee) and set out, making a few stops along the way — the surprisingly lovely Three Rivers rest stop on I80, where one of the vending machines sometimes includes Milk Bones for the well-traveled pooch, and Ottawa, Illinois.
Our planned stop in Ottawa was Foothills Organics, which was moved recently from a house in Utica. On the way there, we noticed a pretzel shop. After stocking up on organic fruits, berries, vegetables, grains, and assorted goodies, we tried amazing pretzel-wrapped hot dogs — but not before checking out a happy cat lying in the window of the neighborhood law office. Who wouldn’t love a town where lawyers have set up a window seat, house, and toys for the resident cat in their office and where you can get hot dogs wrapped in buttery pretzels?
Next stop — Utica, the gateway to Starved Rock State Park. After passing through Utica, you cross the Illinois River via a box girder bridge.
We didn’t make it through Utica, however. At the Willows Hotel, the town had turned into a lake, with an emergency boat and vehicles parked at its edge. Shop signs and lawn ornaments were half submerged, and at our feet a hose ran from the basement of a nearby house, spewing water back into the flood. I read later that flood stage is 21 feet and that the water had topped out at 33 feet. I’d never seen a flooded town before except in photos, and I was stunned by how far into town the river had encroached. Never could I have imagined it traveling that far.
Going through Utica was out without a boat, so we turned toward Oglesby, where we could cross the bridge.
On arrival at Starved Rock Lodge, we saw that the road to the Visitor Center was closed, which is not surprising as the center is downhill from the Lodge and is separated from the water by a grassy picnic area. Update:
Later I saw a photo of the Visitor Center partially submerged.
The Lodge’s front desk people told us that part of Matthiessen State Park was open, so we went there, walking down the many, many, steps that lead to an area above the water. Because the footbridge was muddy and ankle deep in water in places, I steered us to the left down an easy and mostly dry trail. Along the way, we heard a great horned owl calling, the traditional, “Who, who, who cooks for you?” I’ve heard them in the area before, but they remain elusive to the eyes. This one sounded distant.
We reached a point where you could cross the water to get to the rest of the trail, but I was out of steam, so I sat gingerly on the front edge of a bench tilted rakishly back while J. went on. While he was gone, a a young couple came from that direction. I told them they were headed toward the stairs and parking lot. “Oh, good; we are really lost,” the woman said. They must have been circling back without realizing it.
J. soon came back just as a middle-aged couple came along from the direction of the parking lot. A fallen tree lay above and across the stream, and the man decided it was meant to be a bridge. He wasn’t too sure of himself, though, and stopped halfway across. His wife didn’t seem too pleased. If the tree had become dislodged from the loose, sandy soil, he would have fallen onto a bed of rocks below, joined by a crashing tree trunk. I did’t want to see it, so I left just as J. took photos of the man posturing and of the couple.
It was a glorious spring day in a glorious place, just what I needed to stave off growing stress and unease.