Chain O’Lakes State Park (Illinois)
For a good couple of hours, right until we were halfway through Barrington Hills, Saturday’s destination was a mystery to me. I hadn’t quite heard the name and knew only that it was northwest, generally toward Volo Bog and Moraine Hills State Park. We made a few wrong turns and a few stops, including Fratello’s Hot Dogs, which has to be one of the best hot dog/hamburger joints I’ve stepped into — including strawberries in the strawberry shake.
At last I understood we were headed for Chain O’ Lakes State Park, about which I knew nothing. Having a name in mind made navigation easier, although the jaunt through Barrington Hills was an education in itself, an exposure to a way of life nearly as alien to me as almost anything I could imagine on another planet. Because we got off track so many times, I told J. I envisioned the local police being inundated with calls from nervous property owners about the 2004 blue Toyota Corolla pulling uninvited into their posh driveways. Even when we’d backtracked to the correct area, Google Maps us to the back gate for Chain O Lakes, which was closed. As J. suspected, we zigged when we should have zagged.
At last we arrived, at around 5 o’clock — leaving enough time to check out the little store and to look around a bit. We took the first and most obvious trail we found, which led into the woods. We headed in the general direction of what we thought was the nearest lake other than Grass Lake, which is where we’d parked. At one point, we emerged from the woods into the yard of a trailer at a campground, where a mix of expensive and not-as-expensive trailers, some basic pop-up (tent) campers, and a handful of pitched tents were ensconced in neatly delineated grounds. The place looked full or nearly so, and a pair of little girls raced past us joyously on their little pink bicycles, giggling and screaming. Enjoy it while you can — that obliviousness to the cares of life will never come again, at least not for me.
With some directions from a helpful camper, we found the road, crossed it, and made our way back to where I’d thought we should have gone. I rarely trust my instincts, although sometimes they’re right. Not always.
After passing through another campground, this one a little less upscale than the first but almost as full, we came to the colorful shores of Turner Lake, where it was really hard for me to deny that summer is over and autumn is here. While the trees are not at the height of color, and there’s still some green mixed in, the few photos I took are clearly autumnal. I wonder if I’ll have this much difficulty accepting winter when its time comes. I did find out later that Turner Lake isn’t part of Chain O Lakes.
By this time, it was getting too late to do much more exploring, especially as we took a few false turns walking and ended up needlessly wandering through more of both campgrounds than was necessary. An elderly woman at one of the better trailers told us the trail went into the woods at the next spot, and we made it back to the parking lot in a combination of twilight and moonlight. After trying to figure out if there was a way to walk around Grass Lake and shopping at the store (and depriving some camper of chicken and dumplings soup), J. tore himself away.
While driving through Fox Lake, we decided to check out Dockers for a potential future visit. When we found it, J. spotted fireworks across the lake, and I noticed a swan surrounded by an entourage of Canada geese. While the inveterate extrovert chatted with the only people sitting outside at Dockers, a couple, I sat on a bench near the water and watched the fireworks and the waterfowl in one of those perfect moments that soothe my fretfulness.
The plan had been to eat at the haunted Ole St. Andrews Inn, but when J. saw a Walker Bros. in Lake Zurich that was still open (with only one other group of patrons), there we landed for a delicious and ghost-free end to a lovely fall day.
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