Monday, May 19, 2008

Running at Starved Rock

This past Saturday, I decided to travel to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL (about 2 hrs. southwest of Chicago) for some trail running and photos. Temps were cool and the skies were sunny, which made it a perfect day for both activities. The park has 13 miles of trails which were ideal for some light paced running to rehab my ankle.

Starved Rock State Park derives its name from a Native American legend of injustice and retribution. In the 1760s, Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa tribe upriver, was slain by an Illiniwek while attending a tribal council. According to legend, during one of the battles subsequent to his death, a band of Illiniwek, under attack from a bank of Potawatomi (allies of the Ottawa), sought refuge atop a 125 ft. sandstone butte. The Ottawa and Potawatomi surrounded the bluff and held their ground until the hapless Illiniwek died of starvation - giving rise to the name "Starved Rock". There's your history lesson for the day.

The trails were in good condition and pretty nice overall; a combination of dirt, some wooden plank, and a bit of good old mud for fun. I trekked through several canyons, most notably LaSalle, Ottawa, and Kaskaskia. Each of these three had small, but nice, waterfalls and provided good photo ops along with the running pleasure. Here's a photo of the waterfall in LaSalle Canyon:

Heading away from LaSalle Canyon, I must have missed the trail change onto the next canyon, and wound up popping right off trail and into a parking lot. For the life of me, I can't understand how I messed that up, but at least I got a chance to see a bit of the forest I would have otherwise neglected (everything happens for a reason). Was I lost, you ask? Me? Are you serious?

Nope, just turned around. Which I did...and suddenly found where I had originally misstepped! So back on the trail, I finally made my way to Council Overhang and into Kaskaskia Canyon. Council Overhang looks like an amphitheater carved into the side of the sandstone wall and garners a fair amount of foot traffic. Probably an easy place for school groups and vacationers to hang out.
Kaskaskia Canyon was a few strides up the trail. As I entered the area, I was amazed by two things: 1) The fact that nobody was there on such an awesome day (not that I'm complaining); and 2) The overwhelmingly peaceful sound of running water. Before I could stop my last step, I looked up and saw that I had run right to the base of the falls. The photo doesn't do it justice, but I hope it's at least a decent attempt at conveying its beauty.

From here, I made a quick jaunt into Ottawa Canyon and saw an additional waterfall. While it pales in size to the others, it was still nice to see. I took a few shots of a tiny brown frog, made a quick turn around, and did a return trip on the trail.

Overall, it was a great day. The ankle held up nicely and provided no sense of pain or visible swelling. Ultrasound therapy and strengthening exercises seem to be doing the trick and I appear to be healing quite nicely. I didn't really push myself in terms of pace but did get about 13 miles of running in, took some nice photos, and really enjoyed the full day. It's amazing what you can find only a few hours away from home. If you're ever in northern Illinois and want a nice trail run, take a look into Starved Rock State Park.

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