Walking–in Two Parts
When I visited the Sand Ridge Nature Center on Day 169, a friendly forest preserve district employee gave me a stack of pamphlets. (I have since kept these pamphlets handy. Call me old fashioned and un-green, but I still enjoy a paper map and an occasional paper pamphlet instead of reading everything online.)
In the activities pamphlet, I read about a Photo Meet-up at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont, Illinois, scheduled for today and thought it sounded interesting. The brochure states that a naturalist will take photographers of all skill levels on a tour showing interesting plants and wildlife and scenic vistas. Sounds good, right? Since we were planning on walking in the nearby Pulaski Woods in Palos Park anyhow, my family would drive separately and meet me for a walk when I was done.
Part I: Sagawau Canyon
When I arrived at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, the drive back into the center was closed off because of snake-crossings (!?!), so I parked in the mostly empty parking lot near the entrance and carefully walked back to the center, ever on the alert for snakes.
Inside the learning center building, there were only a few visitors and an employee sitting behind the welcome desk. The 10:00 AM start time came and went as the building started to fill up with Cub Scouts and their families. By this time it had become pretty obvious that just three of us had arrived for the Photo Meet-up:
- a sweet, elderly gentleman of at least eighty with a tiny point-and-shoot digital camera. I will hereby refer to him as the Gentleman.
- a late-twenties to early-thirties guy dressed for a hike with a backpack and a really nice camera and lens. (His equipment was so nice, it gave me a bad case of lens-envy.) I will hereby refer to him as Camera Guy.
No naturalist showed up. Finally, the Gentleman asked the employee at the welcome desk about the Photo Meet-up. The employee knew nothing about it, but made a phone call. We waited some more. The person in charge of the thirty Cub Scouts then came by and said that he knew nothing about any Photo Meet-Up. He said that he had to attend to the Cub Scouts.
“But it’s in the book,” protested the Gentleman.
The employee asks Camera Guy, “You’ve been here before, right? Why don’t you take them to the bridge or maybe to the canyon?”
Poor Camera Guy. He had little choice but to say, “okay” and lead an elderly gentleman and a middle-aged woman on a tour. Off the three of us went the short distance to the Sagawau Canyon.
Along the way, I did give a little squeal and jump when I saw a small snake in the grass. Camera Guy looked around, but didn’t see it. He said that this preserve has a rare snake species. Poachers have been caught sneaking on to the property after hours trying to find them. Rare or not, I’d be okay with no more snakes.
When we arrived at the canyon, a set of narrow wooden stairs led down the rock side into the canyon. Camera Guy led the way, and I followed behind him. The Gentleman said that he was only going down part-way, but he managed to come down the whole way while I was looking around.
Sagawau is the only exposed bedrock in Cook County, and I found the rock formations really interesting. The canyon usually has a small stream running through the rock-lined bottom, but the part I visited was mostly dry. Camera Guy asked us if we wanted to walk along the canyon. The gentleman said that the footing was too unstable for him, so he turned back. I never saw him again; I hope he got out safely.
So, it was just Camera Guy and me in a twelve foot deep canyon. Alone. It briefly occurred to me that this guy could attack me, but he didn’t. Instead, he led me along the canyon for a ways and eventually out up the side on some rocks. To get back to a pathway, we had to go through some deep brush, including something that looked like poison ivy (I was wearing shorts), but I had made it out out safely!
Once we were back above ground and on the bridge over the canyon, Camera Guy showed me some of his pictures. He’s taken some really nice photos (as he ought with that snazzy equipment!) including some shots taken from a remote control helicopter that he built!
I thanked him, and he walked off onto a trail. I took off for the ladies’ room in the Environmental Center to do a tick check and wash any possible poison ivy off my legs before grabbing a few printed maps missing from my collection and heading to my car to meet my family. I was grateful that an awkward situation was only that: awkward. And next time Forest Preserve District of Cook County: if you’re going to put something in the book, you should have someone show up.
Part II: Pulaski Woods and Bull Frog Lake
After the awkward Photo Meet-up a few miles away, the family meet-up at Pulaski Woods went perfectly. We had mapped a hike using the Orange and Green Trails around Bull Frog Lake. The first half of the trip went through the woods, and the second half went near the lake through grassland. It was lovely with several varieties of wildflowers still in bloom, the trees starting to show their fall colors, and bluebirds everywhere.