Day Two Hundred Ninety-nine

IMG_1619Great Hike–after those Stairs

We’ve driven by Swallow Cliff before but have never walked here–until today. It’s one of the more popular spots in the Cook County Forest Preserve, and it’s easy to see why.

The area, near Palos Park, Illinois, is heavily forested with a varied terrain of bluffs, ravines, savannas, creeks, and wetlands. In a our mostly flat area, it’s unusual to have such a big bluff. The bluff, formed by glaciers, brings sledders to the preserve in the winter, but the 125 limestone stairs and the surrounding trails attract the athletes year-round.

Feeling rather athletic ourselves, my husband, oldest and youngest sons, my daughter, and I eagerly headed from the parking lot towards the stairs, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Not wanting to slow up any of the athletes behind me, I bounded up those stairs at a faster pace than I would have liked. At about stair 90, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it to the top without a rest (or perhaps some muscular athlete throwing me on his back). After gasping up the last 35 stairs, I joined my family near a stair-counting abacus that a boy scout troupe erected at the top of the stairs, and we started our hike.

Swallow Cliff2

It was lovely.Swallow CliffBy mile two, I felt like I finally recovered from climbing those stairs.

Great place!

Day Two Hundred Sixty-three

Tomahawk Slough on a Half Day

My youngest son had his first half day of the new school year today. What better to mark the occasion than an afternoon hike with his mother! We drove to the biggest collection of interesting preserves in our area, The Palos-Sag Valley, near Palos Hills, Illinois.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County has so many trails and activities in this area that they have split the area into four separate pdf maps on their website. Also, two of the District’s six nature centers are in this region.

The entire area is abundant with lakes, sloughs, and marshes. The Des Plaines River runs along the western edge, and the Calumet-Sag Canal runs through the middle of the hills, valleys, and forests of the preserves; there is something here for everyone!

We hiked on a route that I had mapped in advance around Tomahawk Slough, modified from a hike that I read about in 60 Hikes within 60 miles: Chicago by Ted Villaire. We started on the Green Trail, connected with the Orange Trail, switched to the Brown Trail, and connected back up with the Orange and Green to return to the car.

Miraculously enough, we did not get lost! The trails are well-marked and vary in width and make-up by color which helped us keep it all straight. I was pleased that my son seems to have a good sense of direction (I tested him a few times on our way back).

Tomahawk SloughAs we approached the car, we took a brief side trail to look at Bull Frog Lake and saw several bluebirds and early signs of fall.Tomahawk Slough 2Although my son’s had a really good start to this new school year, I think a half day off to walk outdoors at a beautiful quiet place was a nice respite for him.

I know I certainly enjoyed having him along.

Day Two Hundred Twenty-nine

Exhausting But Exhilarating

What a great hike we had today around Cowles Bog, at the Indiana Dunes’ National Lakeshore. The area is named for Henry Cowles, a University of Chicago ecologist who visited here frequently in the early Twentieth Century. The four-mile loop goes through woods, near a fen, over dunes, and along the Lake Michigan beach.

Cowle's Bog 2We saw such interesting flora and fauna. I can understand why Mr. Cowles found this spot so interesting!

Cowle's Bog Flora and FaunaWith no nearby parking facilities, the only folks at this beach either hiked or boated here. It’s a wonderful spot to rest before tackling the dunes and heading back.

Cowle's BogGood day, good walk!

Day Two Hundred Eight

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore-West Beach Loop

I’ve been wanting to do a dunes walk for awhile.  With today’s really cool weather and my nineteen-year old wanting to join us–today was the day!

We drove to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and visited West Beach.  We walked the West Beach Trail Loop and the Dune Succession Trail Loop.
Indiana Dunes West Beach

IMG_0792

The West Beach loop is away from Lake Michigan and is unnaturally low after years of sand removal to other areas around Chicagoland.  We saw some interesting wildflowers and prickly pear cacti.  It was a nice walk.

The National Park Service map describes the Dune IMG_0781Succession Trail as “scenic but strenuous,” an apt description as the views were breathtaking and climbing the dunes and stairs, exhilarating but exhausting.  Despite some clouds, we could see views of downtown Chicago and the entire South Shore.  I even found the views of Gary, Indiana, interesting!

Good day, good walk!

Day One Hundred Ninety-four

Hike!

After a successful walk earlier in the week chosen from the book 60 Hikes within 60 Miles-Chicago by Ted Villaire, I was ready to try another of the suggested trails.

Since it was a sunny, warm, and humid afternoon, I tried to pick something with shade.  This may be my favorite thing about this book–it gives an “exposure” listing, ranging from mostly shaded to completely exposed.

We headed to Joliet, Illinois, to the Pilcher Park Nature Center.  We chose the Green Bluff Trail, a hilly wooded trail.  We started on asphalt, but the trail soon turned to gravel.  At its highest, heavily wooded point, the trail was barely a foot wide.  We really enjoyed this shady hike!

Pilcher ParkGood day, good hike!

Day Thirty-four

Off the Pavement Success
IMG_20130203_124429

Time of walk:  12:15 PM

Temperature:  23° F (felt like 17°)

Weather:  Sunny with another new inch of snow

I love it when a plan comes together.  It was a beautiful day today with an open block of time, so we drove to a Cook County Forest Preserve near the Cal-Sag Channel.  Although I’ve driven over this channel several times, I’ve never really had a good look at it and wanted to see it.  Luckily, we found a large open parking lot at the Morrill Meadow, which was fairly close to the channel and found an unpaved trail right off the parking lot.

Forest Preserve Unpaved

As we made our way through wooded areas and open meadows, we were surprised by the number of fresh bike tracks in the snow.  As we got farther into the woods, we had to step aside several times for mountain bikers.  What a friendly group!  These folks were happy to be outside, in the woods, and on their bikes even in the January snow.

Forest Preserve Unpaved2After winding through the woods for awhile, we weren’t sure if the path we were on even went near the Cal-Sag Channel.  But then we went over a little rise, and we could see the water glistening below.  The trail runs along the channel for quite a ways here, about 10-20 feet above the water level.  It was lovely.

Good day, good hike!

IMG_20130203_124550