When I lived in Arizona, I was spoiled with the beauty of national parks within a few hours’ drive. Moving to the Illinois prairie I didn’t expect anything spectacular from nature. However, every time I visit a new nature preserve or park, I am pleasantly surprised.
I use Illinois State Parks: A Guide to Illinois State Parks by Bill Bailey and Country Walks in the Chicago Region by Alan Fisher as starting points for my excursions. Recently I also started perusing the Cook County and Lake County Forest Preserve web sites for information.
Recently, I’ve discovered a new preserve just under an hour’s drive away from my home. The Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area, better known as Ryerson Woods, is a peaceful nature preserve that caters to the whole family. When I first looked at the web site, I was intrigued by the mention of praying mantids.
Just off I-94, the visitor center was easy to find. On a Sunday it opens at 11, so I was a bit early. A monarch lured me onto the path without a map, however.
I followed the obvious trail (mowed grass) and was observed by a deer in the distance.
As I kept wandering, I enjoyed the lush woods, and was fascinated by the number of critters.
Now I wasn’t a big fan of spiders and mosquitos either, but Lauren Levato’s Facebook feed has shown me that the less-appreciated insects are living beings too, and I’m slowly adjusting to that concept.
Which is a good thing, because I invariable inched close to plants that had a vast amount of spiders on them!
After a bit of meandering, I came upon a lovely cabin, with a fabulous view.
Who wouldn’t want to live on this overlook at Ryerson Cabin?
It is my understanding that the preserve was originally a development for summer homes, until the owners of the lots slowly donated their land to the park system.
It was nice to pretend I lived here for a day.
And, so much for being away from it all, a map is available on mobile devices! 🙂
I spotted a Tiger Swallowtail and what I think might have been a Pipevine Swallowtail. Both fluttered too fast to snap. It is dragonfly and damselfly season too, and a few accommodated my lens.
The 6-mile trail circled me back to the visitor center, which also hosts a mini-farm with chickens, a turkey, sheep and two exotic birds for educational programs.
The bathrooms in the visitor center were clean, and I refilled my bottles with cold fountain water.
On a second round through he ‘internal’ trails, I came upon Brushwood, the former summer mansion of Edward Ryerson, and a Historic Place.
From 11 am to 3 pm the home is open for tours. It hosts a lovely library of antique nature books, and the park partners with the Field Museum to rotate small animal and insect dioramas, which can actually be checked out upon request.
This area also has a trail designed for those with disabilities.
This gem is a great getaway for families with members of all ages. The trails are flat and wide, and easy to walk, and the staff is very helpful and knowledgeable.
Although I wasn’t able to spot mantids, I saw plenty of other critters.
You don’t always have to take a road trip to recharge in nature either. There are smaller nature preserves sprinkled throughout Chicagoland that offer a lot of wildlife flanked by highways and railroad tracks.
Just google “Nature Preserve” with your zip code and see what comes up. Your state or county will likely have parks and forest designated web sites as well.