Bumbling Along Matthiessen State Park Trails

In mid-July I took an excursion to Utica to clear my head and ground myself in nature.

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My favorite park in the Starved Rock Area is Matthiessen State Park.

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For a while it was a well-kept secret, with most tourists favoring Starved Rock Park.

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Unfortunately (for me) it has gotten more popular over the years, and this time I encountered quite a few groups hiking and cavorting in the water.

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Nonetheless, I find the Dells area fascinating with its lime stone formations.

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It had stormed recently, so the paths were quite muddy.

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The trails aren’t long and tend to lead back to the same stairwell leading to the parking and picnic areas.

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The bridge also had a lot of standing water, and though it wasn’t too deep, I opted to turn around rather than wade through it.

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I do know from prior visits that that path after the bridge loops around and there are some nice benches where I have sat and read before.

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This time walked the horse trail for a while.

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That trail wasn’t mapped out on the signs.

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Not knowing where it would come out I doubled back when a prairie view disoriented me.

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It was a lovely walk to reintegrate into the forest world that is scarce in my suburb.

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I spent 90 minutes here but could have whiled longer, but it was time to check in and I was antsy to be ‘settled’ in my home away from home.

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The next morning, after my Starved Rock excursion was cut short, I made my way to the Vermillion River Area of Matthiessen State Park.

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When I first visited Matthiessen I wrongly assumed this was for boating. Instead, this is a forest trail with a variety of paths.

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Unfortunately the sign didn’t indicate the length of this trail, but I assumed it couldn’t be too long (or they would have!).

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The map also announced closures, which narrowed down my route.

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I snapped a photo of the map to carry with me, and enjoyed the cool of the woods.

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I saw two couples on the trail, and had the rest of the paths for myself.

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I was indeed forced along a certain way with the closures.

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It left me curious about one trail that I could see went down a hill and serpentined around.

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In spite of my attempt to follow a specific trail color, different colored markers started popping up, which was a bit disorienting. You can see that bikes and horses are allowed on some.

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There are some lovely trees in these woods.

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I spotted a damselfly on a boulder I was heading toward.

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Then this lovely creature fluttered to my attention.

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I managed to get one more good picture of it-a comma or a question mark butterfly.

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My trusty walking stick kept me company as I started hearing a stream, which comforted me.

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When I came upon it I saw lovely black damselflies, but they all were camera shy.

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I snapped a few pictures, only one of which turned out, and marched on.

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Later I spotted some more in another area, and got some better shots by trusting my zoom. They are Ebony Jewelwings.

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More of these jewel wings who truly glitter in blue and green were cavorting along the stream as I walked the path some more. Here is a guide on identifying some Illinois Odonata.

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My zoom did not disappoint.

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Just as I started wondering if I was lost again this beauty gave me reason to follow along the path some more.

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My photo reference of the map wasn’t much use to me as I couldn’t orient myself to which color path I was on.

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I had to trust that I would come out somewhere, but at those times it does feel like having a companion would be wiser. Being lost together is more comforting than being lost by yourself.

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Unless I spoke ‘insect’ of course. 😉 I started debating whether to get my phone out—I had turned it off to truly unplug—and see if I got a GPS signal when the trail ended onto a clearing.

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I had a general sense of where my Inn might be, but not a good enough overview to know whether to turn right or left. Then this swallowtail pointed the way. It was lovely watching it swoop around the grasses.

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I spotted another dragonfly from afar.

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Then I heard the sound of a car, so I followed the path and my ears, and lo and behold, there was my trusty vehicle!

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This unguided tour took about 90 minutes, and now that I am ‘oriented’ I look forward to walking it again with fewer second-guesses.

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I drove back to the Inn where I spent a lovely evening in the garden reading and journaling to recover from my unintended bravery.

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