Upton's Cave

Exploring Upton's Cave

Following a narrow trail worn into the side of the sloping ground at the foot of the tall, stone bluffs, we eventually came to Upton's Cave. Driving past this area in winter helped us find this cave; every other visit was in the warmer months where the dense foliage obstructed the view of the cave.

Not a very large or deep cave, it was interesting to explore it a bit. The only worry was a cave-in due to the explosive demolition of the nearby bridge to Sabula, Iowa. The cave itself was about 20 feet deep, then it narrowed and the opening shrank, but again opened up to another small room.

Entering Upton's Cave

It seems this cave has an interesting history. It's been said the cave is named after a man who hid from attacking Native Americans. The very small settlement nearby the cave was attacked, and Mr. Upton was out hunting at the time. He hid inside for a couple of days, until it was safe to head out.

View From Upton's Cave

Locals have visited the cave for decades, and surprisingly, there is little trash or graffiti inside. The Mississippi River is in view the entire hike along the base of the bluffs, but the view of the river from inside the cave is somehow more striking.

Hiking the Foot of the Bluff

The Bluffs From Below

After investigating the Twin Sisters, we found a little used trail that followed the foot of the bluffs running parallel to the Mississippi River. While a few hundred feet away from the river, we were still in view of it the entire time.

These trails have been used since the Native Americans used them. Some were improved by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930's, and this one seems as though it hasn't been touched since then. Hardly recognizable as a trail in some places, it's obviously not used too often - it's March and I walked into numerous spider webs, so I was the first person to walk here since September perhaps.

Deep in the Valley

The narrow trail was cut on the slope of the hill at the foot of the bluff, right in the center, and at times there was little level ground beneath our feet. We noticed evidence of a trail every so often, a board here or a post and rail there, but nothing really until we encountered a rotten foot bridge across a gully.

Hiking Between Twin Sisters and the Sentinel

Every so often we could spot fossils in the bluffs, and we'd stop to investigate for a while. We also found a few small caves with some interesting local history connected to them. One in particular we heard about, and just had to keep hiking until we found it. Almost all the way back to the town of Savanna, IL, we finally found and explored the cave called Upton's Cave. A bit about that soon.

Twin Sisters

Twin Sisters at the Palisades

For some reason, the Twin Sisters rock formations were always elusive to us on our many trips to Illinois' Mississippi Palisades State Park. I've tried to find these formations a few times in the past, and each time I've missed them.  I thought I followed every trail, but apparently not.

On this visit in winter, there were no leaves on the trees, allowing us to easily see these towering rocks from a distance.  We spent a bit of time exploring the parts of this park we haven't yet seen. There is a lot more than I initially thought, and some very interesting things to see.

The Other Twin Sister

The Twin Sisters are described as two human-like towers of rock sticking out of the forested bluffs.  Human-like is a bit of a stretch, but they are rather impressive when you stand near them.

Some of the trails leading to and around these formations seem quite old, and as I read a bit of the history on this area, Native Americans created many of these trails while hunting in the area. Of course, they were improved a bit over time for everyday hiking, but one trail in particular leading from the Twin Sisters to Upton's Cave (coming up in the next post) shows little modern improvements.

Evening in Fulton, Illinois

Mighty Mississippi Sunset

The Mark Morris Memorial Bridge spans the Mississippi River between Fulton, Illinois and Clinton, Iowa. Also called the North Bridge, the steel truss glows as the sun sets on a cold, late winter evening. Situated near the center of Fulton's waterfront, Kiwanis Park and the riverwalk offer views of the Mississippi River and the bridge.

Another attraction along the waterfront of Fulton is the Dutch Windmill, called the De Immigrant Windmill. The fully functional 100 foot tall windmill was built in the Netherlands and shipped to Fulton where it was erected by Dutch craftsman. The windmill was dedicated in 2000, and has become one of the most iconic attractions in the area.

Fulton Windmill

The setting sun gave us some interesting color in the sky, as we watched white pelicans fly overhead, looking for a place to rest overnight.

Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve

Apple River Bend

Always on the lookout for new places, we came across Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve, near Hanover, Illinois. Our expectations were to find rock cliffs and bluffs, and we began our hike from a small parking area, and walked the mowed trail for quite some time.

Coming across some interesting hills, a lake, and the Apple River, we kept hiking until the trails ended, and the land ahead proved too flat for bluffs.

Apple River Valley

Not finding any bluffs or rock formations, we still enjoyed the views of the rolling farmland beyond the river and the small lakes. While still in late winter, the area gave off the feeling of springtime, and the flocks of robins and calling blackbirds made it all the more like spring.

This area is open to the public for hiking, fishing, and hunting, but one must double check the hunting schedule prior to visiting. Wandering into a wooded area during hunting season can be dangerous.

At this time of year, we were the only people in sight, no crowds, no noise, and surprisingly, no trash anywhere.

Hiking in Hanover

The Sentinels

Beneath the Sentinels Rising around 180 feet above the Mississippi River, the limestone bluffs called The Sentinels are one of the interesting rock formations of the Mississippi Palisades State Park. Located at the north eastern part of Illinois, right on the Mississippi River, the state park offers sweeping views of the countryside, the river, and nearby Iowa. The park allows rock climbing at times, and it appears to offer some challenging climbs. The Sentinels are two, tall spires of rock, separated from the rest of the bluff about 10 feet, making them free standing, and able to be climbed from different faces. The Sentinels The lines in the limestone show the geologic history of the driftless area of Illinois, the area of northern Illinois spared from the scouring glaciers. The rocks in this area are unusual here, as most everywhere else in northern Illinois they were destroyed during the ice age. Distinct bands toward the bottom contain completely different contents than the rest of the bluff, deposits such as these are of interest to the amateur geologist in our group. climbingsentinelssm
A bit of easy climbing to view the rock deposits and fossils contained in the bluff was in store. This bluff seemed to be crumbling a bit, and was closed to any "real" climbing, but our climbing was limited to the easily accessed areas of the Sentinels bases. Exploring the Sentinels
Some snow and ice was still in place on this cold morning, not what we expected because it was relatively warm over the last few days. But deep in the forest and in shaded areas, ice remained, making the hike to see some of these formations a bit tricky. In all the years we've visited the Mississippi Palisades, we never explored the Sentinels. Most of our visits were during the summer, when trees and leaves blocked the view of the formations, keeping them out of site from us. The bare trees allowed us to see these and investigate them in detail. As with many of the places we frequent, we always notice things we haven't seen before. They may not be as prominent of these, sometimes tiny or hidden, but they always keep us interested, and eager to return.

Rising Above the Mississippi

View Over the Sentinels
Rising up from the usually flat lands of Iowa and Illinois, the bluffs of the Mississippi Palisades State Park offer a unique look back into the geologic history of northern Illinois.  Referred to as the driftless area, this small portion Illinois was spared from the scouring action of the glaciers during the last ice age.  Because the glaciers did not flatten this area, most of the old geology is still visible here, including tall bluffs and rock cliffs.

Situated right next to the Mississippi River, the cliffs offer sweeping views of the mighty river, and the surrounding landscape. And in the winter, the lack of leaves on the trees allows visitors to see a bit more of the view in areas not generally known for good views.

Over the Mississippi

It's interesting to see how the Mississippi River changes the low lying areas around it. Rain, snow, and drought all shape these areas, and it's never been the same on any of my visits. The area is home to countless birds including white pelicans and bald eagles, all commonly seen in the trees across the river.

Mississippi River Wetlands

The lack of leaves on this visit helped us find a rock structure called The Sentinels. The trail up was surprisingly icy in some areas, preventing easy access to the overlook, but we were able to carefully make it to the top where the view was beautifully framed by the surrounding trees.

Cold Night Sky

Friday Night Sky

The weekend began with a cold night in rural LaPorte County, Indiana. On our arrival, we were greeted by a sky full of stars reflecting in the still waters of the lake. If the temperature was a bit warmer, we may have taken the kayaks for a starlight paddle around the lake, but an accidental fall into the water this time of year could be dangerous. By the morning, a thin layer of ice formed on the water, proving just how cold the water still was.

The moon had not risen yet, but the light from the city of LaPorte illuminated the sky near the western horizon. This light, and some of the stars, can't be seen by the naked eye, but they do show up on a relatively long exposure.

In the summer months, the "better" side of the Milky Way is visible here, that should be quite an interesting sight while paddling.