Canyon Waterfall

DuPage Waterfall

Waterfall Glen forest preserve is known for miles of hiking trails and a popular waterfall almost everyone loves to visit. But that popular waterfall is not what it seems, it's a man-made waterfall built in the 1930s.  The real attraction at Waterfall Glen is the lesser known waterfall (unknown waterfall) referred to as a secret waterfall.

This eight foot high fall is the only natural occurring waterfall in Waterfall Glen - and, reportedly, the only natural waterfall in DuPage County, Illinois. The park does not publicize the actual location of this waterfall, in an attempt to keep it secret and pristine. While locals have visited the area for decades, they've respected the land, and kept the location to themselves.

Hiking the Falls

The creek is quite a distance from the popular hiking trails of the rest of the park, and even farther from any parking area outside the park. I'm looking forward to visiting this waterfall in all seasons, especially winter.

Before you ask - NO, I'll also keep the location of this waterfall a secret.

Sagawau Canyon

Dolomite Canyon

Sagawau Canyon near Lemont, Illinois, is Cook County's only natural canyon, and a protected environment. It's not only a protected area to save the intricate dolomite canyon walls, but the canyon supports some rare and endangered plants and even some wildlife - a micro environment for some interesting life not common anywhere else in Cook County.

Sagawau Canyon Tour

The canyon is open to visitors during scheduled naturalist-led tours, which run periodically from Spring to Fall. The tour lasts about two hours, and touches on the geologic history of the region, as well as the plant and animal life found in the canyon. The tours also stress the importance of walking carefully through the canyon to avoid damaging the rare plants - something I do anywhere I hike, regardless of the plant species.

Sagawau Canyon

While not a strenuous tour, some of the rocks in the canyon are loose and slippery, so it's not unlikely your shoes can get wet, especially after a rain. Wooden stairs lead into the canyon, and natural dolomite stairs lead out, which can be challenging for those who may not be used to climbing steps greater than 14 inches tall.

Sagawau Canyon is certainly a Cook County gem, and well worth the visit. Check their website for canyon tour dates, and stop by to hike the grounds until 4pm daily.

The Restricted Cliffs of Hanover Bluff

The Cliffs of Hanover Bluff

The tall stone cliffs of Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve seen from afar. The area is now restricted, and not open to the public. We wandered around the area for quite some time, looking for an open trail, but were not successful. A DNR officer happened to drive by so we flagged her down and asked about access, and were told the area is no longer open to the public because of fragile and endangered species in the area.

We continued our walk down the dirt road with hopes of seeing some cliffs, and we did find a few.  It seems the outer cliffs were the only ones that could be seen from the public road. Beyond these cliffs, another row of cliffs exists with a flat, low area between them. There was at one time some sort of mining operation in this area, and that may have created the dual bluffs seen today.

As we walked along, we noticed plenty of large birds flying around the bluffs, without worry about any human bothering them.

 The Outer Cliffs of Hanover Bluff

It was pretty disappointing not to be able to explore the area between the bluffs, but at least we did get to wander through the areas that were not restricted, and take in the views of the area below.

Perhaps one day the area will open again to the public.

The View From Hanover Bluff

The SVAD From Hanover Bluff

After a long hard climb to the top of the bluff, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the valley below. No trails led to this open area on top of the wooded bluff, well over 100 feet above the flat Mississippi River valley, but we managed to navigate our way up and find the only clearing on the bluff,

This portion of Hanover Bluff is part of a large wooded series of rolling hills and stone cliffs. Most of this area is restricted, so the public is not allowed to enter. The areas we were initially looking for were clearly marked "Restricted" so we continued until we found an area that was not closed to hiking. While we weren't able to explore the rocky cliffs we came so far to find, we did manage to find an elusive clearing with a great view.

High Above the Mississippi Valley

Below us was the old Savanna Army Depot (SVAD), a sprawling military installation used between 1917 and 2000. Zooming into the images here, you can clearly see dozens of buildings in this installation. Even farther away are farms across the Mississippi River in Iowa.

This area was very difficult for us to reach, the hills were very steep, and at times, we slid down uncontrollably, only to have to climb back up. Ever careful of stepping on plants or small creatures, we slowly made our way up until we reached the clearing.

With every intention of climbing the rolling, wooded hills all the way to the rock cliffs, we headed toward their general direction with no trail or markers to follow. A short distance later, we encountered another "Restricted" sign; this ended our exploration for that particular hike. A future hike in the area is planned, and with any luck, we'll received authorization to explore the restricted areas including the rocky cliffs of Hanover Bluff.

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.

Early Break Up

Break Up

A warm end to February has accelerated the break up of the shelf ice along the shore of Lake Michigan. What is left of the shelf ice, clings to the shore in only about a foot of water, yet the waves keep trying to build more and more ice mounds.

Generally a dangerous and even deadly practice, walking on this ice was safe - the only danger was stepping into about a foot of very cold water. The pounding waves attempt to pile up more ice, but they also tear apart what was previously built. The process is nearly endless until spring.

 Hints of Spring

The waves and cold breeze didn't scare everyone away from the lake, and a couple of people even walked out to the end of the pier as we walked the beach. I'm sure we'll see more cold weather in the coming weeks, but it's doubtful we'll see enough to build more shelf ice.

Crumbling Falls of LaSalle Canyon

Crumbling Falls

With the warm weather lately, the frozen waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park are transforming by the hour.  In some cases, the warm weather can help the icefalls grow, as the snow melts, it sends water down the streams that feed the falls.

Chunks of ice break loose and fall to the ground, then additional water freezes on and around them. In the early winter, this icefall was thin, and the light came through, making a colorful frozen wall hikers could walk behind.  Now, the falls have thickened, blocking out the light, and other pieces have broken off, making this icefall narrow again.

The water that continues to fall over the canyon wall, forms intricate shapes and patterns on the exterior of the frozen ice column. These are often the first parts of the ice to break off, so they must be enjoyed while they last.

Ice Formations

Climbing Tonti Falls

Climbing Tonti

Winter often creates beautiful frozen waterfalls in the canyons of Illinois' Starved Rock State Park, and once they're tall enough to reach the canyon floor, they can often support climbers.  With the supervision of park staff, climbers can take on a variety of ice climbing challenges.

Climbing Tonti Falls

French Canyon and Wildcat Canyon falls are the frozen waterfalls I've seen climbed the most often, but on this warm winter afternoon, the climbers were in Tonti Canyon. This canyon is a lot farther from the visitor's center, so it requires quite a hike to and from, and is less frequently visited by casual hikers.

Of the two falls in Tonti Canyon, only this waterfall was complete and thick enough to climb this year. It's amazing how tall these ice falls are, and how difficult they must be to climb. Not only the physical climb, but keeping your arms above your head for the entire climb, in the cold, with freezing water dripping down constantly.  It could certainly wear out a climber in a matter of minutes.

Reaching for the Top

From the perspective of the climber, a good path to the top of the falls must be much more difficult than it appears to the observer on the ground. Listening to the climber and the support people on the ground, I realized how hard it must be to negotiate the twists and turns of the ice with your face just inches away.

Contemplating the Next Move

Contemplating the next move while supported only by ice axes and crampons, this climber attempts to look up for the best way to the top.

Decending the Falls

Once at the top of the falls, the climbers can rest a bit before their decent down the falls, back to the canyon floor.  The decent seemed a lot easier, yet one must be careful of falling ice, and dropping to the ground too quickly.

The past two days have seen temperatures above 50 degrees, so these falls are most likely history, but another week or so of cold weather can create more of these interesting ice falls.

Wintering Eagles

American Bald Eagle
On our latest trip through the canyons of Starved Rock State Park, we encountered a few American Bald Eagles along the river trail. This area is known as a winter spot for eagles - the dam across the Illinois River prevents ice from forming on the water in this area, allowing the eagles to fish all winter long.

The recent warm weather has opened up quite a bit more of the river, so the eagles were not as concentrated in this area as they were earlier in the winter.  At times, I've seen 30 eagles on the trees of Plumb Island, just out of reach of most cameras. Occasionally, as they fish, they come close enough to photograph and view. They also rest in the trees away from the busy hiking trails.


I was rather surprised at how few hikers noticed this eagle resting in the nearby trees, but then, most people in this area were hiking the canyons, not looking to photograph or view eagles.  The bird watchers normally congregate on the Starved Rock bluff, or other viewing decks, so we had a perfect viewing area to ourselves.

A Blanket of Snow

Blanket of Snow

The Chicago area was hit with a snowstorm yesterday. While it certainly wasn't a record setting blizzard, it did dump around 12 inches of snow in my suburb. This storm only brought snow, no wind, so the snow fell upon everything evenly, and it also built up on objects creating interesting visuals all around us.

A cherub statue on a bench appeared to be wrapped in a blanket - a blanket of snow. The bench itself is about 18 inches tall, giving an idea of how much snow fell around the garden.

Snow Capped

A birdhouse made by my son many years ago, sits in one of the trees in our yard. It collected a cone of snow on the roof that measures more than the birdhouse itself. The birds might just feel a bit warmer with the added insulation on the roof.

Dripping Sand

Dripping Sand

Our hike on the beach of Mt. Baldy in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore introduced us to an interesting thing. The snow that fell earlier in the morning was moved by dripping sand.  Something that happens everyday along the dunes, small amounts of sand loses its grip and slides down the steep sides of the dunes.  Normally, the sand either goes unnoticed, or forms a slight line in the sand as it falls down the dune.

The sand kept falling, but as it did, it moved the fresh snow along with it, acting like tiny plows as it moved on toward the beach.

These lines echo the lines of the branches of the bare trees just above, growing on the dune and enduring yet another harsh winter on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Breaking Through

These dunes are relatively protected in winter, by mounds of shelf ice.  The high waves can't reach the dunes if they're blocked by this ice.  But as the temperature fluctuates, the ice weakens, and the waves increase, causing some of the ice mounds to crumble, making possible for the waves to reach beyond the shelf ice.

Ever changing, these mounds may collapse further if the warm weather continues, or, they may build stronger if the temperatures drop.  We'll see on our next visit.

The Winter Beach

The Winter Beach

A visit to Mt. Baldy on a warm winter afternoon was on the schedule after a morning of ice fishing on a small lake nearby. Temperatures in the upper 30's made this hike comfortable, if not a bit too hot dressed in winter gear - my coat was open the entire time.

Closed for two or three years, Mt. Baldy opened again last year, with a new path to the beach, avoiding the potentially dangerous parts of the main dune.  We noticed the new trail was being taken over by erosion as well.  A good part of the approach to the beach was missing, making the hike down to the beach a bit difficult.  In winter, the sand freezes, so it does not allow your feet to sink in, and the steep angle requires you to slide down the last 10 feet.

Ice Mounds

The views from the top of the dune are great, especially with the drift ice floating in Lake Michigan. The Michigan City lighthouse could be seen in the distance, beyond the mounds of shelf ice on the shore. Winds were blowing out toward the lake, so much of the ice drifted out away from shore. As soon as the winds shift back to normal, the ice will pack against the shore once again, creating more and more shelf ice.

Shelf ice is made up of these chunks packed together and piled up by the crashing waves, it's not solid. These variations create an unstable mound of ice that appears strong, but in reality, is quite fragile and inconsistent.

Shelf Ice Detail

The action of the waves creates mounds much like volcanoes, with holes through the center. These holes are often covered over by a thin layer of snow, creating hidden dangers for those who walk on the ice mounds. These holes, cracks, and other inconsistencies can potentially lead to death should one fall into them.

Visiting the winter shore is quite interesting, but one must remember to remain on solid ground at all times, and resist the urge to climb the shelf ice.

Winter Night on Lake Michigan

Chicago Lights

An unusually warm night for January, allowed us to explore the winter shore in relative comfort, despite the high winds which played havoc with long exposure photography. The trees moved, the camera moved, everything moved during the 4 second exposures.

During our hour or two visit, we didn't see or hear another person anywhere, not even passing on the road nearby. This is not unusual for a cold, winter visit, but this evening was right around 32 degrees, I expected to see a few people on the beach.

Plenty of footprints lead from the viewing area to the beach, and then onto the mounds of shelf ice.  Large cracks and hole can be seen in this ice, and especially with the high winds creating waves, the mounds can break off and roll into the freezing cold water. 

Winter Night

The yellow light pollution from the city of Chicago, some 40 miles away, illuminated the sky, making the horizon look almost like sunset, but looking up a bit, the stars can be seen.  The evening began cloudy, then as we explored the shore, the clouds rolled out a bit, exposing the stars over Lake Michigan.

The warm weather is expected for a couple of days, then back to the cold again.  Time will tell how the changes in temperature, wind speed and direction will affect the mounds of shelf ice along the shore. Generally, these changes create much more interesting shapes and mounds - I'll certainly visit again soon to see for myself.