Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Mudflats & Waterfalls of Wildcat Canyon

We've pretty much skipped spring and gone on to summer. I know that because after dark yesterday I could open my car windows while driving and enjoy the wind. Also, a little later, while taking out the trash, I saw the Summer Triangle. Not riding as high as it will be later, but still there in the eastern sky. Closer to home, junebugs are clinging to our window- and door screens. A lot of them, more than during any recent year. Maybe the cold spring energized them somehow.

Illinois is notoriously flat, so anyplace that's not-flat is going to get some attention. So it is with Starved Rock State Park, which despite flooding last weekend, had a lot of visitors, us included. In its pamphlet describing the park, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says: "[There are] 18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles... The park is best known for its rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface."

Ancient sea beds, in other words, acted upon by forces recent in geological terms -- glacial meltwater busting through moraines toward the end of the last Ice Age. Once the glaciers were gone, streams that still flow, fed by snowmelt and rainwater, took over the task of erosion. Did they ever flow while we were there, coursing through solid-looking canyons. But if I understand the lessons of Deep Time, the canyon walls are in motion too. The present shapes will not be there for distant posterity, if any; other, unpredictable shapes will be.

For the geological moment, anyway, what you get at Starved Rock are some fine waterfalls. Such as this one, which was actually one of two crashing down into Wildcat Canyon. The other fall was to the left of the one I photographed, exactly the same height but a little less volume.

The trail led from a boardwalk along the river back to an intensely muddy patch within view of the falls, but not close enough to satisfy the urge to stand (almost) under the falls. So we crossed the mud and came to the edge of the stream created by the falls. Surprisingly, the current wasn't so rapid that we couldn't wade across it to a pebbly flat much closer to the falls, as the knot of people in the photo had done just ahead of us.

The water was cold, but not icy. The mud was soft, but not gooey. The roar of the falls was distinct, but not deafening. Yep, summer's here, complete with mud on my toes and waterfall spray in my face.

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