Starved Rock State Park: Winter Edition

When I think of states abundant in natural beauty, Illinois isn’t exactly the first one to come to mind. I mean, don’t get me wrong: we at least have more going for us than say, Nebraska, but I don’t think many people come to Illinois to stand in awe of nature.

Since I moved to Chicago, I’ve known I had to visit Starved Rock State Park, as it’s Illinois’ #1 pretty nature thing (unless you’re really into corn fields). Of course, there was the whole “getting to Starved Rock” issue: it’s about an hour and a half drive to the park from Chicago, give or take, and since I don’t have a car, that obviously was a problem. But when my boyfriend, who does have a car, announced that he wanted to go to Starved Rock — well, that solved that pretty quickly.

(I suppose this is as good of a time as any to explain the abundance of flying pigs I imagine you’ve all noticed recently. I, your favorite perpetually single, unluckiest-in-love-as-they-come, I’m-not-bitter-I’m-just-honest [right, sure, whatever you say, Bethany] blogger, have a boyfriend. Surely the second coming is at hand [anyone? Anyone? Raise your hand if you catch the reference!]. We’ve been together for a little over two months and I’ve been hesitant to blog about it because well, this whole “being in a relationship” thing is brand new to me, and I’m still a little jarred by the fact that it’s a thing, because I really, honestly did not think I’d ever have a boyfriend, and putting it on the blog makes it seem so ~serious~. And I’ve been all, “But what if we break up?! How am I going to break that to my readers, whose day-to-day happiness hinges upon the success and/or failure of my love life??” [Right? I assume that’s the case.] [Although I guess if you all know, I can add you to my army of People Who Will Be Expected to Slash My Boyfriend’s Tires Should He Become an Ex-Boyfriend.] Plus this blog has always been about my life, because, welp, there haven’t really been many other lives to include in it except in passing, so…yeah. And while I have been extremely busy at work, this should help explain why I’ve been so busy in life and not particularly eager to set aside free time to blog.

TL;DR: Bethany has a boyfriend. He may appear on the blog from time to time.)

Anyway.

My boyfriend had gotten a group together interested in going to Starved Rock, and while the original plan was to go in March, we ended up going over Valentine’s Day so give us a better chance of seeing frozen waterfalls and to round out our day with the Winter Wine Walk in Utica, the itty bitty town directly across the Illinois River from Starved Rock. After a slightly harrowing drive (it was CRAZY windy on Valentine’s Day, and wide open fields + snow + highway = less-than-ideal driving conditions), we arrived in Starved Rock a bit before noon.

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After climbing Starved Rock with the hopes of seeing bald eagles (we saw none there, but did see some later!!), we headed into the woods for the 1.3-mile hike to Wildcat Canyon. Most of the hike there was nothing particular to write home about — unsurprisingly, it looked a lot like walking through the woods in winter. BUT THEN.

starved rock state park, illinois, winter

OH. EM. GEE.

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You guys. The whole “frozen waterfall” thing sounded all right to me until we actually got to the bottom of the canyon, at which point my mind was BLOWN. This was SO. COOL.

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Look at that! Look at those scaly formations! And that giant tower of ICE.

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Oh my gosh. If you live in or near Illinois and have access to a car, you MUST go to Starved Rock in the winter. Must, must, must. I wouldn’t usually describe myself as the hiking/outdoorsy type–but this was one bajazillion and a half percent worthwhile. I was absolutely giddy over the scene. Frozen waterfalls!! FROZEN. WATERFALLS.

starved rock state park, winter, frozen waterfall, woods in winter, woods, illinois

Gahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

We ooh-ed and ahh-ed for quite some time, and then headed back to our cars to make the quick trip into Utica for the Winter Wine Walk.

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Now, I will be the first to admit that wine is not my thing. (Okay, fine: alcohol really is not my thing just kind of in general, unless it doesn’t taste like alcohol.) I planned to do the walking portion of the wine walk and abstain entirely from drinking, but since I was there, and there were all these wineries there…I tried some wine. And lo and behold, I found wines that I can tolerate. (Spoiler: none of them taste like wine. Haha.) The Caramel Apple white wine from August Hill Winery in particular was BOMB. I assumed it’d be like all those other things that are called one thing but taste like what they actually are (I’m looking at you, every coffee drink ever), but nope. This legit tasted like caramel apples, and it was delicious.

For whatever reason, I’ve lately found that even toeing the line between tipsy and more-than-tipsy leaves me feeling like absolute crap the next day (what the actual eff. I am 24 years old. I’m not even 24 and a half. I feel like I am WAY too young to have miserable hangovers every. single. time. I have even the tiniest bit more than one drink), so I had no intentions of going crazy on this wine walk, and I definitely did not. Hooray sobriety! Haha. I did, however, go crazy when we came to the one place I had wanted to visit all day:

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Cupcake. Shop. Why on earth a town of 1,400 needs a cupcake shop is beyond me, but I am not at all complaining. I am more than happy to turn down alcohol, but dessert? Never. (Except during Lent.) (Or taper…in theory. Haha.) We walked out with a dozen of these beauties to split among the eight of us on the trip, and my oh my. If the frozen waterfalls didn’t make this trip 100% worth it, these cupcakes certainly did.

To make things simple, we spent the night in Peru (the next town over from Utica) and came back to the city on Sunday morning, but Starved Rock could make a super easy day trip from Chicago as well. It was SUCH a cool place to go visit and made for an awesome weekend :)

Have you ever been to Starved Rock?

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Thursday Things

1. Home stretch, kids. Work has finally begun to settle down, so I think (/hope/pray) that I’ll be able to settle into more of my usual blogging schedule in the next week or so. I’ve had a post I’ve been trying to pull together for awhile about CARA’s 8+2 program, but I’ve been lacking time to do all the research I want to do to put forth an intelligent post. Hope you’re SUPER STOKED for me shoving my opinion down your throats, complete with numbers :P

2. Oh my goodness. I went to Starved Rock this past weekend and it was MINDBLOWING. I was going to ramble on and on about the weekend here, but it was getting overwhelming, so I think I’m going to save that for a post all to itself. More things to look forward to! Are you so excited?! Haha. But here’s a preview to tide you over in the mean time: starvedrock1 3. I need a dentist. I haven’t been to the dentist since July 2013 (oops), so I’m obviously way, way, waaaaay overdue for a cleaning. I sucked it up and got myself dental insurance earlier this year (which is a whole other story. I purchased my dental insurance from BCBS in mid-December for a January start date. BCBS cashed my check, personally called me to verify that the the check was for dental insurance…and then proceeded to not give me dental insurance. I had many choice words for a variety of customer service representatives over the phone back in January when I called [several times…] to figure out why they had taken my money and not given me dental insurance. I cried. I swore [a lot. Double oops.]. I told a customer service rep I planned to send my rotting teeth to BCBS so they could frame them as a constant reminder of the brokenness and ineffectiveness of their system [to be clear: my teeth are not actually rotting, though I do think I have a cavity. Also, I can be a really terrible, really sassy person when I’m upset.]. But after MUCH weeping and gnashing of teeth, BCBS finally got its act together and activated my dental insurance three. months. later. *explodes*), which means I can now afford to go to the dentist. Hooray! Except I don’t have a dentist. So. If you happen to have an out-of-this-world-awesome dentist in the city of Chicago that you OMGLOVE, I’m all ears. I’m particularly looking for someone who won’t pressure me to get my wisdom teeth out just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do.” My dentist back in Michigan never once suggested my wisdom teeth were a problem, and he seemed to have a pretty rational head on his shoulders, so I’d like someone in Chicago who isn’t into strong-arming you into lining your friendly local oral surgeons pockets. One of my dance friends recommended a dentist to me, but he doesn’t accept any insurance (of course), and good heavens, I did not make empty threats to Blue Cross Blue Shield regarding my dental health to start going to a dentist that’s out of network.

Dentist recommendations?
Favorite “natural beauty” place? I’ve been to a pretty decent number of National Parks, and I think Glacier is my favorite. Banff in Canada is also INSANE.

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Thursday Things

1. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been busy and stressed lately, mostly thanks to work (but one big project wraps up tomorrow and another big project wraps up on Monday! Woohoo!). On Friday, I went grocery shopping on my way home from work, as I am apt to do, and I almost burst into happy tears right in the middle of Trader Joe’s.

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TULIPS, YOU GUYS!! TRADER JOE’S HAS TULIPS!!

This made my day/week/month/life. I love tulips. Being Dutch, I think I’m genetically wired to have an affinity for tulips (I don’t actually think that, btw, I’m just using it as a cutesy turn of phrase. It drives me INSANE when people talk about things that are quite obviously and inarguably a result of nurture and treat it as if it were nature — like when someone says a child inherited his mother’s love for country music or her father’s passion for the Blackhawks. No. I’m one billion percent sure that’s not coded into anyone’s DNA and one billion percent sure that’s a result of how the child was raised. /endtangent), and they just make me so happy. They make me think of home and spring and I get so giddy every time I see tulips. When I moved to Chicago two and a half years ago, I told myself I would buy myself a bouquet of flowers from Trader Joe’s every time I wrapped up a major project at work, and I never once followed through on that until last Friday. Best $5 I’ve spent in quite some time.

2. You know how iOS 8 came with Health Kit, which aggregates information from all sorts of apps if you let it, but also does its own tracking of your movement and whatnot? Well. I’ve never put a *whole* lot of stock into the 100% accuracy of my iPhone (or any other device’s) activity tracking, but last Monday took my skepticism to a whole new level.

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In case you’re not super familiar with this interface, according to my iPhone, I walked/ran 35.76 miles on Monday. (What? You slackers didn’t go out and run an ultramarathon post-blizzard? You’re all a bunch of lazy couch potatoes!). For the record, I worked from home that day, which means I moved FAR less than normal. According to my Polar Loop (which has its own inaccuracies, of course, but tends to be more or less accurate-ish), I traveled 2.94 miles last Monday. I think that makes a LOT more sense :P

3. Every now and again over the past couple of months, I’ve been in situations that have required me to get up much earlier than usual on weekdays and led to me needing to kill a fair amount of time before actually starting my commute. On these mornings, I’m always right by a Starbucks (though, really, when are you ever not right by a Starbucks in Chicago?), so I’ve gotten into the habit of buying myself a tea (and, on very rare occasions, a pastry as well), and slowly enjoying it while I check my email/Twitter and/or read the RedEye.

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I’m not about to start getting up 30 minutes early so I can do this every morning (unless someone wants to donate to the Bethany Likes Starbucks Mornings Fund ;) ), but on the mornings when this does happen, I have to say that I enjoy it so much. My mornings are usually frenetic (homegirl likes her sleep, thanks, and will sleep in absolutely as late as possible on weekday mornings), so these Starbucks mornings are such a nice contrast to my normal days.

Do you ever buy yourself flowers?
How do you start your days?

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