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.)
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.
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.
OH. EM. GEE.
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.
Look at that! Look at those scaly formations! And that giant tower of ICE.
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.
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.
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:
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?