For our weekly followers who have been losing sleep worrying about our safety and survival at the stormy conclusion of our last post, you can relax. The weather was horrendous with bouts of torrential rain, but fortunately no hail or tornadoes. We made it, and the posts go on. After driving past seemingly endless fields of corn and wind turbines, we entered the state of Illinois and arrived at our destination, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Our goal was to learn about what the land here looked like before it was taken over by farming. The center is a work in progress, with several small sections of painstakingly restored prairie completed or in progress.
We discovered that the original prairie in this area was not just grass, but was a mixture of numerous plant types, many of them flowering plants. In fact, many of the flowers we now buy at garden centers to plant in our yards are hybrids of these oringinal strains.
We learned to avoid touching the wild parsnip, an invasive species from Europe which has a toxic oil that can burn skin when exposed to sunlight. Trust us, we stayed far clear.
There it is, the tall plant just left of center.
The facility has a small herd of buffalo, in keeping with the goal of recreating the original ecosystem. These majestic animals were not visible during our visit, and we had to settle for watching them on a video monitor in the visitor center. You, dear reader, have to settle for even less: a blurry picture of the video!
The next morning dawned sunny and clear, a great day to take a bike ride on the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail. The trail is approximately 77 miles long; we rode a short 10 mile segment from Morris to Seneca. This is a crushed limestone trail that uses the towpath from the abandoned canal, and therefore is quite flat. In its heyday the canal was once part of the important water link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and hence to the Gulf of Mexico, but now is mainly filled in with sediment and vegetation such as these grasses. You can see a section of the path on the right.
Along the way we rode under this beautifully designed unusual wooden suspension bridge.
In northern Illinois, about an hour south of Chicago, is a unique area of lakes. Current town names like Coal City and Carbon Hill hint at the past use of this land. Strip miners followed seams of coal in curvilinear paths, often connected. When the mines were depleted and abandoned, mother nature took over and the open trenches filled with water, producing multiple lakes. You can see the pattern on this Google map.
Over time, weekend and year-round homes were built on the shores of the larger lakes. Truly a case of an unfortunate byproduct turning into a beautiful area for living and recreation.
Not a bad place to enjoy a morning cup of coffee. With a feline friend, of course!
After this wonderful relaxing time in the quiet countryside, we are ready for a change of pace. We are off to Ohio for a highly-anticipated visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which will be the topic of a future post.