The 275-acre Wauponsee Glacial Trail was acquired between 2004 and 2016.
Prior to the District’s acquisition of the land, it was two abandoned railroads: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific from Joliet to Manhattan and the Wabash/Norfolk Southern from Manhattan to Custer Park.
The Wauponsee Glacial Trail is a 22.42-mile paved/crushed limestone linear trail consisting of two segments.
The northern segment of the trail travels 2.80 miles from Sugar Creek Preserve north to Rowell Avenue in Joliet. This flat, paved segment of the trail travels through woodland, prairie and wetland.
The southern segment of the trail extends an additional 19.62 miles from Sugar Creek Preserve south to the Kankakee River. This flat, crushed limestone segment of the trail travels through prairie. It is ideal for the following activities:
You will cross bridges and you might even see some wild turkeys…
Part of the I&M Canal National Heritage Area, the Gaylord Donnelley Trail will take you from Lockport to Joliet. Lockport and Joliet were two of the most influential Illinois cities of the 19th and 20th centuries. On this eleven mile trail you will explore canal ruins, a closed amusement park, the old Joliet prison and the ruins of the Joliet Iron Works.
A Bit of History
On its completion, the I&M Canal created a new transportation corridor. By connecting the waters of the Illinois River with those of Lake Michigan, a vast all-water route connected widely scattered sections of the United States, specifically the Northwest, South and East. Travelers from the eastern U.S. took the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York, where steamboats brought them through the Great Lakes to Chicago. Transferring to canal boats, a 96-mile trip on the I&M Canal brought them to LaSalle/Peru. Here people boarded river steamers bound for St. Louis and New Orleans. The canal opened the floodgates to an influx of new commodities, new people and new ideas.
The I&M Canal, and the railroad and highway connections that soon paralleled its path between Chicago and LaSalle/Peru, became the great passageway to the American West. The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 made Chicago and northern Illinois the key crossroads of the American mid-continent. The opening of the canal heralded a new era in trade and travel for the entire nation. The I&M Canal allowed travelers the option of taking an all-water route from New York Harbor to Chicago, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri and even to New Orleans, Louisiana. This water highway provided a mud and dust-free alternative to overland travel. Passengers increasingly chose the all water route to the West, bypassing the Ohio River route. Freight could go from St. Louis to New York in 12 days via the I&M Canal and the Great Lakes, while the Ohio River route might take 30-40 days.
Although a bit west of what is considered the tradition Midwest, Petrified Forest National Park is an American national park in Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona. Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, park covers about 230 square miles, encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands.
The Petrified Forest is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch. The sediments containing the fossil logs are part of the widespread and colorful Chinle Formation, from which the Painted Desert gets its name.
The park’s seven maintained hiking trails, some paved, vary in length from less than 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to nearly 3 miles. These named trails are Painted Desert Rim, Puerco Pueblo, Blue Mesa, Crystal Forest, Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House. Hikers and backpackers may also visit the park’s wilderness areas.
Panorama of shortgrass prairie near Dry Wash in the southern section of the park.
Some of the larger animals roaming the grasslands include pronghorns, black-tailed jackrabbits (hares), Gunnison’s prairie dogs, coyotes, bobcats and foxes. Bobcats and bullsnakes hunt smaller animals, such as deer mice and white-tailed antelope squirrels in the park’s riparian zones. More than 16 kinds of lizards and snakes live in various habitats in the park.
The Lost Mine Trailhead is on Basin Junction Road near the Chisos Basin Campground. The parking area is small (about 15 cars), so it’s a good idea to get there early. In case you’re wondering, 9:30am is not early. There were no spots, but we found another tiny lot about a quarter-mile east and road-hiked back to the trailhead. The mileage on this hike includes that extra distance, but the coordinates represent the actual trailhead.
Your mileage may vary.
As on our South Rim Loop hike (read here), we were starting in the shadow of Casa Grande Peak; this time to the east of that majestic alp. We started off uphill directly into the blinding morning sun. The temperature was hovering around 50°F, and the sky was a brilliant azure broken only occasionally by a fluffy white cloud. The first hundred yards or so was paved, but the trail soon turned to gravely dirt and began to narrow. We were hiking into the same autumn-colored forest that we had enjoyed a few days before. Casa Grande again peeked over a mottled sea of red, orange, and brown.
After gaining some altitude, we we were able to look west through The Window and see the rumpled Texas desert stretching off to the horizon. The higher we climbed, the better the view. Soon we were getting views to the south as well, down into Boot Canyon. Twisting and turning, we wound our way east toward Lost Mine Peak. The countryside was stunning; much more open than the South Rim Loop (the rim itself being a noteworthy exception, with some of the most expansive views we’ve ever seen). Still, this climb was a delight; at every turn in the trail we had a different vista to view.
We were headed in the direction of the Lost Mine Peak, but we would not gain that summit. We found it a little peculiar that the Lost Mine Trail doesn’t go up Lost Mine Mountain. The trail instead eventually turns south and culminates on a rocky bald about three-quarters of a mile southwest of that peak. Legend has it that somewhere near the summit of the Lost Mine Mountain was a particularly lucrative gold mine run by Spanish explorers. So protective were the Spanish of their find that they made the miners (usually life-term prisoners) wear blindfolds as they marched to work from their barracks. The legend holds that a band of indigenous people of the Comanche Tribe, resentful of the European invaders, slaughtered the Spaniards, leaving no man alive who knew the location of the mine. No one has been able to find it since. Curiously, the legend also states that if, on Easter morning, one stands at the former location of the door to San Vicente’s mission (sixteen miles to the southeast on the Rio Grande), the sun’s first rays will fall on the mine’s entrance. For our part, we couldn’t have cared less about gold, except for that which gilded the leaves of nearby trees; our coffers were full to the brim with sunlight, fresh air, and magnificent views. We were rich.
We continued to climb, and eventually we were high enough that we were looking over some lesser peaks to the landscape beyond. A mile and a half into our ascent, we reached a series of intense switchbacks. The next mile would be a dusty back and forth to the apex of our hike, alternately looking up a wooded incline or out over the valley to Casa Grande. Due west was The Window and miles of Texas desert beyond. Immediately below us, we could see Chisos Basin and the Basin Junction threading its way through the sage and brown countryside. We bent to our task.
Leaving the switchbacks behind, we emerged onto a spacious, rounded bald. Here, the view truly opened up. The trail followed a ridge toward a large rock formation to the south. Other hikers were milling around, snapping photos, and chatting. Small children buzzed about, climbing on the boulders that were scattered around the ridge. The general consensus seemed to be that this was the end of the line. It was not. The trail dipped into a shallow draw and climbed back toward the distant rock formation. We continued on, determined to tramp every foot of trail available. Focused on the jumble of massive boulders ahead, we hiked on, now virtually alone.
The once Historic Route 66, of the most famous roads in the United States that ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona and ended in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covered a total of 2,448 miles. It has always been iconic for roadside stops….dinners…antiquing…and many historical sites. Although it longer exists, you can still “get your kicks” on the path it took through the United States on other highways and roads. In this series, I will highlight the many places you can stop to explore nature along this route….focusing on spots in the Midwest. Looking for more stops….check out this guide.
The Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri’s only national forest, encompasses roughly 1.5 million acres, mostly within the Ozark Highlands. Located across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, the Ozark Highlands are an ancient landscape characterized by large permanent springs, over 5,000 caves, rocky barren glades, old volcanic mountains and nationally recognized streams. Portions of the Ozarks were never under oceans, nor were the areas glaciated.is a U.S. National Forest located in the southern half of Missouri. It was established on September 11, 1939. It is named for author Mark Twain, a Missouri native. The park covers 3,068,800 acres with abundant Wilderness and Wildlife and a National Scenic River area. This huge park spans 29 counties and represents 11% of all forested land in Missouri.
Some unique features of the Mark Twain include Greer Spring, which is the largest spring on National Forest land and part of the Eleven Point National Scenic River, and pumps an average of 214 million gallons of water per day into the river. The public can also visit the Glade Top Trail National Scenic Byway, which offers views of over 30 miles to the Boston Mountains in Arkansas. The 350-mile Ozark Trail system winds through much of the National Forest.
Wilderness Areas The park has 9 Wilderness areas to explore
Devil’s Lake State Park is located in Baraboo, Wisconsin and is Wisconsin’s most popular state park with about 3 million visitors per year. The over 9,000 acre park anchors more than 27,000 acres of parkland and natural areas.
A great place to start – The Nature Center. A three-dimensional landform model of the park will bring the park terrain into sight from a bird’s-eye view. A series of panoramas make clear the formation of the valley, once 1,000 feet deep, now half-filled with rock and sediment and topped by the 50-foot-deep Devil’s Lake. Hands-on items include various bones, furs, shells, and rocks.
There is a lot to keep you busy at Devil’s Lake State Park! Devil’s Lake has 2 large, sandy, beaches, large picnic areas with charcoal grills, reservable and non-reservable shelters and over 29 miles of hiking & mountain bike trails. Concessions offer kayak, canoe and paddleboat and stand-up board rentals as well. Local Outfitters provide rock climbing and bouldering instruction as well as guided backcountry hikes & step on guide services.
Devil’s Lake State Park is known for it’s amazing rock formations and expansive vistas from the top of the Baraboo Bluffs! If this is what you’re looking for and you only have time for one trail, we recommend the East Bluff Trail. Plan for 3 – 4 hours.
If you’re looking for a flat trail, there are paved paths that go through the beach areas on the both sides of the lake near the beaches. The best flat trail options are the Tumbled Rocks trail along the bottom of the West Bluff or the Grottos Trail on the South Shore.
Only 112 miles away from SFO, Pinnacles National Park is currently the closest national park to the SF Bay Area (if you exclude national monuments and seashores…looking at you, Muir Woods and Point Reyes). Although some might say that it doesn’t have the same wow factor as Yosemite, the second closest national park to the Bay Area, Pinnacles is a different type of stunning—one filled with epic stone formations, condors, caves and more.
We camped at Pinnacles Campground (Site 62, Loop C) on the last weekend of February 2020. Weather was perfect with highs in the upper 60s and lows in the upper 40s. We were lucky with how enclosed and unique our campsite was. We had tree stumps, trees and green plants surrounding the entirety of our space. At night, we fell asleep to frogs croaking. In the morning, we woke up to birds chirping.
The next day, we woke up excited to hike the Condor Gulch trail to High Peaks trail loop. We made our breakfast and lunch sandwiches, packed up and headed into the park, which was conveniently right next to the campground – big perk of camping! 🙂
Here are our highlights at Pinnacles:
1.) Cool rock formations
This is what Pinnacles is known for. Have you ever seen anything like this? According to nps.gov, the formation of these rocks came to be from multiple volcanoes about 23 million years ago. Beautiful!
2.) Holes in the rock walls
Whether they were man-made or natural, the rock holes made for cool photos and memorable surprises throughout the hike.
The California condor was once extinct in the wild in 1987. All existing condors at the time were captured in efforts to prevent the bird from going extinct. After years of captive breeding at the San Diego Zoo and Los Angeles Zoo, condors were reintroduced into the wild in 1991. Mario and I had the pleasure of learning about this species when we visited the San Diego Zoo in December 2018!
All the condors we saw at Pinnacles had a tag clipped on their wing, which I assume helps rangers/endangered species specialists keep track of them. Some were flying high above the peaks of Pinnacles, scouting for prey. Others were resting at the peaks.
Pinnacles is a pretty dry, rocky area with greenery scattered here and there. We did not expect to see a reservoir near the end of our hike so it was a “WoWoWOWowOw” moment when we saw it. As you can see from the photo, it’s a fantastic spot to take a break and relax.
Another cool thing was that there was a park ranger hanging out next to the reservoir, explaining the history and ecosystem of the reservoir.
5.) Rocks balancing on/between rocks
You will see tons of rocks balancing on each other when you enter the caves. It’s crazy that they don’t just fall, but that’s the amazing thing about it!
These caves looked like they were built by rocks falling on top of each other. It was a tight squeeze walking through the caves, especially with all the little kiddos scurrying around and having a blast exploring the caves. To get a sense of how tight it was, sometimes we stood on the side to wait for others to go up and, at other times, people would stand on the side and wait for us to go down.
Bring a headlight if you can! We did not prepare ahead so we just used our phone light, which also worked. Also, be careful when stepping on piles of small rocks here because you might slip and fall on your butt like I did. 😛
7.) Woodpeckers + additional bird watching
Look at all these holes drilled by woodpeckers! We were lucky enough to see this phenomenon all around our campsite—not many other campsites had tree stumps like we did. Not sure if the woodpeckers kept their acorn in the holes or if another animal decided to repurpose the holes, but, as you can see in the photo above, many holes were filled with acorns or some variety of tree nuts.
We also spotted a hummingbird, crows, tiny brown birds that we do not know the name of and, of course, condors! As we spend more time in nature, I am sure we will grow our lacking bird knowledge. 😛
We drove to Pinnacles National Park with no expectation and came out loving every bit of it—definitely will be coming back for more adventures.