Monday, September 27, 2010

Matthiessen State Park - 9.25.10 - Post 1/2

In a little, tiny town called Utica, Illinois, there are two state parks.  One is the very well known Starved Rock, the other is Matthiessen State Park.  A group I belong to had a trip to Matthiessen planned, so I figured it would be a great chance to go shoot a site that's over two hours away and not have to make that drive on my own.

Which... worked up to a point.  I didn't have to make the drive on my own, but I remembered what happened the last time I had this thought (go with the group so I'm not out in BFE on my own)... I get highly annoyed at how fast everyone moves; I really do better when I go shooting on my own or with another photographer who understands 'move slowly and quietly'.  I mentioned something to the group leader about not wanting to sprint through the park, and she said we wouldn't be, but um... yeah we were.  And I don't mean that even from a photographer's standpoint.  Even if I'd left my camera in my car, I'd feel this group was trying to make land speed records.

Nevermind the fact that I was actually trying to take a few pictures.

Not helping at all is that this is a split-level park - there's an upper dells and lower dells section, which means there's a lot of stairs.  It's not like you go down, stay down and then come up and stay up.  You're up and down all over the place.  At one point we did 148 stairs consecutively (according to the signage).  That's roughly the same as going up (yeah, this was 148 stairs UP) 14 floors of a tall building.  Did I mention that my asthma deals with hiking across all kinds of land, but really, really hates doing stairs?  Ugh.

Overall, for this time of year and for a Saturday and for the the kind of photography I do, I'd give this park a D.  It's very, very busy.  Which means there are no animals anywhere you can see.  I heard some birds - I'm quite sure one was an owl - but other than the occasional blur streaking across the sky, I didn't see one animal.  We're also just far enough into fall to be at that awkward place where the interesting flowering plants are pretty well gone, but the really spectacular leaves haven't come in yet.  So ... it was pretty boring photographically speaking.

Between trying to break the four-minute-mile and there not being much to see, I only shot about 2 gigs of photos.  Comparatively, I hiked a place I wasn't ridiculously keen on last week (photos will get up eventually) where even though I was still in the middle of urban civilization, there were enough animals and flowers that I took about 10 gigs of photos in the same amount of time.

There were a lot of people in the woods that day.  A lot of kids and a lot of families with dogs.  So, again, no chance the wildlife was going to stick around.

I shot this sign when I was in the parking lot, waiting, just to test the equipment.  I find it kind of funny now...

See rule 4?  My initial reaction was, "Seriously?  Who's going to go wading in a forest lake?"  Well, we got up to the "Wishing Well" part of the park and there was a lagoon that was very, very low.  Which left a muddy bank from about five feet up the rock wall into the lagoon, which (judging by the dog swimming and playing in it) had to be at least four feet deep.  There were a couple of kids running up the bank and sliding down the mud into the water on their butts.  At first I kind of gave their dads a dirty look, like, "It's 60 degrees and I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to let your kids play in the water."  (Not that I'd ever say as much, but I thought it).

And then I realized that thirty years ago, my brother and I would have been doing *exactly* that same thing.  My father would have been encouraging it while my mother stood to the side hoping there wasn't a stick popping up out of the mud that we'd snag on or a sharp rock on the bottom that we'd cut ourselves on (but not disallowing it or freaking out over what sliding in all that mud would be doing to our clothes.)

Speaking of signage, this one, from the auxiliary parking lot kind of cracks me up:
Don't get the impression this sign is old, but a.) it doesn't list 911 as an emergency number and b.) it doesn't give the area code.  And we were pretty far out in nowhere-Illinois, and I really don't know what the area code is out there.  I'm thinking we were too far south to be in 815 any more.  So my cellphone, which requires 10-digit dialing, would have been problematic.

I do want to try the place again in the spring or summer and preferably on a weekday when it's apt to be less crowded and have more interesting flora and fauna visible.

But, all that said, I did get a few interesting shots.

Long Lake
 Water is an integral feature of the park.  Largely, it's based on a canyon (hence the hiking back up 14 flights) that is carved by running water, much the same way the Grand Canyon was carved (only on a much, much smaller scale.)  This is one of the lakes that still had water.  You can see that some of the trees (but not many) are starting to change.  I really like looking at the reflections in water pictures.  It shows how still the water is now.

Carved Cavern in the Canyon
The canyon, I'm told, has an actual river running through it in the spring, but by the fall it's pretty dry and the water that is there is pretty still.  But you can still see the way the sandstone has eaten away the walls of the canyon and left caverns in them.
Rainbowed Cavern
To the right of this picture is where the kids were playing in the mud.  Despite their splashing and sliding, the water flattened quickly, the ripples didn't travel far.  I wonder if that has anything to do with the lime in the water.  I like this shot because of the different deposit layers and micro-flora layers on the rocks.  In the back you can see oranges and reds and purples from the sediments in the water and on the left you can see blues and greens from lichens and mosses and other 'air plants' like small ferns.

Crack in the Canyon
Here's one wall in the canyon with a grove cut in it.  I'm sure that when it rains hard enough, there's a fantastic waterfall here.  There are trees sticking out of the rocks all over the place in this park.  Sometimes gravity wins and the tree gets pulled down.  In certain places they create bridges that I'm sure the squirrels and such love.  In other places you just have these tree trunks hanging off the side of the cliff, their roots still holding them up even though the tree wasn't alive any more.
Quiet Creek
Here's the trickle of river that remains this season.  The water is brown from tannin in some of the plants and their parts (like acorns) falling in it.  It's not just muddy.  Even the clearer pools were usually gold or brown in color from this.
Sandstone Erodes
 Sandstone layers and small caverns. 
Sulphur Shelf Spots
One bright spot of color that I did find were a few samples of this orange fungus.  This is called a "Sulphur Shelf" fungus, and is apparently edible.  No thanks.  It's pretty though.

We Don't Need to Put Down Roots
A lot of the rocks had plants growing on or out of them.  I'm not sure what those long finger-looking plants are.  They have the texture of a regular leaf, but they seem to creep and grow like a lichen or moss.
Rocks Reflect
Another reflection.  You can see how still the water is as well as how dark the tannins make it.

Okay, I have one more post for this hike - not nearly as many as I would have liked to have had, but I think we're hitting that place where I need to resign myself to the fact that we're heading into that season where nature shooting gets a little bit harder.

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