One widespread knock in opposition to the Chicago space is that “actual” nature appears far-off. Aside from Lake Michigan — arguably the area’s greatest pure attribute — it’s sprawling suburbs and monotone fields of corn in each course. I’ve subscribed to this concept for years.
Nevertheless it’s not truly true. If you happen to’re in search of nature inside a brief drive of town, as I just lately found, it’s potential to piece collectively a nature-focused itinerary by means of the suburbs north to south, touring from the border with Wisconsin to the border with Indiana. It’s definitely not backcountry, however I used to be stunned at how a lot of the pure world we discovered. There was additionally a giant benefit: bountiful restaurant choices. It made for a weekend that scratched the character itch with out the labor of camp cooking.
Forty-five miles northwest of town, our first cease, Volo Lavatory State Pure Space options “the one open-water quaking bathroom in Illinois,” based on its web site. Briefly, because of this it’s a physique of acidic water largely lined by a floating mat of vegetation. In some locations, the mat is so thick it may possibly assist bushes like tamarack, a kind of larch. In the midst of this floating forest is a small pond of open water, the final remnant of what was a a lot bigger lake earlier than the bathroom took over. It’s known as a quaking bathroom as a result of that’s what occurs to the vegetation while you step on it.
We have been capable of stroll by means of this distinctive ecosystem because of the Volo Lavatory Interpretive Path, a floating boardwalk that wound by means of the park. I loved the open water middle probably the most. It transported me to a distinct place. For a couple of minutes at the very least, bathroom birch, sphagnum moss, highbush blueberry and water lilies changed site visitors, electrical strains, agricultural fields and subdivisions. It was like somewhat outpost of Canada’s boreal forests within the Chicago suburbs. The paths have been even lengthy sufficient that my kids began complaining about all the character they needed to stroll by means of.
After dismissing ticks, we drove a couple of minutes to Fratello’s Sizzling Canines within the city of Volo, the place we feasted on Chicago-style sizzling canines, cheeseburgers and fries that have been good examples of the style. And my strawberry milkshake — with items of minimize up strawberry so massive they clogged my straw — was the proper accompaniment to our household’s relaxed drive to a different wetland, this time a fen, which is an in depth relation to a bathroom.
Clocking in at 43.1 acres, Ferson Creek Fen Nature Protect was a sliver of bird-filled wilderness tucked alongside the Des Plaines River. Maybe due to its diminutive dimension and the truth that it was really a protect (no playgrounds, barbecue grills, water fountains or bogs), it was almost empty. It turned out to be the place the place I lastly understood the distinction between a bathroom and a fen — a bathroom is basically self-contained, however a fen is a wetland into which water flows on at the very least a semiregular foundation.
Out of all of the locations we visited on our weekend journey, Ferson Creek Fen was an amazing instance of the form of discovery you make whereas on a street journey. It was only a fairly slice of untamed alongside the river, with tall cottonwood bushes standing protectively over the wetland, hidden within the plain sight of Chicago’s suburbs.
By the tip of our cease in Ferson Creek, we have been hiked-out and able to loosen up at a campsite. A couple of days earlier than, I had reserved a spot at Goodenow Grove Nature Protect close to Crete, which is a part of south suburban Will County’s Forest Preserves. Only a stone’s throw from the border with Indiana, Goodenow was about 20 miles from town limits. I had by no means camped this near town. I figured we’d test it out and if it wasn’t the character expertise we have been hoping for, we’d simply go to a motel.
Because it turned out, our campsite at Goodenow was top-of-the-line I’ve been to in years, even compared with campsites many hours farther away. It was well-maintained, well-treed and never crowded in any respect, even on Memorial Day weekend — the proper place for pickup soccer with my kids and for lounging in a hammock beneath a cover of oak bushes.
We skipped campfire cooking for dinner at Smokey Jo’s, a hopping restaurant/bar in Crete the place each TV was tuned to the Chicago White Sox recreation. If I squinted whereas consuming my Bada Bing Italian Sausage sandwich, it felt like I might make out the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago within the distance.
The following morning, we have been again in Crete for breakfast at Wooden’s Nook. Pancakes have been the standout. There have been robust negotiations with my daughters as I attempted to persuade them to present me further parts of Dee’s Delight — a mash-up of pancakes, chocolate chips and chocolate syrup — and better of all, cinnamon rolls pancakes, which actually did style like cinnamon rolls in flapjack kind.
It’s a superb factor we ate a lot breakfast at Wooden’s Nook, as a result of we would have liked it at Midewin Nationwide Tallgrass Prairie, a large prairie protect managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Solely 45 miles from town, it’s the largest parcel of prairie within the space, and one which exemplifies the Chicago area’s makes an attempt to recuperate among the wilderness it has misplaced. Previously a munitions manufacturing space, Midewin is slowly being restored to what it was earlier than it turned a part of Chicagoland, a metropolitan space of 10 million folks.
There are nonetheless indicators of Midewin’s former life manufacturing TNT, akin to roads and bunkers, however they’re steadily being taken over by nature. This transition offers the land an deserted really feel. On the similar time, you’ll be able to see the vibrancy of the restoration within the thick fields of prairie, the roaming bison and the intense coloring of the orchard oriole and the blue grosbeak, two birds I’ve by no means seen in my metropolis yard.
On the day of our go to, a warmth wave rolled by means of and our nice, 70-degree excursions at Volo Lavatory and Ferson Creek Fen the day earlier than have been changed by 90-degree hikes by means of tallgrass prairie that was nowhere close to tall sufficient to shade us from the solar. It didn’t assist that we ran out of water. However regardless of being sizzling, thirsty and footsore, it was clear that Midewin was worthy of a return journey.
Our ultimate cease was a basic of the street journey expertise: the native ice cream parlor. Situated in farming nation close to Midewin, Minooka Creamery was the proper cease after two days of mountaineering.
As we ate ice cream on a picnic bench beneath a shade tree, house felt very far-off. I felt contentedly exhausted. I wasn’t certain what we’d do subsequent and couldn’t fairly keep in mind what we had been doing solely hours earlier than. In different phrases, it was a basic disconnect from every day life — the form of trip expertise that normally occurs after days of journey. Because it turned out, “actual” nature wasn’t far-off in any respect. As soon as our ice cream was completed, we piled into our road-trip dirtied minivan and arrived house throughout the hour.