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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wading the River at Apple River Canyon State Park

I just got back from a two day getaway to nearby Apple River Canyon State Park which is only half an hour east of Galena in Illinois.  The Country Thunder crowds descended on our little town of Twin Lakes starting Wednesday night and by noon on Thursday I finally escaped after two near-accidents within a mile of my house.  Tourists!

Once a stop on the stage route from Chicago to the lead mining town of Galena, nothing remains of the town that used to be here. Millville took advantage of the Apple River's power with its two sawmills and had a population at one point of 330 people.  In 1854 the railroad was built 4 miles away and in 1892 a flood washed out the dam and drove out the remaining population.

The area wasn't flattened by the glaciers like most of Illinois and Jo Daviess County's terrain is rugged and beautiful, including the limestone, dolomite and shale deposits that line the canyon walls.  Plants and lichens grow in the cracks, including the rare Bird's Eye Primrose which appears in April along with other spring wildflowers.  Hopefully I'll remember to come back next spring!

As fascinated with lichen as I am?  Check out this link to a lichen group on Flickr with its 122 pages!  Crusty yellow lichen was the most common on the rock, but there was also a lot of what I first mistook for a lichen that turns out might be liverwort instead.  So much to know out there in the natural world!

Liverworts are true plants but instead of anchoring themselves with roots they have rhizomes on their underside.  When I pulled one to look underneath (I do this all the time with lichens to help with identification) it resisted a little and then let go much like velcro does.

Walking in the river in my Keens I even followed a frog as it swam away from the cliff's edge and tried to hide by blending with the river bottom.

After exploring the river and one of the short hiking loops that went up the bluff I headed back to my campsite, satisfied after finally getting some challenging exercise for the first time in a week.  Unlike this treasure, my county was flattened by the glacier and it's been too hot to run.

Much more relaxing than the crowds descending on my neighborhood this weekend

Illinois state parks do not require a permit like Wisconsin, and the non electric sites are only $8.00!  They are large and well spaced, but even though they had a dump station there were only vault toilets (incredibly clean ones!) and no showers.  I threw on running shorts and took a dip in the river to rinse off the sweat and dust, just like I did in Lake Superior.

Crayfish shared my bathing pool, can you find all three?

The park was only about two thirds full when I left this morning and all the campers were unusually quiet for a Friday night, perhaps because alcohol is prohibited at Illinois state parks and there is no other entertainment nearby so true nature seekers are most likely all that stay here.  What else was missing?  Biting insects!  Not a single mosquito landed on me, not even when I sat in my camp chair, something I haven't been able to do yet this year.  It was wonderful to read outside of my tent for a change, and the only insect that visited me was this tiny fly that looked like a cross between a mosquito and the world's smallest poodle.  He wasn't a biter, and therefore I tolerated his presence when he kept returning.  Anyone know what it is?

Swallows had their nests built on the underside of the bridge, so maybe they help keep the mosquitoes down, but I also didn't see any swampy spots or ponds nearby.

The light in the morning hit the wall for a short time and I got there just in time to see it after my hike.  Then I was ready to take on Galena before the weekend crowd descended.  Believe it or not it was a shopping list I had for Galena Garlic that brought me out to begin with!  More about the hiking and other tidbits to follow.

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