This last weekend, I had the bright idea of heading down to Starved Rock State Park, camping the night and doing some canyon hiking. Unfortunately, many many other people had the same idea – their ENORMOUS parking lot was filled to capacity, with overflow lots parked up as well. Completely not what I had in mind, so I turned around and drove out, really disappointed.
I decided to make the most of it and check out a few other state parks, as they were on the way home anyway. I also swung by to take a look at a farm for sale – 40 acres and a mule, a dream long held that I am going to make happen sooner rather than later. I drove to the other parks but they were either crowded or didn’t have much going for them, beyond offering space for people to park their camper trailers. Not really my scene, at least not what I was in the mood for.
In the spirit of trying stuff, I did get to do is to finally hike the Effigy Tumuli Trail located in Buffalo Rock State Park – this is a path that takes in the earthworks created by Michael Heizer in the early 80’s, to reclaim land used for mining (and also by a religious sect for camp meetings, and later a a tuberculosis sanatorium). Heizer created five abstract animal forms (a snake, catfish, turtle, frog, and a water strider) reminiscent of Indian mounds that can be found throughout the Midwest. I’ve wanted to hike this trail for many years, but the other 2 opportunities found the path closed.
I was expecting to stroll the path, orient myself to the earthworks, and see them maybe from a tall observation point. Instead, the gravel path wends its way through the earthworks, which are now overgrown with grasses, trees, and small bushes. It’s pretty obvious where the mounds are, though it’s not obvious what one is looking at.
At this point, it’s reminiscent of a links-style golf course, with undulating grassy mounds. Many of the descriptive signs are gone, taken by vandals or perhaps art collectors, so even the educational aspect has been lessened with time. I will say it is a beautiful area, with gorgeous views of the Illinois River and a calming path to walk. It really isn’t the best way to see the earthworks, however – for that you need a plane.
Buffalo Rock State Park is located approximately 3 miles west of Ottawa in LaSalle County, around 90 minutes or so from Chicago. It’s worth a visit (especially if you’re headed for Starved Rock) to hike the paths, have a picnic overlooking the river, and check out the pair of buffalo who make a park enclosure their home.