This past weekend my mom and I decided to travel an hour or so west and visit our nearest state park, Turkey Run, for the first time. I’d never even been out that way – it was very near the Illinois border and I didn’t know anything about the geography of the region or what to expect. To be truthful, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought it would be lots of meadow trails, shadowed and bordered by fringe woodlands – kind of what it’s like near where I live. We picked up the obligatory trail map and set off on an adventure!
And boy, nothing prepared me for what we saw! I couldn’t believe that such a dramatic landscape existed just an hour from home! It felt like we had been transported to another dimension or as if we’d been pulled back in time to an era where the ice age was just melting off and leaving behind a forest in its receding puddles.
In fact, that’s exactly what this park is – a remnant of a long-ago ancient time. The area is basically an interconnected maze of sandstone ravines carved out by water and ice. Sugar Creek runs through the park and trickles through side streams and along the beds of the cliffs.
Hidden in the clefts of the walls and along the ravines are stands of hemlocks! Once covering the state, these precious trees are now all that remain of the ice-age forests. The climate change after the ice-age caused greater extremes in temperature throughout most of the area, but these trees still thrive in the cool summer and warm winter temperatures afforded by the protection of the sandstone ledges. Oh, it was incredible to see them.
One of the other trails we hiked went through Rocky Hollow. It was another extension of the sandstone cliffs that fill this area. After descending some stairs, you find yourself at the base of the mossy, craggy stone. A nearby sign said “While the surrounding landscape continues to change, Rocky Hollow remembers dark evergreen forests and mastadons.” Doesn’t that just thrill your soul?
We learned that 50% of the state’s byrophyte species can be found in these ravines. Some are only found here. Beautiful mosses and ferns dripped off every surface. Oh happy, happy day!
The trail meanders along the stream bed, gets dicey when it wanders through the stream bed via rocks and branches, and then hits “rugged” status when it disappears up the waterfall. Yep, that’s right – you have to climb up the sandstone pilings by clinging to the edges and inching along, hoping you don’t slip on the wet stone and land in the river which is now cascading downwards. In some areas we had barely 2 inches to scoot across. Having an intense paranoia of getting wet, this was not a fun experience, but it was manageable and I didn’t end up in the water. This was probably the best time of the year to visit, when temps are warmer and we haven’t had rain in a while so the water levels are down. I remember a couple springs ago when we had heavy rains that this park was closed for a long while – it makes sense now. 10 of the 11 trails go through riverbeds.
After emerging from the ravine, we were treated to a lovely forest walk. There were loads of mushrooms and some of the foliage was beginning to change , but I’ll save that for another time. Today I want to remember hemlocks, moss, the smell of ancient water and stone, and the memory of mastadons as I walked in their steps.
Blessings to you,