01 IL R NW-NE from SR71 W near Ottawa IL pano (1024x559)

I grew up boating, skiing and camping on the Illinois River.  So when I went back to Illinois for my 40th reunion I headed out for a drive by the river.

02 Illinois River Road map

Wish I’d had more time to explore the Illinois River Road, a National Scenic Byway connecting more than 100 nature-based destinations.  The route takes you 291 miles (468.3 km) from Ottawa to Havana through forests, wetlands, bluffs and prairies.  This allows the modern visitor to travel the same route as the early French explorers, les Voyageurs.

03 IL R E towards Ottawa IL (668x1024)

In fact humans have been living along the banks of the Illinois River since the end of the last ice age, when glacial melt water carved out the river valley.  As settlers spread westward rivers became main transportation routes.

04 Birds on IL River SR71 IL (1024x581)

Several species of migrating waterfowl and other wildlife make their home in the wetland and forest habitats along the banks of the Illinois River.  These look mostly like sea gulls, a long ways from the sea.  But I did see what looked like a white-phase Great Blue Heron fly off too fast for a photo.

05 Upper IL River Rd map (994x1024)

I only explored about 10 miles of the northern Illinois River Road from Ottawa to Utica because I was on a mission to hike a special canyon.  The first canyon to capture my younger heart.

06 IL R NW from SR71 IL (1024x669)

Funny, because the first time I visited Grand Canyon, on the North Rim, 35+ years ago I heard that a river had carved that canyon and I didn’t understand why the Illinois River didn’t have a Grand Canyon.  But there are small canyons in Starved Rock Country.

Do you have a special place that calls your spirit?