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For us, there's nothing better than crossing some border to a distant land and discovering unique cultures that welcome us to their awe-inspiring landscapes. But sometimes that's just not possible to do, and we occasionally find ourselves back in the Midwest. Back at home.
Some people are fortunate enough to have mountains and fire roads and heart-pounding twisties right at their doorstep. But here in Chicagoland, that's not really what we're known for. More like flat, flat, and more flat. Corn, corn, and more corn. That's the type of nature you find out here.
But since we both grew up here, we've discovered that being stuck in the Midwest with a motorcycle doesn't have to be a drag. And pretty much anywhere on earth you can find beauty and fun roads to ride. So this week, we'll introduce you to our two personal favorite spots just an hour and a half from Chicago, both of them free to visit.
I've been coming here since I was a child and always thought it was pure paradise. And I still think so. The views from the cliffs overlooking the Illinois River from "Starved Rock" itself are pretty impressive by themselves, but then you throw in the beauty of the canyons, and Starved Rock becomes so much more than just a pretty view of a river. It takes you into another world.
The heat and buzzing humidity of the forest faded away as we entered the sandstone cliffs of the canyon, and listened to the echoing trickles of water dripping down the rock faces. In the distance, a waterfall slowly came into view, and the sloping curve of the beige-colored rock walls unveiled a peacefully falling cascade of water that spilled into a glittering pool beneath it.
As we entered LaSalle Canyon, reflections of water danced on the rocks surrounding us, creating twinkling diamond patterns. Children played on the natural slip-n-slide rocks that the stream flowed over, and their voices carried across the stones, melding with the chirps of swooping sparrows.
Sand filled the banks alongside the lazy stream that created the canyon, and the walls were pocked with nooks and caves to explore. It's not just a perfect playground for children, but a peaceful retreat for anyone to go to.
LaSalle isn't the only canyon at Starved Rock. There are several more, each with its own shape and character. It's a bit of a hike to get to these canyons, but that just makes the destination that much more rewarding.
And the road to Starved Rock isn't half-bad either. It may be one of the only places in the area that has a few real twisties, cliff edges and all. Plus, coming from Chicago, you can take rolling country roads to get there, some of which pass through quaint historic towns, such as Ottawa.
Matthiessen is one of our secret "hidden gems" of the region. Most people flock to Starved Rock because it is so well-known. But as stated earlier, most of the canyons are a long hike to get to, and once you're there, they may be filled with people. But Matthiessen doesn't have these problems.
Paths from the parking lot lead straight down to the main canyon (you can also hike around in the forest as well), and from there you can go on personal adventures where few others venture by following the river to ravines that branch off from the main one. Sometimes you'll find waterfalls around every turn, sometimes not. But you'll always find a waterfall at the main canyon where there is also a bridge that overlooks.
We took two days exploring these sites, and camped at Starved Rock in between. It was a great introduction to our summer of adventures here the US (and hopefully Canada too). But most of all, it reminded us that we don't have to be in Africa or South America to have an incredible time.
Happy Father's Day everyone! And I hope you find yourself able to go out and enjoy the scenery with good company wherever you find yourself.
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