Turkey Run and the Power of Social Media

Our grand adventure started with this photo. I took it while on our weekly Hopeful Hikers outing, at Allerton. There was this glorious swath of yellow flowers all over the floodplain.

That night, while scrolling through Instagram, Thom noticed another photo with yellow flowers that looked eerily similar. So he asked the poster where it was taken, because we’d seen some at Allerton – and he tagged me. The next morning she responded that it was also at Allerton, and that she was in town from Utah, and here for a short stay to visit her brother and his family. I asked her how long she’d be in the area, because it would be fun to go hiking, and learned that she was leaving the next morning!

Let’s bear in mind that I had never interacted with her before this moment. This is the kind of crazy wonder that I love about social media! She let me know that she and her brother’s family had plans to hike this day, and after some back and forth – I convinced her that Turkey Run was the best kept secret for our area, and not to be missed. I asked her when they were leaving, and she said, “Now!”

This was just at the start of my day, and I hadn’t even left bed yet! I ran to find Thom and told him that he was calling in to work and taking a vacation day – because we were going to Turkey Run.

We scrambled to get ready, and hopped in the car to meet up with Kayla and company. We all met in the parking lot, feeling shy but excited at the same time. Kayla’s brother Keith and his wife Heather had also brought along their 4 year old son, Sam. We didn’t know if Sam would be up for the glory of trail #3, but we figured it was worth checking out.

It is a show stopper of a trail, and the weather couldn’t have been more wonderful. We took off our shoes and waded into the canyon streams to begin exploring in earnest.

Trail #3 is about 3 miles long, and has surprises and glorious views around every corner. I am in love with this area, and how other-worldly it all feels. It was especially fun to share it with people who had never been there before. It’s like having a chance to see it all again with fresh eyes.

Sam was a real trooper. His interest never waned, and kept imploring the rest of us to forge ahead. He even started exclaiming “Eureka!!” at each new discovery. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself having more fun on this hike than I had ever before. I love sharing the outdoors with kids. They bring something unique to every experience.

We had a terrific time getting to know one another and sharing stories while being out in this beautiful place. The trip ended far too soon, but new friendships were forged, and there were certain to be other adventures ahead of us.

Turkey Run in winter is amazing

I have heard about winter hiking in places like Turkey Run and Starved Rock before, and wondered at the photos of frozen waterfalls. Before now, the cold and snow have always kept me at bay. I get cold quickly and easily, but I have been aggressively reworking my winter hiking wardrobe and have been learning to enjoy winter.

With my new found warming superpowers, we scheduled a trip with the Hopeful Hikers for a weekend at the glorious Turkey Run. We were originally going to camp, but the nighttime temps we’re predicted to dip to -5 and we’ve never gotten our hammock setup below 20. Instead we got a room at the Turkey Run Inn, which turned out to be utterly delightful. The Inn was cozy and charming, the staff was terrific and the food was surprisingly good. We had an amazing time, and were super glad we didn’t miss out on an incredible experience.

We got up the next morning, enjoyed a delightful breakfast and made our way to the nature center for a presentation on local birds. They have a large floor to ceiling window with an impressive feeder setup. It was obviously working, because at any given time, there were 40 some birds in attendance. We learned to ID so many birds from just that hour, and can now recognize red headed & red bellied woodpeckers from any distance. I know a purple finch from a house finch and we got to see a downy woodpecker next to its identical (but larger) hairy woodpecker. I got such a high from the experience, and I didn’t even know what was yet in store for us.

We hit the trails and made our way over the suspension bridge and up toward the punchbowl. The views were stunning! I have always loved the park in the summer, but it is an entirely different world come winter. The biggest challenge was that the past year had been a wet one, and while the ground was frozen, there was plenty of water still running under the ice. It was difficult to tell how deep it was, and while some of us had gortex boots on, some of us didn’t.

We didn’t make it all the way to the punchbowl, but we did see our first frozen fall. Achievement unlocked!

The ultimate goal was the make our way over to trail #9. It was only a 4.61 mile trip, but the snow, ice and elevation made it trickier. I had never hiked it before, so it was a true adventure going in.

The weather was just perfect. It was cold enough that the ground was well frozen, it had snowed recently so there was a blanket of beautiful white everywhere, the sun was shining and there was no wind at all. I felt like we had won the winter hiking lottery.

We hiked up and over hills, through canyons and climbed many stairs. The snow and ice made it more challenging, but it felt great to stretch our legs and really cover some distance. Winter can put a damper on outdoor activities, even when you don’t mean to let it.

Of course, being a bunch of Master Naturalist graduates means that we stop to talk about bird sightings, animal tracks (of which there were many) and fungi. It is thrilling for me, and I love all the stuff I learn from my friends and the world around me.

This time we came upon a mystery. All these crazy tracks with clear wing imprints. What had happened here? Had someone gotten eaten? What made it all the more odd, was that these funny tracks were *everywhere*. Ultimately, we learned they were made by dark eyed juncos who were foraging along the ground, hopping from place to place until they flew to the next nearby location. Very cool!

We eventually made our way down into Boulder Canyon. It required careful foot placement and steely nerves. The rocks were slippery and there was often a layer of ice beneath the snow. We were clearly the only hikers who had made it over this way in a long time, as there was no discernible trail from other adventurers.

It was rather wonderful, though, and lent an air of being part of a band of true explorers. It was quiet and grand and we kicked some major ass. The next portion of the trail however led to some very narrow ledges high above the canyon, that were also often icy. My heart raced and my knees were wobbly – and as such, there are zero photos of that section. It’s too bad too, because it was stunning. We kept congratulating ourselves for accomplishing something major, and we all thought it was going to be easy peasy from there. Ha!

Now is a good time to remind you that about 40% of these trails are really stream beds. It is wonderful to hike through them in the summer time. It is less secure feeling in the winter time, because you never know when you might break through and how deep you may fall. It is increasingly disconcerting to hear the water babbling beneath you, and hear the ice crack with each footfall.

So, while we were feeling triumphant about conquering trail 9 – we approached Falls Canyon. It was breathtakingly gorgeous, but we were walking directly on a very active stream in the above photo. As we rounded the corner, there before us was a frozen waterfall as the trail itself. Going back simply wasn’t an option, as we wouldn’t have returned before dark. So we had to figure out the best way to keep going forward. Let me tell you, from above, the fall looked incredibly steep.

I decided that since I had gotten us into this mess, I would be the first one to go down. I sat on the ice and planted my foot out in front of me and aimed at a boulder to stop myself from tumbling the rest of the way into the canyon. It was a swift slide down, but incredibly fun. Fortunately for me, I was wearing waterproof snow pants and remained warm and dry. The fall may be frozen, but it was still plenty wet. However, three of our group were wearing jeans and got wet bums – which is not a good idea in these temps.

We high tailed it back the rest of the way to the lodge in about 40 minutes, in order to keep the warm blood pumping over wet legs. It was an amazing day! We got back to our rooms and warmed up and changed into dry clothes. The movie theater in town lets guests see movies for free, so we got to take in the last installment of The Hobbit. It felt a lot like our hike that day, minus the orcs.

The next day we walked along the river on trail 1 & 2. Certainly a much easier path, but no less beautiful.

We found and sampled watercress, which tastes spicy in the same way radishes do.

Found evidence of the pileated woodpecker, and even caught sight of one in the trees later on.

We even managed to find puffball mushrooms in the dead of winter!

The real treat of the day was heading into Box Canyon. Its just stunning.

The frozen fall was huge, and thick enough it took on that green-blue hue that seems so other worldly. It was a terrific reminder of all we had come to Turkey Run to experience.

Turkey Run

I’ve been so busy lately that I just haven’t had the chance to update. This means I’m horribly backlogged on posts, because we haven’t stopped camping or hiking! In the meantime, let me share my latest adventure to Turkey Run State Park.

Turkey Run has been one of our favorite hiking areas, but this time we had the pleasure of joining our meetup group.

We were a little late, so showed up after dark. Let me tell you, setting up hammocks in the dark is no easy feat! After getting settled, we joined the group for late night snacks and good conversation before heading to bed.

After a lovely breakfast the next morning, we hit the trails. Unfortunately, after the spring flooding this year, the main suspension bridge across the river had been badly damaged. While it was largely complete – it hadn’t been opened to the public, so we had to walk an additional 2 miles to get to our desired destination.

Of course, this is no real hardship as the landscape here is second to none. Its just gorgeous – and with such good company, extra travel is a treat.

Once you find the sandstone gorges, the temperature drops at least 5 degrees. After hiking up and down steep climbs (and stairs!), its a blessing.

The landscape is so varied for such a small space – deep woods, sandy river shores, and then these prehistoric looking canyons. I always feel like one of the original explorers as I head into a stream bed to find whats around the corner.

The park staff love to keep things interesting. See those stairs carved into the stone? While they weren’t necessary during our trip, I’m told that the stream can be both deep and fast in the spring time – and those stairs are required travel.

After the challenge of the 140 stairs, we had ladders before us! Three sets of steep ladders bolted to the stone. I’m sure they’re not so bad going up, but its always nerve wracking going down.

We saw loads of flora and fauna out there. The turkey vultures soaring above us are a fixture of the area and we were delighted to find the millipede, caterpillars, spiders and more.

When wood stairs and stone stairs become to mundane, there are always tree roots to climb on!

In the end, walking the additional 2 miles to get back to camp was more than anyone wanted to tackle, so that meant fording the river back to the other side. The water was cold, which was a welcome respite to our hot and buzzing feet.

We returned to camp, retrieved some refreshments, made dinner (to include jambalaya and corn bread!) and spent the night tell stories about ourselves. It was an incredible way to get to know one another better, and we laughed until the wee hours.

The next morning, we had planned to hike nearby Shades Park, but the rain started and we decided to call it a day. We all enjoyed a hearty breakfast at a local diner and then parted ways and headed home.