A view from the bottom of one of Starved Rock’s sandstone canyons
Starved Rock State Park is consistently ranked the most beautiful place in Illinois. I finally was able to get out there with a few friends on a gorgeous fall day to explore the canyons. Unfortunately there wasn’t much water flowing as far as waterfalls go, but the changing leaves more than compensated.
There are 14 main canyons that are accessible with a boardwalk. There are some stairs to climb, but the walking is relatively easy. The further away you get from the visitor center, the more peaceful it is! It’s easy to spend a full day wandering around and it’s nearly impossible to get lost.
Dandelions beside the river at Governor Dodge
On Memorial Day weekend I went to Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin with a few friends to do some hiking. It was my first trip out of Chicago since coming home from New Zealand and I was long overdue for some greenery. We braved the mosquitos and walked around the Stephens’ Falls area, which is an easy loop that has a storage houses and other remnants from when the Stephens family occupied the land in the late 1800s. The namesake waterfall is tranquil, and the track is well maintained. There are many wildflowers, such as the Virginia waterleaf, daisies, dog roses, wood violets, and dandelions.
The view of the Organ Pipes on Mt. Wellington near Hobart, Tasmania
Just a short drive from Hobart’s CBD is Mt. Wellington, which, like most of Tasmania, is filled with short walking tracks. I did the 3 hour Organ Pipes loop, which is fairly steep and rocky but worth the trek for the views of Hobart and the surroundings. Despite being so close to the city, the area was mostly empty on a Tuesday afternoon save for a French family and a British couple.
The walk is filled with beautiful flowers and sneaky skinks. I also saw a pretty cool black and red spider and some interesting birds. The actual Organ Pipes, which are columns of dolerite, are magnificent, though you need rock climbing gear to get really close to them.
A portion of Uluru viewed from the base walk
Of course the main draw of central Australia is Uluru – one of the largest bornhardt formations in the world and a sacred site for the local aboriginal people. I decided to do a 10-day group tour from Alice Springs to visit Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Devils Marbles, Katherine Gorge, Mary River, Kakadu NP, and Litchfield NP, finally ending in Darwin in plenty of time to begin my new job. While I would have loved to do this trip on my own as a massive road trip, after adding up all the costs I just couldn’t justify it – it would have been nearly triple the price to do it alone. Of course there are benefits to the tour – being able to sleep during long drives, not worrying about getting lost or finding an appropriate place to sleep, etc., but I definitely realized that my personality and travel style does not lend itself well to being in such close quarters with so many strangers for such a long time. It was a massive relief to be done with the tour and back in a private bedroom, despite how beautiful and exciting everything I saw was.
Anyway, the first stop on this 10-day tour was the magnificent Uluru. We did a little bit of walking around the base (of course we did not climb up it) and heard creation stories about different features on the rock.
White Flowers on Meyers Hill at Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs
After my amazing two months traveling and working in Queensland, I flew to Alice Springs – nearly in the dead center of Australia. The dry weather and dusty environment almost instantly started to bother my skin and respiratory system, but I bucked up and did a bit of sightseeing around town. One of the best things I saw was the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens – a surprisingly colorful spot despite the arid desert setting.
There are loads of bright birds, including galahs, babblers, grey shrike-thrush, willy wagtails, and ringnecks. Of course, there are tons of flowers and trees as well! It’s well worth an hour or two to walk around, but make sure you wear good shoes! The pathways are not flip-flop friendly, as I learned the hard way.
The cloud forest viewed from the “Sky Window” walking path at Eungella National park
Day 4 was another big driving day but I made sure to stop by Eungella National Park for some hiking. After a long winding and foggy drive up the mountain, I was rewarded with seeing platypuses and turtles in their natural habit at Broken River. Further, the cloud forests reminded me a lot of Colombia. This was perhaps my favorite place I visited on this road trip.
I then made my way to Mackay for dinner, where I saw some cool Alice in Wonderland themed street art. All in all, a great day, and no parking tickets!
Hanging out at Poona Lake at the Great Sandy National Park
From the Sunshine Coast I headed up to Great Sandy National Park to do some hiking. I intended to get to Fraser Island, but realized too late that I would need a 4WD and I didn’t want to pay such high ferry costs. I feel satisfied with Great Sandy though, as I believe the scenery was similar and it was less crowded and – best of all – free!
I did some hiking around the Bymien picnic area to Poona Lake, a freshwater perched lake that is stained a rusty red because of the nearby tea trees. As usual I took tons of photos of mushrooms, trees, and logs.
Then I headed further down the road to Rainbow Beach where there are lovely red cliffs called the Colored Sands.