The year proved to be a camping bonanza after a lengthy period without sleeping under the stars. Our Mountain Hardwear tent literally fell apart at the seams in Michigan so we bought a Big Agnes four-person tent, complete with a "garage" vestibule that makes it look like a nylon igloo. Eager to use the new tent and spurred by the fun of the Michigan trip, we embarked on two fall one-nighters--the first to Apple River Canyon State Park and the second to Marengo Ridge.
Apple River Canyon is a series of bluffs and odd formations on a small tributary of the Mississippi River in Northwest Illinois. It's part of the namesake Driftless Area and offers a number of short hiking options. We dodged remnants of a recent hurricane and managed to get to the campground dry. Temperatures were comfortable in the 60s. Highlights included a Tennessee warbler in our campsite, a nice fall migrant to discover. We also had an apple tree in our site, complete with ripe apples, and were able to munch on a few. We took one hike, to Tower Rock, a pinnacle several stories up from the valley floor. We then had lunch in Savanna, Ill., where we watched barges on the Mississippi. We drove through Upper Mississippi NWR to Lock and Dam 13, typically a mecca for bald eagles, but not in the summer apparently. We did see lots of wood ducks and great egrets in the refuge.
Our final trip of the season was to Marengo Ridge, a McHenry County Conservation District site about 60 miles from Chicago. The campgound is perched atop a moraine with a nice view of the surrounding countryside and the Kishwaukee River Valley. We had a private site as the campground was only half full. It's really a terrific locale so close to Chicago. We again enjoyed staking the Big Agnes and managed to stay warm on a cold night in the 30s. The evening highlight was a great horned owl hooting, a nice addition to my 2012 Illinois list. We stopped at the Illinois Railway Museum on the way back the next day. We rode on a vintage Chicago streetcar; overall the museum was a lot of fun--it's massive and there's a lot there we didn't see. Our five nights camping in 2012, most since 2009, were fantastic.