Enter Spring, Stage Right

After what seemed like a mild winter, early February hit hard with wave after wave of snow and frigid temps. Christmas scenery though it was, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be shoveling out the drive when this weather pattern persisted through March. Winter thoroughly outstayed its welcome.

We are like a crowd shouting hurrahs to a struggling team on the court. But spring may well be one that maybe derives hope from an unrelenting fan base. A basket here, a free throw there. In the same vein, I inwardly sing joyous songs when I see jumps of a few degrees day by day. Unfortunate backsliding occurs sometimes, like in the forecast for the week ahead in central Illinois. 70-degree Monday will give way to 45-degree Friday.

Today at Castle Rock State Park, though, the budding season showed signs of  hope.

I drove out there with my friend Megan, ignoring that one’s Sunday best isn’t the most favorable hiking getup. The park sits roughly halfway between Dixon and Oregon on Illinois State Route 2. When headed from Dixon up north, the road winds and cuts right through what appears to be St. Peter sandstone, which also comprises the bluff overlooking the river from which the park got its name.

The turnoff to this bluff is cleverly hidden, in my opinion. Each time I go, I almost whip right by because its signage is right before the turn into the parking lot. So, if you go, watch the river side of the road carefully. The lot is spacious for the amount of visitors I normally encounter.

Two sets of stairs branch off either side of the parking lot. The set to the left and more toward the road trudges up to two scenic views, one right below the other, at the very top of Castle Rock. Remnants of an older path are visible under the sturdily constructed stairway. I could imagine visitors in a previous era using those now rotted timbers and clambering around layers of sandstone at the top. “Climbing on the rock is not permitted,” a sign gravely declares in all caps as we take the last step up to platform one.

"Keep off the rocks" sign at Castle Rock State Park

The bluff seems to attract all sorts of visitors. We passed an older couple on the way up who commented on the nice day and that “It’s easier on the way down.” While Megan and I stood there taking in the view, two young couples with kids were having a photo shoot above us. Then a father and son duo came up the steps, one in a reflective vest. I heard bits about Chipotle (which is nowhere near here) and the Byron stacks visible on the horizon. When I was younger, I thought of them as cloud makers. Little did I know they are part of a nuclear power plant.

Trees haven’t started budding, so it’s quite easy to decipher where stands of evergreens mix with their brown counterparts. Spring is making itself known, though, in the green shoots coming up through cracks in the bluff. The sun-warmed breeze made for beautiful conditions at this lookout. We stared for minutes at the column of buzzards soaring overhead, geese paddling around tiny islands on the river, the slow current rippling the water, a small fishing boat anchoring just offshore.