If You See a Fork - Take It!
Wolf Road Woods

Welcome back. Now, where were we…

Almost as soon as we returned home from our trip to the Indiana Dunes area, I began planning our next trail tracing adventure. First, however, you need to understand something about me. I can be a wee bit obsessive and compulsive (but not so much the compulsive bit anymore). But obsessive, yes. When an idea becomes lodged inside my cranium, it is there for good.

So, I headed out on the Internet, and searched for “best hikes in the Chicago area” and ran pretty much any other iteration of keyword searches that I could come up with. I used to joke that I was a reference librarian in another life but, to be honest, it’s really not a joke. I love to research. I can’t think of too many things more fun than diving into the black hole of a well-stocked reference database. I crave information. I have a deep-seated desire to know more about the how and why of things. Did anyone else receive a three-book set of “The Book of Why” (Why, More Why, Even More Why) when they were a kid and spend hours reading them? It couldn’t have been just me – could it? (Just in case you were wondering, the phrase is “deep-seated” not “deep-seeded” – I did some research, and I’m glad to share: Is it Deep-Seated or Deep-Seeded?)

And here’s another “issue”. I like paper; I like to hold what I’m reading in my hands. I like to create file folders and binders filled with all of the paper that contains the information that I seem to desire so desperately. While working on my master’s degree, I had a three-ring binder for every class that I took. Not tiny one-inch binders – three-inch, four-inch binders! By the end of the program we’re talking about more than 10 feet of binders. It was only a few months ago (I earned the master’s degree almost 10 years ago!) that I finally said goodbye to all of those binders (and paper). I cry! Note – the paper was all recycled, and the binders will all find a good home in a school or some other place in need of perfectly good binders. It’s a process; progress not perfection.

Cut to the hike – I came up with a list of about 10 places where we might go next. And, drumroll please, our next trail tracing adventure would be in the Palos Trail Area which, as it now stands, is one of my favorite areas to visit. I mean, come on, just look at the map – so many places to hike!

Palos Trail Area Map

The entire trail system, more than 25 miles of trails, covers multiple forest preserves and woods. The individual trails range from a little over a mile in length to more than eight miles for the Yellow Trail. Surfaces include paved, dirt, gravel and single-track, but the best part, at least for me, is the terrain. I love hills! Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I always enjoy visiting my trail tracing partner’s hometown of Pittsburgh. That town has got some serious hills!

The bottom line – the Palos Trail Area is hiking (and biking) heaven. Also, based on what I’ve read, we (the hikers) have the mountain biking community to thank for the continued maintenance of the trails. So, thank you to them for all the work they do to keep the area such a great place for outdoor adventures!

Okay, I know you’re dying to know – what trail did we trace on Saturday, September 16, 2017? We traced the Wolf Road Loop.

We arrived in the early afternoon, and it was a somewhat warm day. After getting our bearings, we headed off on the Wolf Road Loop trail (here’s a link to the Palos Trail Map again if you want to follow along).

Our first stop was at one of the two sloughs that we saw during our hike.

Wolf Road Woods Slough

What’s a slough (pronounced – sloo)? Basically, it’s a swamp and, while I usually don’t recommend it, here’s the Wikipedia page for slough. And, if you’d like to see a couple more slough, click [here] and scroll down for pictures of the Cranberry Slough Area.

We continued on the Wolf Road Loop trail with the goal of circling back to where we parked in an hour or so. Remember, however, what I noted in the last blog about “if there’s a fork, we take it”? Here’s a perfect example.

As noted previously, there are more than 25 miles of trails in the Palos Trail Area. So, we reached a fork, turned left, and headed into an area of up and down single track thinking that we would come out down the trail and in the direction of where we parked. To put it bluntly, that didn’t happen. We spent probably 30 minutes going in circles. I will admit, though, they were lovely, tree-covered circles. At one point, we even exited the woods and found ourselves in the parking lot for the Red Gate Woods trail (more about that in a later blog).

Well…we finally made it back to the trail we thought we wanted (needed?) to be on when, what should happen, we reached another fork. Do we stick with the Orange Trail or do we head off on the Blue Trail? I know, right, these are big decisions! We decided to take the Blue Trail; primarily because there was a lake coming up (Bullfrog Lake) that I wanted to see.

And then we reached another fork! But it looked like it would take us right to Bullfrog Lake. So, we took a right turn, and this ran us into a locked gate which was part a fence that appeared to surround the entirety of Bullfrog Lake. What the heck? Why would someone put a fence around the lake? But look, a wedding is being set up. Oh look, there are cabins surrounding the lake. I’m guessing the cabins can be rented. That might be nice to do sometime. Oh right, how do we get back to our car?!

Rather than backtrack, which is some situations would probably be the wise choice (such as our not having any idea where we were or if we were in danger – but in this situation seemed quite un-hikerly), we saw what appeared to be a single-track path running along the fence surrounding the lake; bounded, however, on the left, by a heavy growth of bushes and other plants. But we’re feeling adventurous, so we decided to take it and ended up finding a “real” path that went around Bullfrog Lake. Whew!

And here’s a picture looking back at Bullfrog Lake.

Bullfrog Lake

See the little white spot? That’s the quite large tent that was set up for the wedding. We had made our way from far behind the tent, along the fence line, to the path that brought us to this point. Onward!

We reconnected with the Orange Trail, passed by Tomahawk Slough and, ta-da, we made it back to where we parked.

I think we intended that this hike would take about an hour or so (3+ miles), but it turned into 2+ hours (6+ miles). Was it worth it? Totally worth it! Another great day communing with nature but, most importantly, as always, spending time with my trail tracing partner.

Next time…the Catherine Chevalier Forest.

find a trail ~ find your path

~Trail Tracing

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