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Exploring the upper Midwest wild world: ‘Nature in Chicagoland’ gets it right on options, info, places

Andrew Morkes gets the options, information and places right on where to recreate in the natural world near Chicago and beyond in his “Nature in Chicagoland.”

A multitude of trails and waterfalls are part of the appeal at Matthiessen State Park, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.”
A multitude of trails and waterfalls are part of the appeal at Matthiessen State Park, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.”
Dale Bowman

When a book like “Nature in Chicagoland” comes along, I look for three things: does it hit the high points, does it get the hidden gems and do I discover something new.

Andrew Morkes accomplishes that in “Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit,” which captures the extent of options around the Chicago area. Morkes, a Chicagoan who founded College & Career Press LLC, compiled and wrote the book for both those experienced in nature destinations and “newbies.”

He succeeds in covering that spectrum with 306 pages and more than 210 photos. I knew many of his 120, but also learned some must-visit stops.

A chance to see bison on the range is part of the appeal of Nachusa Grasslands, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.” Credit: Dale Bowman
A chance to see bison on the range is part of the appeal of Nachusa Grasslands, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.”
Dale Bowman

Using Morkes’ designations, the book gets what I consider the high points of each basic area: Chicago (Riverwalk, Lake Michigan); Chicagoland North (Illinois Beach State Park); Chicagoland Northwest, West and Beyond (Mississippi Palisades State Park); Chicagoland South and Beyond (Starved Rock SP); Indiana (Indiana Dunes); Michigan (Isle Royale National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Park) and Wisconsin (Kettle Moraine State Forest). I quibble a bit on Wisconsin. The complex of parks, trails and launches around Madison and Lake Geneva deserve spots.

Even for those of us experienced at the big-name sites, he offers good tips on visiting.

Morkes also gets the lesser-known gems: Chicago (Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park, Palmisano Park); Chicagoland North (Openlands Lakeshore Preserve); Chicagoland Northwest, West and Beyond (Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum of Natural History); Chicagoland South and Beyond (Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve); Indiana (Kankakee Sands); Michigan (Grand Mere SP) and Wisconsin (Richard Bong State Recreation Area).

A graffitiesque mural gives the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve by Highland Park a different outdoors feel; the preserve is one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.” Credit: Dale Bowman
A graffitiesque mural gives the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve by Highland Park a different outdoors feel; the preserve is one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.”
Dale Bowman

Reading his recommendations, several places struck me. In the Chicago section, I am only missing the Outerbelt Trail. It’s shameful that I haven’t biked or hiked at least parts of that by now.

Morkes’ lead to the Glacial Park in the Chicago Northwest, West and Beyond section made me put that on my must-visit list:

“Wow! Just Wow! These are the three, not-too-descriptive words I uttered when I first visited Glacial Park because it is a place of awe-inspiring beauty and it offers a wide variety of fun outdoor activities.”

All three of the nearby places with reintroduced bison are included: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Nachusa Grasslands and Indiana’s Kankakee Sands.

There are a few weaknesses and I have a couple quibbles. I hate the term “Chicagoland.” The Chicagoland North Destinations section has only five listings. I agree with the five but there should be more.

There are many ways to experience the Chicago Riverwalk, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.” Credit: Dale Bowman
There are many ways to experience the Chicago Riverwalk, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.”
Dale Bowman

Besides the basic info on how-to, where-to, when-to, what-to, Morkes can also wax Whitmanesque, such as this on the Riverwalk:

“When people discuss the most scenic vistas of Chicago, they often tout views of its skyline from afar or the lakefront, but I believe the prettiest view of the Windy City is looking down the Chicago River (either east or west) from the Riverwalk on a breezy, summer evening, the skyscrapers looming over the river like concrete and metal cliffs, the colorful lights of the city reflected on the water, ducks and other waterfowl swimming in the waves, boats moving up and down the river, and people walking on or relaxing by the Riverwalk.”

Aptly, the book ends with a series of nature essays.

For ordering information on “Nature in Chicagoland” ($18.99), go to natureinchicago.wordpress.com/nature-in-chicagoland-book.

A view of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes State Park, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.” Credit: Dale Bowman
A view of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes State Park, one treasure mentioned in “Nature in Chicagoland.”
Dale Bowman