Posted by: kerryl29 | June 13, 2017

Striking While the Iron’s Hot, Part I: Matthiessen State Park

This year, there was a stretch of days at the very end of April/beginning of May in northern Illinois that involved rain.  Lots and lots of rain on something like four or five days in a row.  When a large quantity of rain falls in northern Illinois I think about heading out to Starved Rock State Park, which lies in Ottawa County, about 100 miles southwest of my Chicago area base.  With terrain utterly unique for the immediate region, the park consists of a series of sandstone canyons that lie just south of the Illinois River.  When there’s enough rain, ephemeral waterfalls flow near the heads of most of the park’s canyons, which explains why the park pops into my mind after a downpour or two.

Just a mile or two to the south of Starved Rock lies the less-well-known Matthiessen State Park.  Despite the proximity, Matthiessen has its own water source–a creek that drains Matthiessen Lake and flows into the nearby Vermillion River.  As best I’ve been able to tell, there’s no water source connection between the two parks.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

I’ve photographed at both parks numerous times over the years with my most recent previous visit coming in the spring of 2016.  This time, on my last full day in the Chicago area for several weeks, I was blessed with a mostly cloudy, low wind day.  That, plus all the recent rain, made for some excellent conditions for photographing waterfalls.

I decided to visit the Upper Dells section of Matthiessen first on this day.  There was as much water flowing through the canyon as I’ve ever seen, making it impossible to navigate the area without getting wet…unless the appropriate footwear was available.  Fortunately for me I had my knee-high rubber boots with me and dutifully donned them before descending to creek level.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

When the water’s running at Matthiessen, the most interesting part of the Upper Dells, to my eye anyway, is the area from the base of Lake Falls, at the top of the canyon, to below the spot known as the “Giant’s Bathtub,” about midway down the dells.  With care, on this particular visit, I was able to keep the water from ever being much over mid-calf as I wandered around this section of the canyon.

Giant’s Bathtub, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

There were spots along the way that were dry, allowing me to set my backpack down and better work my compositions.  Most of the images you see were made with my tripod set up very low–at knee level or below.  It was much easier to carry out these photos without being weighed down by my pack.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

I worked my way downstream, then back up, and played around with a few intimate images.

Upper Dells Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

After climbing back out of the canyon I made one final image–something I’ve been looking at for years:  a bird’s eye view of the canyon from the bridge that spans Lake Falls.

Above Lake Falls, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Having spent a bit of time on the appetizer, it was now on to the main course–various canyons at Starved Rock State Park.  I’ll cover that experience in my next entry.


  1. Very visual appealing long exposure

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Nicely done! Beautiful results for your effort.

  3. Years ago I visited the park and remember the tremendous stairway to the ground level of the falls. Good work!

    • Thanks, Dan. The staircase–undoubtedly the same one, as there’s been no meaningful maintenance done at the park in ages–is still there.

  4. Love the bird’s eye view, Kerry – it’s one of those beautiful images that also challenges the eye.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn.

  5. Nice set of images, Kerry.

  6. I smiled and smiled when I read your post about boots.One of my first purchases after I got serious about being out and about was a pair of really good, knee-high boots meant for serious work. They not only make being around the marshes and wetlands easier (read: possible) they’re also great protection against dewberry vines, fire ants, and not-very-enthusiastic snakes.

    The other thing I started to carry in my camera case was benadryl. Despite my precautions, I do get into fire ants or chiggers from time to time, and this past week I discovered that bumble bees aren’t to be messed with. One thing is certain: when I’m comfortable and protected, I can do a much better job of focusing on photography.

    The third and fourth photos are my favorites. Is that sandstone? The scattered rocks are wonderful: so much variety, once you begin to look at them.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

      “One thing is certain: when I’m comfortable and protected, I can do a much better job of focusing on photography.”

      Oh, absolutely! I’ve had countless reminders of this axiom. (My most recent such experience was dealing with the seemingly endless mosquito plague in Florida back in February.)

      Fire ants…that doesn’t sound like much fun.

      Yes, the canyons at Matthiessen (and Starved Rock, the subject of my next post) are sandstone.

  7. I love the look of the last photograph, very much in your style of abundant detail but less depth, which gives such a pleasing abstract quality to the image. It’s the kind of image one wants to lose oneself in. (Not that your waterfalls aren’t perfection!).

    • Thanks very much! I’ve looked at that scene countless times over the years–literally every time I visit Matthiessen State park. Each time, for one reason or another–not enough leaves, too many leaves, too much wind…something–I’ve decided not to make the image. This time, I decided that conditions warranted my setting it up, so I did. It’s certainly very different from the other photos in this set.

  8. […] wrapping up at Matthiessen State Park, I made the short drive on IL-71 to the Owl Canyon parking area, the jumping off point for the hike […]

  9. Looks so impressive !

    • Thanks very much!

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