Following the Colors, 600 miles south
Three weeks ago, the Princess and I were camping in Wisconsin. The fall colors were just a few days past peak but still beautiful. Now, 600 miles south of that campsite, the fall progression has reached Southern Illinois.
I decided to drive to Shawnee Nat’l Forest and see the area locally known as the Little Grand Canyon. Probably named by someone who had never seen the real Grand Canyon but nevertheless, it is a beautiful, remote area that also includes a challenging five-mile hike. A friend from high school, Bruce, came along so that he can try out his camera and we can experience a bit of nostalgia along with the fresh air. He and I have been coming to this general area of Southern Illinois since sometime in the 70’s. The Princess thinks she declined to join us on this trip but in reality, it was intended to be a guys only trip all along.
The hiking trail was originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers sometime back in the 30’s. The necessary labor required to chip steps into the limestone rock would not allow this trail to be built today. Without the steps that helps navigate the water-polished stone, a lot of people would not be able to experience this recreational area. Even with the steps, the hike is very technical but worth the effort. We are both surprised as to how much steeper the climb into and out of the canyon has become over the years.
In the upper left hand portion of the photo, handholds chipped into the rock are visible.
It is challenging for me to photograph the canyon. The 350-foot walls are very close together and the mature trees block much of the sunlight from reaching the canyon floor. Everything appears soft from the filtered sunlight.
At one point in the trail, about a mile in if you are walking the loop clockwise, there is an expansive view of the bluffs and the Mississippi valley. Swallow Bluff was ablaze in fall color. The dark green cedars with the contrasting white limestone cliffs sets off the orange and yellow of the hardwoods. Our timing appears to be just about perfect. Maybe just a few days ahead of peak color but rain was predicted for later in the week and the weather was perfect today. So, I’ll take it.
Mississippi River Valley about 100 miles south of St Louis
After lunch we took the long way home so we could check out the Trail of Tears State Forest. The narrow one-way gravel road though the main area was in very good condition and the three-sided log shelters, also constructed by the CCC, were clean and well maintained. This is a very good place for a camping trip or a just a picnic along with a hike on one of the many fire trails.
Trail of Tears State Forest access road
A cautionary note- there is little to no cell coverage. If you explore this area alone, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. To get more information on these places you can contact the Shawnee National Forest office. Mississippi Bluff Ranger District, in Jonesboro, IL (618) 833-8576.