The Waterfall Chaser: Bork’s Falls

Last month I wrote an article called The Waterfall Chaser.  This new series called appropriately The Waterfall Chaser will focus on photos and videos from our local waterfalls in the Shawnee Hills.

This first entry is a video from Bork’s Falls located at Ferne Clyffe State Park.  This fall is on the separated section of the park.  A high-clearance or 4×4 is preferred when approaching this fall.  A standard front-wheel or rear-wheel with low clearance will have difficulty crossing an unbridged creek.  Absolutely do not cross this creek after a hard rain.  It only take a few inches of water to make your vehicle float.

UPDATETake a look at the comment section on how to get to this waterfall.  You can, also, contact the Ferne Clyffe State Park @ 618.995.2411 for more information. Check out the IDNR official website for information regarding Ferne Clyffe @

Although technically these are not my best photos, they do show the potential for good shots when the water is flowing just  a little more.

Call to Action: Have you ever visited Bork’s Fall?  If so, leave a comment and tell us about your experience.  If you decide to visit this waterfall, please come back and tell us about your experience so we can share it with others.  Make sure to sign up for our email subscription near the upper right corner.  This allows you to be the first to get updates to our website via your email.  Thanks!

Disclaimer:  The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog.  Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas.

Bork's Falls

Bork's Falls

Notes from the Trail: Tunnel Hill State Trail

Breeden Trestel

This series, Notes from the Trail, focuses on thoughts and events that happen with the interactions in nature.  These “notes” are usually written on the trail where insight can be at its highest.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I sit here with my back propped on a tree near a picnic table at Tunnel Hill.  I have been waiting for nearly an hour. Waiting for my fellow bikers that I had originally started the day with.   I still may have another half hour to go. I occasionally catch wiffs of the restroom behind me.  I have broke out my journal and thought I would tell the story of why I am here.

After a week of changing inner tubes and adjusting brakes, we were finally ready to hit the trail this Sunday.  The weather was perfect with temperatures in the mid-60’s with a slight breeze.  The sun was out and high upper clouds wisped by.  We had decided to start at Vienna, because there is a slight incline to Tunnel Hill.  This would mean a slight decline coming back when our energy would be at its lowest, thus allowing us to peddle with less effort.

The Vienna to Tunnel Hill section of the Tunnel Hill State Trail has been called the most scenic and I would definitely agree.  This section has several trestles that cross high above a winding creek.  Our plans were for a leisurely ride.  We had brought snacks and water and away we went.  Wildflowers lined the trail and the air was fragrant with the blooming bushes and trees.  We easily pushed the first three miles past us, in a slow steady pace.  Soon we were entering into sections of blasted rock and more scenic trestles.  The largest trestle came into view Breeden Trestle which  spans 450 feet and rises to a height of 90 feet.  We knew from here we were only 2.5 mile from Tunnel Hill.  After gazing down at this massive steel structure we continued on.

After awhile, I noticed that my sister-in-law was a little behind me so I shifted into a lower gear so she could catch up.  As soon as I shifted I heard my bike chain come off.  This was nothing unusual, because it has come off on earlier outings.  I got off my bike and looked down to put back on the chain when I noticed my rear derailleur was in my spokes.  This was not a good place for this piece of metal.  I tried to figure out just what had happened.  As I was thinking two other bikers come by and asked if I needed any help.  The kindness of others is something that I was happy to receive.  What was unusual was they both had bikes from the same manufacturer.  One of the bikers had the same version as mine, but a newer model, so I looked at his and noticed a small shallow screw had come out.  All four of us looked on the grayish-black rock surface of the trail looking for the proverbial screw in a rockpile.  Several minutes passed and it still remained lost.  I did not want to take up this generous couples time so I thanked them and they soon were on their way down the trail.

I had several options now.  One was to walk 7.5 miles back to Vienna to the vehicle or walk 2.5 miles to Tunnel Hill and wait for my fellow bikers to pick me up.  Some might think the first option as not an option, but if I was by myself this would have been the choice I would have picked.  Since I was with others, I took the second option and took my bike for a 2.5 mile stroll.

Bike on Breeden Trestle

This was the first time my brother and his wife had attempted such a long bike ride.  I can remember several years ago my first attempt and the sence of accomplishment it was to say that I had rode a bike 18.6 miles.  I encouraged them to continue to Tunnel Hill and then to ride back to Vienna to finish this section.  There was no sense for my mishap to ruin their day.

I started my  “hike with a bike” to Tunnel Hill as they pedaled ahead.  I wondered what people thought  as I passed them on the trail and said hello in a cheery way.  Did they think that I was too tired to ride or that I was just crazy?  It really did not matter and I laughed to myself.  I had a new goal for the day and it was to get to Tunnel Hill.

As I walked, I thought how the day would have been if my attitude had been different.  What if I had gotten angry and kicked my bike, cussed at the world, and grudging hiked to Tunnel Hill?  I would have not only ruined my day, but the people I had come with might have received my stress and I would have multiplied the situation.  I did not though and thought how much happier I was and how thankful that I was not riding alone, thus making a 7.5 mile hike back to the vehicle inevitable.

I, also, viewed this situation as a good story I could tell in the future.  I have previously rode this section 6-8 times without any incident, but this day is the one that will standout against all others.  No one got hurt and all would hopefully end well.  As I progress through life, I have come to look at setbacks as learning experience or as some may claim, fate.  My thought is that if I continue to look for these teachable moments my life will be fuller and richer.  It has become my choice on how I react to situations.  The old adage with age comes wisdom is for me very true.

Well, here is my ride pulling in.  Yeah, they made it and now I have turned this moment into an entry I can post on my website.

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

John Wooden

Disclaimer:  The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog.  Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas.

Welcome Southern Illinois Miners Fans!!

Thanks to the Southern Illinois Miners for the mention on there facebook page.  Make sure to join us on facebook @ ShawneeHillsOutdoors.  Our focus is exploring the Shawnee National Forest and the State Lands of Southern Illinois.  In the future we will be sharing trail descriptions, photos, and videos.

Thanks again for stopping by and make sure to check back later for more info.

Top 3 Gottados – The Natural Bridges of the Shawnee Hills

Pomona Natural Bridge

This is the third in a series called Top 3 Gottados (Got to do). This series will spotlight interesting and unique areas that everyone enjoying the Shawnee Hills should take time to explore.

The last entry into the Top 3 series we looked at the Top 3 Gottados- Easy to Get to Wildflower Hikes.  This week we focus on three awe-inspiring spans of solid rock, the Top 3 Gottados- The Natural Bridges of the Shawnee Hills.

All three bridges are varied and unique, but all there lives begin with a rock joint and water.  A rock joint is a single continuous slab of sandstone with no cross-joint fractures.  Water and erosion are the main sculptors in this event.  Usually a stream percolates in threw a fracture parallel to the joint block and with time erodes  the rock away leaving a span called a natural bridge.  So here we go the Top 3 Gottados- The Natural Bridges of the Shawnee Hills.

1.  Pomona Natural Bridge

Arguably, the most famous bridge in the Shawnee Hills is this massive slab near Pomona.  Stream erosion is clearly seen  here.  A creek cascades down a bluff, and runs underneath this 120 foot span.

One can easily imagine that the bridge was a part of the bluff nearby.  Off all three of the bridges this one seems most like an actual bridge, because of its length and narrowness. Some may wish for guard rails before they walk completely across.

2.  Bell Smith Springs Natural Bridge

-This is the granddaddy, spanning 92 feet on the top, 135 feet at the bottom, and rising to a height of 40 feet, this rock is massive by any standards.

This bridge has two routes to the top, the saner and safer route is to take the trail to the left after the creek crossing and continuing paralleling the bluff that then leads to the top.  The other route involves steel bars wedged into the side of the sandstone encouraging daredevils to try their luck getting to the top.

By either route when you get to the top you can see the creator of this bridge.  A small stream comes in from the left slowly creating this wonder.

3.  Ferne Clyffe Natural Bridge

This bridge is the most elusive out of the three.  This span is located on the Happy Hollow Trail several miles into the hike.  ‘

No park brochure tells of this of this hidden gem, so if your lucky you can have it all to yourself. This bridge is the only one that does not have a prominent stream below, but nonetheless the waters action are clearly seen.

    UPDATE:  Make sure to read the comments on this entry, because Taylor Reed gives an awesome suggestion on a fourth gottado natural bridge worth visiting.

    On Top of Bell Smith Springs Natural Bridge

    Caution:  These natural bridges are very dangerous areas.  There are no guardrails and can be very slippery after rains.  The top of these natural bridges are no place for kids to roam around on.  Please have ahold of them at all times.  The natural bridges at Bell Smith Springs and Ferne Clyffe requires major creek crossings,  even several days after a rain event these creeks may be dangerous to cross.  It only takes several inches of water to by swept away be running water. Check all hunting seasons before attempting to hike any trails mentioned.

    Disclaimer:  The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog.  Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas.

    Failure to Fail

    Failure to Fail

    – by Gary Marks

    Giant City Tree

    Perfect Day?

    It was one of those perfect spring days. Not to hot, not to cold, but comfortable for t-shirts and shorts. Leaves were just beginning their canopy growth. The sun reflected through the yellowish-green of the unfurling leaves.

    The goal that day was to take a stress free stroll in the “newness of spring”. The park being explored was Giant City and the trail being strolled was the aptly named Giant City Nature Trail. On this trail resides the “streets” where geologists debate the walkways between the bluffs.  Bluffs rise on both sides resembling a walk into a city made of solid rock.

    Near the end of the “streets”  the wonder of balanced rock sets precariously slanted.  People pass curiously beneath, some are scared to touch the rock in fear of moving this mass of stone, but what attracts me to this place today is something different, a tree.


    I remember the first time setting my eyes upon this unique tree. My first thought was, “Wow!” and has been the same many times since. A massive tree root flowed down a rocky bluff, twisted and gnarled. I wondered how it accomplished this feat and a story begun to unfold in my mind.

    The Story of Life

    A seed fell where it shouldn’t have. It was destined to become a victim of its poor choice. The soil was thin on top of a sandstone ledge, but the seed started to take root and absorbed the nutrients that were available. It grew content for several years, but soon needed to expand its range. The roots followed the moist ledge where water flowed after hard rains. Making its way down over the following years it soon uprooted on one side by its own weight. It struggled to regain its former strength and twisted and turned until it wedged its now massive root into the ground below. Here it could finally take hold and continue to grow into its full potential.

    Natural Inspiration

    Gnarled Roots

    This tree inspires me. It set out on a course and without any knowledge of failure it took on the task of living. It failed to see that fate was against it and that most trees that are given rocky soil eventually uproot because of the varying circumstances. When it was set back by being partially uprooted it figured out the best way to regain its former strength by exploring new ground.  Its tale is just one of the many wonders of the Shawnee Hills.

    Note:  I debated on publishing this article after a visit Sunday to this tree.  Someone had etched there initials into the gnarled roots.  I didn’t want to add any more damage by attracting attention to it.  As I thought about it, most people who will read this are not the type of people who deface nature.  It is my hope that bringing awareness of the wonders of the Shawnee Hills we will take a sense of ownership and educate others on our beautiful region.

    Disclaimer:  The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog.  Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas.

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    Focus ON: Spring Growth

    This series called Focus ON will be dedicated to the art of photographing our unique area.  There are places in the Shawnee Hills that are visually stunning and if one can acquire basic understanding of how their camera sees the world, they will be able to walk away with visual memories that will last a lifetime.  Our first installment focuses on the abundance of spring growth.

    Spring is an active time in nature.  Energy given to us by the longer days has awakened our Shawnee Hills from its long hibernation.  Now is the time to become intimate with the lush new growth. The macro world involving leaves and wildflowers are a favorite to photograph for many and they are a very patient bunch.

    New Leaves @ Giant City

    New Tree Growth @ Giant City

    First we will focus on new tree leaf growth.  The New Tree Growth @ Giant City photo is all about putting certain events together.  The first and usually the most important component is light.  If you are familiar with any photographic principles this is always high on the list.  This photo takes full advantage of that concept.  Sunshine is coming from the back of the leaves making them appear to glow.  The background is a shadowed forest about 50 yards away.  A long lens compresses the foreground and background making it seem isolated.

    For those interested the details of the photo are the following:  f/7.1, 1/400 sec, 300mm, ISO 200.

    The second photo Ferne Clyffe Trout Lily uses a similar technique, but instead of using shadows it take full advantage of indirect light.  This lily is on top of a rock allowing one to photograph the naturally dropping flower at a pleasant angle.

    Ferne Clyffe Trout Lily

    The background appears a total blue, but actually it is deep in the forest with trees in the background.  A very shallow depth of field was to blur the trees so they were undistinguishable from the sky.  The last technique involves a piece of reflective material bouncing light into shadows of the flower.

    The details are as follows:  f/3.5, 1/1000 sec, 105mm macro lens, ISO 100.

    Of course there is more to spring than focusing on the macro world.  Our next Focus ON will be dedicated to the wider angle view of spring.

    The Newness of Spring

    Dogwood in Bloom

    This last week the weather took a noticable turn toward spring.  The temps reached near 80 degrees and people began to wake up and notice the outdoors.  It seems as though everyone is coming down with that symptom that most enjoy, “spring fever”.  One can not help but to walk outside and smile.  The days look brighter and the feeling of renewal enters the psyche.

    Driving around our popular recreational areas one will notice that the parking areas are filling up.  People are coming out of hibernation and breathing deeply the fresh air of spring.  People seem happier, easier to say hello to and a stranger on a trail can become a passing friend as talk of the nice weather brings them together.

    These times maybe the best of the year.  Unlike the holiday seasons there is no sense of obligation.  You can go to someones home just to sit outside and watch the food cook on a freshly christened grill. Good times!

    Soon though, the weather will start to turn towards summer.  Thunderstorms and humidity will start to drag us back indoors, towards contraptions we tried to escape in winter.  TV, video games and our other distractions will begin to take hold again.  Remember though these spring days and continue to challenge yourself to explore our Shawnee Hills and think again on the feelings of the Newness of Spring.

    Top 3 Gottados – Easy to Get to – Wildflower Hikes

    This is the second in a series called Top 3 Gottados (Got to do). This series will spotlight interesting and unique areas that everyone enjoying the Shawnee Hills should look into.

    Last week we looked at the Top 3 Gottados-Easy to Get to Waterfalls in Southern Illinois.  This week with the warmer weather we will look at the Top 3 Gottados – Easy to Get to Wildflower Hikes.

    Each of these areas represent a varied and interesting collection of wildflowers.  The understory of the forest floor is now coming to life and most wildflowers will begin to peak this month, before the leaf story becomes full.  So we now present these three easy to get to treasures.

    • Trillium Trail @ Giant City State Park - This is a great trail for an  introduction to the variety of wildflowers in Southern Illinois.  Even with last years wind event this trail will still produce and abundance of flowers.  Most of the flowers will reside in the shadows of the bluff line where the environment is moist and out of direct sunlight.  An absolute must is to take a trip to the Visitors Center and gather important information on the types of flowers to be on the look out for.
    • Main Waterfall Trail @ Ferne Clyffe State Park - Yes, if you read last weeks post you saw this one on the easy to get to waterfalls in Southern Illinois, but it also offers a carpet of wildflowers for inspection, especially the trout lily.  A nice flat handicapped accessible trail that ends at an elegant waterfall.
    • Ghost Dance Canyon Trail @ Dixon Springs State Park – This is a fascinating area with a stream chocked full of huge boulders.  This trail requires good hiking boots and a wet slippery rock crossing, but if you are careful you will be rewarded with a blanket of wildflowers covering the tops of van size boulders near the end of the trail.  Gates may be locked to the swimming pool parking area so check with site supervisor before going.

    Enjoy these exceptional trail of the Shawnee Hills and make sure to acquire a wildflower identification book such as the Peterson Field Guide for Northeastern/North-Central North America to help make your wildflower exploration more enjoyable.  So get out there and enjoy the Shawnee Hills Outdoors!

    Disclaimer: Caution: Waterfalls can be dangerous. Rocks are slippery. Never get close to the edge. The author and Shawnee Hills Outdoors disclaim any liability or loss incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application on any information contained in this blog