January 11, 2010
Missed Part 1 of Bell Smith Springs – Winter Return? Click here to read.
Missed Part 2 of Bell Smith Springs – Winter Return? Click here to read.
Missed Part 3 of Bell Smith Springs – Winter Return? Click here to read.
– by Gary Marks
First of all, I would like to thank you the reader for continuing to read the articles on Bell Smith Springs. This will absolutely be the final post for the Winter Series on Bell Smith. When I started these posts I only thought I would have enough photos and material to write at most two posts, but as I kept editing photos I realized that I have never come away from Bell Smith Springs with this many “unique” photos. So here we go one last time.
One More Stop
I finish photographing from the top of the sandstone giant and put the remnants of my lunch away. I look at my watch and realize that I have just enough time to see one more spectacle before prior engagements call. I backtrack once again and pass near the “Grand Staircase” and Devil’s Backbone.
I zig-zag my way up the canyon via the Hill Branch Trail and follow the red markers on the south side of Hill Branch Canyon and walk a short distance up the white trail. When I reach the top I am able to look down on the creek. The softly trickling water below cuts through the whiteness of the new snow, creating what looks to be a watery trail for one to explore.
To the Cascade
I take several photographs and then continue to my final destination. I begin to notice that I am not alone. Fresh dog prints break up the new snow and my mind begins to wonder if I will catch up to this animal and if so, will it be friendly. The dog paws lead me to the slanted sandstone of the cascade area.
I am in for a special treat. The sandstone which for most of the year lies bare has acquired a winter coat. Water over time has created bumps and crevices creating a totally unique landscape. The new layer of snow has made the area uniform in color and has accentuated shapes, which in all my years of visiting Hill Branch I have never encountered.
I know that I must explore the area with my camera, because there has to be a photograph somewhere upon this barren landscape. As I walk along a side-stream down towards the cascade, I take my time to make sure I do not disturb any snow around some of the features that might be photogenic.
I near the bottom and that is when I first see it, the Heart of Bell Smith Springs. The snow gives way to a oval size hole. The iron-enriched water gives this section of the stream a reddish tint where water slowly glides from the top and then rolls gently to the left down towards the cascade.
I sit up my tripod and click away with my camera. The photo that appears is one of the most unique photos of Bell Smith Springs I have ever taken. The “heart” reminds me of a red fuel pump ripped out of a chest of a mythical dragon and planted on a sheet of white paper.
The Final Descent
After many photographs at different angles, I turn around and take in the small cascade and the gorge that this creek has carved. I can think of no other area quite like this in Southern Illinois. I was here less than a month ago and photographed icicles dangling from the sandstone, but this time it was complemented by the presence of snow. I scampered down into the gorge, or should I say a controlled slide and photographed on of the last scenes from a day spent discovering and exploring one of the Shawnee National Forest gems during one of my most favorite times of the year.
As I made my way back to the truck I reflected on just how much natural beauty that this place held. I thought about how the Grand Staircase reminds me of an entrance into another world; how the natural landmark of Devil’s Backbone inspires one to make sense of their surroundings; how one of largest natural bridges resides hidden in the forest just waiting to be explored; and how the unexpected scenes like the “heart” of Bell Smith waits patiently for someone to photograph.
I think to myself what a great wintry day to have been exploring the natural wonders of Bell Smith Springs and the Shawnee Hills.
If you like these posts, please click the facebook like button below or use the save/share to help pass the word around about our Shawnee Hills.
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. If you do attempt to explore any of these areas make sure you are have the proper knowledge to survive in the woods, do not rely on a cellphone for help. Please check ranger stations and park superintendents for latest information regarding these areas. This website is for entertainment only.
PS – While leaving the parking lot of Bell Smith, I was pulling out and lost traction in the snow almost plowing into a tree and off a small bank. Even with my 4×4 on, I only narrowly escaped from damaging myself and my truck. It reminds me that even though I do take precautions when traveling to these places in adverse conditions I am always taking a risk and do not encourage others to take unnecessary risks with their life and vehicles.