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.
– by Gary Marks
On the Move
I say my goodbyes to the Backbone and make my way back to the “Grand Staircase” towards another natural landmark that lies hidden across Bay Creek amongst the denuded forest canopy. I follow my own footprints that are headed in the opposite direction. I see the perfect imprints of my hiking boots with the grippy springs of my traction cleats. Just before the main crossing of Bay Creek I lose my footprints as they head to the left up Jay Gap. I continue the process of breaking new ground.
I work my way up the opposite bank and catch my first glimpses of the largest natural bridge that I am aware of in Southern Illinois. It doesn’t matter how many times I have been here, I am always impressed by its dimensions. This last summer I was here for the first time with a camcorder and was trying to film its presence. The low light that exists beneath its mass tricked my cheap camcorder, producing a darkish image that was unusable.
As I approach, the snow ends abruptly in a jagged white line, beyond it lies the brownish hues of barren earth. Snow has not infiltrated into the recesses below the bridge, making it feel like I have entered a totally different environment. With this the crunching of snow is easily replaced by the wafting of dust. As the camera clicks and the camcorder records, I become irritated that I have never really taken a good photo of this sandstone oddity. I try different angles placing large tooth-like boulders in the foreground, but once again come up sub-par.
I take a break and perch myself atop an elephant size boulder. My eyes take in the bridge from the right to left and back again. A thought pops into my mind to make up for my deficiency in photography, maybe this place is meant to be challenge and that the only real way to experience this natural wonder is by parking your car at the trailhead and making that sensory-pleasing hike down the “Grand Staircase”, then rock-hop across the shoe drenching Bay Creek, and then finally scrambling up towards the giant behemoth that lies hidden in the forest.
I pack up and head back to the creek crossing, but instead of rock-hoping back to the other side, I walk up the creek via a single track trail. The trail hugs the bank as I begin to catch glimpses of giant slowly sliding objects that have over time come to rest along the edges of the creek. I round the corner and am confronted with a house size boulder that forces me to explore the creek bank.
I have been here before and its one of the reasons I have taken this short side trip beyond the bridge. A gigantic wedge lies on the opposite bank. The sandstone sculpture could easily fit in some abstract artist’s gallery, but instead it makes it home in this scenic canyon, allowing everyone to enjoy its structure for free.
On previous visits here I would try to capture rock slabs that were covered with water as a foreground item, but with the recent cold weather, the reflective layer of water has become a rigid streak of ice that on one side holds the newness of snow and on the other side the remains of soon to be slushy ice.
The Oddities of Nature
As I look for an angle to photograph this scene I wonder why this area is not just one sheet of white. The only reason I can come up with is that just a short distance behind the snow-less ice the water becomes shallow and the slow-moving water picks up speed thus causing friction and possibly making the snow-less ice just a little warmer. What do I know though? Odd occurrences like this are one of the many reasons I love nature, trying to figure out the why’s and how’s.
I eventually end up on the rotting ice and break through up to the top of my boots. It was a planned event, so that I could position my tripod in just the right spot. I line up the contrasting halves and capture, what in my eyes is a unique winter photo.
A Great Day?
I continue just a short ways up the trail and climb a slanted mass of sandstone. A single tree grasps its roots into the recesses of the eroding giant and watches a lone figure gaze from atop his temporary home. I love this place and remember the times that I have sat here after a long day of hiking, eating a snack and guzzling water. From here I can look up the creek where even bigger rocks sag towards the center of the creek. I turn my gaze back down the creek from where I just have been and can see the wedge and several other large boulders closer to me. I think silently, “What a great day”, as I once again pull out my camera photographing images that will soon be only a memory.
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.Disclaimer & Special Note: Included in this article is a link to Amazon.com for a product I use when there is snow or ice on the ground. I have decided to leave the brand name out of the post, so the flow of the article is not compromised. Please, be aware that I do receive a small commission if you chose to follow the link and buy this product from Amazon.com. I, also, now have a link on the right hand side for an e-book by Ian Plant. I have personally purchased his “Chasing the Light” e-book and found it to be filled with excellent photographs and short, helpful tidbits on producing a more compelling photo. It is my hope that such links will help defray the cost of continuing to bring you the reader free articles on our website. Thanks.