Ferne Clyffe State Park – Round Bluff Trail

This series, Notes from the Trail, focuses on thoughts and events that happen with the interactions in nature.

I step onto my back porch trying to gauge how  today’s weather will be.  I am cheerful that once again the deep humidity of the long summer has subsided.  Thoughts of fall attempt to encroach upon the mind.  I shake them away.  The calender still says August and summer may not be over yet.

I look  at my watch and know that I do not have much time to hike, so I pick somewhere close by.  Luckily, Ferne Clyffe State Park is just the right distance away to explore.  Ferne Clyffe holds many interesting features so I decide to visit a trail that does not receive as many visitors as Big Rocky Hollow or Hawk’s Cave, but in its own way is just as scenic.

I follow signs past Ferne Clyffe Lake and instead of going into the heart of the park I take a left.  The dam parallels the road as I turn right towards the parking area of the Round Bluff Nature Preserve Trail.

Tucked away on the south side of the park lingers the remains of an ancient sandstone knob.  The sandstone here at Round Bluff is more resilient than the rock that surrounded it previously.  As time passed by the weaker sandstone eroded away, leaving this unusual mound of rock.

This area was dedicated as a Nature Preserve on August 1973 and consist of 53 acres.  According to the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission, the goal  of nature preserves are the following:

To assist private and public landowners in protecting high quality natural areas and habitats of endangered and threatened species in perpetuity.

The trail begins to the right of the parking lot and plunges immediately into the forest undergrowth. The morning light fails to illuminate the west side of the the knob.  Several trees appear to have been blown over, but as we get closer we notice they are Eastern Red Cedar that lie twisted like modern sculptures across the path. The roundness of the bluff can be seen as I arrive on the south side.  Trees cling precariously to the edges stretching long tentacle-like roots over the mossy-green face of the rock.

Soon I begin to climb a short section leading to the east side of the knob.  It is here that the presence of the sun can start to be felt.  Sections of the path open up bringing sweat to my forehead.  The growth is more pronounced giving way to  larger deciduous trees.  I come to a short side trail to an Illinois State Champion Winged-Elm Tree.   This type of tree circumference is usually no more than 24 inches, but this champion boasts a whooping 60 inch circumference, making this a giant amongst winged-elm trees.

Back on the main trail the path starts to bend towards the north.  The bluff begins to  lose its “round” status and becomes more vertical in stature.  I walk into the cool underbellies of the bluff and notice the rich, vibrant greens that have made this place home.  Ferns sprout amongst the moisture-rich recesses of the sandstone.

This section is, also, a wildflower haven.  Just this last spring, Jack-in-the-pulpits lined both sides of the trail.  I had never seen so many in one place.

I climb a gentle hill and then wind my way down to a shallow rock overhang.  A wooden stair case appears leading up the side of a steep hill.  The stairs hug close to the bluff and allow one to view the ferns that appear to flow down the sandstone midway up the bluff.

As I top the first staircase another valley comes into view and with it two more staircases.  The second set of steps are shallow and close together making it hard for a long-legged person to maneuver down easily, but I take my time and enjoy the man-made structure.  I think to myself that if one does not like stairs this is definitely not the trail for you.

I arrive at the bottom of the little valley and begin the ascent of the last and longest flight of stairs.  A huge grayish-white rock wall appears in the background.  It plummets  at least 100 feet. I had forgotten about this part of the trail and am glad to have returned.

My camcorder flashes low battery.  Arrggh!!! I have left my only other battery  at home and have according to my indicator only four minutes left.  I kick up my recording a notch and quickly film several sequences between massive chucks of rock below the wall.  I reluctantly leave this section and soon reappear out into the sunlight and out of the forest.

Directly in front of me is a covered shelter and I know that I am almost back to my vehicle.  I film the last frame in front of Lakeview Picnic Shelter as my battery finally fades.

Even though this trail is a short one mile hike this round bluff brings one full circle around a mass of sandstone that is truly a gem of Ferne Clyffe State Park.

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.   Although this post talks and shows video of a person hiking alone, it is the best policy to always have a hiking partner.  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.

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Alto Pass – Quetil Trail

A Gem Hidden in Plain Sight

Quetil Trail at Alto PassI pull into the trailhead parking area just south of downtown Alto Pass.  As I scramble out of the truck I look over my shoulder and take in most of the business and brick building of downtown.  I love the atmosphere here.  It is like I have stepped back into a scenic eastern mountain town nestled in a small valley.  Time seems to have slowed here just to the right pace. On the outskirts of Alto Pass lies the first winery to start the wine boom in the Shawnee Hills.  Alto Pass Vineyards took a chance on this small town and struck proverbial gold.

I am here today to hike a trail that one could easily pass up while driving by.   A sign designates this place as Quetil Trail.  The trail receives its odd name from a man named Charles Julius Quetil.  Around 1860 this area was known as Quetil Gap and in 1882 the town officially became known as Alto Pass.

Quetil StaircaseI grab my camera gear and backpack and walk between a gap in a sandstone wall.  My backpack is only necessary because of the lens I carry for my camera.  The trail is at most 1/2 mile long,  just the right length for stretching out the legs from a long drive. As ones heads out they immediately notice that this trail was not always a trail.  The level, flat surface was formerly a railway that was created around 1878.  One can almost imagine a huge steam train soaring through the forest undergrowth, the train blaring its whistle, the sound reverberating off the sandstone making it even louder.  What a sight to have seen, but the railway was abandoned in 1981 and the sound of trains evaporated from the residents of Alto Pass.

I pass what looks to be the crumbling remains of shale that the railway had cut into to make way for the tracks.  I soon see house-sized chunks of sandstone on both sides of the trail.  One of the hidden treasures of this trail is a rock-stepped staircase that lies hidden between a split in these sandstone giants.  As I walk up the steps I am reminded of another staircase at Bell Smith Springs.   Both have a unique design and flow naturally with the surroundings.

As I reach the top a picnic shelter comes into view.  It appears to have been built-in the same time period as the staircase.  The failing light makes the dullish-brown sandstone of the shelter come alive with a vibrant reddish hue.  I continue past the shelter to an overlook area.

Cliff View ShelterCars in the background whiz by at varying speeds.  Two pullouts spots are located here giving easy access to anyone passing by.  The area on top is referred to as Cliff View Park and rightly so. The view from this sandstone bluff is one of the best in Illinois.  The greenery of the forest undulates with the inspiring foothills of the Illinois Ozarks.  The skeletal structure of the “being renovated” Bald Knob Cross can be seen on the highest hill in the distance. This hill reaches an elevation of 1030 feet making it 36 feet shorter than the highest point in Southern Illinois at Williams Hill in Pope County.

I head back down the staircase and continue on down the former railway.  The trail soon ends at private property and I head happily back to my vehicle.

Quetil is only a short hike, but I can think of no other scenic trail in Southern Illinois that resides in a towns backyard.  Alto Pass is a special place and if you are passing through on the way to the Pomona Natural Bridge, Little Grand Canyon, or any of the many places to explore on this side of Southern Illinois one should definitely stop here and soak in the easy views.

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Quetil Trail – Alto Pass – Illinois

Quick post this week spotlighting our first non-Shawnee National Forest or State Park land.  Quetil Trail is located right next to downtown Alto Pass, Illinois.

Formally a railway, this short scenic section has been preserved as a town recreational area.    The parking area is close to main street in Alto Pass.  The trail is a nice level grade and interesting signs give railroad history and natural history.

One of the highlights of the trail is a rock staircase  built into a sandstone crack in the bluff.  This leads to a nice picnic shelter and one of the best lookout points in Illinois.  A sandstone bluff  provides excellent views of the undulating Illinois Ozarks and the Bald Knob Cross.  This scenic point is also accessible by a vehicle by a secondary road that leads to Cobden.

Take time to explore and enjoy this beautiful natural area in scenic Alto Pass.

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Bell Smith Springs – Grand Staircase & Natural Bridge – Part II

This series, Notes from the Trail, focuses on thoughts and events that happen with the interactions in nature.

Did you miss part one? Click on the following link to get caught up on all the action – Bell Smith Springs: Part One – Devils Backbone.

Monday July 12, 2010

Grand Staircase at Bell Smith SpringsI walk amongst the trees and shrubs that thrive within the canyon.  In places it feels like a jungle as I move branches away from hitting me in the face.  Another web wraps its invisible threads around my skin, which glistens with beads of sweat.

I turn my thoughts inwards and wonder why I come outside in the heat of summer.  The answer almost appears immediately, some of the best times to hit the trail are when others resist the call to go outside.  Summer is part of the cycle of seasons and produces interesting affects on the surroundings.  I am always amazed at what is growing and how the wildflowers of spring wither and become the fruit of summer.  It is only in extremes that we can enjoy the familiarity of the  average.

I think back and remember previous times I have visited Bell Smith.  I shudder as I think about the swollen waters of a late fall creek.  I remember just this winter coming here and experiencing a snow-covered landscape that screamed explore me.  This place like many others in Southern Illinois is special and can take years to fully explore and understand.

Another web engulfs my glasses and brings me back to the present.  I stop and wipe them off with my shirt and continue on.  I am heading towards a “Grand Staircase” near the main parking lot.  A large crack in the weathered sandstone provides a natural corridor that the rock steps hug against.  This unnatural sight blends easily into the landscape with the planning and artistry of a master craftsman.  It is as elegant as any ballroom staircase and provides a nice entrance into the canyon.

Natural Bridge at Bell Smith SpringsI sit up my camcorder and film a series of scenes ascending and descending the different sections of the zig-zagging steps.  I find that climbing up and down to get multiple angles makes me sweat even more.  I have found the ultimate stair steeper out in nature.  I stop and look in my backpack for the second of my water bottles.  I had previously downed the last one and knew I had to be more considerate to this one.  I take a few swigs and wet my mouth and head to the next destination to explore.

The trail parallels Bay Creek for a short distance, giving glimpses of the creek that created the main canyon.  Walking next to the creek, the bluffs stand far apart making me forget at the moment that I am walking in a canyon.  The trail makes a sharp right and heads straight into the creek.  Today, low water makes the crossing easily passable.  I hop from rock to rock trying to avoid soaking my feet.  It is not always easy to cross here.  It only takes a little rain to make this creek swell into a small river.  In the past I have had to be more cautious at this crossing.  I remember once not being able to cross in fear of being swept down the creek.  This is no place to take chances.

Natural Bridge Waterfall at Bell Smith Springs

Hidden across the creek in the greenery of summer, lives the natural bridge.  I hike the short distance up towards the its base.  I gaze up in wonder once again at the arching mass.  Previously, I had measured the natural bridge.  The top deck spans 92 feet, the base spans 135 feet, and it rises from the bottom to the top of the deck to a height of 40 feet.  These measurements are unofficial, but during the previous winter I made a device to measure some of the natural features of the Shawnee Hills.

I fail to capture the true essence of the bridge on film.  My video camera struggles in the low-light.  The footage I later find out it unusable.  Arrrrggghh!  There is always next time isn’t there.

I wind my way up to the right of the bridge and scramble between the bluff and a huge boulder.   I see the hand of man in the form of steel bars protruding from the side of the sandstone up ahead.  I still can not believe that they exist here.  A ladder made of metal climbs straight up the bluff.  There origin is not known, but it looks like a project the CCC would have done in the 1930′s.  I grab the cold rounded steps and check to make sure it is still pounded into the rock.  It does not budge, so my mind settles.  I start the process of going up.  The bluff sinks in about midway and forces an awkward switching of the feet to the next ladder.  Soon I scramble just off to the left of the bridge.  WOW!  These steel rungs are not for everyone.  If one is scared of heights, the saner and safer route that winds up to the left of the bridge would be a longer hike, but a nice alternative.

I walk over the deck of the bridge.  Its girth appears larger on top than from below.  Several people could walk side-by-side and still have room.  The creator of this bridge resides to the left.  A small intermittent creek flows down and to the right slowly carving threw the rock like a knife made of water.  I have in the past seen this creek flow.  It creates a unique waterfall that takes a free-flowing plunge of about 40 feet to the bottom.  This last winter icicles hung tightly to the lip of the fall and provided a home for daggers of translucent frozen water that stretched toward the earth.

I take the saner route off the bridge. The third bottle of water disappears as I head back towards my vehicle.  I was amazed to not have seen a single soul in my four hours of exploring and I take with me footage and memories of a day spent discovering natural landmarks at Bell Smith Springs.

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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Bell Smith Springs – Devils Backbone – Part I

This series, Notes from the Trail, focuses on thoughts and events that happen with the interactions in nature.

Devils Backbone from the rim of the canyon.As I head off the main road on the outskirts of Ozark, IL, the road turns to gravel.  All roads leading to my destination are made of rock bringing to this area a sense of remoteness.  The truck bounces along the uneven road.  The familiar clouds of  dust that usually bellow from the tires are absent.  Last nights rain has quenched the thirsty road, preventing a dust covered paint job.

I am on my way to the heart of the Shawnee Hills to visit Bell Smith Springs.  This area was designated in 1980 a Natural National Monument for its examples of landforms created by stream erosion and mass wasting.  According to the National Forest Service there is over 700 species of flowering plants, ferns, and lichen to be found in this area.  I find myself coming back here again and again to explore and discover this unique Southern Illinois landmark .

Thick storm clouds linger from a front that is passing threw.  The clouds help even out the light and bring me here in hopes of capturing photos and filming footage.

Bell Smith Springs is one of the few areas in Illinois that has several unique natural features packed all into a walkable area.  Hidden in this ancient canyon resides the Shawnee’s largest natural bridge spanning 125 feet and arching 30 feet.  Two huge chunks of  tooth-like sandstone form the the spine of the aptly named Devil’s Backbone.  Up Hill Branch Creek flows one of the longest and most unique “slickrock” streams in Illinois.  The stream slickrock ends with an intermittent cascade that empties into a former grist mill site.  Bay Creek and its tributaries are, also, known for there crystal clear waters, which are in short supply in Southern Illinois.  People come from miles around to swim at there own risk in the deep turquoise pools.

Bay CreekI drive to the main trailhead to scope out how many vehicles will be in the parking lot on this summer weekday.  To my surprise no one is here.  I turn around and backtrack towards a side road that leads to the Hunt Branch trailhead.  I drive down and to my right a hill gives way to Hunting Branch Creek, one of the tributaries of the  Bay Creek.  As I near the parking area I once again notice that there is a lack of people.  I am thrilled to think I might have this place to myself.

I head out with the goal of hiking a part of the white diamond trail.  This particular section leads to the top of the canyon rim.  The trail follows above the intersection of Hill and Hunting Branch Creeks.  It is from the top that I soon arrive at an overlook that opens to a view of Devil’s Backbone.  It was at this spot in springtime that I was able to capture from afar the backbone against a sheer rust hued wall that provided a colorful backdrop.

I am back today to sit up my video camera.  My task is to go down to the rocks as I film footage from above.  My only concern is that I am leaving my tripod and camcorder alone for anyone to take.  I scurry down the trail in less than three minutes.  I take caution on a section that has me ducking and hanging on to the bluff as the trail follows a natural ledge down.

Devils Backbone from belowI began the process of walking back and forth near the massively angled rocks.  I want to make sure that I film different motions and movements so that I can edit the footage into a watchable sequence.  If someone would have came along and saw me doing this, they would have thought I was out of my mind.

I take a moment to really observe the geography of the area.  The backbone seems to have been created from the undercutting of the creek.  The stream would have eroded a shelter-type area leaving an overhang above.  Over time, with the freezing and thawing seasonal cycle, the sheer weight of the overhanging rock would have given way, creating the backbone we enjoy today.

Within 15 minutes I am back at my equipment on the overlook.  I notice that even though the clouds cover the summer sun, the humidity makes it feel as though I am wearing a snug winter jacket.  I regret the fact that I only brought three bottles of water.  I know better than this and take one of the bottles and with three gulps it is down.  I need to ration the last two, which is never good when dealing with thirst.  I wonder if it will be enough for the rest of the trip?

Next Time: Part Two

Next time we continue the discovery of the natural wonders of Bell Smith Springs.  I explore the natural bridge and focus in on a “Grand Staircase”.  So look for us next week for the second part of this exploration of the heart of the Shawnee Hills.

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Take a look at some video shot of Devils Backbone.  Next week there will be a longer version, that includes footage from the top of the canyon rim overlooking Devils Backbone.  There will, also, be video of the “Grand Staircase” and the massive Natural Bridge.

Cave In Rock State Park

This series, Notes from the Trail, focuses on thoughts and events that happen with the interactions in nature.

 Cave-in-Rock State Park

Cave In RockOne of the great rivers of the East flows below me, the Ohio.  Its muddy waters ripple with a slight breeze from the south.  Waves go against the current and give the impression of the river flowing backwards.  White clouds loom overhead.  They appear to have been painted by a master artist against a pale blue sky.  These puffs of whiteness give the river a dual color.  One being a dull lifeless gray, and the other a sparkling golden hue.

The view of this vast expanse resides atop a high limestone bluff at Cave in Rock State Park.  I had decided to listen to my own advice and visit this area mentioned in the Top 3 Gottados: Southern Illinois Cave Shelters post.

The previous visit was several years ago when flood waters covered the concrete trail below the bluff.  Thoughts of turning around entered our minds, but soon a couple came around the corner from the cave entrance and indicated that it was clear.  The water was only 4-6 inches deep so we freed our feet from our socks and shoes and took a hike threw the waters of the Ohio.

Staircase to Cave In Rock

Today, the river is well below the trail.  It occurred to me while writing the before mentioned Top 3, that I did not have a decent photo of this area.  I have come now to scope this park from a photographic point of view.  I had the knowledge that the light would be less than idea, but still I could look for angles and perspectives that could be used when the conditions were right.

Initially, there were several cars parked along side the road.  I had gambled on an early summer morning hoping to have a little time with the cave alone.  Parking near Shelter 3, I took the right hand staircase and headed down.   A group 0f 10-12 people were walking up the trail on there way out.  There was a good possibility now of using my camcorder to try to capture this area .

As I continued, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the huge slabs of rock.  The weathered rock had a cold gray color that rose in jagged creases towards the sky.  I felt  its lifeless texture and was pleased to be in its presence.  These limestone bluffs have a different makeup than the limestone on the other side of the state near the Mississippi River.  The limestone at La-Rue Pine Hills Ecological Area has a reddish hue and is loosely plastered together.  I was fascinated by the contrast.

I crossed a bridge and walked a short distance on a concrete path. The sight around the bend floored me once again.  I had forgotten that the entrance to the cave was hidden until one is almost upon on it.  There it was like a large gaping mouth ready to devour the Ohio River.  Gazing up and looking side to side I took photos, but failed to capture the caves vastness.

Cave In RockA long single person track led from the mouth toward the back.  The sides were terraced and moist from the dampness of the cave.   The air temperature cooled slightly inside giving some relief from the summer heat.  A shaft of light could be seen coming from above near the back of the chamber.  A hole appeared in the roof of the cave forcing one to look up towards the daylight.  Anyone standing in thelight glowed.  It appeared as though one had entered a natural stage and the spotlight rested upon you.

As I retreated from the light, the sound of shoes squishing in mud reverberated off the walls while I sloshed forward to explore the rest of the area.  A child above uses the hole as a megaphone, crying hellos and asking if anyone is down there.  I laughed and chosed not to invoke monster or ghost sounds in response.

I took the time to film the unique wonder nestled in the bluff.  I rested my tripod precariously on the sides of the terrace as I filmed and then repositioned the camcorder for the next shot.  Altogether, I took five different angles and enjoyed the process of  filming solo.

At that moment, the cave seemed to be there just for me, but I knew it had existed long before and will exist long after.  I spent over 30 minutes photographing and recording before the sound of crunching gravel broke my concentration.  A family of four entered and pleasantries were exchanged.  I left knowing that it was now there time to take away there own memories of Cave In Rock.

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Top 3 Gottados – Southern Illinois Cave Shelters

This is the fourth entry in a series called Top 3 Gottados (Got to do). This series spotlights interesting and unique areas in Southern Illinois that everyone enjoying the Shawnee Hills should take time to explore.

Cave or Rock (Bluff) Shelter?

The three areas in this article all have the name “cave” located in the title.  First, though we must determine what a “cave” actually is.  According to Merriam-Webster.com a cave is a natural underground chamber or series of chambers open to the surface.  Wikipedia defines a rock shelter as a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff.  With this in mind we will look at the Top 3 Gottados Southern Illinois Cave Shelters.

None of these areas are true subterranean caves, such as Illinois Caverns.  They require not special equipment and are all accessible by hiking short distances.

# 1:  Cave-In-Rock

Cave-In_RockArguably the most impressive “cave” shelter in Southern Illinois is at Cave-In-Rock State Park.  A gaping 55 foot entrance looks out over the Ohio River.  A limestone entrance is a gateway to an area that stretches over 150 feet into the side of a 60 foot bluff.   A single person groove leads the way to the back where rays of sun pour in through a natural skylight.  The back opens up into a wide chamber.

Cave-In-Rock has a rich history.  It seems that most of this history focuses on robbers, murders, and pirates. Very negative events for such a awe-inspiring place.

This area was acquired by the state of Illinois in 1929 and currently consists of 204 acres.  The bluffs above the cave offer several nice picnic areas that over look the Ohio River.

#2 Hawk’s Cave

Hawk's CaveThis one definitely falls under the rock shelter category, unlike Cave-in-Rock and Sand Cave there is no chamber to explore.  What it lacks in depth it makes up in sheer size.  This overhang is one of the largest in Southern Illinois spanning over 150 foot.  An added plus is a rock jumble below the shelter.  I always love going here to “boulder hop” or just to photograph the huge rocks against the sandstone wall.  The shelter has a creek above that during high runoff produces a thin waterfall.  I was able to see it for the first time in early spring.

Located at Ferne Clyffe State Park the Hawk’s Cave Trail is a 1/2 mile “lollipop trail”.  The parking area is the same as the Big Rocky Hollow Trail, which is the main waterfall trail.  It immediately crosses a creek and veers to the left.  Follow until you get to an intersection and go right.  Shortly after you will come to a smaller rock shelter that, also, produces a waterfall during high runoff.  Around the next bend Hawk’s Cave comes into full view.  Take time to explore this area and make sure to bring a camera.

#3 Sand Cave

Sand CaveThe largest sandstone cave in the United States is what one usually finds out when they search on the internet for information on Sand Cave.  In my research I could not confirm or disprove this claim, but what I can say is that this chamber is a unique area in Southern Illinois.

Out of the three “caves”, this area is the least developed.  There are no signs indicating that one has arrived here.  The trailhead (which I am not sure is an appropriate term for the parking area)  is suitable for one maybe two cars.  The trail is a forest road that looks like it may still be used by A TV’s.  I usually park just to the right of the road making sure I am completely off of the gravel road.

The trail parallels a rocky bluff on the right.  After about 1/2 mile the trail veers to the right.  Here there used to be a sign indicating Sand Cave Ecological Area, but I believe it is no longer there. Continue to hug the bluff and in about another 1/2 mile you will arrive at the cave.

The entrance is hidden from view almost until you are upon it.  Usually the word WOW  follows shortly after encountering nearly a  30 foot hole in the side of the bluff.  Once you step inside the chamber seems to grow.  It is about 100 feet deep, but as James Baughn commented:

With a level floor, vaulted ceiling, and spacious dimensions, Sand Cave would make for a fine house.

A bathtub like ring encompasses the back where it looks as though water has pooled.  A large rock sits off-center of the opening and provides a nice place to sit and take in this natural structure.   Make sure to take time to explore the vertical bluffs just past the entrance, they are worth the extras steps.

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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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Click on the red tabs to get directions to each of the areas described in this article. Location of  areas are approximate only. Please consult an Illinois map before venturing to any of these destinations.



The Waterfall Chaser: Rocky Bluff Falls

This series focuses on photos and videos from our local waterfalls in the Shawnee Hills of Southern Illinois.  If you haven’t read our previous posts in this series click the following link:  The Waterfall Chaser Archives.

Rocky Bluff FallsRain?  Let’s Go!

That’s right once again the area was inundated with water from above.  I knew what time it was.  It was time to grab the photo and video gear and jump in the 4 wheel-drive and head back out to re-visit some of my favorite areas in the Shawnee Hills.  I made a loop taking in Bork’s Falls, which I have previously described, then to the main Ferne Clyffe Falls, then finally to the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (Crab Orchard NWF).

Where is it?

The wildlife refuge encompasses 43,890 acres.  What the Crab Orchard NWF lacks in hiking trails it makes up in sheer amount of water.  Upon this land there consists three man-made lakes, Crab Orchard, Little Grassy, and Devils Kitchen.  Crab Orchard is the largest at 6,695 acres.  Little Grassy Lake is the next in line with 1,000 acres.  Our interest though is near the smallest lake at 810 acres, Devils Kitchen.

Nestled in the southeastern corner of Williamson County about 15 miles away from Marion is where Devils Kitchen resides. It is here just a short distance from the spillway where the lake overflows into Grassy Creek.  A small tributary funnels into Grassy Creek and this is where a very impatient intermittent waterfall tumbles, called Rocky Bluff Falls.

Rocky Bluff Trail

Rocky Bluff FallsHow many people have left Grassy Rd and driven .5 miles on Tacoma Lake Road  and have never taken the time to see why a parking lot is there.  Just a few feet from the trailhead lies one of Illinois secrets, Rocky Bluff Falls.

Rocky Bluff Trail is a 1.8 mile loop trail. To the left of the trailhead sign is an overlook.  It is here on can gaze down upon a two tier fall that drops approximately 44 feet.  The first tier is around 18 feet, leaving the second tier around 26 feet.  During high flow the water can miss this second tier.

The trail continues to the left and has a viewpoint at the second tier.  When the water is running good, the noise of falling water reverberates off the side walls of the bluff.  A rocky staircase with a handrail leads near the base.  The trail crosses the creek and continues on to where it intersects a shortcut trail that bisects the loop.  The trail heads uphill and off to the right is a cascades.  This cascades slides 50 feet down slick sandstone.  I will post the photos of this cascade in an upcoming Waterfall Chaser.

Impatient Falls?

That is the name this falls should be called, Impatient Falls.  The watershed area for this creek is small, thus making it hard to capture at a high flow rate. To see this fall in action one must come here shortly after a rain event.  Usually the ground will have to be fully saturated, before it will start to roll.  The elusive nature of this fall makes it a joy to see at its height.  So the next time it rains all day put this one on this list as a must see.

US Fee Area

As a note, this is a US Fee Area, which means you must purchase a pass or sticker, before parking at the trailhead or any other area at the Crab Orchard NWF.  For updated pricing go to the Visitors Service Section of the Crab Orchard NWF website.  As of this post the daily fee is $2 per vehicle or $5 a week.  One can also purchase a yearly sticker for $15 for the first vehicle.  To pick up your pass go to the Visitor’s Center located south of the Marion Airport at 8858 Route 148, Marion, Il.  For any questions, regarding the refugee call their office at 618-697-3344.

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Video!

Check out below the video for Rocky Bluff Falls

Map It

Click on the red tab inside the map and get directions to here.

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.

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.

    Behind The Scenes: WGN Cruisin’ Illinois WaterFall Chaser Segment

    WGN COMES TO TOWN

    It was late-February not long after the  5 Icy Photos in the Shawnee National Forest was released that I opened my Gmail to see an e-mail from Julian Crews of WGN-Chicago.  He had seen the photos and was interested in restarting his Cruisin’ Illinois series for the new season.

    He was wanting to come down and film some of the Icefalls that had been a staple for most of the winter season, but the weather was not cooperating and was calling for a warm-up into the 50′s.

    FLASHBACK: LITTLE GRAND CANYON

    Wow, it was great to hear from Julian again.  It was almost two years ago to the date that Julian and Sean had contacted me for the our first visit.

    Sean (the cameraman) had originally found me of all places on YouTube.  He had seen the Pomona Natural Bridge video and had told Julian he needed to contact me.

    About a month later, we were climbing down the steep, rocky, sandstone of Little Grand and my first time on any type of news segment was in the book.  (Click here to view Cruisin’ Illinois Little Grand Canyon Segment).

    FLASH FORWARD:  THE COOPERATION OF BORK’S FALLS

    Author: Gary Marks (left) with Sean (middle) & Julian Crews (right) from  WGN-TV’s Cruisin’ Illinois series out chasing waterfalls in Southern Illinois

    Author: Gary Marks (left) with Sean (middle) & Julian Crews (right) from
    WGN-TV’s Cruisin’ Illinois series out chasing waterfalls in Southern Illinois

    On March 11, 2014, I was waiting patiently for Julian and Sean to show up in the parking lot of Goreville, IL small community park.  I had taken off early from work for the occasion and the freezing temperatures of earlier in the week had changed  to the comfortable 70′s.

    What was funny was they had driven from Chicago that morning, which was under a Winter Storm Warning.  What a great welcome back to the Shawnee Hills.  Just days before, the remaining frozen water of the previous week’s ice storm were quickly melting and even though it had not rained in a while, the waterfalls were flowing.

    THREE HOURS AND ONE HOUR OF FOOTAGE

    Sean our cameraman taking really closeup footage of me taking photos of Bork's Falls.

    Sean our cameraman taking really closeup footage of me taking photos of Bork’s Falls.

    We made our way down the steep road to Bork’s Falls.  I wasn’t for sure if they would like the area or that the scenery would be scenic enough for Sean to film.  Within minutes that concern was removed as Sean climbed over rocks and around the falls with Julian and I being directed on where to walk and where to set up my camera to “take photos”.

    The actual taking of photos was all staged.  The sun was way to harsh and the conditions not ideal, but the point was to get the footage, so that it could be edited together.

    ONE SLIP, I’M DOWN

    Julian near the top of Bork's Falls, while Sean films below.

    Julian near the top of Bork’s Falls, while Sean films below.

    We made our way behind the falls, where Sean filmed and Julian and I had previously done some interviews, but the waterfall was too loud to be of any use.  Julian asked if I could show them where I took the frozen icefall photo behind the waterfall.

    As, I made my way to the area and while Sean had his camera pointed toward the falls, me and my camera had an abrupt encounter with the rocky ground.  I was just relieved that the camera had been pointed the other way.  It was embarrassing considering I was the more “experienced” person with hiking.  Oh, well.

    By the time we finished with the interview segments and filming unsuspecting hikers who were enjoying the falls it was three hours later.  Just in this tiny area Sean had filmed over an hour of video and we still had Burden Falls to film the next day.

    … BUT, FIRST WE HAD TO TRAVEL TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FOREST

    We had stayed to long.  Julian needed to get to Rim Rock’s Dogwood Cabins to do some filming before the sun finally set.  The timing was close, as I punched in Karber’s Ridge on my GPS, which is just a little past Garden of the Gods.

    We travelled the back roads, with Julian keeping me company in my truck as Sean followed behind.  The roads were curvy and unmarked, but we pulled into Rim Rock with time to spare.

    We pulled up next to man who was feeding his horse.  Julian immediately recognized him as Bob Dart.  He greeted us with the kind of smile and country demeanor that makes you know you’re in for some good conversation.


    He told us to meet him at one of their cabins.  This is where I met Dixie.  I had been in e-mail communication with Dixie giving her permission to use my videos on her new website, IllinoisOzarks.com.  She was just as easy to talk to as her husband.

    Bob built a campfire and Julian, Dixie, Bob, and I set around talking as Sean filmed away.  Soon we were being invited inside for some great meatloaf and a full supper. Yum!  Two hours later I was saying my goodbyes as Julian and Sean settled in for the night.

     NEXT DAY:  LOST & BEER CANS

    IMG_8789

    Sean getting some great footage on the brink of Burden Falls.

    I had arrived about 20 minutes before our meet up time the next day and got out to check the waterfalls and to see how well they were flowing.  I made my  way to the edge of Burden Falls and saw beer cans and their cardboard case  at the bottom of the falls.  Arrggh!!

    This wouldn’t do, so I made my way down and climbed over slippery rocks to collect the litter.  As I got back to the top I received a call from Julian saying that they were lost.  I tried to direct them in and then told them I would meet them near the town of Eddyville.  As I was driving there, we passed each other and I asked them in a southern drawl, “You city folks lost.”

    SLIPPING & SLIDING AS WINTER RETURNS

    IMG_8791

    Julian and Sean making there way down to the base of Burden Falls.

    The warmer temperatures of the day before were just a memory as the temps plummeted overnight into the 30′s.  High winds were now blowing through the forest, but down in the valley of Burden Falls we were protected from the cold breezes.

    Today, they were filming walking scenes of me and some more footage of me taking photos.  We made our way down the slick rocks, and Sean tried to balance a $16,000 camera over rocky surfaces.  It was amazing to see just how agile and capable he was with lugging around that huge camera.

    NOW IT’S TIME TO EAT

    Sean in the valley of rocks near the bottom of Burden Falls.

    Sean in the valley of rocks near the bottom of Burden Falls.

    We filmed near the bottom to put the waterfall in full perspective and within about an hour and half we were done.  They had enough probably to do a 30 minute segment, but it would be edited to less than 3 minutes.

    After filming we headed to Marion and ate at 17th Street Bar & Grill.  This for me was probably one of the best aspects of the two days, just getting to set down and talk to these great guys about what they do, their families, and their interests.

    Julian owns and operates a business called Old Havana Foods, which is a gourmet, all natural ingredients, Cuban food.  This has been a passion of his for over seven years and I loved to hear him talk about what is going great for his business and what could be done better.

    Sean is a cameraman veteran, who worked for CNN for several years and then came back to where is family is in Chicago to work for WGN.  Found out that he loves the rush and excitement of chasing stories down in Chicago.  His camera still smelled from a massive fire in Chicago, just the day before he came down to Southern Illinois.

    THANKS GUYS

    These two guys are some of the best people you can meet and it was honor and my pleasure to work with this professional crew.  Over the years, Julian has focused a lot on our part of Illinois, with segments featuring hiking, biking, canoeing, and several great places to stay.

    I personally cannot express my gratitude for them showing an interest in what a small town country boy does for enjoyment.  Julian has given me confidence that what I do has significance and that others are interested in Downstate Illinois.

    THANKS JULIAN, SEAN, & WGN!

     

    NOW ON SALE

    Please Note:  The WaterFall Chaser Ebook is not endorsed or sponsored by WGN, Julian Crews, or Crusin’ Illinois.

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    Burden Falls – The Best Waterfall in Southern Illinois ?

    FaceBook Selected Burden Falls Photo

    If you could visit only one waterfall in Southern Illinois would this be the one to go to?  Ask several different people and you will get several different answers, but can one Waterfall be called the BEST in Southern Illinois?

    This article delves head-long into a debate that will rage long after you read this article.

    The Stage

    The sound of rushing water fills your head as you stare over the edge at the wild, tumbling beast that rages below.  You close your eyes and take in all the noise and find it not to be noise at all, but the sound of a soothing peace that wells up inside.

    You re-open your eyes and take in the discovery of Burden Falls.  You make the decision that this is one of the best places in Illinois.

    Far-Fetched?  Maybe, but out of all the waterfalls in Southern Illinois, this is the one that lures me back again and again.

    The Best?

    best:  That which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable.

    There are many great waterfalls in Southern Illinois.  Take for instance the picturesque main Ferne Clyffe Waterfall or maybe the two-tier giant Rocky Bluff Falls, but when someone says “The Best” my mind wonders and tries to determine what that actually means.

    The Main Falls

    Thirty-five feet, falling from the lip to the plunge pool, with a tier in between around 11 feet.  By itself these numbers do not sound impressive.

    There are larger waterfalls in southern Illinois, but it is not the size of this waterfall that makes it impressive, it is what surrounds it.

    Burden Falls from Below

    Burden Falls

    Boulders, Rocks, Canyon

    Boulders, Rocks, and a U-shaped Canyon set the foreground for a photographers wonderland.

    • Boulders create patterns and shapes that naturally blend in with the falls.
    • Rocks line a gently cascading creek below that even if the falls were not present would be worthy of a visit.
    • The small U-Shaped Canyon brings it all together giving the falls a sense of intimacy that can be rare in an Illinois Waterfall.

    This is, also, one of the few waterfalls that has multi-angle photographic potential.  Usually even with a beautiful waterfall like Ferne Clyffe (which is probably the most photogenic) one tries to find one maybe two good angles, but Burden tops them all with a minimum four good potential photographs.

    Burden Falls Creek

    Burden Falls Creek

    .

    But, Wait There’s More!

    If that wasn’t enough there are two other reasons this could be considered the Best Waterfall Area in Southern Illinois.

    1.  Did you see the Upper Falls?

    Yeah, there are multiple waterfalls flowing off a 5-10 feet rock shelf that gives ways to a wide “curtain fall” and another stream that pours in that gives way to two compact falls.  Very Nice!

    Upper Waterfall at Burden Falls

    Upper Waterfall at Burden Falls

    2. Did you see the Twin Falls on the western edge of the canyon?

    When the water is a flow’n these are a roar’n.  One of the twins is actually taller than Burden measuring around 48 feet.

    This would justify a trip even if Burden wasn’t its next door neighbor, but being in the shadow of a great takes away from these two thin “free-falling” waterfalls.

    One of the Twin Falls at Burden Falls

    Western Bluff Waterfall

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    And Now the Video

    Check out this video of Burden Falls


    Oh Yeah, Only One Problem

    The trailhead for this area is just off the gravel road and one can see the upper falls without even getting out of their car, but that is where the convenience ends.

    Since this is a designated Wilderness area, some of the structures that might make this a safer area, like stairs and bridges are missing, but that is what makes this place unique.

    Although there is no “official” trail, there is only one safe way down to the base of the waterfall.  There is a faint trail that runs on top of the western bluff for about .25 then as the bluff gives out, the trail descends and hugs the bottom of the bluff back to Twin Falls and Burden Falls.

    This is the preferred way down, because it does not involve crossing Burden Creek or getting next to the dangerous brink of the waterfall.

    Waterfall Safety

    Although waterfalls are beautiful they can also be deadly.  Stay away from the edges and remember any rock that is wet can be slippery.  Most of all be alert and use common sense to get home alive. Read an article on a fellow photographer and nature explorer Ed Cooley on his brush with disaster at an Arkansas Waterfall.

    Disclaimer

    Where is it?

    Nestled on the southeastern edge of the Burden Falls Wilderness lives its namesake, Burden Falls.  The wilderness area is composed of 3,694 acres and borders the Bay Creek Wilderness Area.

    Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.38.05 PM

    In between the two resides a narrow gravel road that can be accessed by 145 or by navigating  backroads via Eddyville or Ozark and then turning on to Forest Service Road 402 or Burden Falls Road, which Google lists as McCormick Rd, also.

    One of the creeks that forms Burden Falls has to be traversed if coming in from 145 via FS 402, so take precautions and do not cross if water is flowing too high.  If you come in from the Ozark backroads it does not involve a creek crossing.

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    Map

    Use the map below to get directions by clicking on the tab and entering your address.  The tab is the approximate trailhead location.

    Final 4 Photos To End An Epic Winter in Southern Illinois

    1.  Split in The Rock Icefall

    IMG_8507-001

    Near Piney Creek Ravine State Natural Area - Sometimes places  come upon you unexpectedly, places that you have passed a hundred times on your way to somewhere else.  This was the case for this area.  On the way back from Piney Creek my brother spotted a valley of giant icefalls.  Before we even got out of the vehicle and after some agonizing topography map lookups on the smart phone and some GPS tracking software we finally realized that this place was part of the Shawnee National Forest.

    What we encountered was an icefall like none-other in southern Illinois.  Out of a large split in the rock under an overhang this 15 -20 foot icefall dramatically appears out of seemingly nowhere.  Absolutely Beautiful!

    2.  Naturally Beautiful

    IMG_8404-001

    Piney Creek  Ravine State Natural Area – In the northernmost reaches of the  Shawnee National Forest in Randolph County is a Natural Area that seems out-of-place with its surroundings.  Piney Creek lies at the intersection of the Mississippi floodplain and the upland of the Shawnee Hills.  This intersection has created a deep sandstone canyon-like environment that is known for its ancient Native American Rock Art.  Some, though, come here to view another marvel, the 40-50 foot wet-weather waterfall, that is an equally impressive sight completely frozen.

    3.  A Trail That Lives Up To Its Name

    IMG_8234-001

    Kinkaid Lake Waterfall Trail – On a lonely trail near the northern reaches of Kincaid Lake, is the aptly named Waterfall Trail.  After 1.5 miles hiking up and down several hills, you eventually come to a rocky creek that takes a quick 10-15 foot plunge to the lake that waits less than a mile away.

    Although not as impressive as some of its southeastern neighbors, Kincaid Falls is a welcome addition to the waterfalls of the western side of the Shawnee Hills.

    4.  Curtain, Exit Stage Left

    IMG_7134-003

    Rocky Bluff Falls at Devils Kitchen – With a final farewell, we slowly say good-bye to a winter, that hung on till the very end.  The average winter in the Shawnee Hills could be considered mild, but this winter was not average.  It was one of the few winters that below zero temperatures clung for weeks allowing this year to be the “Year of the Icefall”.

    So with spring within our grasps, we say farewell to the spectacular and beautiful natural formations that have made this winter one of the most photogenic of recent memory.

    Oops! Be Careful

    Hiking in Icy Conditions can be dangerous.  The risk of falling is high, so please use precautions when visiting any area in wintry conditions.  For better grip on the icy and snowy surfaces check out our article on Staying Upright in wintery Conditions.
     

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    Slip and Slide to 5 Icy Shawnee National Forest Photos

    1. Secret Ice Fall

    Boulder Creek Falls

    Boulder Creek Falls – This frozen waterfall is one of those hidden gems in Illinois that you must get off the beaten path to view.  Located near the Jackson Hollow Natural Area just west of Jackson Falls, this 50-60 foot giant is difficult to see flowing during the summer, but if the conditions are like this winter with frigid nights for over a week , you may be greeted by seeing this waterfall frozen.

    2. Wrapped Around the Ice

    Bulge Hole Waterfall

    Bulge Hole Ecological Area – What’s with the name?  Not for sure, but this area is an awesome “forgotten” area that  few visit.  With no signs or trails, this horseshoe canyon is an off-trail adventure.  There are no less than four waterfalls in the area.  Although they are not as large as some of the giants like Bork’s Waterfall, they do seem to be slightly more enjoyable, because you know that they take some navigating skills to find.

    3.  Scaling the Frozen Waterfall

    Bulge Hole Ecological Area

    Shawnee National Forest Bulge Hole – Sometimes you come across ice formations that you do not expect.  This is the case for this second frozen waterfall in the Bulge Hole Ecological Area.  Although the flow of this side stream is low, the week-long below freezing temperatures turned cold, slow-moving water into a beautiful frozen ice sculpture.  To get a sense of the height of this waterfall, the person in the photo (my brother) is over six-foot tall.

    4.  Embedded Icicles

    Bulge Hole

    Into the Rock at Bulge Hole – You never know where you are going to see ice forming on a cold winter’s day.  Located not far from Photo #2, this interesting composition shows how freezing and thawing water sculpts the sandstone we view today.

    5. Topsy-Turvy Icicles

    Shawnee National Forest Ice

    Bulge Hole Shelter – When you think of icicles, the image that comes to mind is long, thin columns of ice flowing down from overhangs, but sometimes that is not always the case.  Located deep under an enormous shelter in the Shawnee National Forest are icicles that grow from the ground up.  After careful examination, it was noticed that water was slowly dripping at an angle, then down onto the cold rocky ground.  The overhang composition did not allow the dripping water to cling to it, thus preventing the ice from forming from the top down.  Awesome!

    Oops! Be Careful

    Hiking in Icy Conditions can be dangerous.  The risk of falling is high, so please use precautions when visiting any area in wintery conditions.  For better grip on the icy and snowy surfaces check out our article on Staying Upright in Wintery Conditions.

    LIKE IT, SHARE IT

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    Done the “Penguin Walk” This Winter?

    Look For It

    Look across any parking lot or public space this winter and you are sure to see the now famous “Penguin Walk”.

    You know it and probably have done it yourself, two feet shuffling across icy and snowy conditions in a half-hearted attempt to keep your backside from kissing the ground below.

    There is a way, though, to avoid this embarrassing seasonal walk, it’s called personal traction cleats.

    All-Wheel-Drive For Your Feet

    Similar to putting chains on your vehicle tires for traction, these traction cleats give just enough stability to allow you to walk with more control across unstable surfaces.

     traction

    I have personally used a brand called Yaktrax’s for over four years and recommend them to everyone that see me walking with more confidence and less fear of falling.

    Recently I let one of my fellow co-workers borrow my Yak’s, because I saw him doing “The Penguin” across an icy parking lot. About 30 minutes he came back to the store and handed mine back and in the other hand he showed me his new Yaktrax’s he had bought from a local store.

    YakTrax’s In Use

    If you have read last month’s article called Polar Vortex Creates 3 Amazing Frozen Waterfalls, I wore Yaktrax’s to help navigate some of the tricky situations to get myself and camera in some interesting photographic angles. Although, they will not take the place of sound common sense they will help you enhance your personal abilities.

    Video

    Affiliate Link

    Yaktrax’s are available through may suppliers and retailers.  Dick’s Sporting Goods is where I got my first pair.  Included in this article are links to our Shawnee Hills Outdoors Affiliate Link for Amazon.com.
     
    If you buy these through our links in this article, we will paid a small commission to help keep Shawnee Hills Outdoors bringing you free content and I (Gary Marks) personally THANK YOU for keeping our site kicking.  - Thanks!

     

    The Most Visited Waterfall in Southern Illinois

    Ferne Clyffe FallsCan one waterfall hold the the title of “Most Visited Waterfall in Southern Illinois”?  The answer is a resounding, Yes!

    Ferne Clyffe Main Waterfall

    State: Illinois
    Location: Giant City State Park
    Managed: Illinois DNR
    Height: 60-70 foot
    Flow: Average
    Rating: 10

    BRIEF OVERVIEW

    Ferne Clyffe Falls is located in the 2,430-acre Ferne Clyffe State Park just outside of Goreville.  There are two ways to access this waterfall. The first is via the Waterfall Trail near the campground, but the Big Rocky Hollow Trail head is the most accessible and has ample parking. The parking area is, also, a great hub to visit trails, such as Hawk’s Cave and the Blackjack Oak trail.


    Big Rocky Hollow Trail is a .75 mile round-trip level hike that leads to the base of this classic waterfall. The trail follows along a creek and requires one crossover.

    According to park brochures this fall measures 100-foot, but independent measurements are around 65-70 feet.

    The fall is broken up into two sections. The first is a 50-foot free-fall, the second is an elegant cascade that flows for 15-20 foot to a vary shallow plunge-pool. A scenic shelter lies behind the free- falling section.

    As an added bonus there are side falls that flows from high above and then separates into two horsetail falls that glide down a sheer wall.

    With all this beauty, it definitely deserves the title of “Most Visited Waterfall In Southern Illinois”.

    PHOTO

    Ferne-Clyffe-Main-Falls-003-high


    ___________________

    MAPS

    CAUTION:  The following map is only an approximation of where the waterfall is located and should not be used for driving directions or navigating.

    FREE RESOURCES

    Ferne Clyffe Brochure- IDNR

    VIEW OUR TERMS OF USE AND DISCLAIMERS OF USING THIS SITE

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    Forgotten Trail Leads To Giant’s Quieter Side

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    Hidden on a side-road in Giant City State Park lies one of the best “kid-friendly” trails in the park.  With its easy terrain and scenic bridges this will keep not only kids, active and engaged, but also adults.
     

    INDIAN CREEK NATURE TRAIL

    State: Illinois
    Location: Giant City State Park
    Managed: Illinois DNR
    Distance: 3/4 mile (roundtrip)
    Trail Type: Loop
    Nearest Town: Makanda

    HIGHLIGHTS

    Scenic Wet-Weather Creek,  Spring Wildflowers, Intermittent Waterfall

    PRECAUTIONS

    Closed During Deer Hunting Season, Possible Muddy/Wet Areas On Trail, Heavy Rains Make Creek Dangerous, Limited Parking

    BRIEF OVERVIEW

    When cars are piled two deep at the Giant City Nature Trail, it is possible to have Indian Creek all to yourself.  Although it doesn’t have the formations and landmarks like some other trails in Giant City, it may soon become a favorite, because of the trails gentle grade and scenic bridges.


    Located near the Giant City Lodge, between shelter #5 and the softball field is the side-road to the often over-looked Indian Creek Nature Trail.
    Indian Creek, also has a vast array of spring wildflowers and since part of the trail lies in the creek’s floodplain, it is home to large cottonwoods and sycamores.  Not only that, but if it has recently rained you may be in for a treat.  About halfway through the hike is a scenic wet-weather waterfall.

    Nearby is a sign that states that Woodland Native Americans once used this place for chert, which was useful for making arrowheads.

    There are, also, two large wooden bridges that cross Indian Creek.  These bridges not only help keep your feet dry when the creek is flowing, but are, also, great locations to snap the kids photo while they pose in the middle.

    If you are looking for a short, easy hike away from the crowds of the main park, this is a nice hike that will not disappoint.

    PHOTOS

    Indian Creek - Giant City State Park


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    Walking The Streets of Giant City

    Located in the Historic Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois, this “iconic” trail is part of the Illinois State Park system.  This trail is quite possibly the most traveled in Shawnee Hills and a must for anyone visiting the area.
     

    GIANT CITY NATURE TRAIL

    State: Illinois
    Location: Giant City State Park
    Managed: Illinois DNR
    Distance: 1.00 mile (roundtrip)
    Trail Type: Lollipop
    Nearest Town: Makanda

    HIGHLIGHTS

    Sandstone Bluffs, “Streets” of Giant City, Balanced Rock, Boardwalk, Easy Access

    PRECAUTIONS

    Slippery Rocks & Boardwalk, Crowds on the Weekends, Copperheads

    BRIEF OVERVIEW

    Could this one-mile hike be the most popular trail in southern Illinois?  The answer is quite possibly, Yes.  The only other contender would be the Observation Trail at Garden of the Gods.  Even if the Giant City Nature Trail is not the most popular, it still will not disappoint.


    Why is this a popular trail?  There are several reasons, but many would agree that it has a lot to do with its proximity to Carbondale, and its notable landmarks.

    The landmarks appear around the half-way point into the hike.  A scenic boardwalk leads one into “The Streets” of Giant City, which is where the park receives its name.  The sandstone bluff has separated here and resembles an alleyway between large buildings.

    As one exits “The Streets” another landmark comes into view, Balanced Rock.  This sandstone boulder over time has become lodged between two ledges.  The trail passes underneath the rock, making you wonder how long it will stay in its present place.

    This one-mile hike is one of the “must-do’s” of southern Illinois.  So be sure to put it one the list to visit next time you find yourself exploring the trails of Illinois.

    PHOTOS



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    MAPS

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    Is Giant City The Best Illinois State Park To Hike?

    GC-Hiking-600Giant City State Park is one of the best places to hike in  Southern Illinois.  With eight trails spread out over 4,000 acres, this park offers scenic bluffs, breathtaking views, and unbelievable natural landmarks.
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    Giant City Nature Trail
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    The Best Wildflower Trail In Southern Illinois?

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    If you want to view some of the best spring wildflowers in Southern Illinois this is the trail for you.  You will not only see the “showy” trilliums, which the trail is named for, but, also, rare species such as French’s Shooting Star. 
     

    TRILLIUM TRAIL

    State: Illinois
    Location: Giant City State Park
    Managed: Illinois DNR
    Distance: 2.00 miles (roundtrip)?
    Trail Type: Loop
    Nearest Town: Makanda

    HIGHLIGHTS

    Rare Spring Wildflowers, Massive Bluffs, Cool Cave Shelter

    PRECAUTIONS

    Rugged Trail at Bottom of Bluff,  Slippery Rocks, Steep Climb

    BRIEF OVERVIEW

    Located a short distance from the Makanda entrance , this two-mile “rugged” hike is located in the 170- acre Fern Rocks Nature Preserve.  Dedicated in 1973, this area is made up of two unique communities which allow wildflowers to thrive.


    In the heart of the preserve lies a wall of sandstone, that keeps the area below the bluff moist and out of direct sunlight for most of the day.  This creates an environment that allows a variety of wildflowers to thrive.  The top of the sandstone bluff receives direct light and retains a thin layer of soil where a variety of “hearty” wildflowers grow .

    Among the list of wildflowers you will see on a spring day are: trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, purple violet, spiderwort, dutchman’s breeches, prairie trillium, and wood poppy.  Two rare species are also found here, French’s Shooting Star and Forbes’ Saxifrage.

    If your interest is not in wildflowers or if you have arrived after spring, this is still one of the best trails in Giant City.  Although, this trail stays near the road, it still retains a “wild” feel, that others trails lack.  Right from the beginning you will hike up to the massive bluff-line and walk the twists and turns around huge boulders, that were once attached to bluff.

    Around the halfway point you will begin to steeply ascend to the top of the bluff.  Here the hiking will be easier, because of the more level surface.  The top of the bluff gives a different perspective, along with inspiring views.  If you have children this will be the time to keep them closer, because of the steep drop-offs.


    Soon you will descend back to your vehicle, but make sure to checkout a deep recess in the sandstone that holds an awesome “cave” shelter that goes several feet into the cold rock.

    PHOTOS



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    MAPS

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