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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