Garden of the Gods – Shawnee National Forest
Garden of the Gods – Shawnee National Forest – Observation Trail
This is the icon of the Shawnee National Forest. When one thinks of nature in Southern Illinois their mind may wonder to the Garden. Visions of scenic vistas with gnarled rocks in the foreground and the vast Garden of the Gods Wilderness appear in the background.
This place is the one area that all nature lovers in Illinois must see, but the Garden is not only ours. On any given day one can see a multitude of different license plates in the parking area. The word is out and even though this is only a 1/4 mile hike, this trail packs an abundance of natural beauty.
Why is it Here?
Water. Water everywhere. This area and its surrounding lands were once part of a giant inland sea. Vast rivers dumped tons of sand and sediments into this water world. Over the years this process built up and compressed all the underlying debris into sandstone. The land uplifted and the sea retreated.
The rock was now exposed to different forces of nature. Erosion, freezing, and thawing nibbled away at the new mass, slowly drilling and removing earth up to a mile deep. What we see at this current time is just a snapshot of this continuing process.
Notes from the Trail
A rapid pinging sound alerted me that I had left my keys in the ignition. I rummaged around in the back looking for a fleece to take the bite of the cooler fall temps that have arrived with the change of a new month. I looked around and two other cars were parked several spaces away.
I had intentionally avoided this trail for months. I knew this would probably be one of the hardest places to film, because of its many visitors.
Missouri has its Current River. Kentucky has its Mammoth Cave. Tennessee has it Smoky Mountains, and Southern Illinois has its Garden of the Gods. I have even met people in the middle of the New Mexico Desert that know about this place.
My goal was simple enough for such a short trail, to capture video that did it justice. I was not sure how I would accomplish that task. I had been here many times in the past ten years, but I had always come as an explorer and photographer, never with a camcorder.
I grabbed my gear and proceeded up the flagstone path. My intention was to film like all my other videos with me hiking and giving the area perspective, but after only a couple of takes I knew this was not going to work. Even though there was no one to be seen on the trail, I knew that this area can become filled with people in a short amount of time.
I have been experimenting with new techniques on my camcorder. I wanted to just focus on scenery, but in the past have found it hard to edit the footage together where it had a natural flow. Now I was going to be forced to make it work or come out with random shots that were unusable.
I scrambled over and through the jumbles of soaring sandstone looking for unique angles. I wrestled with my tripod on uneven surfaces. I scratched my head, wondering if I was just wasting my time. After about 40 minutes the sound of a large group of people filled the area. I knew my chance to film was gone, so I packed up with my unfinished video and went on to Bell Smith Springs to film.
ONE WEEK LATER …….
Once again, I was back, but this time I left out earlier. I pulled into the parking area on an early October day,and was surprised to see that I was the only one here. I was not expecting this. I took it as a sign that today was my chance to capture the essence of the area.
I took the trail to the right and pass places that I had previously recorded. My main goal today was to film the most well-known structure in the park, Camel Rock. Leaves were starting to show the tinges of fall. The wind blew softly giving added motion that helped bring the frame to life. I must have shot twenty different angles of the Camel, before I moved on to other formations that would complement this unique sandstone.
I was transformed back to my vacations in Utah, where weird formations called “hoodoos” hovered overhead. Instead of the red rocks of the desert, I was now surrounded by the grayish brown rocks of my home. I spent well over three hours lost within the formations of the Gods. The mass of people were non-existent, even though the pleasant weather was perfect for hiking. I counted myself as fortunate and used the time wisely to discover new angles of an old place.
While I was down amongst the contorted landscape, the sound of human voices broke me from my nature trance. I knew it was time to leave. I believed I had what was necessary to make a video even though it would not be perfect. The Garden had been good to me that day and I left with the knowledge that I would return soon to take part in its other trails.
I now leave it to my fellow readers to make the final decision on how the video turned out.
Garden of the Gods – Video
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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How Do I Get There?
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Note: Make sure to always bring a paper map just in case Google Maps leads you onto unnavigable roads.