I bet you thought I was going to say “Dixie,” as in the words of the song. There may not be any cotton grown here, but there is definitely a down south in Illinois and my husband and I “discovered” it recently. And what a discovery it was!
I am a flat-lander; born and raised in the northeastern corner of Illinois where growing up, I thought hills of any size were “mountains.” In the late 1990’s my husband’s job change brought us to the even flatter land of central Illinois where corn and bean fields abound. So many in fact that even in Springfield, the state capital, you can find fields of corn growing within the city limits.
I knew there were forests in southern Illinois. The Shawnee National Forest extends across the southern tip of Illinois from Indiana and Kentucky on the east and south to Missouri on the west. But mountains? Mountains in Illinois? Yes, there is more to the “Prairie State” than corn and bean fields and Chicago. There are also the Illinois Ozarks. Driving through the Shawnee National Forest, around the curves and up and down, my ears were popping with the changes in elevation!
My husband and I were able to get away for several days, just the two of us, and it was long overdue. We stayed at a wonderful place, Walnut Grove Cabins in Makanda, Illinois, south of Carbondale. The property the cabin sits on backs up to the Shawnee Forest. Very private, very secluded. It was like a little slice of heaven. It felt like we were miles from civilization but with every amenity, including a hot tub on the deck. Talk about relaxing!!
|View from the back deck, with a dishcloth in progress|
We hiked, relaxed, crocheted (well, I crocheted!), and drove through some incredible vistas. I kept saying, “This is Illinois?” Yes, this is Illinois. One of the best kept secrets of my home state!
We hiked at Giant City State Park, Garden of the Gods, The River to River Trail, and Little Grand Canyon. Now before you think we are seasoned hikers, notice, I didn’t say exactly how far we hiked at each location! While we did actually complete full trails at both Giant City and Garden of the Gods we only meandered short distances on The River to River Trail and Little Grand Canyon, both of which were all downhill … which meant the way back was all uphill, and pretty steep at that!
Did I mention southern Illinois is hilly? Up and down, breathe, pant, catch your breath, stop, go, don’t slip, watch your step, breathe again, give your heart a chance to slow down!
At Giant City we discovered AFTER our hike that the trail was rated RUGGED! Perhaps we should have paid closer attention before we started. But hey, it was only a mile long, we thought. How bad can a mile be?
I kept wondering about that. How did the Native Americans and early settlers survive all this poison ivy? It was everywhere!
We also saw a number of deer, frogs, pheasants, hawks, many varieties of birds, and even a wild turkey or two … not to mention bees, butterflies, and various and sundry other insects. Unfortunately we never did spot the resident white squirrel that makes its home near the cabin we stayed at. Maybe next time we visit we’ll be fortunate enough to spot him.
|If you look closely you can see several people sitting on the rocks in the distance.|
On the way there, and back, and while we were there I crocheted. I don’t go anywhere without hooks and yarn if I can help it. I’ve been working on a blanket made of hexagons, (more about that in a later post) and managed to crochet about 30-40 more of them to add to my stacks.
I can practically crochet a dishcloth with my eyes closed! Good thing too because it meant I didn’t miss any of the beautiful scenery!
If you live anywhere near southern Illinois make a point of visiting. There is so much to see and do. I guarantee it will be a trip you’ll not soon forget!
We’re hoping to return this fall. I can just imagine what the forest will look like with all its autumn color.