We had a late morning, as we often do, on this, the Sunday before Labor Day. We spent some time in the trailer slowly gaining momentum to meander to the truck and venture off to one of the many state parks and geological awesomenessities that southern Illinois has to offer. After exchanging some synthetic leather hiking/winter boots I bought at Jouneys that fell apart the moment I put them on – we decided to try for Larue Pines, an area of the Shawnee National Forest that we had missed the weekend before when we wandered around too long in the back roads and overlooks that the area had to offer. On the way today we were of course again distracted when we saw a sign for “The Little Grand Canyon,” a place neither of us had heard of in our Shawnee research or pamphlet perusal at a welcome center.
7 miles after seeing the sign we were there, and not alone. It was probably one of the busiest trails we’ve seen in a while. There were at least 10 other cars there when we arrived. An older couple in matching rain coats were talking to a ranger, another couple were heading towards a trail head and a couple other people were standing around recovering from their hike. We walked up to a placard with an etching of the trails, which I looked at but in no way absorbed, then just took the unlabeled trail closest to us that we had seen the couple disappear on.
After a while of walking through dense forest, fallen trees and wild flowers and observing steep drop offs on both sides of us, we started to wonder if the “Little Grand Canyon” was actually buried deep underneath the miles of piles of vines and post inland hurricane disaster (2009?) and not actually visible, per say. After a while we caught up with the couple who left before us at the Mississippi overlook, one of the highlights on the map, and has to ask if we were on the right trail. Well informed, unlike us, they told us that the true treasures lie ahead and that we were about 1/3 through the hike that totaled 3.5 miles. We decided to carry on and as we left, the couple parted ways and we were joined by a well prepared man who would prove to be good company as well an an informed nature lover. This was our first hike with another human being and a welcome change. I’m a bit of a know it all when it comes to nature. Even if it’s in a state I’ve never been to before, I try and fill my brain with as many local species as possible but usually just sound like an ass no doubt. We saw one snake – I think a bull snake (used a website for that one), a few small tree frogs and one sloppy giant one, one baby skink, potential coyote prints (although later some hiker brought their boxer on the hike so.. may have just been a dog) and some trapped fish who will hopefully make it through to the next rain, oh, and one giant spider.
Through our last few weeks of hikes in this area we’ve seen several caves and canyons, strange rock formations/anomalies and places where gorgeous waterfalls the likes of raging rocky mountain glacial creeks would be if there were not such a drought. The Little Grand Canyon was one of the best so far and it surprised me we had not been told about it by the retired volunteers we ran into last weekend nearby. Maybe because they were older and possibly had not seen it in person. The hike is a little difficult and not what I expected when we entered the trail. I’m glad we both have good hiking shoes now and that the hikes of the past have started to make the more difficult ones easier, humidity permitting. The full canyon trail is a little demanding but doesn’t require any special skill. At one point you have to step/climb down a small waterfall (dry of course) to continue the trail, and at another point, to get out of the canyon, you have to walk up a 90 foot waterfall (that’s a guess and it was also dry) of smooth rock with conveniently placed and mostly natural stair like qualities up the most of it. Some of the steps were hard for a short legged person like me to get up, though even in jeans I managed. Then the incline continues for another infinity or so, my lungs wanting to jump out of my chest, we polished off most our water but took only short breaks. Luckily it was actually a really mild day due to some rain which made it much easier to breath than on our usual hikes this summer. Yesterday had been almost 100 again and our shorter 0.9 miles or so hike at Giant city had wiped us out for the day.
This hike was probably the coolest weather hike we’ve had in a long while, and maybe the longest hike we’ve had in a while as well. It also went more quickly than our usual hikes, where we spend half our time staring into spider holes, harassing beetles, counting rings in trees and taking tedious hdr pics with my new droid app (PROHRD).
We left Little Grand Canyon at around 6pm, just an hour and some before sun down and continued our search for Larue Pines. When we found it, it was about the same time we had been looking for it last weekend, and it was basically the same place we had already been. We did however come from a different direction this time and saw some great cliffs, oddly situated across from farmland. I stood in the back of the truck and made a video for later editing.
Our drive home from there was through some great Amish/non Amish country. Horses, buggies, and roads with names like Rattlesnake Road and Pitbull Lane. Illinois is a greatly underestimated place.