Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Further tours of Southern Illinois

We have been quite fortunate that the strong storms of the pass few days have passed us by.  We have had heavy rains with creeks overflowing and some roads flooded.  That all is minor, however, compared to the devastated areas in Arkansas and Mississippi.  So, despite overcast skies and a cool breeze, we decided to do a road trip yesterday, with our daughter Melissa and son Nathan joining us.   Our first stop was Makanda, Illinois which is located near Giant City Park. 
The town is an artist's colony of sorts.  Pictured above is one of the buildings in a single strip mall.  We strolled along the boardwalk and entered some of the stores which offered for sale some of the work of local artists as well as New Age merchandise and antiques.  In the back of the mall we found the town's Secret Garden which features rainmaker art (copper sculptures) by Dave Dardis.
It is probably not a good time of the year to view the garden, it seemed to be a bit over-grown with many vines and bushes.  In its own way it is still a quaint and interesting garden with a creek running through it.  We drove from Makanda to Cobden looking for any restaurant where we could get lunch.  It is not tourist season yet for Cobden or any other small town in the region, so we had no luck on that score until Melissa remembered a winery she had visited last year.  We came to realize that we were on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, and at Von Jacob Vineyard/ Brewery we had some very good German sausage sandwiches.  After our lunch the sun came out and we felt that we might as well extend our touring further and check out the Pomona Natural Bridge in the Shawnee National Forest.  It is pictured below.
What a beautiful quiet place this is, tucked away amid a forest of pine trees.  We walked across the bridge and down into a canyon where we looked up at tall rocky bluffs.  On the ground a patch of may apples caught my eye and, checking under the leaves of the plant, I discovered that the plant is now in bloom.
I do not think we will do any more touring of Southern Illinois, as least for the present time.  There is certainly lots more to see and explore, but by the end of this week we should moving up to St. Louis.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rim Rock National Recreational Trail

The last stop on our trip through Southern Illinois was in the Shawnee National Forest where the Rim Rock Trail is located.   That trail  is located on a natural escarpment or bluff and from that height we could see mush of the surrounding countryside as well as the valley spread out below us.  Halfway around the rim we came to a series of steps which took us down into a narrow rock passageway.
In this passageway we found ourselves surrounded by massive cliffs and huge boulders.
Fortunately, as I was about to snap the picture, two young children stepped into the passageway.  They were agreeable to be in the picture, which helped to give the picture some perspective.  We continued down more rock stairs until we reached the valley below.  There we found Ox-Lot Cave, a large rock bluff used in the 1890s by eastern logging enterprises to shelter livestock.  A fence was built in front of the cave, which created a corral.   In the back of the shelter is a spring that provided a watering hole for the animals.  Pictured below is the front of Ox-Lot Cave.  The immediate area around it is called Pounds Hollow, an old English term meaning "some sort of enclosure".
A cool running stream runs through the canyon and into Pounds Lake which is about 1/2 mile away.  Part of the enjoyment of our time on the Rim Trail were sightings of such wildflowers as violets, buttercups, and shooting stars (which are pictured below).  Unfortunately, because of the long winter, the wildflowers are just starting to come out.  In another week or so the trail should have an abundance them in bloom.

Cave-In-Rock State Park

It was great to be able to spend Easter with our daughter Melissa and grandson Nathan in St.Louis at the home of my sister Julia and her husband Cal.  Spencer needed to stay back in Carbondale to study, law school is keeping him quite busy.  Unfortunately Nathan was not a happy baby over the Easter week-end, because he was still recovering from his first round of vaccinations.  Not even the quacks from his little duck could get him to smile.  He is now two months old.
John and I chose to explore southern Illinois a bit more yesterday.  The drive was beautiful as the surrounding countryside had many blooming red bud and dogwood trees.  Adding to those colors were the various shades of green on the new leaves which are now coming out on many of the other trees.  Spring just seemed to pop out overnight.  The warmer temperatures are also very welcomed.
We drove first to Cave-In-Rock State Park, which sits on high bluffs overlooking the Ohio River.  Here we were about 15 miles from the Kentucky state line.  The town, Cave-In-Rock, which we drove through before arriving at the park, had a large banner announcing the presence of the cave in the park.  It claimed that the cave was "discovered by a Frenchman in 1729 and used as a hideout for river pirates, robbers, killers, a gang of counterfeiters, shelter for pioneers headed west".  I guess the idea of the banner was to arouse the curiosity of  tourists who happened to be driving through the town. The cave served as a back-drop for a scene in the movie "How The West Was Won".
It is an impressively large cave, however the floor of it is quite muddy and it was difficult for us to dodge the water dripping down from the ceiling.  It did not seem to be a very comfortable shelter!  Maybe it is only that wet during the spring season.  John and I also found the shores of the river outside the cave also quite wet, being more of a clay consistency rather than sand.  We did not spend much more time in this park, as we wanted to travel on further to Rim Rock National Trail, our next destination.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tunnel Hill State Trail

We are extending our time here in Illinois for another couple of weeks, as we are continuing to enjoy visiting with our daughter Melissa, husband Spencer and grandson Nathan.  Ordinarily the days of cool damp weather would bother us and we would move on.  However, it does not seem easy to leave little Nathan!
Saturday was a warm day, albeit very breezy.  We decided that it was about time to get out on our bikes once again and try a section of the Tunnel Hill Trail.  The trail, once a railroad line, was developed by the state of Illinois for hikers, bikers and joggers in 1998.  Pictured above is the tunnel for which the trail is named.  From 1870, and for the next 100 years, trains traversed through this tunnel and across southern Illinois carrying products from the fertile farmland of the area, as well as coal and timber to distant markets.  It was Ambrose Burnside, a Civil War General, who at first encouraged the building of the railroad to transport coal.  As a side note here, the way the General wore his whiskers gave us the word burnside, or sideburns.
There are 23 trestles along sections of the Tunnel Hill Trail.  Pictured above is the Breeden Trestle. the longest and the highest of all of them ( 90 feet high and 450 feet long).  It is a little over 2 feet south from from Tunnel Hill.   Our goal was to bike through the tunnel and go a bit beyond to the first trestle.  Going through the tunnel was a bit disconcerting because on a small portion of it we were in absolute darkness.  It was such a strange feeling to bike over a surface which I could not see.  Fortunately, about the time I was ready to panic, a glimmer of light came through from the opening at the end of the tunnel. 
I can well imagine that you are not impressed by the gray, wintery appearance of the trail.  However, the lack of foliage on the oak, hickory, cottonwood and sweet gum trees brought the river valleys and rocky bluffs into better view.  At this time of the year there are a few trees with white flowers on them, also some red bud trees in bloom.  We also were thrilled by a large patch of violets blooming along the trail.  Spring has to be coming soon!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Metropolis, Illinois

Our grandson Nathaniel's baptism was quite the momentous occasion yesterday with guests coming from as far away as California and Israel to attend the ceremony.  He is quite blessed to have begun his faith journey surrounded by a very large loving family!  Nathan slept through the ritual but had little patience with the picture taking-by that time he was quite hungry.
At this point I apologize for this posting making a turn from the sublime to the nonsensical.  Most of the guests had left after lunch and it was time for Melissa and the baby to nap, so our son Mike and I decided to ride over to Metropolis, Illinois.  In that small town a Superman Museum was started by in 1993 by Jim Hambrick who had started amassing Superman memorabilia since the age of six.

I am going to make the assumption that all of you our readers know of the mythological comic book American hero Superman.  He stood for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way", and those words are inscribed  under his statue which is pictured above.  It is easy to find him in Metropolis, because as soon as we entered the town there were signs directing us to the site.  Within a short distance of the statue is the museum which displays many artifacts relative to the development of the character over the years.
The museum is pictured above, and Mike felt the urge to complete the scene by dashing our of the phone booth.  Superman used the phone booth a lot when he had to change from his role as a  newspaper journalist to that of a man of steel.  From 1978 to 2013 seven movies were made of  the superhero, as well as a television series which ran from 1953-1957.
A section of the museum, pictured above, has the intercom system, telephone, typewriter, desk and hat rack used in the television series.  Many of the items were also used in the "Dragnet" television series because both shows used the same Hollywood prop house.   And of course, Superman's girl friend Lois Lane cannot be forgotten.  Metropolis raised the funds to erect a statue of Noel Neill, the actress who played the role of Lois Lane in the television series.  She is the First Lady of Metropolis.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Giant City State Park

John and I certainly have not been in our usual mode of traveling and sightseeing.  Have no fear, that will eventually pick up again.   However, writing on this blog will be sporadic for awhile during the time we are in the Midwest.  For now we are enjoying our grandson Nathan.  Every day brings changes in his development, it is like watching a flower slowly open up.
My sister Linda and her granddaughter Ellie came from Georgia to visit us this week.  Ellie has been so enamored with Nathan.  She is pictured below holding the baby.  Ellie was so happy to finally get him asleep that she flung out her arms with happiness- she could finally relax them!
We took Ellie and her Grandmother to Giant City Park to do some hiking on Tuesday.  The park is known for its very large sandstone formations made up of arrangements which resemble city blocks.
It was the Illinoisan Glacier back some 1,000,000 years ago which brought about the large sandstone formations.  Large blocks slid downward from a hill due to undercutting of a glacial stream (which is now known the Giant City Stream).  Differential weathering made possible the formation of the Devil's Standtable.
Karen Binder, author of Giant City State Park, comments that the park has some of the "best traveled streets in the Midwest".  Naturalists have studied the flora, residents of nearby towns have picnicked on its bluffs, and Civil War renegades have hidden in its caves.  Some of those visitors etched their names on the sandstone walls.
Our day in the park ended with a brief shower and a beautiful rainbow, one of the largest I have ever seen.  From newborn infants, to nodding heads of daffodils to colorful rainbows which fill the sky, certainly there are signs which portent of a wonderful spring season ahead of us!  God is good.