Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cache River State Natural Area

After several days of traveling we were anxious to get out and hike, rain or no rain.  Creeks are swollen here in Marion, Illinois and water puddles surround our door.   It is the first time that we have had to place boards beyond the door so we can step onto dry ground.  We were also concerned about hiking paths being under water, and despite all our fears we had a great day Monday.  It was a bit cloudy and overcast, but fields of bright yellow and white wildflowers certainly made up for that gloominess.  The flowers are a type of field daisy, it is too early in the year for goldenrod.

 The Cache River is situated in southernmost Illinois within a floodplain carved many years ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River.  I believe it also has a cutoff to the Mississippi River.  On the left in the picture below is the Cache River, on the right is Dutchmen Creek.  Both are muddy colored and swollen from recent heavy rains.
  Despite many efforts to convert the land around this area into cropland, there is land within this natural area which the state has managed to hold onto. It is one of the few "natural communities" remaining in Illinois, according to information from a park brochure.  By 1950 5,300 acres of this forested swampland had disappeared, but most fortunately 242 acres of this land was relatively undisturbed.  Consequently this park has eleven state champion trees, only native Illinois trees are considered for Big Tree designation.  Some of these champion trees are estimated to be about 1,000 years old.
In the above picture John is standing by a cherry bark oak.  It has a height of 100 feet, a circumference of 16 feet.  We found the tree in the Little Black Slough section of the park, where we walked a boardwalk surrounding Heron Pond.  It is a shallow wetland surrounded by mostly cypress and tupelo trees.  What a serene, beautiful place, the only sound was that of chirping birds and and the rapping of woodpeckers on trees.  A park signed informed us that there are 7 varieties of that bird in the park, we did see a few.
A park sign pointed out to us some beaver hills, called "castor" or "scent mounds" which are built by the males to mark their territories.  They can be seen in the picture below.
The national park service has designated two National Natural Landmarks within the borders of this park- Heron Pond and Buttonland Swamp.  The latter we explored next, and will be featured in my next posting.

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