Fern Clyffe State Park, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Champaign
As Star Trek: The Next Generation reminded us (quoting Chaucer), “All Good Things” must come to an end, including the week at Shawnee National Forest. Before leaving Hidden Lake Bed & Breakfast, we took some time to walk part of its wooded trail and by the lake. It was difficult to say goodbye. Although there was plenty of time in which to return to Chicago, it felt more urgent than it should have. It’s the anxiety of knowing that the time to leave the fantasy behind and to take the road to reality is nigh.
W could afford a few stops along the way, including Fern Clyffe State Park, where hoards of Southern Illinoisans had turned out for the traditional Memorial Day weekend family picnic. Our objective was the park’s waterfall, but first we stopped at the lake on the way in — for one thing, we had no idea how to find it.
Eventually we got directions we thought we could follow and after a few missteps finally stumbled onto the area. The falls are a short, easy walk on a wide woodland trail along a creek bed. As you can see, the water was missing from the waterfall, but it’s still a lovely spot, picnickers and all. Again, it was hard to tear ourselves away from both the lake and waterfall, but all good things . . .
Our next stop was Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. We had only a few moments at the visitor center before closing, and were told where to find bald eagles and a beaver family (“Cutest thing ever!”). Neither opportunity panned out, although a fisherman told us he’d seen the beavers. In one area we found a viewing platform from which we watched an egret, a raccoon, and a green heron go about their business. I loved how one road bisects a lake, similar to Tampier Lake south of Chicago. Crossing the lake at nearly lake level in the early evening seems dreamlike and magical. While we didn’t see much of Crab Orchard, which is in a busy area, it’s a reminder that not all National Wildlife Refuges are in remote forests and prairies.
After dinner at Sonic, we finally left the good stuff behind and set out north. About halfway up the state we stopped in Centralia, a mile or so off I57, for a fuel/potty break. This, too, was like stepping into another dimension. Half of the brightly lit building was a convenience store, while the rest was a bar/food joint with pool tables. I wish I could remember the name. The moment I stepped in, through the store end, a man astutely steered me to the restroom. It was when I came out that I noticed the varied purposes the building served, with no distinction in lighting or decor between the store and the bar/fast food seating area. I wondered if the same regulars are found there weekend after weekend and if they or someone like them had inspired any episodes of The Twilight Zone.
We made it to Effingham, with its giant steel cross, before calling it a night.
The next morning, Memorial Day, was long, spent mostly on driving, with no diversions to places like Arcola or Rend Lake. We did stop at Champaign, which looked almost like a ghost town and where it took some time and effort to find an open coffee shop. Finally we landed at Café Kopi, where the whole of Champaign seemed to have congregated, with many huddled over computers. When you’re as tired as we were, it’s nearly impossible to force yourself to leave such a charming, comfortable place.
This day had not dawned as beautifully as most of the others, and at a rest stop north of Champaign the storm we’d been hearing about on the radio appeared behind us and followed us the rest of the way, more threatening looking than it proved to be. It served as an anticlimactic ending to a picture perfect trip and a reminder that the real world of work and catchup lay ahead.
Later I could remind myself that even as I tried to make sense of the information on my computer screen tourists were drinking mini-Cokes in Arcola; the sun was shining on Rend Lake; folks were fishing at Tacumseh Lake; servers were chatting up customers at a restaurant floating on the Ohio River; someone was peering up at the light through the crack in Cave-in-Rock; families were snapping photos at Garden of the Gods; hikers were picking the day’s collection of ticks off each other; 2,000-year-old bald cypresses were presiding over great blue herons, owls, and otters; boys and girls were hurling themselves across a picturesque swimming hole straight out of The Andy Griffith Show; and somewhere west of Illinois a woman was continuing her bicycle journey west, having conquered the Shawnee Hills of southernmost Illinois.
Day 1: Onarga, Arcola, Rend Lake, Willowbrook Cabins
Day 2: Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock Trail
Day 3: Elizabethtown, Tacumseh Lake, Tower Rock, Cave-in-Rock, Illinois iron furnace
Day 4: Metropolis, Illinois, and Paducah, Kentucky
Day 5: Golconda, Burden Falls, Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area
Day 6: Lusk Creek Wilderness Area, Millstone Bluff Archaeological Area
Day 7: Snakehole and the Upper and Lower Cache River
Day 8: Pomona Natural Bridge, Little Grand Canyon, Lower Cache by canoe