Golconda, Burden Falls, Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area
Shawnee National Forest/Cache River road trip: Day 5
May 22, 2013
Although I don’t always appreciate the forced sociability that comes with staying at a bed and breakfast, I do like getting an earlier start without having to go out in search of food. We had another opportunity to admire the view from the River Rose Inn in Elizabethtown and the old magnolia for which the Magnolia Cottage is named, although the male proprietor called it the “garbage tree” because of all the leaves it had dropped.
We drove through Golconda, which has a scenic overlook on the shores of the Ohio, an old-style pharmacy focused on health care, a grocery, an ice cream joint, and a couple of historic buildings that we would drive past later, including Riverview Mansion Hotel.
Burden Falls and Bell Smith Springs are on the list of things you should see in Shawnee. Even with the rain, I knew that Burden Falls wasn’t likely to be running, but it sounded scenic. Like Whoopie Cat and Tacumseh Lakes, it’s several miles down country roads — so far down that you wonder if you missed it.
We did find it eventually. While the waterfall was dry, several baby waterfalls trickled over the rocks near the parking lot. It is a beautiful area, with a few but not many people around. We went only as far as the falls, a short distance, although the trail continues. As with many spots in Shawnee, you can escape from the ubiquitous sound of car and truck traffic that permeates our lives.
There was more there we could have explored, but this kind of trip is like a tasting — you can try a little of many things without savoring one for more than a few moments.
Our next stop, Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area, is “always changing,” according to the graphic at the parking lot. I’m not savvy about topography, so I figured we’d follow the trail and see what there is to see. We spent a couple of hours here and saw only a fraction of the area. According to the U.S. Forest Service:
Bell Smith Springs is one of the most beautiful recreation areas the Shawnee National Forest has to offer. It contains a series of clear, rocky streams and scenic canyons bordered by high sandstone cliffs and an abundance of vegetation unique to Illinois. The trail system consists of eight miles of interconnected trails featuring strange and wonderful rock formations, such as Devil’s Backbone, Boulder Falls and a natural rock bridge. Hiking this system of trails is a favorite activity because of the rock features, scenic overlooks, hidden springs and lush flora and fauna.
From the little we saw, it is all that. The trail features steps carved into the rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. They’re so well crafted that they don’t disrupt the surroundings, yet they’re easy to go up and down.
For a couple of hours, we soaked in the rich color and intricate patterns of the sandstone, the lush spring green of the trees, and the screams of delight coming from the unseen watering hole below. Bell Smith Springs would be lovely in any season, even winter.
Calling it an early day, we passed through Golconda again, picking up some groceries and driving through the Golconda Historic District, which includes Buel House, “preserved as an example of a working-class home’s 146-year occupation by one family.”
And so off to the Hiker cabin, leftovers, and laundry.
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