Shawnee National Forest/Cache River road trip: Day 4
May 21, 2013
After packing our gear and bidding farewell to the Outdoorsman cabin, we pulled out onto the road, only to find the lane blocked by a sheriff’s car that had come out of nowhere and cut us off in the blink of an eye. There he isn’t, there he is. J. said, “What? Am I in the wrong lane?” and started to pose the same question to the sheriff when he ambled over. He asked if we had been staying at Willowbrook Cabins. “I saw you pulling out and wanted to check,” he said affably. “I like to keep an eye on the place.”
Seeing the look on our faces and the bags piled on the bag seat, he assured us we hadn’t done anything wrong, returned to his car, and took off. The owner of Willowbrook Cabins can rest easy, knowing that the sheriff is Johnny on the spot when the unsuspecting tourists leave.
After eating breakfast in Elizabethtown at Ma and Pa’s restaurant and picking up the key to the Magnolia Cottage at the River Rose Inn, we returned to Golconda, where there is both a local grocery and pharmacy, as well as more river views. The weather had turned overcast and iffy, which made it a good day for a more urban adventure.
Thanks to Google Maps (accessible from Golconda), we ended up on Homberg Road, a winding country road with charm and character. It’s part of the Trail of Tears, down which the Cherokee were drive westward to Oklahoma, with thousands suffering and dying along the way. Although I’ve read about the Trail of Tears, until I saw the signs I’d had no idea (or had forgotten) that part of the trail passed through Illinois. There’s even a Trail of Tears State Park near the Mississippi. It’s a very long way around to get to Oklahoma.
A little way down Homberg Road, a big black dog ran out from a yard, planted himself in front of the car (stopped to avoid hitting him), and expressed intentions that didn’t seem welcoming. J. was afraid he’d stand on his hind legs and scratch the car, but he contented himself with circling in a menacing manner. Finally he ran back into his yard (perhaps someone had called him) and let us pass, although he didn’t seem happy about it.
Most of the drive on Homberg was partly sunny, which made it easier to spot a male indigo bunting flitting among the roadside brush. This is their favorite type of habitat, and over the next few days we found out that they’re not an uncommon sight in southernmost Illinois — although less common than the turkey and black vultures that seemed to wheel above us everywhere.
By the time we reached Metropolis around 3 p.m., the skies had clouded over with periods of drizzle. We entertained ourselves by posing with the giant Superman statue and cutouts in the center of town, then shopped for Superman T shirts, magnets, and other souvenirs. When we emerged, the skies had burst, which seemed like a good excuse to duck into Dippin Dots and celebrate our day’s lack of physical exertion by consuming lots of deliciously empty calories.
The weather wasn’t getting any less dark and wet, and Cairo was still a two-hour round trip. Again we compromised by agreeing to cross the Ohio to Paducah, Kentucky.
After a little discussion, we stopped at Fort Massac State Park, the oldest (1908) in Illinois. Located strategically on the Ohio, the site features a replica fort, including two barracks, three block houses, officers’ quarters, well, stockade, and fraise fence, as well as an outline of the 1757 French fort. I’d like to say how much I appreciated the history and the fort, but I was all too conscious of the rain beating on my borrowed poncho and of the mosquito hordes drilling into me. I can imagine how the common soldier felt on a warm, overcast summer’s day at Fort Massac. I still prefer Old Fort Niagara, where I heard mention of a dungeon.
It continued to pour as we crossed into Kentucky. At the exit, I noticed a Gander Mountain store. Still unhappy that, thanks to developing foot deformities I can no longer wear the great hiking shoes I’d worn only once or twice, I had J. pull into the mall. An hour or so later, we both emerged with waterproof hiking shoes, which we were going to need sooner than I expected.
Our last stop for the day was for a retro dinner at Parker’s Drive-In, where you can eat in your car as the rain pounds your car or in the large dining room.
And so back in the damp darkness to Elizabethtown and the Magnolia Cottage.