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The difference 1,000 miles makes in the scenery

January 7, 2012

One of the joys of traveling, whether within my own country or in a foreign land, is the opportunity to compare “here” and “there.”

I’ve gotten used to the parched, dusty, 22-to-33-million-year-old sandstone/siltstone/ash/limestone rock formations of the Wildcat Hills in western Nebraska (prairie rattler habitat), so returning to the moist, green 320-million-year-old sandstone rock formations of the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois (timber rattler habitat) was a bit of a shock.

One one of our first dates in the spring of 1997, Bugman and I went hiking in the oak-hickory forest of the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, about 60 miles east and south of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where he was then working on his bachelor’s degree in zoology.

In the summer of 1999, we again hiked Garden of the Gods, this time both of us as SIUC students (I’d started my master’s degree in geography, he was soon to start his master’s in zoology) and not-quite-married-a-year newlyweds.

We did a lot of hiking in the National Natural Landmarks in the Shawnee – at Giant City, Bell Smith Springs, and especially Little Grand Canyon, where Bugman conducted his master’s research on Pseudometapterus umbrosus (which got him published and later cited in a Wikipedia entry). But we didn’t drive out to Garden of the Gods other than the two times mentioned above.

While visiting family for New Year’s Eve, Bugman and I returned to Garden of the Gods for a short, late afternoon hike.

I had forgotten how completely weird the place is, with eroded formations of liesegang bands looming out of the woods.

It was such a different sensory experience to be hiking there. Instead of dust and sage, I smelled mud and oak. Instead of yucca and prickly pear, I saw moss and mushrooms.

But there were still similarities between my southern Illinois hike and my western Nebraska hikes.

For one, Bugman was there, uploading pix on his cell phone.

Cell reception is better on a rock ledge.

For two, Bugman was there, investigating the invertebrates.

Checking out some cold, slow springtails in a puddle.

For three, the rock outcrops provided a great vantage point and canvas for the sunset.

4:41 p.m.

4:45 p.m.

If you find yourself 1,000 miles from Wyobraska, I highly recommend stopping for a hike in the Shawnee National Forest.

Except maybe during mosquito season.

Copyright 2012 by Katie Bradshaw

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2012 6:14 pm

    The sunset photos are superb!

  2. January 9, 2012 6:15 pm

    The rock formations are intriguing!

  3. Sherry Rondi permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:54 pm

    Glad to see there are still people looking at the less advertised locations. Have loved Shawnee for years and appreciate its small marvels. It’s great for kids of all ages. A wonderful place to get off the beaten track and not spend a fortune. Keep spreading the word.

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