We went on our annual Shawnee camping trip with our amazing Meetup friends from the Corn Desert Hiking & Adventure Groupback in November. They are such a terrific bunch of people, and we always have the very best time with them. This year we stayed at Pounds Hollow Recreational Area, which is just as lovely as anyplace we’ve been in the Shawnee.
It’s a bit of a drive to get down there, but was way more fun this time because we got to pass by all the places we hiked last summer on the River to River trail. It’s so much different seeing these landmarks by car, and helped us to appreciate all that we had accomplished.
We arrived on the early side, and grabbed a site with our good friend Scott of Hiking Forward fame. This was great for us, as it was a really nice spot with good hanging trees, but I don’t know that Scott was aware of Arbor’s snoring before the first night. He was a good sport about it all.
Everyone typically brings a bundle or two of firewood, but this year we had the extra bonus of several cut tree sections left by rangers in other campsites. John, a man who is always prepared, grabbed his *ax*, and made short work of the wood and must have split at least a cord. He emphasized that this is fun for him. I think John should join us on all outdoor ventures from now on.
After all that, there was little else to do but enjoy the fire and greet our friends as they arrived. I love getting the chance to share stories with old and new friends and catch up with what everyone has been up to.
A small group of us decided to head out and explore Pounds Hollow to see what we could find.
There were no direct trails from our campsite, so we bushwhacked a good portion of it until we picked up a network of hiking paths.
We found some really neat things along the way, though. Up by the cliffs, we found these tags, which indicated research areas studying the Eastern Woodrat. We were very careful not to disturb anything, but John pointed out areas that could likely be nesting spots.
We also discovered an old abandoned well. I imagine Southern Illinois must be littered with them, but this was a first for me and conjured up jokes of Lassie. It was pretty nifty to look down and imagine what life must have been like when it was dug and used.
John found a really wonderful deer skull laying in the leaf litter and upon closer inspection we could see that one side of the antlers had been getting a lot of attention from mice. I love seeing things in the process of decay. It’s such a perfect reminder that life really is cyclical and self sustaining.
It wasn’t a terribly long hike, but was decently challenging and before long we decided to head back for dinner. Of course, we didn’t really know where ‘back’ was – so there was plenty of map consulting and discussion about the best direction to head. All part of the adventure!
Just before we picked up the road again, we hiked down into a ravine and John stepped off a shallow ledge and all we could hear was his sudden hollering and cursing. Apparently, living under that same ledge was a wounded racoon who was surprised by all the movement and rushed out between John’s legs, scaring the crap out of both of them! John quickly moved out of the way and the racoon found his way back into the shadows, leaving us to our best devices. You could really smell the rancid odor from its injury, and unfortunately I don’t think the animal was long for this world. It was an amazing story recounted later around the fire and I think it will go down as a Corn Desert legend.
We ate dinner back at camp and as a group drove over to the Garden of the Gods to explore and watch the sun set. It’s a beautiful area with sandstone rock formations that are supposed to be 320 million years old.
There are so many places to climb and scramble and look out over the expansive view of the valleys below.
It’s amazing that in today’s society they even leave these areas open to the public. I feel really fortunate that they haven’t been fenced off.
We stayed to watch the sun set over the cliffs and landscape below. We had such an amazing time and it was the perfect end to a glorious day.