For the past couple of weeks I’ve been wandering through the southernmost reaches of Illinois gathering information for the outdoor guidebooks that I’m currently writing. In addition to charting a handful of road biking routes and dozens of camping destinations, I also was documenting hiking trails for the Backpacker magazine website.
I was especially eager to explore the Shawnee National Forest, a huge tract of wilderness at the southern tip of the state, known for its rugged beauty. As it happened, rain fell frequently. Floodwater swallowed up a few of the trails and campgrounds I visited. Two campground access roads were blocked with mud slides. My bicycle survived heavy downpours; my boots were frequently caked with mud.
While dodging the worst of the rain, I discovered plenty of scenic spots. The subtle beauty of the cypress swamp at Horseshoe Lake (pictured here) and the jaw-dropping drama of the rock formations at Garden of the Gods were just a couple of places that left strong impressions on me. In coming weeks, I’ll be sharing highlights from my downstate travels.