Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rocks, Trails and Fruit

We had two days to cover our plans for Southern Illinois. We didn’t tarry too long over morning coffee.

First, Garden of the Gods.

The area in southern Illinois named Garden of the Gods is in Shawnee National Forest.  Although it isn’t a National Park, it is maintained by the National Forest Service.  This 320 million year old area was formed as a result of an inland sea.    The formations are  a result of a great uplift followed by millions of years of weathering.  Even at that, they are still four miles deep.  There is a 1/4 mile well worn trail around and through the formations.  The valley the area overlooks is filled with mostly pine stands and hardwood trees.  We have visited the area in the fall.  The color is stunning.

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From Garden of the Gods, Janice suggested we drop down to the Ohio River for a ferry ride at the Cave in the Rocks port—a great idea.

Cave in the Rocks is an Illinois State Park located along the Ohio River.  There is a big cave along the bluffs that local folk lore says harbored river pirates.  We saved the cave for another visit deciding to get in the queue for a ferry ride. 

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The ride over and back took only about 30 minutes, but everyone was friendly, getting out of their vehicles and enjoying the view. 

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The Captain of the Loni Jo had been on the river for over 30 years.  This is a working ferry with locals using the service to cross the river.  There is an Amish village on the Kentucky side that would be worth a visit another time as well.

From the Ferry, we headed to the central part of the area because…

Finally, I was about to ride on the Tunnel Hill Rail to Trail.  Dan and I have crossed by this R2T on our trips to North Carolina when, much to my consternation,  the timing was always off for a visit. 

This five-star trail was originally built in the 1870s and eventually became a part of the New York Central line that had 11,000 miles of track between small villages but served the large cities of Chicago and St Louis. Tunnel Hill R2T was named after the small town that formed to dig the 800 foot tunnel on the line.  Due to a cave in, the tunnel is now only 500 feet.  As we rode through the tunnel, Paul and Dan were up ahead.  Janice must have thought I was nuts with some general freaking out on my part,  but the time I ran into the side of a tunnel was still fresh in my mind.  I will say this again, even though you can see the end of the tunnel, it is very dark in the middle.  Janice had her head lamp (Dan up ahead had mine) so we got through—here’s proof.

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We rode the trail from the ghost town of Tunnel Hill to Vienna Illinois. It was along this route that we stopped by this store that would only work in the rural midwest.  It was entirely on the honor system.  Not just a water, the selections included pop, Gatorade, and ice cream.  Someone along the trail told us it was owned by a local farmer that only checks it once a day to replenish supplies and pick up the money out of a coffee can.

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Had we rode the entire R2T, we would have passed over 23 trestle bridges.  As it was, there were many and they were high giving impressive valley views.

The story goes that the local farmers were so excited about rail road service that several years before the route was complete, farmers had already planted fruit in anticipation of selling it in the big cities. 

That is why we came upon a fruit farm on our way to the campground after the bicycle ride.  Next will be why these peaches never made it to our table.

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