Thursday, September 15, 2016

Natural Bridge, Canyon, Wine and No Peaches

After the first night on the lamb, we had reservations the next two nights.  Except when we arrived at our camp spot at Giant City State Park, we were right in the middle of the campground.  After some negotiations with the camp host, we found a more secluded spot next to the woods.  (Camp hosts are almost always helpful and accommodating).

First thing Sunday morning, we headed to Pomona Natural Bridge.  We were early and enjoyed solitude as we hiked the short trail to the bridge.  This was the overlook down on the bridge.  Everything was dry, but at the top middle, there is a small waterfall in damper times.  The bridge spans 90 feet and was formed by erosion. 

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At this point in our day, we should have headed straight to the wineries.  Instead, we decided to check out the Little Grand Canyon.   However, we failed to read  another site that cautioned this hike when it’s hot. 

We realized we weren’t up for the canyon hike—the one that descends to the bottom, thankfully.  But, we hoped to hike to the “overlook.”  The signage was not clear, so instead of the 3/4 mile to the overlook, we took off for the 4 mile round trip ridge walk hike, which was in the trees without many views.  

It turned hot, we didn’t have water and the mosquitoes were relentless.  Thankfully, we visited with a family who instructed us to step over the chained off area and carefully go out to the edge of the dropoff to see the canyon.  I got this picture by sticking my camera out and blindly snapping a picture.  Later in the day, we were telling the host at a winery about our experience and she said the hike should only be done in the spring and fall. 

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So, with the hikes behind us, it was time to hit the wineries.  We especially enjoyed

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Pomona Winery is unique in that it only uses fruit other than grapes in its wine.  We are especially fond of the Golden wine.  I am sure the sweetness of this wine varies by the sweetness of the apples each year.  We find it just right.

We visited Alto Vineyard and once again had a fun and generous tasting.  All the vineyards in southern Illinois charge for their tastings—I imagine it will become more common, especially if there is entertainment, which there was at Alto.

We decided maybe just making our way back to the campground and kicking back with our wine and the steaks we had marinating would be a fun ending to the day. 

Then there is my lovely box of peaches.

Well, Dan did ask if I was going to bring them inside the camper.  So, this is all on me because I said, “Oh, I think they will be OK here under the camper.”  Not true—each peach had little teeth and claw marks the next morning.  Our little campground raccoon made a visit. This has happened to me before, you would think I would learn.

Monday morning we got our things together but not before enjoying our coffee and breakfast.  Dan & I enjoyed lunch at a small little restaurant in St Genevieve.  Paul and Janice were ahead of us so we didn’t visit the wineries in the area.  We’ve heard they are very good so that will be next time.  I will end this trip with a picture of a little cartoon that was under our tablecloth in the restaurant.  I don’t know why I think this is so funny….

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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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Monday, September 12, 2016

Southern Illinois—perfect for a long weekend

Paul and Janice and Dan and I took off for a short road trip over Labor Day weekend.  They have not visited Southern Illinois and we jumped at the chance to return there for a little bicycling, hiking and wine—not necessarily in that order.  The plan came together.

Southern Illinois is well within the “circle.”  I think I’ve mentioned the circle before but just as a refresher, we take a compass and place the point on home and the pencil on Denver Colorado—a known 500 mile, eight hour drive.  In other words, an easy one day drive.  All of southern Illinois falls easily inside the circle. 

At the last minute, we found out a first cousin of Dan and Paul’s died unexpectedly and the family  planned the visitation for her memorial service for Friday night—in Huntingburg, Indiana, which was only about 1 1/2 hour further east of our Shawnee National Forest destination.  We were thankful we happened to be nearby for the sad but enjoyable visit with family that we don’t see often.  

The campground was at the Shawnee National Forest Garden of the Gods which is located on the eastern side of the southern Illinois area.    It was dark when we arrived and my fears were realized when all of the spots in the “no reservation” campground were occupied—not even a place to squeeze in.   Well, not to let a small inconvenience discourage us, we pulled into a picnic area that said

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Well, it was earlier than 10 pm.    So we pulled out four chairs and bowls of hot, chicken soup for supper then slid into bed.  The next morning we were up after 6 am.  So, I guess we slept through the time when the area was closed.  What could we say?  Thankfully, no one asked.

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We took our time cooking breakfast on one of the picnic tables—delicious scrambled eggs in a bag.  All you do is break eggs in a good quality quart bag, add green peppers, onions, mushrooms, salt & pepper.  Then boil the bag till done.  They were so good, we were going to have them again—then I got side tracked with my  outdoor oven.  More on that later.

Next, yes, there is a Garden of the Gods in Illinois AND Colorado.