Southern Illinois/Kentucky: Part 4

On our final day in Southern Illinois, we opted to go ziplining in the Shawnee Forest in the morning. We saw a fridge magnet at our B&B and decided to try it out. I had tried ziplining once or twice. At my old job, they’d have a block party for the students, faculty and staff twice a year. A few times, they hired a company that would set up a zipline in the middle of the street in downtown Chicago. Of course, I had to do it. It was always terrifying stepping off the platform to zipline down the street but it was fun.

The ziplining place was not very far away from where we were staying. It was a bit further in the forest; the roads turned from pavement to gravel very quickly. It was astonishingly beautiful at the site. It was a perfect hot day.

We loved it. We had tour fantastic guides who led us through the course. Safety was always their number one priority; we always had two clasps to wires to keep us from falling even when we were just standing on the platform. The guides were funny and knowledgeable too. There were 7 courses where the largest was over 1000 feet! I’ll admit that I was super nervous on the first two lines (the shorter ones). But then when I did the third one, which was over 300 feet, I had enough time to actually relax and enjoy the ride. Needless to say, I was hooked. That feeling of rushing through the air was astonishing. The last line was the longest and it had a radar gun to determine your speed. My husband and I tied at 42 mph. What a rush! I can’t wait to do it again!

Then we had a long drive back home to Chicago. We stopped at a Steak & Shake on the way, which was nice. I’ve only been three or four times. I try to avoid fast food places as a rule but that’s a bit hard on road trips. We ordered a birthday cake shake which wasn’t bad but the Oreo Cheesecake place from Sonic was better. On the way home, we briefly stopped at Lincoln Log  Cabin Historic State Park. It’s not exactly well marked from the highway. Google was yet again on “Adventure Mode” so we were on some gravel roads frequented by golf carts.

The park was pretty neat. Unfortunately, we got there after it closed but so the visitor center was not open. Alas. We could wander the grounds and see this cabin and the farm. There were real animals housed in the farm including sheep and a cow. At one point when I was focused on the disgruntled cow, my husband called out to me. I turned around and on the path was a black snake making his way to the cabin behind me. With a healthy distance between us, I was fascinated by the snake. We watched as the snake crossed the sidewalk, got to the cabin wall and found a little hole inside. (The cabin looks closed off so I think it’s a good place for the snake).


Lincoln’s cabin


Snake friend

Near the park was a cemetery where Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Susan Lincoln, were buried. We made our respects, leaving a penny each.


The rest of the trip home was most uneventful despite watching a thunderstorm erupt around us at one point.

What a wonderful trip!

That’s all for now!


Southern Illinois/Kentucky Part 3

It was the day to drive to Mammoth Caves. A glorious day. I had been keen to go to Mammoth Caves for several years. We had done a road trip to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. We opted to go to the lesser known Cathedral Caverns State Park in Alabama, which was super cool. But Mammoth was the big time. So when my husband originally suggested this trip to Southern Illinois, I was excited about the prospect of visiting Mammoth Cave as a side trip.

It was about a three hour drive, mostly through Kentucky since we were staying about thirty miles from the border. On the way, we were astonished to see the seeming lack of billboards all over Kentucky. There must be a law. Or maybe they just don’t put up many billboards in the part of the state we were in. We had lunch at a Sonic on the way. I had never been to one, only knowing about it from the strange commercials back when I lived in Madison, WI. (There were no Sonics in Wisconsin at the time). It was a little unusual for us; we didn’t realize you needed to stay in the car. The cheeseburger I ordered was okay (I prefer Culver’s better). But the milkshake of Oreo Cheesecake was awesome. And so emblematic of our country’s problem with food. Mmm.

After a few hours, we got to Cave City. We had about an hour before our ticketed tour (I highly recommend getting tickets ahead of time). My coworker had mentioned a most magical place near the Caves: Dinosaur World. So that was our first stop. It is the best tourist trap ever. You pay about $16 and then hang out with these supposedly lifesize dinosaurs. It was so fun to wander a forest with dinosaurs all over (and giant spiders). There’s even a Mammoth grove. On the way, you see this giant T-Rex advertising for it. In the park, you can walk out to it and take photos. It has to be 3-4 floors up. There’s a little museum with a mix of artifacts and plaster casts of artifacts. Nothing like the Field or anything but neat. It was totally worth a side trip.

Dinosaur World

We then hopped in the car to get to Mammoth Caves in time for our tour. On the way, we were impressed with the amazing amount of tourist traps: Old West Towns, ziplining, horseback riding. This was tourist trap central. We got to Mammoth Cave, picked up our tickets, and made it to our tour just in time. (Seriously don’t be late). I had opted for the “Domes and Dripstones” tour. We boarded buses to get driven to the “New” entrance in the forest. We entered through a door into the dark. Once inside the cave, the temperature dropped to about 50 or so degrees, a relief from the 90 plus outside. It was impressive. We had to travel down about 100 stairs to a giant room.

Our the tour, we learned about George Morrison who concluded that there must have been other entrances to Mammoth Cave. He bought land and used explosives to expand some sinkholes. His team quickly discovered a giant cavern and then a section of the cave that was dubbed “Frozen Niagara.” He started leading tours down there, trying to take business away from the old Mammoth Cave entrance. He apparently hired people to dress up like troopers and create roadblocks to encourage folks to go his entrance over the other one. They would claim that the old entrance was closed because of cave-ins and other awful things. Apparently, there were the Kentucky Cave Wars where competing caves would sabotage each other (even destroying one another’s caves). There were allegedly some altercations. Eventually, people banded together to end the madness and bought the lands to consolidate it all, the root of the caves becoming a National Park. Pretty sweet. I look forward to reading more about the Cave Wars.

It was an impressive cavern. It was all smoothed naturally; there had been a river flowing through. With the exception of the lights and the benches and the ground, they hadn’t done much to the area. Along the way we saw gigantic boulders that just laid on the floor or at the bottom of chasms, clearly they had fallen from above. Crazy times. The guides turned off the lights at one point so we could experience pure darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. They tried to get us to not make any noise too but that failed for the most part. They said you could hear your heartbeating. Freaky!

We wandered through the cave to Frozen Niagara. It was an area with many stalagmites and stalactites with some columns. It looked a bit out of a horror film. The stalactites had this weird webbing look to them, made it look organic. Very cool and creepy. The guides told us that part of the reason that Mammoth Cave  could be so large was that it was dry. Caves with stalagmites and stalactites eventually will collapse from the weight on the ceiling.


Frozen Niagara


Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Caves


After Mammoth Cave, we decided to spend a bit more time in Cave City. We had a lot of tourist traps to choose from. We decided to check out Kentucky Down Under, which advertised petting a kangaroo. We got there around 4:50 and were told that they had sold their last ticket at 4pm. They closed at 6. Boo urns.


Instead, we ended up in a magical amusement park. We took a turn in Go-Karts, which was not my speed. Then we signed up for an hour horseback riding. I’ve been horseback riding twice before; the last time was a ten minute ride two years ago in Argentina. My horseriding skills are basically non-existent. But it’s fun and worth trying again.

So I’m terrible at leading horses around. My horse was tired and really didn’t want to take the longer path around. (It was the last ride of the day) Despite my best attempts, the horse ended up getting turned around. It was awkward. After some frustrating yet funny shenanigans with the horses in, we eventually got them on the right path. And then we galloped. It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. I don’t have much of a seat so I bobbed up and down, terrified that I would fly off the horse. It was only for a short time but it was amazing. After about thirty seconds, we went back to walking and I got to appreciate the scenery. Kentucky is gorgeous.



After the horseback riding, we decided to fit in some fun on a chair lift and Alpine Sled. There’s something about trips to Kentucky and chairlifts. When we went to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, there was a chair lift you could take to get to the top of the park. It’s a great way to relax, check out the sites, and feel the wind in your hair. The Alpine slide was fun but somehow my sled started to lose speed. For once, I wasn’t touching the brake much. Eek!


What a day in Cave City!

THe ride home turned out to be much more of an adventure than either of us wanted to be. We missed our exit to the next major highway so we let Google recalculate. Well, Google really decided to change the setting to adventure for us. We ended up on seventy-five miles of backroads before we got back to a major highway. At one point, we were on this little road between farms and houses when we saw debris on th way. We avoided hitting it with the tires but it got caught underneath the car. We ended up having to pull over where it was safe. It was stuck. It was a cardboard box with a plastic diesel tank. Thankfully, some nice local folks pulled over and helped us getting it out. After they left, we realized there was a little trail of liquid coming from the car. We had no idea what it was. It didn’t smell like fuel. Since it was a Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend in rural Kentucky, our only real option was to get to the major highway and find a gas station where we could find a mechanic. So we had this sixty mile ride of dread. The car seemed fine. Nothing indicated loss of fuel. But there is nothing like the fear of being broken down in a cell-phone dead zone in rural Kentucky at 9pm at night. Any time the car made any noises (ie. the radio) or we smelled anything funny, we both got very anxious. We did see some Amish buggys at one point with battery powered caution signs on the back of their buggys.

Eventually, we got to the highway and found a gas station. I asked if there was a mechanic available in the area. The people said that they could call one in for sixty bucks. They asked what the problem was, so we explained what happened. They offered to look at the car. So the gas station attendant and his friend checked the car, even tasted the liquid (still dripping, ever dripping). He was about 90% sure it was just air conditioning condensation. He said it could be antifreeze so he said get a gallon of water just in case it was. It was a relief.

We ended up at a Huddle Grill, a seeming knock off of Waffle House. It was strange. There was someone occasionally shrieking behind us. The waffle I ordered was okay. Alas.

We drove the additional 100 miles home and were fine. We were really happy to make it back to our B&B that night!

That’s all for now!


Southern IL/Kentucky Part 2

After lunch, we went to the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Park. It was interesting to see local folks’ reaction to our plan. Both our host at the B&B and the lady at the diner we had lunch at told us to be careful. They mentioned people falling and having to be airlifted to nearby hospitals. That was peculiar. I was a bit curious as to what Garden of the Gods was going to be like.

When we arrived, it was clear that this was a popular location. Lots of cars in the lot. The path was very short, about 1/4 of a mile. But then we got to the rock formations.  These towers of rock rose up overlooking a verdant forest that stretched out for miles. The rock formations were varying colors and patterns. It was astonishing. People were climbing all over them. We saw some Mennonite boys and men jumping from rock formation to rock formation. Very impressive. We did a little climbing on some of the formations but kept our distance from the cliff side. Because it was very clear what the local people were warning us about! I have to say that Garden of the Gods was beautiful. I had no idea such places could exist in Illinois. I highly recommend going there. But please do be careful.


Garden of the Gods


More Rock Formations

After our time at Garden of the Gods, we decided to head to Cave in the Rock, another park nearby. It’s on the beach of the Ohio River. To access it, you walk down a flight of stairs and walk on the beach with cliff faces above you. There were swallows darting in and out of little nests they had created on the cliffside. It was calmer than Garden of the Gods. It was not nearly as popular. We eventually found the Cave of the park. It was really awesome. Legend has it that pirates would use it for their mischief. You can just walk in through a tiny carved path in the middle. It’s fairly dark; we had flashlights to see a bit better. Water dripped from the ceiling. At one dark part of the cave, I actually found frogs living in the darkness. It was so cool. I tried not to think of what other creatures lived in the cave as well. There was one point where there was an opening in the ceiling where a single shaft of light could come through.


The Swallow Nests


Cave in the Rock

Later we learned that the cave was a den of murder and sin. I think at one point they found 40 bodies of people there. I also seem to recall they had used it as a bar at one point. A very dark bar.

We had time for one more park that day. Nearby was the promising Tower Rock State Park. However, after getting lost via Google, we made the park but could not figure out where there were trails. It seemed that the park was suited for camping and boating. Plus we did not see the structure that gave the park its name. Boo.

We decided to head to the local town for dinner before turning in. We ended up at 17th Street BBQ in Marion, IL. I had seen a sign with the motto “Love, Peace & BBQ.” Good motto. I tend to want to avoid chains but it was local. I also can’t resist BBQ.  I ended up with a nice bbq pork sandwich with a baked sweet potato and sweet tea. Good times.


17th Street BBQ – A Good Motto to Live By

We headed back to our B&B after dark had set in. Google likes to be tricky with its directions. It tried to send us off in a different direction than our stated address. We had to wing it (in the dark) but we did find a landlocked lighthouse to guide our way. In the town we were staying in, there is a lighthouse with actual turning light that had been built by a local church. We had seen it the night before and had been very confused. But now, it was an actual lighthouse because it told us we were going in the right direction!

That’s all for now!


Southern IL/Kentucky Part 1

For Memorial Day weekend, we tried a different kind of trip. We booked a B&B in Buscombe, IL, about 30 miles north of the IL border for a weekend of hiking in downstate IL and parts of KY. We wanted to check out Shawnee National Forest. I’ve mentioned before how I grew very fond of hiking at a late age. Hiking wasn’t something I did as a kid, save a trip to Saguaro National Park in Tucson and maybe an occasional school trip. But I learned that despite being a city girl, I do enjoy wandering in the wilderness for short periods of time (I have yet to try camping – that might be trickier for me).

We began our drive in the afternoon. Once we left the city, the highway was lined with farm after farm. We had dinner in Amish Country in the town of Arcola, IL. We drove to the historic Main Street, which looked like what you imagine. Cute painted buildings. They had these murals talking about the history of the city. Apparently, the creator of Raggedy Ann & Andy, John Barton Gruelle, was born there. However, the town was empty. All the stores, save one restaurant, were closed for the day. The restaurant, the Dutch Oven, was open and hopping. We had some nice hearty food there; I had a wonderful brisket with amazing stuffing. My husband got fish and chips. It was a nice pit stop on our drive. The place mats had a map of the area showing all the Amish businesses, which was cool. We still had a long drive ahead of us so we didn’t explore further.


Mural at Arcola

Nearby, we passed this place of business. Best name for a place I never want to go to.13266036_10100849383814850_7178358884516574381_n.jpg

And then we had some unexpected adventure. About 45 minutes from our B&B, we were sideswiped by a semi. We were in the right lane and he tried to merge into our lane. The lug nuts on his tire hit the car, taking out the driver’s side mirror. Thankfully, the driver realized the impact and pulled out. We got into the shoulder to assess ourselves. Neither of us were hurt at all. The windows were fine and the airbags were not deployed.. However, the driver’s door wouldn’t open. The truck driver stopped and ascertained we were okay. Waiting in the car in the shoulder was really terrifying actually. We decided to head to the next exit so we could exchange insurance, etc. But all in all, we were fine. We got the door open. The car was driveable. So we got our police report and drove on to our B&B. That was an experience. But at the end of the day, we were fine. Thank goodness.

By the time we got to the B&B, it was well after dark. The B&B was situated amongst farms so there was little electric light. Once we pulled up to the house, we were greeted by a firework display of lightening bugs. I hadn’t seen so many in years. They were all hanging out in the woods behind the house and lighting up the night. So beautiful. We had all this amazing animal sounds, crickets, a bull frog, and so much more. What incredible beauty.

The following morning, we woke up and greeted our hosts at the B&B. We had a nice hearty breakfast of biscuits and eggs. Our first stop was Ferne Clyffe State Park. It was about a 7 minute drive from where we were staying. In the daylight, the area was so beautiful. The farms of Illinois had given way to forests. At Ferne Clyffe, we took two hikes. The first was an easy hike to the waterfall. It was a flat path with a few little creeks that had overflowed their banks but nothing too bad. The path was in a canyon with a waterfall at the end.


However, we wanted to get closer. Some fellow hikers told us that we could hike up to the waterfall using a side path. That proved a bit more adventurous than anticipated. We had to climb up the side on muddy paths, climb over logs and rocks, and balance on rocks in pools from secondary waterfalls. And I saw some of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen. (All were Daddy Long Legs, so I knew I would be okay). We got to the waterfall area but the rocks looked slick. I stuck back while my husband explored a little bit more. It was a neat view.

We climbed back down and headed back to the parking area to go our second hike. This was a bit more challenging since the path wound its way up. It was a bit steeper. We had some decent views of the area around. It eventually finished at the bottom of the hill near the lake near the entrance of the park. We opted to just walk to the car from the road. On the way we saw these beautiful black, orange, and blue butterflies. It was perfect for hiking.


13312745_10100851734184690_2076347710949742228_n.jpgNext post, I’ll talk about our adventures at Garden of the Gods and Cave in the Rock. That’s all for now!