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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Wild Illinois

Amanda and I have settled into Carbondale, IL after spending the past few days in the wilderness. There is no internet access in places like Golconda and Cave In Rock, which were two of the small villages we visited during our travels through the Southern Illinois outback. The Shawnee National Forest is a marvelous place, a real gem. The mix of Utah/Colorado-style rock formations with deep green forest is startling.

We visited the new Lincoln Library/Museum in Springfield IL on Wednesday. This must be America's top presidential library - full of high-tech wizardry (check out the "Ghost of the Library" show for an eerie experience). I am an Abe Lincoln fanatic and a history buff, so this was a great opportunity for me to gorge on Lincoln lore. My lovely daughter was less enthusiastic, however, so we moved on south.

The Ohio River valley region of Southern Illinois was "farmed out" in the early part of the 20th Century. The forests were mostly harvested, the soils sucked dry of nutrients. Crop production plummeted, then the Great Depression led to a complete collapse of crop prices. The local farmers dried up and blew away with the topsoil. FDR sent the Civilian Conservation Corps to the Ohio River region of Southern Illinois and the forests were re-planted. Many of the major recreational areas in the region were built by the CCC during the Great Depression.

On Thursday, we had breakfast at the Dari Barr restaurant in Golconda. This was a classic small town diner - full breakfast for $3.00, a smiling waitress that called me "hon," and a clientele that consisted of farmers and hunters. Wednesday was the last day of wild turkey hunting season in Illinois and we sat next to a couple of hunters in full camo (including hats). Their clever disguises did not work - they were moaning over their failure to bag a turkey. Turkeys are not geniuses, but they are elusive, apparently.

Of the four hikes we completed in the past two days, Amanda and I would award four stars to Bell Smith Springs. We hiked along a spring-fed creek into pretty rough terrain and arrived at a sizable rock overlooking a pool. And we sat, and listened to the world.

And as we drove out of the nature preserve, a large wild turkey strutted across the road in front of our car. He probably made it through the last day of hunting season, so he is safe for another year.

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