Posts Tagged ‘Shawnee National Forest’

Late Season Misc.

Buffy and I went for a short hike at Stone Face, a site in the Shawnee National Forest. We headed into the woods because fallen leaves filled the creek instead of water.


A cranefly orchid leaf (Tipularia discolor) caught my attention first.


More leaves grew in a cluster about ten feet away.


The dark purple underside easily identifies their leaf.

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The leaves overwinter and die back before the flowers bloom in the fall.


A silver maple used to grow down the hill to the north of the grassy sandstone barrens on rural property I own. Conditions were right for a healthy population of cranefly orchids … like 135 leaves scattered around under it. Sizes varied. A heritage biologist told me to not let anything happen to that tree! Years later the tree died, the canopy opened up, and most of the orchids went dormant and/or died.



Grape ferns (Botrychium dissectum) commonly grew in the woods and will remain green through the winter.


Surprise, surprise — a nodding lady’s tresses orchid (Spiranthes cernua). Its double spiral of white flowers bloomed in October.


Putty root orchid leaves overwinter too, with their flowers blooming May into mid June.


Their flowers blend in with their surroundings, and

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the seed stalks remain through the winter.

Mine and Buffy’s hike lasted about an hour. We hadn’t been out for a while and had a good time. She’s about to turn 10 years old, and ran around like a young whipper snapper.


My oldest son had a knack for finding orchids when he was in grade school. I called him my “orchidontist.” He still wears that title and calls me to report in.

Eagle Mountain

Our afternoon temperature reached 16 degrees. Buffy and I just had to get out of the house.

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Naturally, for a short outing, we went to Ingram Hill for a loop walk and for the long view. The distant line of hills is what I call Eagle Mountain.  Of course, one hill is called Cave Hill (the one on the left). One is William’s Hill Tower, and another Womble Mountain. The road is named Eagle Mountain road.

There is a cave at Cave Hill on Shawnee National Forest land. I’ve never seen or been in it — I don’t do caves. It’s been closed to the public for several years now.

The hill line continues to the south (right) and a little more to the northeast. There are hills on this and the other side of the ridge line too, which makes for scenic views. The view to the west stretches over flat land that was glaciated. The glacier made it to the middle of our county. South of here and across southern Illinois is hilly, with a many state and federal recreational sites.

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It’s five miles from Ingram Hill, as the crow flies, to where the road starts up the mountain. The almost three-mile road twice goes to lower elevation. It crosses a narrow water course the first time. The second time it goes down, it crosses the creek where Buffy and I hike. The road starts below the left side of the bluff line in the picture. There is a deep ravine between the road and the bluff.

Oh, what a view …  and what memories to walk back through during the extremes of this winter.

Close Encounters

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… which this wasn’t.

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I took these pictures through a not-quite-clean double-pane picture window. The deer was feeding on leaves of what looked like vines.

 The young deer reminded me of a close encounter many years ago. I was hiking at a limestone barrens on Shawnee National Forest land. A light brown shape caught my attention. Why would anyone leave a lunch sack in the barrens. I went to retrieve it … it was a very young fawn. It remained motionless while I did a rapid sketch of it. Then I left.

Then I thought, “I bet the mother was just inside the woods, watching me.

That memory quickly took me to one of another close encounter. I returned to camp on rural property I own. Four or five biggish young birds were hunkered down in the mowed grass  near the pull-in. I did a gesture drawing, all the time asking them aloud, “What are you?”

Then I heard movement to the left and behind me. A hen turkey was sneaking toward the taller grasses where we didn’t mow. She had been feet from me. I didn’t see her because I’d locked in on the young birds. Obviously, she didn’t perceive me as a threat. Needless to say I decided it was time to leave and walked causally to the truck.

I wrote and illustrated nature articles for several local newspapers for almost 10 years. Obviously, this kept me hiking and camping a lot. Wildlife didn’t notice me when I was in deep concentration. One time I sat on the ground, drawing mosses. I heard movement and here came a coyote trotting down the short hill toward me. It saw me when about 12-15 feet away, “turned the corner” and kept on trotting.


Another memory just came to me, one that left me shaking.

I hadn’t seen my first wild turkey yet and knew they were feeding up the hill from camp at my rural property. I suited up in camouflage, sat at the base of a tree with my 35 mm camera in my lap. No turkey. I dosed off. Wind rustling the trees woke me, only the leaves weren’t blowing. To my left — here came a 4-foot kingsnake. Somehow, I grabbed my camera and quickly made it to a standing position. My movement stopped the snake’s movement 5-6 feet from me. My hands shook too much to take a picture, besides, I wanted more distance between us. I stepped back several steps and watched it. Finally, it started moving in the same north east direction. It stopped when it came to the warmer ground where I’d been sitting.

It would’ve gone — or at least started– across my lap if I’d been asleep.


All this from watching a young deer in the backyard.


Remnants of a winter storm still lingered, and I found myself at the computer going through file folders of pictures.

And … and I came across this one.

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A black-winged damselfly — one of my favorite things. It’s been years since I’ve seen one.  Of course it might help if I was in the right place at the right time.

Here are more pictures from hikes there.

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Bells Smith Springs Recreational Area is in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois and is the most likely area I know to see the damselfly.

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A spring runs into the creek not too far from this area, called Hunting Branch.

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Here’s the same view in early fall,

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and a later picture of the nearby picnic area.

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The Cascades is an expansive pavement rock. This doesn’t show all of it.

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Buffy and I usually hike in only a small area of Bell Smith Springs. It’s also designated as a National Natural Landmark.

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This shelter bluff is huge.


Bellsmith Springs is a popular tourist spot. Another entrance to it has 76 steps carved out of the side of a cliff that goes down into a small shelter bluff. Near there is a large natural rock bridge. Anyone interested can find information online and a video on youtube.

Ahhh,  my memory hikes took my mind off the slow-to-melt snow and ice.

Trail Cairns

I own 33 acres 7 miles southeast of the house. Shawnee National Forest land borders it on the south and private property on the other 3 sides. I have permission to hike on both neighbors.

I’d never heard the word cairn until I found one between two Native American graves with stones piled on them. They were on private land.

Besides marking graves, cairns were also used my Native Americans to mark trails. The one above is on Forest Service land. I just happened to walk up to it one day. It and the one with the graves have a pointed stone standing upright. The one standing in this one is at the upper edge. The cairn was roughly 6×7 feet.

This cairn is on my property where the ravine starts sloping upward. I’ve hiked here for over 25 years. I walked by it who knows how many times. I never saw it as anything other than a pile of rocks.

Then one day, when hiking by, I had a “lightbulb” moment, “That’s a cairn!” The 2 larger rocks on the left are much larger and are sticking out of the ground. The cairn measures 10 feet wide and 6-7  feet from top to bottom.  I have wondered how many years the pointed stone has remained upright … I now wonder when each cairn was made … they could be really old … like 100’s of years! If only the stones could talk.

It wasn’t too long after finding that one that I found another cairn in the same ravine on my neighbor’s to the north. The 3 cairns are roughly in a line. The one south on Forest Service is at a much higher elevation, but in the same line.