It was a gorgeous day for hiking today and a good example of why hiking in December in southern Illinois can be so awesome. The sun was shining and it reached 50 degrees. The perfect weather for completing my thru hike on the River to River Trail on the 10th day since starting in Elizabethtown. Plus there is rain forecast for the next several days so the timing was good to finish today.
|At the trailhead in the Bald Knob Wilderness|
|Progress thwarted on Scatters Road|
Finally we departed from the Godwin Trailhead and I put my frustrations behind me. I felt so happy to be on my way toward accomplishing my goal. Although I had gotten into the routine of hiking every day and figuring out the logistics of section hiking the trail, I was looking forward to returning to my normal daily life. But the thought did cross my mind to keep going until I reached the Pacific Ocean!
|At the Godwin Trailhead|
|Hiking through the beautiful oak-hickory woodlands at Clear Springs Wilderness|
|Walking across a downed tree|
|Left to right: black oak, red oak, white oak|
|Crossing Hutchins Creek|
|White Bear Sedge (Carex albursina)|
We were keeping up such a good pace we decided to take a quick break. It's good to take breaks often, but to keep them short. Naturally, I looked at the surrounding vegetation. I spotted a couple shrubs and looked at their twigs
|Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)|
One reason for this is that they cannot self-fertilize and are clonal. So that Pawpaw patch referred to in the song is a population that is genetically identical. To ensure proper gene flow, Pawpaw flowers need cross-pollination, which is performed by carrion insects like flies and beetles. This is why the flowers are maroon; they resemble rotting meat and sometimes even smell bad, in order to lure in pollinators. This explains the folklore that a Pawpaw tree will only produce fruit when an animal dies at the base of it.
Pawpaw has distinct buds as well. At the tip of each twig is a brown feathery naked bud. Naked in this sense means lack of bud scales. Bud scales protect the tender tissue within the bud from harsh winters, think of it like a parka. But Pawpaw is the Annonaceae, the Custard Apple family, which is a largely tropical family. No need for bud scales when you live in the tropics! Also, this feathery bud resembles a fine tipped paintbrush and reportedly John James Audubon would use Pawpaw twigs as paintbrushes to make his bird paintings as he traveled across Illinois. Ok enough about Pawpaw.
|Clear Springs Wilderness Area|
|Selfie on top of Inspiration Point|
|Old Juniper clinging to the limestone cliff|
|View north from Inspiration Point|
|McCann Springs Trailhead|
|Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata) at LaRue Pine Hills|
|LaRue Pine Hills Research Natural Area|
|Illinois Botanizer on the banks of the Mississippi River|
|Jar of Ohio River water|
|End of hike ceremony|
|My boots touching the Mississippi River|
|New signage at the western terminus of the trail|
Some final thoughts. Overall, my body took a moderate beating and in hindsight I think I went too far too fast on the first day. I think that led to knee pain for the rest of the trail, but I don't feel any pain now that I'm done hiking. And Ruby is all healed up too.
|Ruby is a black lab/boxer mix|
|My path on Day 10 in red, drove path in pink to Mississippi River|
I am thinking of devising an alternative River to River trail route that covers more terrain with less road walking (likely meaning off-trail hiking will be required). This route would explore more of the hollows of southern Gallatin County, connect to One Horse Gap via Gibbons Creek Barrens, Williams Hill (the highest point in southern Illinois), and Gyp Williams Barrens, thus skipping that road walking section, and go north after Crow Knob to Sand Cave, Bell Smith Springs, Jackson Falls, Jackson Hollow, and Fink Sandstone Barrens. I realize that the trail intentionally skips going by natural areas, as it's an equestrian trail and horses are not allowed in natural areas. But for hikers, I propose these alternative options and maybe one day a trail can skirt the edge of these places like it does at Crow Knob. Anyway, here is an image of my path in red and the road walking I skipped in black (the western section in black is the former official route from Battery Rock).
|My overall path on the River to River Trail|
I hope someday soon I can adapt this blog into a book that can be taken along on the trail, for hikers to read to learn more about the ecology and natural history of the region or for anyone interested in learning more about southern Illinois. It's rich in its biological diversity, in its landscapes and in its people.
End: Grand Tower
Miles: 122 (estimated out of 157 total)
Average: 12.2 miles a day
People encountered on the trail: 2 on day 6, 4 on day 8 (6 total)
Wilderness Areas: 5 - Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek, Panther Den, Bald Knob, Clear Springs
Public Lands: 5 - Shawnee National Forest, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Touch of Nature Environmental Center, Devil's Backbone Park (City of Grand Tower)
Natural Areas: Whoopie Cat Mountain, Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek Canyon, Double Branch Hole, Odum Tract, LaRue Pine Hills
Useful links: River to River Trail Society and http://rivertorivertrailhike.com/dir/.