|Lusk Creek Wilderness Area|
|The beginning of this trail section|
As I mentioned in my earlier blog, southern Illinois was settled before the northern and central parts of the state. There are a few reasons for this. Pioneers were comfortable living in the forests, they came from the east where deciduous hardwood forests were the main plant community type and provided them with construction materials and ample game to hunt. But perhaps the main reason was because of farming. We now know that the rich black silt loam prairie is the most productive farmland. But the ground is composed of thousands of year of decaying roots of perennial plants. Many people don't realize that at least 75% of a perennial prairie plant is underground. It's mostly roots! And these roots are so tightly packed that it was very difficult to plow. It was much easier to clear the forest of trees, build a cabin, and farm the soft forest soil. However, this land is not as rich as the prairie soil and that combined with poor agricultural practices led to erosion and depletion of the soil. At this point, settlers would pack up and move on to richer ground, leaving behind a wasteland. This is one reason why the Shawnee National Forest was created, so the federal government could rehabilitate the land. One way this was done was by planting pine trees and this is why there are so many pine plantations in the Shawnee National Forest. The pine stands are my least favorite areas to hike through.
|R2R Trail through pine forest|
|Little Lusk Creek crossing|
|Another stream crossing|
|Fern-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)|
|Tuning Fork Tree|
|The confusing sign|
|Go no farther!|
|The turned trail marker I initially missed|
Owl Bluff is so named because of the rare plants known in the area and they needed to name the spot. I heard Max Hutchison named it, after finding Appalachian Bugbane (Cimicifuga rubifolia) there. He either saw some owls there or owl pellets. Seems like a simple explanation. Either way, this is an area that was so badly damaged by horse traffic that it led to the exclusion of horses within the natural areas of the Shawnee National Forest. Rare plants here and other places like Jackson Hollow were being destroyed by irresponsible equestrian use. Contentious lawsuits ensued, but eventually the court battle was settled. Horses would be excluded from natural areas, but they needed to be well marked so that they could be avoided.
|Natural Area sign near Lusk Creek|
The crossing at Lusk Creek wasn't too bad and once on the other side I cracked open the beer and made a video. It tasted good! I also took some time to photograph the alder bushes (Alnus serrulata) that grow here. This shrub is not very common in southern Illinois and can easily be identified in the winter by the stalked leaf buds that look like boxing gloves. Those delay caused me to loose my 3 mile an hour pace, but at this point I slowed down anyway because I knew I was nearing the end. All I had to do was hike up and out of the canyon.
|Yes! Not my first choice in beers, but it would do just fine.|
|Crossing at Lusk Creek|
|Speckled Alder (Alnus serrulata)|
|Puttyroot Orchid (Aplectrum hyemale)|
|St. Andrew's Cross (Ascyrum multicaule)|
Soon I saw my car, which was great because it started to rain. I went to the Eddyville gas station and bought some wet dog food to give to Ruby and drove back to War Bluff Wildlife Sanctuary and took a nap. I traveled 12.9 miles in just under 5 hours.
|R2R sign in Eddyville|
|War Bluff Wildlife Sanctuary|
|Day 4 mileage|
|Day 4 path in brown|