Sunday, December 9, 2018

River to River Trail across southern Illinois Day 7: Ferne Clyffe State Park

Today was a nice day for hiking and yet no one else was out enjoying it.  At least not where I was!  I spent last night at my home in Makanda so I was able to get refreshed and sleep in my own bed.  I thought that after taking a shower I would pass out for several hours, but I managed to rally so I could keep up on the blogging.

The plan for today was relatively short so I was able to take it easy this morning.  I noticed that Ruby was limping at the end of our long day yesterday so I thought another rest day was in order.  I think I know exactly how she hurt herself.  When we were at One Horse Gap on day 3 she was running very fast down a hill after I called her to come and the leaves were slippery from the wet mud beneath.  I saw her scramble to remain in control, yet seemed to enjoy every minute of it.  I think she sprained her leg on that move.

So I left her to rest on the couch, but I was not lonely because I had another hiking companion to accompany me.  My wife joined me for today's section and driving two vehicles from home made the hiking arrangements easy.  We drove one car to the trailhead in Goreville on the north side of Ferne Clyffe State Park and then continued in our other car to the trailhead at the end of Rebman Lane on the south side of the park.  I left off the previous day by getting picked up on Tall Tree Lake Road so I skipped a few miles of road walking on a paved road and picked up the trail at Ferne Clyffe State Park.

My wife and I at the natural bridge

Ruby back home on the couch

This area is a treasure and I'm so glad it's in public ownership for all to enjoy.  There's not much to link the trail up with in the central part of southern Illinois as well so this is a key piece of land for the trail to go through.  I have been to this state park a hundred times or more, but I have actually only hiked the Happy Hollow area once, back in 2010. I visited in the summer and it was brutally hot I remember.  The conditions were much better today, although I don't think it got above freezing and the wind was brisk in places, overall it was pleasant.  There were lots of ice ribbons again today, all produced on the stems of Wild Oregano (Cunila origanoides).

Ice ribbons

Ice ribbons 
Ice ribbons

The sun was shining and it's interesting how the sun can lift morale.  My morale is not suffering that much, although my body is more sore than I expected it would be, I am excited to eat up some miles each day.  I think it helps that I am section hiking the trail and not carrying all the gear necessary to camp in the wild.  The point of doing the thru-hike this way was so that I could cover more miles each day and finish the trail in 10 days.  I am finding out my feet are taking some damage from the pace and today I had to patch up both big toes, plus my right heel was sore from limping along on my left leg.  It was good that today was going to be a shorter day.

The trail signs were a little different through the state park
My wife and I set off from the trailhead at noon and headed along the River to River Trail into Happy Hollow.  The trail was wide, but it was covered in leaves and the woods were beautiful with not a soul around.  Soon we descended into the valley and the scenery was dramatic.

Huge slab of sandstone at the creek crossing
We were able to catch up with talking about our lives after being apart for a week and the hike was very enjoyable.  After crossing the creek, the trail followed it southwest, but once we saw the cliffs we had to go off trail.  Then we saw the first feature of this section; the small arch.  A little bit farther was the natural bridge.

Natural bridge
Natural bridge from below

Cliffs in Happy Hollow
Continuing on, it didn't make sense to go back to the trail when the bluffline was so cool.  Another reason why winter hiking is great, it's easier to go off trail, you don't have to worry about poison ivy or trampling plants, so we followed the edge of the cliffs.  They were tall in this area and we imagined what it looked like after a good rainfall event. Only a little water was trickling down today, but there was enough to freeze into icicles.

Cliffs just west of lower part of trail
My wife looking at the cliffs
The weather was cold enough for icicles

We made our way down the hill back to the trail and it went through some really nice forest.  The Red Oaks were huge in this area!  They sure made the most of out this park because the trail winds around from one end to the other.  Soon we ascended the switchbacks to the top of the bluff.

Red oak dominated forest

Switchback trail up the bluff
Along the way, I spotted a neat fern that only grows on directly on exposed rock.  Pinnatifid Spleenwort Fern (Asplenium pinnatifidum) is always a treat to find and the common name refers to the doctrine of signatures.  Before modern pharmaceuticals, plants were used as medicine, and there was a belief that because God created disease, he must have also created a cure for each disease, and thus marked medicinal plants with his "signature" that indicates how it can be used.  A plant that looks like a body organ was believed to be used as a cure for said organ disease.  So spleenwort, due to the repetitive notching along the leaves, was used for spleen ailments.  

Pinnatifid Spleenwort Fern (Asplenium pinnatifidum)
Shelter bluff in Happy Hollow
The hike through the forest above was alright and we made up for some time spent exploring the cliffs and taking photos.  As we started up the final climb to the top of the bluff, we stopped at look at Hawk's Cave.  We have been here before and I think it is among the most impressive sandstone overhangs in all of southern Illinois.  The perspective of it from here is spectacular, but it could be missed by just following the River to River Trail so look for the short spur trail on the right.

Looking north at the huge overhang called Hawk's Cave

The rest of the way up the hill to the trailhead at the north end of the park was a slow climb through the woods and past some wildlife food plots.  Soon we reached our car and my wife drove me to the trail section that starts off Happy Hollow Road.

This is where the trail through the eastern part of the park meets the road
This disjunct section of Ferne Clyffe State Park is a really great acquisition.  There are bluffs on both sides and the trail descended into the valley and followed a two-track trail through a beautiful oak woodland to Bork's Falls at Regent Lane at the end.  My wife met me here and we hiked down to the waterfall.  The blue-green color of the water was really special and we enjoyed this awesome spot.  Then we went back to get our other car at the trailhead on Rebman Lane and on the way we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.  I'm staying at my home tonight and it's been nice to blog from the comfort of my recliner in front of the woodstove.

Bluffs in the area of Bork's Falls
Bork's Falls
Bork's Falls
I hiked 6.8 miles and then 2.4 miles for a total of 9.2 miles in 4 1/2 hours.

I hiked the two sections in blue today


  1. Enjoyed reading about your adventures today. Lots of credit to you, and your wife, too. Hope Ruby is feeling better, and your feet. You must be in great shape. Like the Spleenwort that grows on rock. Very special find. Pat Berla’ in Louisville

  2. Ferne Clyffe State Park is such a beautiful park. I had no idea such a park existed in Southern Illinois until a year or so ago. Want to go back this spring. Great photos! Thank you!