My final week in southern Illinois this past April was spent doing the 2 big things I'd come to the area to do: attend the Midwest T@B Rally at Giant City State Park, and finally (FINALLY) paddle and explore the Cache river basin-- the northernmost cypress tupelo swamp in North America.
For years, the Cache river canoe trail has been managed by the Illinois DNR, but it appears as if the area is now jointly managed with the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge (considering Illinois' budget woes, this is a huge win to gain federal protection).
I expected the Cache canoe trail boat launch to be deserted when I arrived mid-morning on a gray, drizzling weekday. Instead, I found the parking area jammed with 2 yellow school busses, a dozen cars, and a dozen rental canoes! A group of 5th graders were on a field trip from Carbondale--- what luck! Fortunately, one of the teachers came up to me right away to apologize for all the noise and commotion, helped me get my Sea Eagle moved to the dock, and suggested a route that would go the exact opposite direction of where he planned to take the kids. What a saint!
Within a few minutes on the water, I spotted the bird I'd hoped to see at Mingo NWR but never did-- the Prothonotary Warbler.
Most exciting bird I saw all day! But, I'd come more for the Bald Cypress trees.
Hard to believe how this Louisiana ecosystem survives all the way up in the southern tip of Illinois, but somehow it does. So surreal to paddle these kinds of waters here. I'd love to see what it looks like once the trees leaf out and algae extends across the full waterway. A swamp without gators!
The highlight of my 3-mile paddle was seeing 2 "named" Bald Cypress trees in the swamp-- an 850-year-old tree with over 200 knees,
and the State Champion Bald Cypress (one of the widest trees I've ever seen!)
By the time I got back to the canoe launch, the kids, busses, and cars had vanished, and the sun had finally come out.
After a quiet lunch, I washed the algae off my boat and packed it back up into my rooftop carrier. Now it was time for a drive up to the northern edge of the Cache river basin-- a magnificent cypress forest called Heron Pond.
It was late in the afternoon, but I had the entire trail to myself, including the wonderful boardwalk.
Well, almost entirely to myself-- this half-napping copperhead snake a few feet below the boardwalk was keeping a close eye on me to make sure I didn't try to steal her perch!
How in the world can this still be Illinois? Just mind-boggling!
After leaving the boardwalk and returning to "tera firma" I headed over to see another state champion tree, the huge Cherrybark Oak, that towers twice as large as the trees around it.
Midweek, I moved camp about 10 miles south of Carbondale to Giant City State Park to reunite with my dear old T@B camper friends (and meet new ones!) at the Midwest T@B Rally.
A few friends recently moved to larger trailers, and a few new friends had newer Little Guy T@Bs including one very cute "baby T@B" called a T@G trailer, so there were lots of different trailers to tour.
Lots of good eats at the yummy potluck and "omelet in a bag" breakfast, a quick outing to one of the numerous local wineries, and a few evening campfires made for a very enjoyable rally!
Giant City State Park had a very scenic loop trail to hike. The center point had large limestone slabs that now were becoming moss covered, many with chiseled names of old visitors from the late 1800s. Pretty neat!
All in all, a really enjoyable couple of weeks discovering southern Illinois and seeing old friends. Now, I'd point the Winnie north to prepare for it's month with the paint shop!