That was finally remedied this past April when southern Illinois became my home for 2 weeks. My dear old T@B camping friends were holding a rally near Carbondale, so that became the destination to my 2,000-mile journey back to the Midwest.
Arriving to Carbondale about a week before the rally, I decided to check out Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge-- one of the very few NWRs that offers public RV camping with hookups inside its borders.
I arrived just ahead of the weekend warriors and snagged this gorgeous lakefront site for a week. Just love "first come, first served" campgrounds!
After setting up camp and restocking my fridge, the next day I headed off to hike the NWR's moderately difficult 2.2 mile Rocky Bluff Trail. The ranger at the Visitor Center said this would be the best place for early Spring wildflowers, and he was right!
I spotted wild phlox...
and many, many more wildflowers.
The trail began up an oak forest hilltop. It seemed a bit boring at first to be quite honest. But about halfway around to loop, the trail descended into a limestone canyon along a small creek. This is where the wildflowers started to show in abundance, and where the ancient limestone canyon walls showed amazing erosion patterns:
As the trail turned for home, I now understood why everyone who had ever spent any time in southern Illinois raves about it--- this is a wild and scenic place far different than the flatland cornfields of central Illinois and wall-to-wall concrete of the Chicago area.
For the rest of the week, I ventured out to explore the amazing Cache river basin (more about that in the next post), and hike the Shawnee National Forest. The best of these day hikes was to Bell Smith Springs, another interesting limestone canyon about an hour east of Carbondale.
After climbing down a long flight of rocky stairs, I explored the spring-fed waters of the canyon. I bet this is a VERY popular summer cooling-off place to escape southern Illinois' excessive heat and humidity!
I finished my Bell Springs hike at "Devil's Backbone" where two young college-aged dudes were actually swimming on this brisk cold spring day (they also had just smoked a few joints, so that might better explain their decision-making!). After about 10 minutes, the dudes finally left so I could get this nice shot of the swimming hole.
On my final day at Crab Orchard campground, I returned to hike the Rocky Bluff Trail with a new friend. We finished back at the campground with a hike over to see a bald eagle nest with baby eaglets in the next camp loop, and eat our lunches overlooking the lake.
We initially met when I arrived at the campground. She's one of the camp hosts and checked me in that day. As she took down my name and address, she started commenting about our similarities-- and they were unbelievably uncanny!
We share the same name (Lynne with an "e"), both have Winnebago Views, both have Florida license plates, both are full-time RVers, and both volunteer at NWRs. But as we ate our lunch and compared our stories further, it got even more bizarre! She, too, grew up in Chicago. She went to the same high school as my aunt. And for the kicker-- her last name is the same as my stepfather's (and mom's married name).
What are the odds of all that?!!! I can only explain it as a divine week in southern Illinois-- it may have just been my first, but certainly won't be my last!