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Exploring Nature in Illinois

Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie State

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Exploring Nature in Illinois
    Book Description:

    Loaded with full color photographs and evocative descriptions, Exploring Nature in Illinois provides a panorama of the state's overlooked natural diversity. Naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post explore fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks, bringing an expert view to wildlife and landscapes and looking beyond the obvious to uncover the unexpected beauty of Illinois's wild places. From the colorful variety of birds at War Bluff Valley Audubon Sanctuary to the exposed bedrock and cliff faces of Apple River Canyon, Exploring Nature in Illinois will inspire readers to explore wonders hidden from urban sprawl and cultivated farmland. Maps and descriptions help travelers access even hard-to-find sites while a wealth of detail and photography offers nature-lovers insights into the flora, fauna, and other aspects of vibrant settings and ecosystems. The authors also include diary entries describing their own impressions of and engagement with the sites. A unique and much-needed reference, Exploring Nature in Illinois will entertain and enlighten hikers, cyclers, students and scouts, morning walkers, weekend drivers, and anyone else seeking to get back to nature in the Prairie State.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09626-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Tom Clay

    It boggles my mind to think about the progress of humans since 1818, when Illinois became a state. Our advancements continue to stagger the imagination. Yesterday’s technological dreams are not just today’s realities; they are today’s necessities. But no matter how you cut the deck, we nurtured our innovation and achieved our inventions by forever altering the very landscape that attracted us.

    Today, archeologists work hard to discover trace evidence of hundreds of generations of human beings that once inhabited Illinois. Through artifact fragments, scientists can only wonder about those ancient people, how they lived and how they perished.


  4. PREFACE A Hint of Wildness
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: A Brief Natural History of Illinois
    (pp. 1-8)

    Before we begin to explore the nature of Illinois, we must take a brief, analytical view of our state and look at it in a new way. Historical accounts of Illinois noted huge trees, vast grasslands, and extensive wetlands. The state was chiefly a combination of flat, “marshy” prairies and forested, hilly country. Interspersed among these prairies and forests were a great variety of other habitats, including sand dunes, bogs, fens, sedge meadows, marshes, savannas, and swamps. Before European settlement, Illinois was approximately 60 percent prairie (ranging from very wet to very dry) and 40 percent forest of various types....

    (pp. 9-9)
  8. NORTH

    • CHAPTER 1 Apple River Canyon State Park
      (pp. 13-16)

      If the phrase “rotting dolomite of the Galena Group formation along the fast-flowing Apple River” excites your psyche, then Apple River Canyon State Park is your cup of tea. For a typical topography-starved Illinoisan, the prospect of exposed bedrock, sheer cliff faces, and a clear, gravel-bottomed stream in a remote location is nearly irresistible. Indeed, most visitors to the park in rural Jo Daviess County either enjoy a picnic in the shaded canyon carved by the river, try their hand at fly fishing, or indulge in a quiet wade in the cool water on a hot summer day.

      Apple River...

    • CHAPTER 2 Ayers Sand Prairie Nature Preserve
      (pp. 17-20)

      Sand deposits in the Illinois landscape are most familiar as the sand and gravel quarries, the geological gift of Illinois’s glacial past. Mention sand prairie, though, and most people will think of the relatively large areas of Mason and Iroquois Counties in Illinois that contain these unique, extremely dry habitats. They are the equivalent of the desert landscapes of the southwest, even though we get much more rain here. The porous sand does not hold water, so the landscape is extremely dry. They even have cactus, to solidify their desert-like characteristics.

      Ayers Sand Prairie, just south of Savanna in Carroll...

    • CHAPTER 3 Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve
      (pp. 21-23)

      Just southeast of Elgin, embedded in the urban/suburban landscape, exists a topographically varied, lush, isolated valley of greens, browns, blues, and gold. The preserve’s ninety-five diverse acres, bordered by two large mining operations, contain a tremendous variety of plants and animals. The topography is courtesy of the relatively recent glaciers that covered this corner of northeastern Illinois. The various hills that dot the preserve are “glacial kames” that formed at the bottom of glacial waterfalls. Here gravel and sand piled up into neat, conical hills, like salt pouring from its distinctive round container onto a flat surface. Over time, many...

    • CHAPTER 4 Gensburg–Markham Prairie Nature Preserve
      (pp. 24-26)

      Given the once-widespread distribution of prairies in central and northern Illinois, and the subsequent agricultural and urban development that has replaced them over the past two hundred years, it is inevitable, yet fortunate, that prairie remnants occur in some very unlikely places. What is truly remarkable is that prairies of the quality of Gensburg-Markham still exist. Located in a triangle formed by interstate highways 57, 80, and 294 in southern Cook County, and owned by The Nature Conservancy of Illinois, this improbable prairie remnant, growing on damp, sandy soil, owes it survival to soils that resisted both farming and suburban...

    • CHAPTER 5 Glacial Park Conservation Area
      (pp. 27-30)

      Where in illinois does the Ice Age come alive with kames, kettle holes, and glacial erratics? Where can you climb a hundred-foot camelback kame to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the landscape; walk in the ancient bed of glacial Wonder Lake; watch great white egrets fish along the bank of Nippersink Creek, the day-to-day marsh drama in the lives of red-winged blackbirds, and the creek-patrolling behavior of belted kingfishers; or experience the park-like setting of ancient savannas? The answer is simple. Take a journey to McHenry County and spend a day at Glacial Park, just south of Richmond, exploring the...

    • CHAPTER 6 Goose Lake Prairie State Park
      (pp. 31-34)

      To quote early Illinois visitor Ellen Bigelow in 1835, “Nothing can equal the surpassing beauty of the rounded swells and the sunny hollows. The brilliant green of the grass, the numberless varieties and splendid hues of multitudes of flowers, I gazed in admiration too strong for words.” It’s no mystery that tallgrass prairies in Illinois are vanishingly rare. Finding isolated sites along rail lines or in old cemeteries is a treat, but what was it like to actually experience the tallgrass prairie, so eloquently described by Ellen Bigelow? While few places in Illinois provide this opportunity, fortunately there are options...

    • CHAPTER 7 Green River State Wildlife Area
      (pp. 35-37)

      Heading north from the small town of Ohio, the road soon heads up and tops the massive Bloomington Moraine. To most, this is merely another hill in the rolling topography as the highway crosses into Lee County in north-central Illinois. But to the observant, the land that stretches out, level with the horizon, is markedly different. If it’s an early morning in midsummer, the flat tableland, although populated with the ubiquitous corn and soybeans, is covered with a ground-hugging haze—the ghost or shadow of what was once here: the Great Winnebago Swamp. Early settlers who built cabins near here...

    • CHAPTER 8 Harlem Hills Nature Preserve
      (pp. 38-40)

      The city of rockford is located in a region of rolling topography, drained by the Rock River. Within the confines of the second-largest city in Illinois, an explorer is able to experience the illusion of nothing but rounded hill following rounded hill, each covered with prairie grasses and forbs. As poet William Cullen Bryant wrote inPrairiesin 1832, “These are the gardens of the desert, these the unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful, for which the speech of England has no name—The Prairies.” This is an apt description of Harlem Hills.

      A look at the soil of the area...

    • CHAPTER 9 Illinois Beach State Park
      (pp. 41-45)

      Finding solitude and a diverse set of habitats in the bustling region of northeast Illinois can be a challenge. In Illinois’s most northeastern county (Lake), though, a short drive eastward from the city of Zion will yield an abundance of opportunities to experience the unique landscapes that make up the Illinois dunelands. Extending from near the Wisconsin border to just north of Waukegan, Illinois Beach State Park follows the sandy shore of Lake Michigan and has a mixture of rare plants and interesting insects, backed by a park-like forest of black and blackjack oak. This area is the most recently...

    • CHAPTER 10 Matthiessen State Park
      (pp. 46-48)

      If a new year’s resolution includes more exercise, then winter hiking is a must. The hike should be a treat for the feet, a little test of that resolution, and also a feast for the eyes. One park comes to mind that fills the bill—Matthiessen State Park, located in LaSalle County near Oglesby. With a January thaw, the air smells of spring, yet snow still covers the decaying autumn leaves and masks any problems a park might have. The question is, can an area be interesting in winter without its cloak of greenery or cadre of wildflowers? For a...

    • CHAPTER 11 Mississippi Palisades State Park
      (pp. 49-52)

      While we call attention to how glaciers shaped the Illinois landscape, the question occasionally surfaces, “What was Illinois like before glaciers?” Even though this question might be answered with visits to far western Illinois, near the confluences of the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers and to the south, in the Shawnee Hills, perhaps the most dramatic and scenic area to experience “ancient Illinois” is in Mississippi Palisades State Park. Located just north of Savanna, the rugged sandstone outcrops and hilly, ravine-laced topography make hiking here somewhat challenging, at least for Illinois. The hikes, though, are well-worth the effort as they...

    • CHAPTER 12 Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
      (pp. 53-55)

      In 1830, charles reed, the first white settler in the area south of Joliet, purchased 162 acres from the U.S. government and began to farm. One hundred years later that same federal government bought his land and the land of 149 other area settlers to build a munitions plant—the Joliet Arsenal, later renamed the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. The arsenal, one of sixty-two such plants in the United States, was located in the rolling hills of Will County, just east of the confluence of the Illinois, Des Plaines, and Kankakee Rivers. The rivers and prairie that encouraged Charles Reed...

    • CHAPTER 13 Moraine Hills State Park
      (pp. 56-58)

      Located in the northeast corner of Illinois, just three miles south of McHenry and east of the Fox River, lies a legacy of the Pleistocene glaciers. These massive, slow-moving, icy bulldozers left northeastern Illinois with a mosaic of many wetland habitats—bogs, fens, marshes, and glacial lakes. Moraine Hills State Park is an excellent place to view many of these features, modified by ten thousand years of vegetative activity. Nearly half the park’s acreage is composed of glacially derived wetlands and lakes. The park’s name is from the geologic feature known as a moraine. Moraines were formed where the ice...

    • CHAPTER 14 Nachusa Grasslands
      (pp. 59-62)

      When the nature conservancy (TNC) first purchased Nachusa, starting in 1986 with 250 acres, the land was classified as a degraded remnant prairie complex that contained threatened and endangered species. In short, Nachusa was going to need some work. Shortly after his arrival at the site, preserve manager Bill Kleiman stood on Doug’s Knob and looked out, thinking, “This is a great place to do great things.” A visit today showcases the result of more than twenty-five years of dedication by TNC staff and an army of volunteers. The process was often arduous but always systematic, with a view toward...

    • CHAPTER 15 Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve
      (pp. 63-66)

      The early settlers to northeastern Illinois were beset with a great diversity of natural communities as they made their way west and north around the immensity of Lake Michigan. One can imagine that wagons, as they headed inland from the lake, were alternately slowed by the dry, sandy soils near the lakeshore or forced to climb densely wooded hills (old glacial moraines), obstacles that ran roughly parallel to the lakeshore. Between each hill were swales, replete with wet, boggy soils that clamped onto wagon wheels and the boots of slogging settlers with equal ferocity. Many times a day decisions had...

    • CHAPTER 16 Spring Lake Wildlife Conservation Area
      (pp. 67-70)

      Anyone driving on Illinois Route 84, heading north from the Quad Cities and paralleling the upper Mississippi River, is usually intent on visiting Galena, one of Illinois’s signature tourist destinations. While glimpses of nature along the river can be had, especially in winter when numerous bald eagles roost in trees along the shore or sit on the partially frozen river, it takes a little detective work and a spirit of exploration to enter a world the Army Corps of Engineers designates as Pool 13, between river miles 532.5 and 536, hardly a description to excite the senses. While numerous opportunities...

    • CHAPTER 17 Starved Rock State Park
      (pp. 71-74)

      Hiking in nature should be a rewarding experience. Simply trekking through miles of forest, a green, verdant sameness, or walking through any relatively uninteresting terrain, can leave one jaded. This is not the case for hiking in Starved Rock State Park, as each trail has a significant destination, and each walk is rewarded with hydrological, geological, and biological splendor!

      To one sated with the wide, horizontal vistas of the Illinois landscape, the bare-rock cliffs that form the canyons and towering walls of Starved Rock State Park afford relief. Starved Rock and the adjacent canyons are formed from porous St. Peter...

    • CHAPTER 18 Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
      (pp. 75-79)

      Anyone who enjoys trips on cruise ships has likely toured the unique Inside Passage from the Pacific Northwest of the United States to Alaska. The network of forested, steep-sided islands that make up the Alexander Archipelago support an abundance of wildlife, from humpback whales to sea otters; yet most people cruising the passage remember the eagles, seemingly countless numbers of bald eagles. In fact, at least one bald eagle nest occurs for every mile of this watery paradise’s shoreline, and from twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand eagles call the area home.

      So, must any Illinoisan who needs an eagle fix...

    • CHAPTER 19 Volo Bog State Natural Area
      (pp. 80-83)

      To fully appreciate a bog one must delve into Illinois’s distant human past or into its recent geological past—the Late Pleistocene (twelve thousand years ago). Volo Bog is a true relic of the Pleistocene glaciers that carved and shaped much of the Illinois landscape of today. Located in the extreme northeastern corner of Illinois, Volo Bog is the only remaining open-water bog in Illinois. Formed when a large chunk of glacial ice was left behind by the receding glacier and buried by glacial till (rocks, sand, and gravel), the massive ice chunk eventually melted, leaving a large, circular depression...


    • CHAPTER 20 Emiquon Preserve
      (pp. 87-91)

      Along the western edge of the Illinois River near Havana is an area called Emiquon—a name used by the Native Americans who once lived here. It translates roughly tosquash, a reference to the plant that grew along the area. As you cross the Illinois River from Havana, you may note a hint of wildness; a bald eagle roosts in the trees overlooking the many barges waiting to be loaded with Illinois corn. Flooded ditches and ponds occur along Route 78/97. Before long, glimmering like a mirage, a huge body of water appears—the heart of Emiquon. Known as...

    • CHAPTER 21 Forest Park Nature Preserve
      (pp. 92-94)

      The early european explorers of the Illinois River valley would have taken a water route—a maze of interconnected waterways, backwater lakes, and dead-end sloughs. Near the area that was to become Peoria, massive, forested bluffs were surely noted on both the east and west flanks of the large river floodplain. Mysterious, difficult to access, and wondrously diverse, these high bluffs, interspersed with deep, cool ravines, were the site of the first permanent European settlement in Illinois—Fort Pimiteoui (1691). Later, a town established around the fort, today known as Peoria, incorporated in 1845.

      The river has changed, the landscape...

    • CHAPTER 22 Funks Grove
      (pp. 95-97)

      Many people who visit Funks Grove do so at maple sugaring time—late winter into early spring—for the sweet treat much more indicative of New England than Illinois. Even though New England has the seeming monopoly on creating maple syrup, the tradition at Funks Grove, named after the Funk Family, has been around since 1824. Located south of Bloomington and just north of the small town of McLean, Funks Grove owes its existence to the same factors that allowed for the development of tallgrass prairie in Illinois. After the Wisconsin Glaciers left Illinois, a series of habitats emerged, beginning...

    • CHAPTER 23 Kankakee Sands: Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve & Iroquois County Conservation Area
      (pp. 98-103)

      Like a tentacle stretching across the sea of grass, the sands of the Kankakee basin jut into the prairie to form the Greater Kankakee Sands ecosystem, a region encompassed by Kankakee and Iroquois Counties. The Kankakee Torrent, a flood produced by the receding Wisconsin Glacier, shaped this landscape and created its deep sand deposits. While most of the area’s swamps and marshes have disappeared, the sand load of the torrent is still evident in Kankakee and Iroquois Counties. This region is one of the principal sand areas in Illinois. Here lies the ancient bed of a large glacial lake. Dunes,...

    • CHAPTER 24 Ballard Nature Center
      (pp. 104-107)

      Mention “legacy” and many different scenarios come to mind—perhaps long-term help for the less fortunate, a children’s hospital wing, or even a long history of political activism. The gift of Ernie Ballard and family, however, left a legacy of nature—210 acres of land for habitat restoration and ample funds for the construction of a nature center. Here, future generations (adults and children) could learn about and benefit from the conservation practices implemented by Ernie during his lifetime. The site, located between Altamont and Effingham, just off old Route 40, represents a landscape formed during the Illinoian Glacial Age...

    • CHAPTER 25 Along the Vermilion and Wabash Rivers
      (pp. 108-121)

      An old adage proclaimed that in pioneer times a squirrel could travel from the east coast of the United States to Illinois without ever touching the ground. While the great deciduous forest that once blanketed the eastern United States is now mostly a patchwork of fragmented woodlots, remnants of this once vast, forested landscape still exist. The western edge of this great forest, now stretching from Vermilion County in east-central Illinois, south along the Wabash River to its junction with the Ohio River, barely reached into Illinois. It can still be experienced, however, with visits to Kickapoo State Park, Forest...

    • CHAPTER 26 Lodge County Park
      (pp. 122-125)

      Nestled in a quiet corner of Piatt County, just north of Monticello and residing along the scenic Sangamon River, is a small, unobtrusive area rife with nature and natural history: Lodge County Park, Piatt County’s largest forest preserve. The park is named after William F. Lodge, the previous owner of the 470-acre preserve. While a conservationist and an authority of wildflowers and trees, Lodge was also a lawyer interested in “forest preserve law.” He thought “it would be a fine thing if we could preserve some of these natural forests for the benefit of posterity.” Known mostly to area residents,...

    • CHAPTER 27 Pere Marquette State Park and the Lower Illinois River Valley
      (pp. 126-130)

      No other region in Illinois offers the variety of landscapes and wildlife viewing opportunities found at Pere Marquette State Park and the lower Illinois River valley. The eight-thousand-acre park, perched on the bluffs above the lower Illinois River, offers hiking in deep, forested ravines, trekking along dry, loess-covered bluffs to distant hill prairies that overlook the river valley, and a meandering trail that passes moist rock outcrops of ancient bedrock. The Illinois River offers bald eagle viewing in winter and an American white pelican migration spectacle each spring.

      To talk about Pere Marquette without discussing glaciers and the products of...

    • CHAPTER 28 Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve
      (pp. 131-134)

      Flying over central Illinois in a small plane is like staring down at a chessboard placed at your feet. This chessboard, however, stretches in all directions, horizon to horizon, green on green, green on brown, unbroken, and unchanging. Occasionally, though, the straight-sided monotony is interrupted by squared-off tufts of forest, remnants of prairie groves that still dot the agricultural vastness, or the gridded patterns of small towns, each lorded over by massive, cylindrical towers—the local grain elevators. Many of these small communities have park-like cemeteries, often named for features that no longer exist. Such is not the case, however,...

    • CHAPTER 29 Revis Hill Prairie Nature Preserve
      (pp. 135-137)

      Revis hill prairie, located in southern Mason County, is named after James A. Revis, an early pioneer in the region. The area is part of the north valley wall of the Sangamon River and rises 250 feet above the mile-and-quarter-wide floodplain of the river. The predominant soil is loess (windblown silt) over glacial till, but there are also some fine-sand deposits and gravel outcroppings. Hill prairie is the dominant plant community found on the rolling land and steep slopes. Forests, dominated by oaks, are present in the ravines between the bluffs. Revis is the largest hill prairie complex in Illinois....

    • CHAPTER 30 Prairie Ridge State Natural Area and Illinois Audubon Sanctuaries
      (pp. 138-141)

      While we think nothing of making a dinner reservation or calling ahead to book a motel for the evening, the prospect of needing to make a reservation to “see nature” may seem a bit strange to most. But that’s what is necessary to observe one of the most primeval, ancestral, and unique wildlife events in Illinois—the spring mating rituals of the greater prairie chicken. Their mating has been described as “complex, flamboyant, and theatrical—Broadway meets the prairie.” To visit the “booming grounds” of this highly endangered bird requires a bit of planning—call ahead to reserve a spot...

    • CHAPTER 31 Robert Allerton Park
      (pp. 142-145)

      When the illinois Bureau of Tourism announced the results of its “Seven Wonders of Illinois” promotion—sites nominated by and voted on by the public in 2007—the press bemoaned the fact that nothing on the list had anything to do with our sixteenth president. After all, this is the “Land of Lincoln.” In addition, with one or two notable exceptions, all the sites were human-created. As biologists, we were also less than happy with these results, but our perspective on the world likely is different from that of most folks. Ironically, one of thoseexceptions—Robert Allerton Park and...

    • CHAPTER 32 Mason County Sand Areas
      (pp. 146-152)

      By 1900, illinois’s tallgrass prairies were significantly diminished, but thousands of acres of sand deposits in nearly unspoiled condition made up some of the largest areas of natural vegetation left in the state. The chief sand areas are located near Havana, Hanover, Oquawka, and in Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, all in the northern half of Illinois. The meltwaters of the Wisconsin glacier deposited and shaped the sand and ultimately the sand prairies and savannas in Illinois. The Havana deposit was formed as meltwater cascaded down the prehistoric course of the Illinois River. This tremendous flood, known as the “Kankakee Torrent,”...

  10. SOUTH

    • CHAPTER 33 Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area
      (pp. 155-160)

      Bell smith springs is in the Shawnee National Forest and is named after its former owner, whose name is etched in a moss-covered canyon wall near the spring. Located in Pope County, the area is about nineteen miles southwest of Harrisburg. It is a world of vertical cliffs, clear, rocky streams, outstanding rock formations, and lush spring flora.

      This region is an area of contrasts. Sandstone ledges are windswept and scorched by the midsummer sun, yet blankets of lichens and moss help to insulate portions of the rock against the extremes of heating and cooling. The bare rock ledges have...

    • CHAPTER 34 The Cache River Ecosystem
      (pp. 161-180)

      While this accurate yet brief quote does describe the landscape, it falls far short of the indescribable palette of colors that is the Cache. No modern paint store, no artist’s paint box can approach the myriad hues observed during every visit to the Cache. Spring is a cacophony of subtle shades of green—soft, ephemeral, pastel greens. Summer is also green, but a humid, dense, sweat-soaked bevy of heavy greens. Fall is a rusty, golden, clean, clear set of earth tones, mimicking the colors of the layered, red-rock country of Utah. And finally, there is winter. Few see this extraordinary...

    • CHAPTER 35 Cedar Lake
      (pp. 181-184)

      Most naturalists are not particularly fond of impoundments, especially in a state as flat as Illinois. They are generally featureless expanses of brown water, with eroded, muddy or rip-rapped shorelines that reflect the differing water levels during wet and dry periods. Other than expanses of open water, they have little to offer in the way of scenic beauty. Any wetlands, potentially rife with charismatic vegetation and wildlife, are usually only found at the upper end, away from the dam, and often inaccessible by foot or boat. On the plus side, reservoirs do often attract large numbers of migratory waterfowl, gulls,...

    • CHAPTER 36 Devil’s Kitchen Lake–Rocky Bluff Trail
      (pp. 185-188)

      When geological features excite us, it is usually not a term likegeological sappingthat causes the heart to flutter. Yet when this obscure geological process—groundwater seeping out from a cliff face, undermining a cliff, and causing the subsequent collapse of the saturated soil and rock—creates an immense, overhanging cliff over which a stream flows, we take note. Waterfalls have always been considered some of nature’s great wonders, and this one, especially after a heavy downpour, can be truly dramatic. The falls are just a few yards from the start of the Rocky Bluff Trail, located on the...

    • CHAPTER 37 Ferne Clyffe State Park
      (pp. 189-192)

      Just south of where the Illinoian glacier halted, the escarpments of the greater Shawnee Hills, with massive sandstone and shale bedrock, stand ancient, weathered and exposed. Most prominent is the Pennsylvanian sandstone, deposited by a warm sea some 270 million to 310 million years ago. It survived burial by glacial soil and rock deposits that filled in much of the landscape to the north. The land was untouched by the ice, but not unaffected. Canyons that were originally cut by torrential glacial meltwaters have, over time, been widened and deepened by the meandering of clear, rock-bottomed streams. These slow reminders...

    • CHAPTER 38 Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve
      (pp. 193-195)

      To most people, prairies are flat grasslands. It is not only the topography, however, that distinguishes a prairie, but the vegetation. Prairies growing on pronounced slopes are called hill prairies. Located high on a west-facing bluff overlooking the Mississippi River valley, Fults Hill Prairie is one of those unique prairies. This small sliver of Illinois, reminiscent of the Missouri Ozarks, is more closely related to the southwestern United States.

      This prairie is part of the old French land grants (long, thin properties) common in St. Clair, Monroe, and Randoph Counties, the boundaries of which were at right angles to the...

    • CHAPTER 39 Garden of the Gods Recreation Area
      (pp. 196-198)

      A trip to Garden of the Gods Recreation Area in the Shawnee Hills without viewing Camel Rock is like going to Yellowstone National Park and not seeing Old Faithful. Don’t be like most people at Yellowstone, however, and fail to get off the “main drag” to experience the geological wonders of this landscape firsthand. Anyone with a taste for geology, or those who just like to “climb around on rocks,” will find this area most provocative. After viewing the famous Camel Rock formation, visit the nearby wilderness area. Step onto rock ledges clothed with lichens, gaze over untrammeled forest vistas,...

    • CHAPTER 40 Giant City State Park–Trillium Trail
      (pp. 199-202)

      Some ascribe to the geological theory that the large blocks of sandstone that form the signature feature of the park eroded away from the cliff and slipped downhill due to gravity; others propose that the seams between the blocks merely eroded away, leaving the maze of clefts that form the “giant city.” Whichever theory seems most plausible to you, or even if you simply don’t care and just want to enjoy the cool, moss-coated, vertical walls of the sandstone maze on a hot summer day, Giant City State Park is a great place to explore. Civil War soldiers, taking refuge...

    • CHAPTER 41 Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area
      (pp. 203-205)

      Imagine a landscape that could be from the bayous of Louisiana, a place of striking bald cypress in a pea-green, crescent-shaped lake, rife with waterfowl, American lotus, wading birds, and southern solitude, and you have Horseshoe Lake. A cutoff remnant of the lower Mississippi River, known as an ox-bow lake, the cypress trees reflect the nearness of the river and its propensity to flood. When viewed from a distance, the near-yearly flood cycle is recorded on trunks—the lime green lichens that decorate each trunk do not fare well under the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi. Thus, a distinct...

    • CHAPTER 42 LaRue–Pine Hills Research Natural Area
      (pp. 206-209)

      If a trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park is not an option, don’t despair, as a little bit of the Smokies can be found in Illinois at LaRue–Pine Hills, dubbedIllinois’s Biological Garden of Eden. The area rivals the Smoky Mountains in plant diversity but cannot compete with its sheer numbers of salamanders, as the Appalachians are the salamander capital of the world. But then, the national park doesn’t close a road for the annual snake migrations, as does LaRue–Pine Hills!

      La Rue–Pine Hills Research Natural Area is a five-mile-long by two-mile-wide strip of land running...

    • CHAPTER 43 Little Grand Canyon
      (pp. 210-212)

      No more iconic site exists in North America than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. A billion years of geological history are showcased in this mile-deep, erosional slash across northern Arizona. Because this is one of the driest areas in the country, the geological layer cake is on full display.

      Illinois, too, has such an iconic canyon embedded on the far western edge of the Shawnee National Forest. Although not quite so large or well known as its namesake, for a state characterized as “flat and uninteresting” by many, a visit to Little Grand Canyon can be quite an...

    • CHAPTER 44 Mermet Lake Conservation Area
      (pp. 213-216)

      The area surrounding Mermet Lake Conservation Area in Massac County was settled much later than the other areas along the Ohio River due to the deep water of its cypress swamp. The swampland, referred to as the Mermet Bottoms, even prevented the original land surveyors from mapping parts of it. The small town of Mermet began as a campsite for the construction workers of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, completed in 1910. With the formation of the Cache River Drainage District in 1911, attempts were made to drain the lowlands, but the Mermet Bottoms remained low and swampy. Remnants...

    • CHAPTER 45 Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve
      (pp. 217-219)

      Nestled along the western edge of the Shawnee National Forest lies a landscape more indicative of the Missouri Ozarks than of Illinois. It extends in a thin, rugged band just east of the floodplain of the Mississippi River in far southwestern Illinois. The landscape is characterized by very steep bluffs, mostly clothed in forests, with a spotting of hill prairies on exposed bluff tops. The plants found here are a combination of northern species such as sphagnum moss, and Ozarkian species such as Bradley’s spleenwort (a rare fern). Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve, straddling the Randolph County–Jackson County line,...

    • CHAPTER 46 Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow
      (pp. 220-223)

      Picture an unusually scenic trail that climbs up the rear of a sandstone escarpment, past a mysterious, ancient wall built millennia ago by native peoples, and you have the teaser for a day of exploration at Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow Recreation Area. Embedded deep in the wilds of Pope County, the area is so distinctive that it was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1980. The trail soon skirts the edge of an impressive valley, dubbed by early settlers asthe pounds, anold countryterm that meanssome sort of enclosure. Thus, the rock escarpment is called Rim Rock and...

    • CHAPTER 47 Simpson Township Barrens Natural Area
      (pp. 224-227)

      If a single word could define the Shawnee National Forest,diversitywould be most appropriate. The Shawnee occupies an area of Illinois just south of where the Illinoian Glacier stopped during the Pleistocene Epoch (about 120,000 years ago). Here, massive sandstone, limestone, and shale escarpments form the dominant landscape feature—ancient and eroded. Today, a mantle of trees covers most of the landscape, but not all. Glades are open areas in the forest where the bedrock is at or near the surface. Rock ledges are windswept, inhospitable places; trees grow only around the edges and in the ever-widening cracks and...

    • CHAPTER 48 Trail of Tears State Forest
      (pp. 228-231)

      Southern illinois has more kinds of trees than does all of Europe. A visitor can get a glimpse of this arboreal variety at Trail of Tears State Forest—huge American beeches in ravine forests, dry hilltop forests of black and white oak, and isolated clumps of the uncommon red buckeye in the adjoining Ozark Hills Nature Preserve. More than 620 species of flowering plants, ferns, and trees occur at Trail of Tears, including nearly every species of tree found in southern Illinois.

      Originally known as the Turkey Farm, Trail of Tears was established in 1929 as the Kohn-Jackson forest. The...

    • CHAPTER 49 War Bluff Valley Sanctuary
      (pp. 232-234)

      War bluff valley Sanctuary, located deep in the Shawnee National Forest in Pope County, is a biological reserve maintained strictly for its creatures. The nearly five-hundred-acre site was the former home of legendary Illinois Natural History Survey ornithologists Dick and Jean Graber. The pair donated their home and land to the Illinois Audubon Society in 1990. A late-summer visit will likely require the use of a butterfly field guide, as red admirals, tiger swallowtails, little yellows, and buckeyes will commonly flit about. Butterfly treasures, those seldom seen by most observers, include the gemmed and Carolina satyrs; both species merrily bounce...

  11. EPILOGUE: Your Own Backyard
    (pp. 235-238)

    Most people believe that exploration, particularly of nature, requires travel, often hiking to remote spots, or visiting sites well known for their wildlife spectacles. While this is certainly true, and travel is the basic premise of this book, it is not the only way to see nature in today’s world. For those of us who live in towns and cities, simply walking the streets can yield a plethora of unique experiences and observations. We live in Champaign, Illinois, and we routinely walk the two miles to work, trek the one-and-a-half miles to downtown for a weekend lunch, or simply walk...

  12. APPENDIX A: Directions to Sites
    (pp. 239-246)
  13. APPENDIX B: Natural Divisions of Illinois
    (pp. 247-254)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 255-258)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-264)