July 06, 2015

 Shawnee National Forest
The Shawnee National Forest is a the biggest woods located on the southern sandstone escarpment of Illinois.  320 Million years ago there was an ocean that covered the lands we see today in the Shawnee but only folded mud and sandstone strata layers are left from that time. We drove down to the Garden Of the Gods to view the sandstone spires that stood tall over the ridge in the Shawnee.

Garden Of the Gods Shawnee National Forest
  It was pretty interesting to see the patterns in the rock and to see out into the vista where trees lined the rolling hills and eagles flew into the heated updrafts from the valley below. We hiked around in the 90 degree heat with the humidity soaking the air like a Puerto Rican rain forest.

Garden of the Gods Shawnee National Forest
 It was nice to get away from the city and to spend some time with as we needed a quick escape.

Garden of the Gods Shawnee National Forest
 After Garden of the Gods we hiked on the backpack trail of the Shawnee and it was pretty nice for Illinois standards!

Garden of the Gods Shawnee National Forest
 The pine and maple trees were in abundance and we followed a ridge that took us to come more remote overlooks which was a lot nicer than the audience that the Garden of the Gods had parading through. 

We enjoyed the hike around as it looped back towards where we started.  Even though it was a few miles, we finished it in a short period of time and found ourselves back a the car wondering what to do.  We decided on going to Bell Spring Recreational Area which was a half hour drive from where we were.
Bell Smith Spring, Shawnee National Forest
We arrived at Bell Smith spring to see the crowds starting to leave the swimming hole that they were in so we went on a hike around the property to check out what they were doing as well as what other features were on the property.   We saw a natural arch trail ad the water looked like it had a bluish tint which reminded us of cave water so I wonder where all of this water is coming from.  

Mushroom in Bell Smith Spring Shawnee National Forest
After Bell Smith Springs we figured we would drive up to The Little Grand Canyon Section and head home since we saw a lot of what we set out to see anyway so instead of camping for the night we headed up to Little Grand Canyon next.
 sandstone cavern in the Shawnee Wilderness
It took almost an hour and a half to get up there and we got up there in time for another hour before the sun started to go down.  The Little Grand Canyon section of the Shawnee National Forest is interesting as it is a gorge and prob the biggest one for Illinois standards.
Little Grand Canyon hike, Shawnee National Forest
 I took off to the bottom of the canyon to get a view of this place.
Little Grand Canyon Hike, Shawnee National Forest
There was a family that had emotional ranges form yelling to crying which took a bit away from the sound quality that the canyon has but this place is a must visit if you are in the area and do not have much else to do.
Little Grand Canyon,  Shawnee National Forest
Unfortunately, the trail was flooded so I was not able to complete a loop so I just ran back up the trail and we headed back to Chicago.   It was a lot of driving but it was nice to get away for a day.

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