Location Spotlight: Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve – Part One

In the north-western region of the Shawnee National Forest of Illinois lies one of my latest finds.  Located south-east of Chester, Illinois (birthplace of Popeye the Sailor) Piney Creek Nature Preserve will undoubtedly provide plenty of opportunities for me to spend my time during any season of the year.  This place is special due to the geological and biological wonders it hides amidst the seemingly endless seas of corn and soybeans that pack every flat place Illinois has to offer.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 18mm, ISO 160,  f/14, 1.6 sec

Unlike the tall bluffs and hills of the Shawnee region further to the south, this spot was subjected to recent glacial activity and the ravine was partly created by glacial melt-waters eating away at the sandstone – the primary rock of Southern Illinois.  The vegetation found here is more similar to that seen in the Missouri Ozarks to the West than that of the Shawnee region to the South-east.  This is one of only a few places in Illinois the short-leaf pine can be found naturally.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 32mm, ISO 320,  f/20, 1.3 sec

I have not yet been here during the growing season but it looks and sounds to be a very high-quality natural site.  I’m sure this will be a place for finding spring time ephemerals as well as summer wildflowers; however, the geology is the star of this attraction.  I’ve hiked this ~two-mile trail twice and I’m not even close to understanding the path of the streams and the contours of the canyon walls, or how many waterfalls can be found here.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/4 sec

The hike is wonderful, although caution must be taken.  Hiking up and down the and along the rim of the canyon provides amazing views of this natural amphitheater in winter.  Going bushwhacking to obtain better viewpoints of the geological, biological and archeological (petroglyphs and pictographs from 500-1550 Common Era are located at this preserve) subjects can be risky.  Similar to the nearby “Little Grand Canyon” there are plenty of ways to get yourself seriously injured or killed in this ravine.  Boots equipped with extra traction devices (i.e. crampons) are recommended for hiking in sub-freezing temperatures and felt-bottomed footwear is definitely useful when walking over the biology-covered slick rocks of the stream floor.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 6 sec

I was fortunate to be able to visit this spot about a week or two later.  This second visit was after a period of rain for about 24 hours followed by a brief-lasting snow.  The extra water and the freshly fallen snow (I arrived just when the snow stopped) made this place look entirely new and different.

Piney Creek Ravine is relatively close (1.5 hour drive) and I definitely look forward to many more trips here and to the other beautiful locations that the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois has to offer.

I just hope nobody figures out how to grow corn in a ravine like this.  😉


A Thousand Acres of Silphiums

Okay, I think I’ve settled on a title for this blog. Silphium are one of my favorite groups of plants native to the prairies of the United States and I pulled this phrase from my favorite book, “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. If any of you are wondering, that book contains a lot of the message I will be trying to bring forward in this blog.

P.S. Check this out: http://www.gatewaygalleryonline.com/matchickggo.html

It seems the moniker “Ozark Light” is pretty popular with nature photographers of the region. I’ve gone to see Greg’s photos at this gallery in the past and I’d highly recommend his work.

Ozark Dynamism

Elephant Rocks is one of my favorite locations in the Missouri Ozarks to visit and make photographs.  I don’t think it’s a big surprise that this would be true for many nature lovers/photographers.  I love the fact that one can make good photographs here any season of the year and almost any time of day.  If you face the right direction you can find good light on a good composition on almost every visit, not just in the narrow window of the “golden hour”.  However, if you can get there with perfect light and an interesting sky the outcome can be better than good.  My favorite time to visit is early in the day.  This is not only for the better light, but for the fact that I have had the place entirely to myself for a couple or more hours on several occasions.

I was fortunate to find an interesting sky on this visit.  I found that converting this one to B&W really played the dynamic sky against the interesting texture of the boulders below.  Inscribed on one of the rocks you can see the name of one of the many quarry workers who harvested the granite species of rocks from the surrounding area.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/15 sec

Caterpillar Graveyard

On my way to an unexplored nature preserve (fodder for a future post) in the northern foothills of the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois I drove past a graveyard on Illinois Rt 3.  The golden hour light and the frost that was covering everything made me turn around and stop to take a few images.  This looked to be private property and I did not want to overstay my lack of welcome so I shot a few pics hand-held and got out of there quickly.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 320,  f/11, 1/160 sec

The place was much larger than these images make it to look.  I think there was potential for some great images if I wasn’t scared of being fed to pigs 😉

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 35mm, ISO 320,  f/14, 1/30 sec

Why couldn’t they give cars a similar paint job?  These things never seem to rust.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 35mm, ISO 200,  f/11, 1/40 sec

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 250,  f/9, 1/40 sec

Finding A Sunset

Columbia Bottom Conservation area, where this image was taken, and Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary across the river are famous for the birds and other wildlife they support.  I have enjoyed birding these places, located at the confluence of North America’s two greatest rivers- the Missouri and the Mississippi, for more than five years now.  But, there is another reason I love being able to visit these locations.  These are two of the closest places near St. Louis to see open skies, open skies without hills, trees, building or too many power lines and utility poles.  I love shooting sunsets here because of the amount of sky that can be captured.  True, I did not cover much sky in this image.  This was due to the limited clouds in tonight’s sky.  If there were more clouds throughout the sky I would have loved to have let the sky cover two thirds or more of the frame.


It always saddens me when I’m driving to or from work and see one of the many spectacular sunsets or sunrises from the car and know I can’t be out in nature trying to experience that moment and capture it in a lasting image.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 16mm, ISO 100,  f/16, manual-HDR (7-images)

Alluvial Furnace

This image was taken on a chilly October morning as I was driving to make my first visit to Tower Rock Natural Area in Perry County near Altenburg, Missouri.  I am always looking for a nice composition I can capture that features fog or mist.  This rarely happens because it takes so long to drive from the city to a pleasing spot like this where fog may form.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 19mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/80 sec