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. 😉