Fountain Bluff Petroglyphs – Part One

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 0.4 sec

Today we are taking a trip to the eastern Shawnee region of southern Illinois.  A un-glaciated area of tall limestone bluffs, hilltop pine and deciduous forests, riparian forests and woodlands and swamps all created and arranged by the vision of the Father of Waters, our mighty Mississippi River.  Underneath an overhang at the bottom of a particularly beautiful bluff called Fountain Bluff lies an ancient art gallery, in which the aborigines of the Archaic/Woodland/Mississippian cultures carved their art into the tough sandstone.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160,  f/4, 1/25 sec

These petroglyphs lead one to ask all sorts of questions.  I’d say we know very little of the meaning of these images and the people who created them, although it is fun to speculate on the who, why and how these works were made.  Instead of rehashing the information we do know from another source, I will point you to the following location to find out more about this site: http://www.naturealmanac.com/archive/fountain_bluff_sta/fountain_bluff.html

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160,  f/4, 1/25 sec

I find this to be one of the more interesting petroglyphs at this particular location.  From what I’ve read, some experts on this subject matter  think this is a spirit or deity while others believe it is simply an artistic representation of a bird in perched repose.  Whatever the truth, it is a gem of this type of feature in this too-often overlooked region.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160,  f/4, 1/25 sec

This is another of the more famous scenes at this spot.  It looks to be a white-tailed deer and a dog or wolf on either side of a crossed/quartered circle.  I find the quartered circle very interesting.  Reading a bit on the subject of pre-columbian art work, I discovered that petroglyph analysis is a very subjective science.  There are numerous theories as to what exactly the quartered circle represents.  These theories range from representations of stars, the directions of the compass, the earth itself, the earth-wind-fire-water elements, the four seasons, directional markers that depict spiritual locations, and even symbols depicting an early form of Christianity.  It seems to me we have no idea what these symbols represented in these cultures.  What really fascinates me about these forms is that they were found across North America in time and space.  Seemingly unrelated cultures from northern Canada to southern Mexico were known to use the quartered circle in petroglyphs and pictographs.  This may be coincidental, or as the Cahokia Mounds metropolis location shows, the trade routes of the Mississippian culture were quite large.  Cultural icons, along with trade goods were likely exchanged across surprisingly large distances.

Forgive me if I seem to know nothing of what I am discussing.  It’s only because I don’t!

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 160,  f/5, 1/30 sec

The petroglyph in the image above might be my favorite.  I am of the opinion, I think, that the face seen on the head of this bird is likely do to the changes in time that this spot has seen.  However, once you see the the face, looking down and to the left of the frame, it is impossible to not wonder if this was a deliberate carving.  If so, this is one intimidating form.

I want to give my unlimited thanks to Taylor Reed, a fantastic landscape photographer from the Shawnee region, for providing me directions to this location.  Please visit Taylor’s web site and consider buying several prints of his to decorate your walls.

I will not respond to email to provide directions to this location from people I do not know.  This site is relatively well known and can be found with enough research.  There are other petroglyph spots along this same bluff that I have not yet found.  It is a gorgeous set of bluffs with other geological features and I can’t wait to get down there again to do some more exploring.

Location Spotlight: Piney Creek Nature Preserve – Part Two

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 12mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 0.6 sec

Ten days following my first visit and hike into Piney Creek Nature Preserve I arose early and left the house during one of the two appreciable snowfalls we’ve had this winter in our region so far (I was very sick on the second snowfall and could not enjoy it).  Prior to the temperature drop we had inches of rain during the previous day and I realized that places such as this should have a significant amount of water flowing through their streams and intermittent waterfalls.  Following a careful drive through the snow, I arrived two hours later almost the exact second the snowfall stopped.  This makes photographing a little easier without worrying about the equipment getting wet, but it would have been nice to hike in the falling white stuff for a while.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 200,  f/13, 0.8 sec

The image above was the first waterfall I heard.  To get here required a short bushwhack off trail and down into the ravine.  A hiking pole and crampon/spikes on your boots are definitely helpful in doing this.  The rock in this area was extremely slick, with ice on top of algae/slime.  I was very cautious moving on the rocks to set up this shot, realizing that the rock sloped toward the stream and loosing my footing would prove disastrous. Because of the higher water and treacherous footing the available compositions were somewhat limited.  Considering how poorly I function with too many options, this was not exactly a bad thing!

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 21mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 0.3 sec

This cascade pictured above is a section of a longer series of twists and drops found closer to the back side of the hiking loop.  The water here skips shallowly over rock shelves and narrow chutes and takes occasional breaks in what appear to be quite deep pools.  When I made it to this section of the reserve the cloud cover was almost completely gone and blue skies were above.  The sun that would completely melt this fresh snow by the time I drove home this day was just beginning to peak over the bluff.  I realized that I would soon be faced with high-contrast shadows and harsh glare off the landscape scenery and I needed to grab every capture I could in the limited time available.  Sometimes it is also best to work with a deadline.  😉

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 200,  f/14, 1 sec

You can see that the previous one to two day rain brought a lot of soil into the stream.  Because of this, I felt most of the images would be presented best in monochrome.  I did want to present what one of these scenes looks like in color, however.  This one had some greens and reds to provide a little contrast between the browns of the water and rocks and white snow.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160,  f/16, 0.8 sec

This place has a lot more to offer than what I present here.  There were at least two other significant waterfalls that I could see or hear, but the terrain with the snow and ice on precipitous ravine sides caused me to think wisely against trying to get within good photography distance.  Definitely something to try during better weather this spring.  I’ll be looking forward to my next visit to Piney Creek Nature Reserve.  Maybe I’ll even plan on paying a visit to the Popeye museum along the way in the town of Chester.

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.  😉

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