Autumn Photography in the Shawnee – 2022

The following images were taken during the WGNSS Nature Photography Group’s trip to Garden of the Gods (GOTG) and other locations this past April. This group is currently being led by Miguel Acosta. If you are interested in joining us for one of the group’s monthly outings, please see details at!

Late autumn colors on a mirror lake.

Many thanks to the photographers we met on the trail at Bell Smith Springs Wilderness who tipped us off to a spectacular mirror lake in the Shawnee. Miguel and I stopped at this location before heading back to St. Louis. The peak fall colors were obviously passed but this place screams potential and I hope to get there again next year. We had really nice conditions for this type of photography, with cloudy skies and winds which weren’t too bad. We could have found a few more compositions but the rains came and the winds got worse so we called it a day.

A different composition from the same scene as above.

The waters here were not as calm as to be desired for our purposes, but using polarizer and neutral density filters allowed us to get long shutter speeds that helped to lessen the effects of any wind-blown ripples on the water’s surface. All images in this post from this location were taken with shutter speeds between 20 and 30 seconds.

A wind-blown mirror lake

In the photo above the wind was starting to move pretty quickly across the wider portion of the lake. Using a shutter speed of 30 seconds allows the ripples created to appear with a more painterly appearance.

Monkey face with star trails

During this weekend trip, some of us enjoyed the camping experience while others chickened out and stayed at hotels or cabins. Similarly, some of us stayed late at GOTG to do a little astrophotography. Well, I should say that I stayed late. 😉 After my friends nabbed a couple of quick Milky Way images, they headed back to their air conditioned rooms and I was left by myself to work on the photo seen above. This photo was made by combining 213 30-second images in the computer to build the star trails with the iconic “monkey face” and other rock formations that GOTG is known for in the foreground.

This was a great weekend of friends, photography, hiking and camping.

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:

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.