Following a rainy period this spring, Casey and I visited a few spots in the Shawnee of southern Illinois. Some of these spots are well known, but can be difficult to visit. Another location is not nearly as well known, but easier to get to. The Shawnee really does canyons, large rocks and water features well. This is but a small sample of what can be found there.
This post features one of my favorite places to visit and photograph in my beloved St. Francois Mountains. Black Mountain and these cascades that tumble down more than 400 vertical feet in a series of steps lie southwest of Fredericktown and can be found literally alongside Highway E. The waters run under a drainage pipe in the road and travel another few yards before dumping into the St. Francois River. I was first turned on to this place by a fantastic landscape photographer of the Missouri Ozarks named Mark Karpinski. I highly suggest looking him up and buying a bunch of his photographs for your walls. His images are the best I’ve seen of this region.
“Rivers or Veins”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 12mm, ISO 200, f/13, 0.5 sec
As I mentioned in previous posts, this “winter” brought out possibilities for photography that I would normally be taking advantage of in the warmer months. These images were taken in early February following a couple of rainy days. These cascades run out completely in dry times, so you must carefully plan a visit following rainy periods.
“Roll of Ancient Thunder”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 160, f/13, 0.4 sec
Before you make plans for a visit, listen to warning. There are no trails here – it is just bush-whacking up the slopes. Sometimes you will need to go up leaf-littered hills and sometimes you must climb hand and foot over rocks and the cascades. There are all sorts of risks here. The rocks are extremely slippery. I highly suggest the use of felt-bottomed shoes or waders and take all precautions against water and your camera equipment. You will get wet! In the growing season I have been to few places with as much or worse concentrations of poison ivy. If you visit in mid to late summer, cover yourself head to toe and then burn your clothes afterwards. And ticks! In early February I hadn’t given a thought to ticks. This day I received a tick bite and found another three on my pants. I learned my lesson to pay attention to the temperature and not the calendar.
“Crash of Molars”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 20mm, ISO 200, f/11, 2 sec
I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent some great days on this mountain. I have visited on 50% chance of rain days and was able to spend a few hours of cloudy, but relatively rain free weather – perfect for this type of photography. If you are in shape and have the determination to make the hike to the top, the view of the St. Francis River valley below is sure worth it. Pack a picnic basket!
“Firing Diamonds At Boots”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 16mm, ISO 200, f/13, 0.6 sec
The titles of the images in this post I stole from the lyrics of a song called “Buried in Teeth” by Mariee Sioux. I can’s stop listening to this song or Mariee’s music in general lately. I realize this may be considered IP infringement, but I have trouble with titles and I also wanted to try and give her some props, so to speak.
“Swallowed Into the Gut of Centuries”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 11mm, ISO 200, f/16, 0.8 sec
Thanks for visiting the blog. You can find more of my photos from this location here. If you decide to make an excursion to this spot or anywhere else into the St. Francois Mountain region, please be careful, enjoy yourself, leave only footprints and take only photographs!
“Taum Sauk Eternal”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 40mm, ISO 200, f/14, 0.6 sec
Hi everyone. Here is the last in my planned succession of image postings of Mina Sauk Falls of the Missouri Ozarks. This photograph may be my favorite of the day. The textures of the rock and the patterns of the lichen suggested to me that this would make a nice black and white. I added a light Orton effect to enhance these contrasts and bring out the highlights a bit more. The pool of water might be my favorite aspect of the image.
I had another great Saturday exploring and photographing in the Ozarks. We really had some magnificent lightning displays from thunderstorms that went through the region in the afternoon. I hope none of you had any damage or other worries from these storms. I started my day with an actual plan and had to make changes due to the weather. I started my day in the Labarque Creek Watershed, thinking the storms we had on Thursday may have filled the drainage creeks and there would potentially be lots of falls, cascades and other water features to shoot. I also realized that the spring ephemeral wild flowers would be really getting going. Well, the water flow was next to nothing. The rain from early in the week had either drained quickly or was not enough to get things flowing. The spring ephemerals were exactly what I expected. Spring beauty, rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, hounds tooth and blood root were all present in the thousands. I wish I had actually spent more time shooting these, but I had other plans as well.
My plan after Labarque was to head to the nearby Shaw Nature Reserve to photograph the early happenings of the Red-shouldered Hawk nest located there. I hauled all my photo equipment and my spotting scope and my chair and snacks, set up, had an opportunity to take a few shots when the rains came in. So, I packed up and started back home. I knew the weather would also interfere with my plan to photograph a local Great-horned Owl nest that I was planning on visiting in the late afternoon and evening. I went back home, ate dinner and checked weather.com. There looked to be a gap between 5:00PM and 7:00PM where the chance of rain was significantly lower. I suspected that the 0.5-1″ or so of rain we received this afternoon may be enough to really get the ephemeral drainage creeks of Labarque flowing. So, I packed up and headed back to Eureka, knowing it still might rain for another few hours and I may not even get out of the car. When I arrived, it was barely sprinkling so I put my rain gear on and covered my camera pack with its rain cover and with my hiking pole and trusty Tilley to keep my head dry, I started on the trail – anxious about the weather and quickly cover the mile or so to the features I most hoped would be filled with water. The situation was not perfect. It rained about half the time I was on the hike. I was able to pull the camera out and do some shooting, but the light was very low, even for shooting moving water! In a couple of brief deluges I carried myself and my gear to a small cave to wait it out. This was one of the most memorable hikes of my life. The light, sky, fog water and life all around me seemed to be changing by the minute. At least half a dozen frog species were singing and the Eastern Towhees were constantly telling me to “Drink your Tee!”. I heard the ever-vocal Red-shouldered Hawks and the hoots of Barred and Great-horned Owls.
Finally, when the light was so low I couldn’t get anything shorter than a 30 second exposure, I headed back to the car. Upon reaching the top of one of the steep ridges I saw a spectacular display of warm colors as the sun was able to break through a bit near the horizon and juxtapose itself with the cumulonimbus clouds and associated displays of lightning.
I apologize if this is boring any readers, but I am using this blog as a journal in as much as anything else. I haven’t really looked at any of the photos I took today. Hopefully the images will be close to what I hope they can be. If not, I will always be looking forward to the next hike in the Missouri Ozarks.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160, f/11, 1/4 sec
Near the top of Taum Sauk these cascades were very appealing but somewhat difficult to shoot as the sun began to creep in. Ice covering the rocks was still an issue and I carefully moved along a ledge to get close to this pretty little slide. Being able to rest a bit in the sunshine and eat some cocoa-covered almonds and have some coffee while listening to the falls was great after spending the previous hour or two on the shadow side of the mountain in the cold and mist.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 11mm, ISO 250, f/14, 0.4 sec
Here we have one of the mid-tier drops of Mina Sauk. This one falls about 20 feet and on this morning the temperature was just cold enough to freeze the mist of the falls on whatever it landed upon. It was a real challenge keeping the front of the lens free of freezing drops. The icy rock surfaces were also quite a challenge of foot near any of the falls. I really grew to appreciate the different colors and tones in the rocks here during this trip. With no greenery of warmer months or warm colors of autumn the purples, pinks and various other hues that these granites and their lichen passengers exhibit was something to focus on.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/4 sec
So how did Mina Sauk and her father mountain, Taum Sauk, get their names? I am currently looking for an original and direct source for the telling of the legend of Mina Sauk. Here are a few paragraphs collected from the web that were originally published by the Kansas City Star:
The Legend of Taum Sauk Mountain ~ A Native American “Romeo and Juliet” story as told to John Russell, from the Kansas City Star, by “Old Uncle Jim Connelly” back in 1953, the summer after the park became accessible by automobile to the public. Uncle Jim, an ex-railroad worker, who for many years ran a service station and tourist court from his home near Ironton, knew a host of stories and Indian legends tied up with the mountain.
“Uncle Jim’s favorite story probably is one about Taum Sauk, the Piankashaw Indian chieftain after whom the mountain is named, and his daughter, Mina Sauk, for whom the beautiful waterfall on the northwestern slope of the mountain is named.
“Long before the white man came here,” Uncle Jim relates, “this land of flowers, now called the Arcadia Valley, was the hunting grounds of the Piankashaw Indians. The Piankashaws had a famous chieftain, Sauk-Ton-Qua. Because the name was hard for the white man to pronounce, he was later call Taum Sauk.”
“Taum Sauk was wise and although the Piankashaws were not as large a tribe as the Cherokees or Osages, he was able to hold his territory against their invasions. The Piankashaws lived in comparative peace in and around the Arcadia Valley, where they hunted and fished and raised a little corn in the summertime. In the winter they would move to the limestone bluff shelters along the Mississippi river and stay there until warm weather.”
“Taum Sauk’s beautiful daughter, Mina Sauk, was greatly desired by all the young warriors in the tribe. However, Mina Sauk met a young Osage warrior in the woods and lost her heart to him.”
“For a long time he wooed her secretly, but one day she was discovered in the arms of the young Osage. The young warrior was captured and taken before the chieftain. He was tried and condemned to death.”
“He was executed on the slopes of Taum Sauk Mountain, where a great porphyry outcrop form an escarpment overlooking Taum Sauk creek and facing Wildcat mountain. The young warrior was tossed from the parapet down a succession of benches on the mountainside, thrown from bench to bench with the spears of warriors. He fell bleeding and dying in the valley below.”
“The grief-stricken maiden was restrained by the tribal women from interfering with the execution. But at the fatal moment, she broke loose from her captors and threw herself to death on the same benches.”
“The old Indian legend says that this displeased the great spirit, and that the earth trembled and shook, and the mountain cracked. Then a stream of water poured forth and flowed down the rock benches, washing away the blood.”
“The place is still known as the Mina Sauk falls and along the edges of the rivulet, even today, there grow little flowers with crimson blossoms which the Indians believed got their color from this ancient tragedy.”
-I really like this story and think it could be something special if it were fleshed out more fully. I find it hard to believe that someone like Longfellow never picked this one up and turned it into a classic. But, I guess this part of the country has never had too many literary classicists. Maybe Woodrell can pick this up and give it a modern Ozark face. Someone should suggest this to him.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 160, f/14, 0.6 sec
I estimate the vertical distance in this image in the neighborhood of 60-80 feet or more. The ultra wide angle utilized in this image takes out a lot of that scale for the viewer. I should have placed a kitten or something in the near foreground to capture that scale, I know.
The cascades and falls begin much higher up the mountain than this particular section. Here is where the falls begin their more vertical descent. This is a good example of the fractures (joints) that form in this super hard and dense rhyolite and granite. The water slowly works its way in between the cracks and given enough time, water wins.
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.
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. 😉