“I've been everywhere, man
I've been everywhere, man
Crossed the deserts bare, man
I've breathed the mountain air, man
Travel, I've had my share, man
I've been everywhere”
Like the lyrics to the song made famous by Hank Snow, and later Johnny Cash, I thought I knew my way around Southern Illinois.
I’ve spent most of the past 30 years criss-crossing the region, driving the backroads of Franklin, Jefferson, Pope, Hardin, Saline, Jefferson, Hamilton and every other county south of I-64. I’ve been to obscure places from Piney Creek Ravine to Pakentuck Falls.
In the past month, I’ve gotten a comeuppance.
First, I did a story on the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. Various news releases over the years made me vaguely aware of the refuge, but I’d never expended the effort to investigate.
A couple weeks ago I found myself at the Wilkinson Island Division of the refuge. It’s a large tract of bottomland forest adjacent to the Mississippi River at the end of Jones Ridge Road in Jackson County.
Looking for other tracts of the refuge took me to places I’ve never been. I stumbled onto the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers, a place I’m ashamed to admit I’d never seen before.
I wish it had been warmer. It would been an interesting place to explore.
But, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The environment is breathing a sigh of relief as 2017 comes to an end.
A friend recently posted a stunning photo of Kickasola Falls. It’s a stunning photo of sheets of ice layered over a craggy face of sandstone rock. I had certainly never seen the falls before, nor had I heard of them.
Yet, they’re in Pope County.
How did I miss that? It’s now on my list of places to see.
Finally, while working on a story about the disappearing oak tree in Southern Illinois, I got a tour of Trail of Tears State Forest, located in Union County.
I’d been to Trail of Tears several times. But, after last week’s trip down a couple fire trails, I have to admit I’d never seen Trail of Tears before.
Sure, I was aware of the dense forest. Sure, I was aware of the steep hills.
Occasionally humans get to witness the life-and-death drama of nature.
But, I didn’t know there are several camping shelters in the forest built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The structures are something you’d expect to see along the Appalachian Trail.
Seeing the shelters almost made me want to do some winter camping … almost.
Bouncing around the fire trails also reminded me of the stark beauty of a forest in winter. It was also a reminder of the wealth of natural beauty that is Southern Illinois.
The sights I’ve seen in the past 30 days have whetted my appetite to explore the region anew. There is still so much to see. And, you won’t see it from the couch.
LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.