Little Grand Canyon and Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve

Had another four day weekend after taking some time off work, so while there was still some gorgeous weather to be had my Dad and I had to take advantage. We'd both been talking about how much fun we'd had together on our last roadtrip hike, so we decided this time to take another couple hour car ride down to southern Illinois to visit the Little Grand Canyon and Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve. The drive felt longer than last time because it wasn't all highway, but we did go through some wonderful little towns, including the Home of Popeye the Sailor Man!

The Little Grand Canyon is somewhere I've been wanting to visit for a long time after reading about it in 60 Hikes in 60 Miles, and it did not disappoint! The drive there feels so out of the way that you can't imagine that other people will even be there (there were a few other cars, but we only saw two other people on the trail the entire time, heading back up to the parking lot)-- the road is so twisty and turny and full of farms and street names that don't exist. It was a very windy day, but sunny and still warm enough that I could get away with a couple layers (t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, and a fleece). We took the trail counter clock-wise as suggested by Steve Henry, and this was definitely the right choice. Not only did it save the views and the easier hiking for the end, but when climbing back up some of the rocks I couldn't imagine trying to go DOWN that way! At first the trail had me a bit scared-- it was paved, something I don't really enjoy while hiking. But within just a few minutes, the trail turns into rock and starts switchbacking you down into the canyon (or whatever you want to call it). Once you flaten out, you are faced with a pathway between the rocks jutting up around you, turning into a steep pathway that requires quite a bit of climbing to get down to the bottom. The rocks were very slippery too, from both water and from all the fallen leaves. There were a few steps cut into the rocks here and there, but it wasn't always the best way to choose. Dad and I had fun scrambling around the rocks, trying not to slip and fall, and treating it like a puzzle to be solved.

After hitting the bottom, you walk in the flatlands under the cliffs for awhile, stepping over creeks and admiring the sheer awe of the rocks rising up beside you. The trail is fairly well marked, but the leaves did often make the trail sometimes hard to follow at times. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Eventually you have to climb back up to the level you started at, and this was slightly more challenging than climbing down. Once again, the steps aren't always the easiest choice, and I did quite a bit of climbing on hands and knees as I slowly made my way up. After that you walk along the cliff edge for quite a big before being treated to a few really lovely views of the valley, with the Missouri bluffs less than 10 miles in the distance. The trail seems to climb uphill forever for awhile, and certainly makes you work at it! The end of the trail evens out into a long pleasant walk in the woods before panning back out into pavement before hitting the parking lot. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL hike, and though it was only 3.6 miles long, the trail has challenging moments that give you a work out.

Piney Creek Nature Preserve was a bit of a disappointment, but not a bad hike in the end. About 2.25 miles in length, it's a fairly straightforward trail with mostly woods, and a few rocky areas for a bit of diversity. During a different time of year, though, I know that there would be streams and waterfalls which probably would have made the tail much more exciting. The trail is marked somewhat well, but has certain areas that are hard to follow and where the signposts have warped (not to mention the leaves, as usual, making the trail hard to pick out under your feet). It was a nice cool-down hike after the Little Grand Canyon. What the trail does boast is the biggest display of prehistoric rock art in southern Illinois. The problem is that there hasn't been much preservation measures taken so that any prehistoric art is almost impossible to pick out-- not to mention that the face of the wall is so full of graffiti and name carvings that if you DO think you see a prehistoric pictograph, you have no idea if it is real or fake. As a history buff, I find this sad and disappointing. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the trail. It was a lovely little walk in the woods, and the knowledge that there had been ancient rock art here is a really cool thing to think about.

Weekend Walks

The beautiful weather is sticking around into November, though it's awfully cold in the mornings, and then slowly warms up during the day. It's absolutely my favorite weather. Today was actually pretty warm, with a strong sun to bring the temperature up to nearly 70.

No actual hikes done this weekend (though I had considered it), but I did do some walking. Yesterday did the Hickory Ridge Trail at Powder Valley-- this has two loops, one of which is about half a mile and one which is about a mile and a half. It actually gets a little confusing on which part of the trail you are on, but as far as I know it was the longer loop. Powder Valley is gorgeous this time of year, and this trail was really lovely. All the trails at Powder Valley are paved, but it's always kind of amazing to see this beautiful little wooded area hidden away in the middle of an urban area. The walk was relaxing, the views were lovely, and there's just enough incline here and there to keep you busy.

Today I also went back to Queeny Park to do the Hawk Ridge trail of about 4 miles. It was fairly busy (being the middle of the afternoon instead of the earlier morning when I've gone before), but not so much that it was unenjoyable. Even though a lot of the trees have lost their leaves, there is still just enough color here and there. I don't think Queeny Park could ever really be unattractive. I went with my roommate, who keeps me in check a bit. Not only is she more in shape than me to begin with, but she is also taller than I am (not a hard feat, I admit), so I have to quicken my own strides to keep up with her longer ones. I never liked running, but a good brisk walk is something I do enjoy. I felt really good afterwards, and even though I didn't get any real hiking in, I felt good that I had managed to get out a little to enjoy this gorgeous weekend. Once November hits, I kind of live each weekend like it could be the last nice one we have for months. I'm glad the sun and fall weather is sticking around though!