Friday, August 8, 2014

Tennessee Vacation - Day 1

Back in June [A] and I took a vacation to Tennessee to visit Chattanooga and the Great Smoky Mountains. It was an amazing trip and we had so much fun relaxing and being together, just the two of us.

We started our road trip by heading to the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illlinois. We spent one day there exploring two different areas; Garden of the Gods Recreation Area and the Rim Rock Trail.

Garden of the Gods is unique because while the rest of Illinois is flat, this uplifted sandstone plateau was never covered by glaciers; the furthest advance of ice sheets stopped just north of here.

The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is a short quarter mile hike on a flagstone path. The fun part, though, is straying off the path and scrambling over the rock formations.

There are a couple of rock formations along the Observation Trail that are named for the animals they resemble. Below is Camel Rock:

And this one is Monkey Rock:

This one may have a name but to me it looks like the tiger-faced Cave of Wonders from Aladdin.

There are also these cool features called liesegang bands. According to the sign on the Observation Trail, "Long ago when this sandstone was underground, it was saturated with groundwater mixed with iron. Chemical changes caused the iron to solidify as rust between the rock particles. Held together by iron, the raised dark bands have resisted weathering as compared to the softer, light-colored rock. The patterns of the bands are the result of these chemical changes." Pretty neat, huh?

As we were leaving some darker clouds were rolling in but thankfully we only got a short, light drizzle as we began our hike over at the Rim Rock Trail. The clouds did make for a beautiful, dramatic sky.

Our next stop in the Shawnee National Forest was the Rim Rock Trail. (Side note, [K] gave us some of her mini My Little Ponies to take along with us on our trip so we placed them in various locations along the way and sent her the photos. Here they are on our dash overlooking the start of the trail.)

While looking up information on Garden of the Gods I came across a website called Shawnee Hills Outdoors and found his description, photos, and video of the Rim Rock Trail to be fascinating. I love hiking in crevices between huge rocks. I love steps leading somewhere mysterious; to an unknown natural beauty. This place has both.

After descending the stairs you come across these massive moss-covered stone walls and the sliver of a trail between them.

Here I am standing at the top of the stone stairway leading down between the walls.

Here is [A] at the bottom where the steps turn and lead out into a beautiful wooded bluff.

The other distinguishing feature at Rim Rock is the Ox-Lot Cave. According to the sign there, "This large rock overhang provided shelter to many hunters and explorers who passed this way. A fence was built to create a corral where oxen, mules, and horses were kept; hence the name Ox-Lot Cave."

This impression in the rock (I wouldn't exactly call it a cave myself) is massive. It's hard to tell in the photo above just how big it is even though I'm standing there to give some perspective. The photo below is a vertical shot and we still couldn't get it all in the frame.

The rest of our one-mile hike was filled with beautiful trees, a stream, giant boulders jutting out all around, and neat wooden boardwalks.

The Shawnee National Forest is a beautiful place to come visit and it really got us pumped and in the mood to do more hiking on our trip. I know there are many more places to see and hike here and I would really like to come back at some point. [A] and I love being out in nature and unfortunately we just don't do it enough. I hope that is something we can change going forward.

On a side note, today is our 6th wedding anniversary. I can't believe six years have passed already. It's amazing how time flies when you're having fun. And boy, are we having fun! A friend of ours just recently commented on my Facebook page that I "seriously won the husband lottery with him" and it's so true. I really did. He is the most amazing friend, husband, and father that I could ever want. He is gentle with our children, strong with his convictions, and giving with his love. He is smart and funny (oh my gosh is he crazy and weird and hilarious), and he is patient when I'm not, my rock when I need it, and understanding when I'm being irrational. In short, he is everything to me and I love him like Wesley loves Buttercup. Dishwash your face, Babe. Happy anniversary!


  1. Ooh, pretty! I think I know where I'll be dragging your brother on a weekend trip. Never would have thought it when we met, but he's become quite the outdoor enthusiast over the last decade. Can't wait to see the rest of your trip.

    1. I wouldn't say enthusiast as much as I won't turn into a bored blob at the mention of it XD

      Great pictures and I really did enjoy this part of the country. It's amazingly beautiful.