Sometimes it is hard, as introverts, to go on a hike with a group of people. Daughter and I decided to go to Cecil M. Hardin (Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area) for our 2019 First Day Hike. They were having a hike to the former site of the town Portland Mills, and since SAC is an historian, she thought it sounded fascinating. We found out about this one almost too late and we arrived at the gatehouse 3 minutes late. But they left a marker board as to where we needed to go – Back out to the highway the way we came!
Driving the backroads for awhile and then came to a complete stop with 20 or 30 cars in front of us. As the line slowly snaked to the designated parking area, I noticed another long line of cars on a short road to our right. I looked at daughter and she looked at me, and then we drove on to Shades State Park.
The parking lot had a gathering of cars, people, and dogs. SAC and I decided to go to another parking lot and hike on our own!!!
We knew, from the amount of precipitation we’d had that the trails would be sloppy and muddy. We took an easy trail – Trail 9 – and went to the Youth Camp. We had been wanting to see how it had changed in the decades since we had tent camped in a hot open field! It had grown up quite a bit, as we had imagined. We noticed several trees that had been cut down.
We had a modest bird list:
- Tufted Titmice
- American Crows
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker
- White Breasted Nuthatch
- Carolina Wren
- Blue Jays
We had a nice chat with a DNR employee and found out that yes, the trees cut down were Ash – all killed by Emerald Ash Borer. We also shared different favorite places to hike and what we carry in our day packs. He recommended we visit southern Illinois for the Shawnee National Forest and gave us several good locations to check out. Funny timing, as I had just read a series of blog posts by the Illinois Botanizer, who completed a River-to-River hike. Just a really enjoyable talk.
We then hiked the other leg of Trail 9 and then onto Hickory Parking lot and the top of Trail 1. (Hiking the top is a must-do each visit to Shades). After 1.5 inches of rain the day before, Sugar Creek was up and flowing fast. It would be a fast canoe ride today! We smelled a skunk as we walked around on the trail.
We decided as we walked over the boardwalk/bridges across Devil’s Punch Bowl that we had to go down to see the waterfalls going into the Punch Bowl. It had been a long time since we had seen that much water coming over the two falls. It was worth the climb up and down all those steps.
I always like to start my year on a First Day Hike. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. Although it was overcast and 37 degrees, it was a nice, pleasant hike.