Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forests, S. IL

A few years ago, during autumn, I went on a joint trip with my friends, John Koons and Cheryl, his wife, to see extended family members Jim and Selena Grove who live in Southern Illinois. Jim was kind enough to drive us all around to see the local sights and so we rode east into Hardin County to see the Garden of the Gods.

 At first sight, the beauty of the heavily forested area wraps you in an unending sea of deciduous trees, interspersed with pine and cedar. The wind moves sensuously through the leaves and creates a cacophony of blunted clicks that paints the breeze with more force than it really is. But while the wind uses trickery, the surroundings do not.

Up a slanted, weaving path only a short distance, the scene unfolds on to a path that is strewn with giant (yes, the place is named justifiably so) rounded boulders that appear very old. They lay tumbled, alone and mounded precariously, all over the area, and that arena opened upon a wide stretch of sky and tree: Shawnee National Forest. The trail ends with this vista on a cuesta; a cuesta (pronounced KWEH-sta) is a ridge that is asymmetrical in cross section. One of the slopes is gently curved, but the other, which is like a cliff face, is steep without becoming entirely vertical.

The rock you stand upon is a Pounds sandstone of the Lower Pennsylvanian Caseyville formation. I was advised that one can also see such an exposure at Bell Smith Springs, but I have not been there. However, both places share such characteristics that are typical of sedimentary deposits laid down in agitated water. The uniqueness of Garden of the Gods is that these rocks contain bizarree patterns of wavelike bands that cut through the crossbedding traces of the sandstone face. These bands are called Liesegang rings, which are concentric zones of concentrated iron oxide that existed after the sediments settled. What makes these rings so stark and noticeable is that they erode much slower than the surrounding sandstone, thereby making them appear bold and wildly designed.

And that's not a fey creature in the picture; just a kid who hopefully will be bitten by the geology bug.

 To the west, the autumn clothed trees are a true spectacle and color blazes as far as the horizon. To the north lies the Eagle Creek syncline. In fact, at Garden of the Gods, we stood upon the southern side of that syncline and so the Pounds sandstone dips easily to the north. Geologically speaking, this exposed rock is a wonder to behold, but poetically speaking, one almost can see the wee folk themselves in the shadows.

 I'm heading over there where those tiny figures are standing. 

Ah, but this vista is so very distracting!
(Northern view)

 Went to the edge and that drop is a "fur piece" down there.

Almost there...

 Okay, I'm just a tad distracted.

Sneaking a peek at the west

I'm almost there--little more to go.

This is it!

 Made it! Wow. Look at all that color.

And that hump is part of that southern side of the syncline.

What trip would be worthwhile without the company of good friends. Below are (L to R) Becky, Jim, Selena, Cheryl, and John. Love you guys! You "rock" my world!

Hope you enjoyed our visit to the rocky side of southern Illinois. Stay tuned for the next adventure, which will be coming soon. Promise.

PS A special thanks to Raymond Wiggers for his geological information on the area in his "Geology Underfoot in Illinois." 

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