Garden of the Gods Late Fall
I recently enjoyed some beautiful scenery along the Ohio River Scenic Byway in the Southernmost tip of IL. with quaint small towns and the spectacular Shawnee National Forest, as we followed the Ohio River through the counties of Gallatin, Saline, Hardin, Pope, Massac, Pulaski, and Alexander. Each county is full of history, outdoor adventure, endless recreation opportunities, as well as awesome scenery.
We started our trip at the Wabash Bridge near the Indiana border and traveled south along the Ohio River all the way to the Mississippi River at Cairo. At 188-miles, it’s a four hour journey. That is, it’s four hours if you can resist stopping to discover the moving stories of America’s early years at historic sites, or the invitations to simply relax and enjoy the scenery. It was an all day adventure for us!
Cave in the Rock
From New Haven to Cave-in Rock, the Ohio River valley will stir your senses and show you exotic, wild, and natural beauty you may have never imagined. Here, where the river is at its most dramatic, you’ll be at the edge of the Shawnee National Forest. Drive the byway to Rim Rock National Recreation Trail to see geological wonders, and Pounds Hollow, where an ancient Indian wall still stands surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Just west is the Garden of the Gods wilderness area with its vast view from bluffs, eroded into shapes like “Devil’s Smokestack” and “Camel Rock.” Then take in the passing ferryboats and other river traffic from what was once a hangout for river pirates at Cave-in Rock State Park, an enormous limestone cavern. The park lodge rests high above the river. Heading south, a narrow and hilly segment of the byway leads to Tower Rock, the highest point on the byway.
From Elizabethtown to Brookport, the byway tells many parts of the American story. Hog Thief Creek, near Elizabethtown, is the site of the state’s first iron ore furnace, a major source of iron for the Union in the Civil War. Rosiclare is home to the fluorspar industry, an important part of the history and lives of many people throughout the area for several generations. Golconda, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is famous for its 603-acre marina-getaway to the Smithland Pool and one of the best fishing spots in the Midwest. Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site, located north of Brookport on Unionville Road, is a nationally significant Native-American archaeological treasure. From about 1,000 AD to 1,450 AD it was the ‘capital’ of a chiefdom that stretched from Brookport to Hamletsburg along the Ohio River. Stop by to see the mounds from a viewing platform with interpretive panels that boasts this historical story.
Onward to Metropolis, then Cairo, the byway will also take you to the home of the ‘Man of Steel’. The only city in the U.S. named Metropolis, the city has adopted Superman as its’ favorite son! The Town Square boasts a 15ft. statue of this hero. Leave your kryptonite at home, and come on in to the Super Museum in Metropolis to see its $2.5 million collection. Follow the river out of Metropolis toward Cairo, you’ll pass the Mounds City National Cemetery, burial site for Union and Confederate soldiers. The 1874 Caretakers House has been renovated and houses a museum. Cairo was a strategic site during the civil War and served as headquarters to Ulysses S. Grant. Visit the Custom House Museum and Safford Memorial Library. A fitting place to end, (or begin), the scenic drive is Fort Defiance Park. From the observation deck you can watch the blue waters of the Ohio flow into the muddy waters of the Mississippi.
As you travel the Byway, be sure to stop at the Ohio River Visitor Center in Equality or the Mound City National Cemetery Visitor Center for area brochures and information.
Take the drive, and, let me know your favorite stop along the route!
Enjoy Southern Illinois!