Get out with Ord: Sandstone City

By Gus Bode

Samantha Kingsley, 6, traces her finger over names etched in sandstone rock Monday on the Giant City Nature Trail at Giant City State Park. Some of the names carved in the rock date back to the 1860s. – Genna Ord | Daily Egyptian

The land is a glimpse into history — dating back 150 years, then 1,400 and then tens of thousands. Hallways of sandstone show the names of Civil War soldiers. A stone fence, its purpose unknown, is a remnant of Native American society, and the landscape itself is what Illinois used to look like — cliffs, creeks and hundreds of species of plants.

And to think, this is just a ten-minute drive from campus.


Giant City State Park was created in 1927 when the State of Illinois acquired 1,100 acres of land throughout Jackson and Union counties. Today, the park includes more than 4,000 acres of ground, including the 110-acre Fern Rocks Nature Preserve.

Rob Stroh, an Americorps worker who has worked at Giant City for slightly over a year, said the park’s highlights are the Giant City Nature Trail, which includes the sandstone ‘streets’ the park is named for, and Giant City Lodge.

The Lodge, hand-built from local hardwoods and sandstone, was erected in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

“They also have a really good fried chicken dinner,” he said.

The Giant City Nature Trail, one of eight in the park, is a favorite among visitors for several reasons. It is here that names are engraved in the towering sandstone with impeccable penmanship. Stroh said two of the more notable names hikers can see are those of brothers Alfred S. Thompson and Theodore W. Thompson, who left their names and the date February 22, 1862. Theodore Thompson was serving as a military captain under Col. John A. Logan at the time and later settled in Carbondale. It was he who, following his death in 1903, left the tract of land that is now Thompson Woods to SIU, Stroh said.

Giant City Nature Trail is also home to one of the park’s greatest challenges for brave hikers — Fat Man’s Squeeze.

“It was intense,” said Chris Broms, a sophomore from Arlington Heights studying chemistry. “I came with a group from church, and only two of us made it through.”


Fat Man’s Squeeze is, aptly named, a very narrow corridor through one of the bluffs; it angles slightly upward before taking a turn and leading out. Only a few feet in, light vanishes and only the surrounding walls act as a guide. Once through, the end can be the hardest part, as it is the narrowest section.

Even for those who are not as adventurous, the park has a lot to offer.

Adam Erler, a sophomore from Arlington Heights studying math education, waits with Charlie, a dog, for his friends to scramble down from a boulder Monday at Giant City State Park. – Genna Ord | Daily Egyptian

Charles Kingsley, from Prairie du Rocher, visited the park on Labor Day with his wife and two children. He and his son examined the names carved into the bluff a little more intently than most.

“We did this trail because of the Civil War names,” Kingsley said. “I’m a Civil War buff.”

History is a big part of the park’s attraction. Stroh said the namesake of Stonefort Nature Trail, a third of a mile hike, is remnants of a rock wall built by Native Americans sometime between 600 and 800 A.D. Thousands of years before this, the park itself was shaped when the Illinoisan glacier stopped just short of it and flattened almost all of the  northern region.

Even if visitors are less interested in the past and just want to enjoy the outdoors, there are plenty of opportunities for enjoyment. The eight trails range from the wheelchair-accessible Post Oak Nature Trail, a third of a mile long, to the Red Cedar Trail, a rugged 12 miles that wind around the park and has a backpacking campsite.

There are also picnic areas throughout the park, and visitors can bring their own horses to ride or take a trail ride offered through Giant City Stables. The light-dappled woods and calling birds make for a serene picnic location or a great way to wind down from a long week. Sometimes it is hard to remember that a break from civilization is only minutes away.