Trekking across southeastern Illinois

By Sarah Niebrugge, @SNiebrugge_DE l Daily Egyptian

Saturday was a day of exciting and exhausting adventure for Jay Holland and me from midday to sunset.

We started with an hour and a half drive to Cave-In-Rock, a small town about 74 miles southwest of Carbondale. The town, with a population of about 300, was quaint and adorable. On every street corner there was a vintage bicycle painted in different pastel colors with a flower basket on the front.

The main stop in this little town was the cave at Cave-In-Rock State Park on the north side of the Ohio River. The cave was discovered in 1729 by the European explorer M. De Lery of France, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He named it caverne danse Le Roc, which translates to Cave-In-Rock.


Both of us were looking forward to easily walking straight into the expansive cave. The Ohio River had other plans for us.

After walking down the stairs leading to the pathway, we found the river to be so high that the trail was entirely flooded over.

A few younger boys were swimming close to the edge of the water and told us the path was flooded but the cave was still accessible.

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Holland and I had our mission, and we were not about to let a bit of river water stop us, though we probably should have. We waded through the water and followed more steps taking us lower until the water was about chest deep and followed the concrete walkway to the cavern entrance.

The entrance to the cave was enormous and towered above us. The walls were etched and spray-painted with names from previous visitors. Even the highest points on the cave had names from times when the water was flooded even higher.

The three boys, Ashton Lamprecht, 15-years-old, of Marion, Ky., Trent Saulsgiver, 10-years-old, of Laport, Ind., and Trey Saulsigiver, 11-years-old, of Laport, Ind., were the only ones we met that had also ventured out to see the cave. 


“The cave was like a mansion but was oozing from the ceiling,” said Trey.

Trent, Trey’s brother, said the cave was fantastic and loved the adventure.

The three boys were accompanied by Danni Cox, mother of Trent and Trey and aunt to Ashton, and Rhonda McConnel, Cox’s sister also from Laporte, Ind.

Although the sisters decided to avoid the water, both agreed it was worth the trip.

“We took the ferry over from Marion, Kentucky to enjoy the day with our nephew,” Cox said.

After drying off and loading back into the car, we headed to our next destination, Pounds Hollow Recreation Area which spans 230 acres. The area offers camping, picnicking, fishing, boating and hiking.

We first thought we would take a dip in the public swimming area, which is free and open from dawn to dusk daily from May to September. We quickly changed our mind after seeing the crowded beach and traveled on to the next hike. 

We arrived at the trailhead for Rim Rock National Recreation Trail and were surprised by how quiet it was.

The Rim Rock trail was created in 1962, but was replaced in the 1980s by the Young Adult Conservation Corps. The crew took out the gravel pathway and laid down a flagstone walkway, according to United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

The entire path was gorgeous and very calming. Trees, brush and rocks surrounded us, and if you could ignore the intense heat and humidity, there would be plenty more to explore.

During the hike we came across our second cave of the day known as Ox-Lot Cave signified by a trail marker. The sign, created by the Forest Service, noted that the cave received its name when loggers started using the wooded area and created a corral around the cave to keep in oxen. The overhang created a shelter and a watering hole for the animals.

We explored more of the rocky area until we were worn out and then headed on to our final spot for the sunset, Garden of the Gods.

This is one of the most popular places to explore, I have heard from fellow students.

Garden of the Gods, like every other place we had explored on Saturday, is located in Shawnee National Forest. Within the nearly 6 miles of hiking trails, the Observation Trail, a quarter-mile loop walk featuring sandstone rock formations, is the most popular. 

We spent very little time exploring because of the long day we had just had. Instead, we found a spot on a rock ledge with a view overlooking the Shawnee National Forest and ended up running into the family we had met earlier at Cave-In-Rock.

Cox said they were told Garden of the Gods was pretty close to the cave.

“We thought we were lost,” Cox said. “We are used to close meaning one or two blocks not 10 to 15 miles.”

McConnel and Cox however both agreed the drive was well worth the trek.

The two adults sat with us watching the sunset as the boys climbed around on the rocky terrain.

After a day out and about, we were exhausted and ready to get home. We found some incredible places on our journey, and are ready to head back soon to find more.