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Illinois Ozarks are Found in Southernmost Part of the State

Fall Colors in the Illinois Ozarks

Camel Rock in the Garden of the Gods section of the Shawnee Forest in all its Fall glory. (Photo courtesy of Southernmost.Illinois.com.)

By Bob Lindsey

When we told friends that we were going to the Illinois Ozarks for a couple of days, reactions were mixed. “I didn’t know Illinois had any Ozarks–or even hills.”

“Is this an area with a big lake with lots of pleasure boats and folks bar-hopping all around the lake?” “Is there a party cove and lots of nightlife?”

What we learned about this area in “southernmost” Illinois is that it’s rather remote. The towns along the Ohio River are small (usually 300-500 residents), there is no fast food and even grocery stores are rare. It’s pretty laid back, but if you want relaxation and outdoor activities, with good, reasonable (albeit limited) restaurants, the Illinois Ozarks fits the bill. (See Pat Lindsey’s story on ‘Lodging and Dining.’)

It’s a three-hour drive from St. Louis through flat Illinois until you get close to the Ohio River Valley across from Kentucky. While driving, you begin to see hills in the distance and an altogether different countryside. We visited there in late September when the leaves were just starting to turn and it was still hot. By mid-October through early November, however, the Illinois Ozarks will be ablaze with orange, red, and green colors for some spectacular fall foliage.

man on rock view

Another scene at the Garden of the Gods taken just 3 weeks ago just before the Fall colors. — Bob Lindsey photo

We participated in an all-day group tour of the area led by a guide from the Southern Illinois Tourism Board, that took us to as many key attractions as could possibly be covered in one day in Hardin and Saline County, IL. Our first stop was just down the road from our accommodations at Cave in Rock State Park at the cave that bears the name of the park. The large cavern, called Pirates Cave, is right on the Ohio River and was used by river pirates to stash their booty.

Our next stop was Pounds Hollow Lake, great for hiking, picnicking, camping and swimming. Then we took a short walk on Rim Rock National Recreation Trail, a stunningly scenic place in the Shawnee National Forest. Before lunch, we walked the trails of Garden of the Gods — the highlight of the day — with its beautiful rock formations, cliffs and fantastic views. This part of the Shawnee National Forest is so unique that Camel Rock in Garden of the Gods is stamped on the back of the Illinois state quarter.

The afternoon events were more informational and less scenic, but we visited two more interesting attractions. The first was the Illinois Iron Furnace where we learned how iron was smelted in the first charcoal-fired furnace in Illinois, which dates back to the Civil War.

Minor

A new memorial to the fluorspar miners was recently erected near the American Fluorite Museum in Rosiclare, IL. — Bob Lindsey photo

Each time we visit a new area within driving distance of St. Louis, we try to learn about the community, its people and the history or commerce of the area. That was certainly the case for me at the American Fluorite Museum, which reveals the story of the state mineral of Illinois, fluorspar, which was once almost exclusively mined in this area. Eighty percent of the U.S. production came from Southern Illinois and just across the Ohio in Kentucky with 50 percent in Hardin County alone.

Fluorspar, which forms in multi-colored crystal cubes of blue, purple, green and white, has a multitude of uses. It is used as a flux to make steel, glass, and aluminum for ceramic products. Also, fluorine is a source for medical and industrial use and for the fluoridation of local water supplies. The crystalline pieces also make nice jewelry. At the American Fluorite Museum, we learned the history of the gems and the mining industry of this once major Illinois employer for the low admission of $3. It is located on the Ohio riverfont in tiny Rosiclare, IL in Hardin County.

The treehouses at Tree House & Log Cabin Resort are the newest type of lodging in the Illinois Ozarks. www.Timber RidgeOutpost.com. A visit to southernmost Illinois could include the Illinois wine trail near Carbondale, about an hour from Hardin County. For more information, visit southernmostillinois.com or call 1-800-C-IT-HERE.

 

 

superman-metrolis

The immense Superman statue in Metropolis, IL.

Another stop should be Metropolis, home of Superman—or at least his lore and namesake in movies and television.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Man of Steel is found at the Superman Museum, another bargain for only a $5 admission. Rooms in the museum cover everything from comics to the George Reeves television Superman, to the many full-length films. Hundreds of collectibles are displayed there. No visit would be complete without a photo taken with the immense Superman statue.

Bob Lindsey photos

 

Clark Kent

Clark Kent cool as ever in the Superman Museum. — Bob Lindsey photo

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