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Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

We went camping this weekend, but our story really started a couple of weeks ago at our block party. We were speaking with neighbors about our desire to visit Shawnee National Forest and a suggestion was made for where to camp. Camp Ondessonk is a Catholic summer youth camp, but in the offseason its facilities are sometimes made available to the general public. This weekend just happened to be one of those occasions. It would have been nice to snag one of their many cabins, but waiting as late as we did, the best that we could get was tent camping. We ended up in the Ahatsitari group campground, which as things turned out was all ours for the weekend.

Ondessonk and Ahatsitari are Native American words. Ondessonk is the Iroquois name for the missionary who became the first martyr in what is now the USA. It means ‘bird of prey’. Ahatsitari is the name of the baptized Huron-chief who assisted Ondessonk. It was cold this weekend. We got our first frost. There was ice on the Prius Saturday morning and this morning our water bottles were frozen. Coincidently, we got an email ad from REI today, asking the question, “Cold-weather camping: are you prepared?” I would have to say no, but the nearby Ozark General Store and Dairy Bar, with its $3 breakfasts helped us to cope. Shawnee National Forest runs river-to-river across the southern tip of Illinois, from the Mississippi to the Ohio and has a number of interesting sights to see. On Saturday, we saw a few of them:

Millstone Bluff is an archeological site of a prehistoric Native American hilltop stone fort and village. After 1,500 years not much is left: a few graves, petroglyphs and depressions where dwellings once stood for the estimated 100 villagers. It was our first stop and was deserted when we arrived. The lack of other tourists allowed the magic of the place to resonate.

Garden of the Gods is pictured above, but while this one photo gives you a feel for the place, it certainly doesn’t do it justice. In fact, it only shows a small portion of the place and to get a shot that would really give it justice, would require much less fear of falling than I have. We had previously visited another Garden of the Gods. That one was in Colorado. That one had been impressive, so I was not expecting much from the one in Shawnee. Boy, was I wrong. While, Colorado’s Garden was impressive to look at, this one was both impressive to look at and crawl over too. There were hundreds of tourists here and it was impossible to get a good shot, without someone photo-bombing it. Here are a few choice tidbits of over-heard conversations:

  • “This is a no fall zone.”
  • To hooded twins: “Orange sit down right now. Red stay with grandma.”
  • “There is nothing here but rocks and overlooks.”
  • “Dad, remember when you cracked a rib?” “That was on a motorbike.”

Cave in Rock State Park is right on the Ohio River. In the past, it has served as a haven for Illinois River Pirates as in pirates on the Ohio River in Illinois. Actually, Illinois River Pirates sounds like something out of the movie, “The Blues Brothers”. This cave and its illicit use was featured in the western, “How the West Was Won”. In this movie Jimmy Stewart is waylaid by said pirates. The scene was shot on location there.

That was Saturday, Sunday’s adventures will have to wait until tomorrow.

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