Jewels in the Crown of the Beautiful Shawnee National Forest

June 30, 2011

Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow Recreational area are two must see locations on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois. Both are located just off Karbers Ridge blacktop 30 minutes from Harrisburg.  Garden of the Gods consists of spectacular overlooks and views of unusual rock formations. One formation, known as Camel Rock, and will be featured in the America the Beautiful Quarter Program representing Illinois in 2016.  Garden of the Gods has been listed in “USA Today” as one of “Ten Great Places to Get Nature on Film”.  There are two main trail systems.  The “Observation Trail” is a .25 mile stone path featuring some of the most well known formations.  The view of the 3300 acres of beautiful old growth forest from this trail is breathtaking.  Sunsets are especially beautiful.  This is an interpretive trail that features interesting history about the geology of this area.  The Wilderness area is over 320 million years old.  The sediment rock in this area is over 4 miles deep and the fractured bedrock has created some interesting rock formations that represent various objects.  

There are other trails which interconnect for plenty of hiking. For those people who want even more extensive hiking River to River Trail enters the east end of the park from High Knob and proceeds south below the rock formations before bearing west again.  River to River Trail is a trail system which stretches across Illinois from the Ohio River to the Mississippi.

Rim Rock

While not as well known as Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock/Pounds Hollow Recreational area is just as awe inspiring in its own way and consists of a wonderfully scenic trail of exceptional beauty and historic values.  To early settlers this unique formation was known as “the Pounds” an old English term meaning “enclosure”.  The trail leads past remnants of a stone wall built by prehistoric Native Americans, an observation platform and steps descending through huge rock formations, narrow rock passageways via  stone steps to the floor below.  Ox Lot Cave, at the bottom, is a massive rock overhang where 19th century loggers kept their oxen and horses.  At the back of the overhang is a natural spring which never goes dry.  Continue hiking to the beautiful 28 acre forest lake known as Pounds Hollow Lake, or through massive sandstone canyons back to the top of the escarpment. 

This area is known for its spectacular show of spring woodland flowers along both its upper and lower trails.  The upper trail is paved and less strenuous for hikers.  The lower trail has a dirt surface and leads along the base of the bluffs before looping back to the parking lot.

Enjoy Southern Illinois!


Vote for Cahokia Mounds!

June 16, 2011

Help Preserve our Past - Vote Today! Cahokia Mounds - Collinsville, IL

Cahokia Mounds State Historic and World Heritage Site is located in the River Bottom of the Mississippi River in Collinsville, Illinois.  Located centrally to St Louis, in the Metro East, Cahokia Mounds offers a local getaway to explore the way of life before Columbusand other Europeans arrived in America.  Cahokia Mounds has entered the This Place Matters Community Challenge sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The Community Challenge offers historic sites the opportunity to win a cash prize of up to $25,000 to help protect their site. 

Excavation at Cahokia Mounds

Why does Cahokia Mounds Matter?  Cahokia Mounds was the center of the elaborate Mississippian culture that spanned from as far south as Florida, to as far north as Wisconsin.  Because of this cultural significance UNESCO has designated Cahokia Mounds one of the 21 World Heritage Sites in the United States.  This Place Matters because Cahokia Mounds preserves the remains of a complex culture, including residential and religious centers.  1,600 acres of the original city of Cahokiafall outside of Cahokia Mounds’ state property lines.  These 1,600 acres of unprotected land are under constant threat from modern destructive forces.  If this land goes unprotected, new archaeological information may be lost.  If Cahokia Mounds wins the Community Challenge, the prize money would go to acquiring a portion of these 1,600 acres. Cahokia Mounds is currently 10th place in the Community Challenge standings and we need your help.  To vote, please visit  The process takes about two minutes.  An email address is needed, as all voters must be registered.  There is an option to opt out of future contact from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  There is also a limit of one vote per email address, however if you have multiple email addresses, you may register those too.  Any funds won will be used to acquire unprotected portions of the site.  As of June 15, we are in 10th place, but we must be in the top three to win.  Please help us spread the word.

Calling All Foodies –

June 16, 2011
Are you a “Foodie”?  The definition is “somebody who enjoys good food: an enthusiast of cooking, eating, or shopping for good food (informal)”.  The food network and cooking channels have helped pave the way to this new social trend of eating and cooking. Not only has society turned to good foods, but many restaurants now offer entrées fresh from the farm.   My point is Illinois is one of the great agricultural states.  I have noticed that many restaurants in Illinois have adopted our local farms into their menus.  Summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh from the farm dining.   

I was inspired watching Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations one of my favorite food personalities.  He got me thinking:  Where would I send him to sample our local foods grown in Illinois? I have had the pleasure eating at a few of these farm to table dining establishments and others are on my waiting list to enjoy.   Listed below are a few located throughout our state.  Stop in and enjoy farm fresh at its peak. 

 Farm Fresh Dining:

Chicago Botanic Garden - Farm Dinner

Chicago Botanic Gardens
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL

July 13, August 17, September 7
5 – 8 p.m.
Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden
Adventurous diners will not want to miss out on the second season of Farm Dinners at the Chicago Botanic Garden, celebrating the connection between midwestern farmland and the locally grown food we love to eat.

2119 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL

Located in Pilsen –with a open kitchen, on our patio, in our wine room, with the warmth and fragrance of applewood scenting the air.  Hand in hand with the best farmers and craftspeople of the midwest, they cook with bold simplicity and care.

Vie Restaurant
4471 Lawn Avenue
Western Springs, IL

The kitchen’s passion for locally sourced and seasonally suitable ingredients manifests itself in a menu that details the farm provenance of its produce.


4450 N. Prospect Road
Peoria Heights, IL

June features the best of the season with progressive techniques to highlight ingredients at their peak.

Firefly Grill, Effingham, IL

Firefly Grill
1810 Mid America Avenue
Effingham, IL 62401
(217) 342-2002

Firefly Grill is a modern roadhouse restaurant located on the shores of Kristie Lake. Chef Niall Campbell and his wife Kristie own and operate this oasis of American fresh cuisine in the heart of the Midwest.

Let us know where you would send your favorite celebrity chef to sample your favorite local foods. Pictures are welcome! Please include the name and location, as well as other details you’d like to share. 

 Bon Appétit Illinois Style!


Lunch at the Oilfield….

June 14, 2011

Oilfield Illinois

About 4 miles north of I-70′s Exit 129 (Casey) in the middle of, well, an oilfield, is Oilfield.  Built in 1866, the building served as a one room school house, known as ‘Butternut School’ until around 1963, when it was converted into a general store. The location operated as a general store for many years, serving as both supply depot and gathering spot for the locals, by various owners until closing in 1986. It was reopened in 2001 after sitting dormant for some 15 years to be exclusively a restaurant. The current owners have had it since 2009.

1866 era building still stands

The building is a delightful old structure full of friendly folks and good smells. Oilfield and vintage memorabilia line the walls and the signage is at once, historical and whimsical. Seating is family style with a set of large tables along one wall along with several smaller tables scattered about. The best spot in the house however, is not in the house. Outside under a canopy are a row of picnic tables for those wishing to get some fresh air with their meal. The menu is of cheeseburgers, fries and onion rings with home-made pie readily available, all of which is very good!
It’s wonderful that small businesses like these survive in the heartland, and a testament to the determination and love that the owners put into them day in and day out. One can see and hear from the guests that they’re at home there…..and at home you’ll feel too.

Small town charm

When you’re traveling down I-70, make it a point to take a 4 mile detour north and enjoy Oilfield!

Locate on the Map

Additional and larger images

-Ed Baumgarten