New Year – New Year

2015 New Year celebration

As far as end of the year wrap-ups go, I’m going to warn you in advance that this one is going to be a little depressing. For me 2014 was like the last few months of a failing relationship compared to how wonderful my summer romance with 2013 had been. Nothing horrible happened, but nothing remotely wonderful or life changing happened either. The year just never felt right to me, and I never seemed to get my ducks in a row as people are known to say here in the Midwest…

To begin with, I started the year off unemployed after moving back to my home state of Illinois, and although I found a job within a few months at a local newspaper, it took me 8 months to find a job in my field. So with my weekdays full of responsibility and a bank account that reflected my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I stuck close to home when it came to adventures.

Drinking The Kool-Aid

One thing I seemed to do a lot of this year was visit breweries with my beer geek father. Four Hands Brewing, Schlafly, Scratch Brewing Co., Perennial Artisan Ales, Ferguson Brewing Co., Recess Brewing, 4202-Main Street Brewing, and Prison Brews to name a few. I also went to a lot of beer events like the Lupulin Carnival and the Repeal of Prohibition, and was also inducted into my dads beer group… but don’t ask me any questions related to the production – taste – smell – ingredients, because I am quite literally just there for the beer.

Hiking

In an effort to work off all that beer I was drinking, I made multiple visits to both Pere Marquette State Park and Giant City Lodge during the Summer to rediscover my favorite trails and explore a few new ones. Since Illinois is a pretty flat state and neither location is nearby, I couldn’t get out to either as much as I would have liked, but thanks to the mild weather we’ve been experiencing, I was able to enjoy a few nice Fall days with my family at both locations.

Revisiting Local Attractions

Despite what you’ve all be hearing on the news about Saint Louis, it’s actually a pretty great town. Having grown up just 20 minutes from downtown in the “Metro-East”, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the Gateway to the West an uncountable number of times throughout the years,  and it will always hold a special place in my heart. In the past 12 months I was able to revisit a few local favorites like the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the St. Louis Balloon Glow, and the Art Museum, as well as Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville IL., which I hadn’t been to since I was a child. I had hoped to get a little more local tourism done to share here on the blog with all of you, but got busy and wasn’t able to get everywhere I would have liked.

Heading To Jail

I also had the opportunity to visit the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City while my parents and I were visiting one of my brothers in Columbia, MO. Since I love old buildings – the ruined the better – it was the perfect place for me. Despite the hot day and even hotter interior, the rest of the family seemed to agree that it was an interesting tour. If you’re in the area I’d suggest checking it out.

Outside of all the things listed above, I also stayed up late to witness one of the many Blood Moons that happened this year, and got to tick off another item on my bucket list by completing the AFI 100 Years 100 Movies list. Unfortunately for me, this is where the happy part of the year ends. I actually just lost my job at the beginning of the week, and will now be ending my year the same way it began… unemployed.

While I find it a little ironic that I’m now closing out 2014 the same way I ushered it in, I can only hope that the new year will bring along all the possibilities and good fortune we hope for at the close of a less than fantastic year. As I prepare to celebrate the new year tonight and my 27th birthday on the 4th, it’s more than a little hard for me to admit that I’ve never felt more lost in all my life… even the time I drove around lost in Vietnam for hours pales in comparison to this. As of the moment I’m typing this sentence, I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but will be sure to keep you all posted when I figure it out.

Wishing you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

Cheers – Susan

Hiking in a Sea of Color

As the air begins to grow colder and the leaves begin to change, there can be no doubt about the changing of the season. Fall is here, and with it goes the bright sunshine of Summer and the delicately beautiful flowers that accompany it. With windy days and the first real cold front already working their way through the Midwest, I’m glad we were able to experience a few warm sunny days before being forced to pull sweaters out of the back of our closets, and begin hibernating under heaps of blankets… or maybe that’s just me… Have I mentioned I don’t like the cold?!?!

Anyway, this past weekend not only contained the warm sunny days I speak of, but also my older brothers birthday (and boy is he getting old!! 🙂 ), so in celebration my family spend some time bonding on the hiking trails at Pere Marquette State Park… along with basically every other person from the area… Who knew my big bro was so popular!!!

Since the weather was so nice, I can only assume that they were actually worshiping the late afternoon sun while taking in the beauty of the river road lined with colorful trees. Sometimes going somewhere beautiful only requires a tank of gas and some place familiar and close to home, but beauty no matter where it exists deserves to be appreciated, and the colors of fall where ever you may be are no exception to that rule. While I don’t like being forced to layer clothing and wear socks, I do love the vibrant colors of fall and the way the leaves appear iridescent in the sunlight.

DSCN4084

the many colors of a changing tree

DSCN4120

sometimes its good to stand out like a bright colored leaf

DSCN4123

My brother Thomas and my (only) Nephew Tir

DSCN4139

the bright sun made the leaves glow

DSCN4112

The last of the summer flowers

Country Sunset

DSCN3928

On my way home from hiking last weekend, I pulled over on a country road in the heart of Illinois to enjoy the perfect sunset I was driving into. I snapped a few photos, including the one above from behind some wildflowers that were growing alongside a soy bean field. As I was writing my post, I couldn’t find a way to fit this photo in naturally, but couldn’t resist the urge to share it with all of you. Hope you all had a great weekend and don’t have a case of the Monday’s tomorrow.

– Cheers, Susan

 

 

Hiking Giant City State Park

Way south of St. Louis, just outside of Carbondale IL, you’ll find a little slice of heaven named Giant City State Park. It sits on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest and offers some really good hiking among its many other amenities. Now if you’re at all familiar with the St. Louis metro area you’ve probably found yourself thinking that: A) I’m way too into hiking or B) I’m a little bit crazy for having driven 2 and 1/2 hours for the sake of getting some exercise, but either way you’d be wrong.

I really do enjoy hiking, but more importantly I have family in the area, so 2 and 1/2 hours in the car is easily out weighed by some quality family time. For anyone else, I’d recommend sticking around for at least one night if you’re not big on spending a large chunk of your day in the car. There’s a lodge with really excellent food (I have a lifetime of Thanksgiving dinners to vouch for this), cabins and areas to camp/park your RV, and it’s only about a 20 minute drive from Carbondale which is more than likely to have everything you need/want.

DSCN3905

Now to get back to the hiking, there are quite a few trails to choose from which will suit any level of hiking experience you may have. I decided to stick to the most popular trail called the Giant City Nature Trail because it’s quite simply my favorite for one very important reason: Fat Man Squeeze. This is the trail I grew up hiking on every Thanksgiving with my family, and is a really nice 1 mile hike if you stick to the trail and hike it the correct way… which I’ve only done one time in my life thanks to that rebellious year my aunt made us all try it. Anyway, if you want to see if you can make it through fat man squeeze then the first thing you want to do it go the exact opposite way as the first arrow.

DSCN3897

Ignore the arrow and take a left

Then you’re going to conquer that really big looking hill and make it to the peaceful little area with benches at the top. Once you’re there you can feel secure in the knowledge that there will be no more large hills to climb.

DSCN3899

Take a break and ease on down the rock stairs

From here it’s as simple as following the path down and around for a fairly lengthy set of trail. You’ll pass some large boulders which are incredibly fun to climb and plenty of open wooded area, where if you’re luck you might see a deer or two. The next section begins when you come to this wall of rock (see below).

DSCN3903

Follow the wall around

You really just need to follow the path which is marked with a red spray painted arrow (which will be pointing at you), but I added this section because it can be a little confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the trail. I passed plenty of people who had gotten turned around during my hike.

Use these...

Use these…

Soon you’ll come to a set of wooden stairs, which you should probably take if you don’t want to have to go down that massive hill you had to come up. Next is probably my favorite rock feature of the entire hike. It’s a boulder that’s precariously balanced on top of a smooth pathway… and you’re gonna be walking right underneath it.

Go under the boulder

Go under the boulder

Now if you’ve kept reading this far into the post, then I congratulate you for making it to one of the coolest features of this hike (besides the boulder above). It’s easiest to say that it’s a sort of open roofed tunnel which leads off of the passageway pictured above, and opens up to reveal towering walls full of carvings, some of which date back to the 1800’s.

DSCN3908

DSCN3911

New carvings seem to appear all the time, and it’s easy to lose time here trying to find the oldest date you can. At this point in the hike we are about to come to a fork in the road, which isn’t all that obvious upon first glance, but will give you two completely different experiences. The first is a long wooded bridge leading you along the trail your intended to take … the second is that really shady looking overgrown area to the right that looks as though it might lead to your death. Exciting right!?!?!

So yeah… needless to say I went right. To be fair the path is much more over grown than the last time I hiked this trail, and was definitely a little harder to traverse than usual, but still oh so worth the effort. I fought my way through chest high weeds while hoping none were poisonous, ducked under trees, and climbed over mossy rocks on my way to Fat Man Squeeze.

DSCN3915

As I traversed the familiar yet alien looking path, I could hear children laughing from somewhere along the actual trail, and wondered if anyone else even knew there was a path cut among the weeds and tall rocks, or if they had all abandoned the idea of doing so as it became overgrown. Either way, this section is pretty easy. You follow the rocks on up. Mind your step though, especially if the ground is wet from a recent rain.

DSCN3917

When you get to the top of the section pictured above, there is now a fallen tree trunk you must duck under or climb over to get to the second half of the path which is on the right. It looked just as dismal and overgrown as the one I just come up, but isn’t obstructed other than a few weeds sprouting up here and there.

DSCN3918

Follow the slight curve around, and you’ll have arrived at your destination.

DSCN3919

Behold: Fat Mans Squeeze

Don’t let the above photo deceive you in any way. Just below the fallen tree is a large step up and a shrinking space between the rocks all at once. It’s a little tough to mange if you’ve got a backpack on, have a camera or dog, so place whatever object/animal might be in your possession up on the top of the ledge, and pray you’re small enough to fit.

After collecting your things, please feel free to sit and wait for assistance from the first kind soul that comes along… KIDDING! If you take a right there is a small path which will place the edge of the rocks on your left. Go down until you’ve come to either the 3rd or 4th break where you’ll see a path both wide and gradual enough for you to make your way back to the trail.

Hiking at Pere Marquette

I’ve been attempting to get this posted for a few weeks now, but between my work schedule and the Mississippi flooding her banks leaving sections of the river road closed, I haven’t been able to get back to take a few more photos to help fill the visual aspect of my post. So having to make due with what I have, here it goes.

If you’re in the St. Louis metro area, or more exact on the Illinois side of the river and you want to go hiking, there’s really only one option available that resembles anything close to a “real” hike like you’ll find in hilly or mountainous area of the country. That place is Pere Marquette. It’s located about 1 hour from downtown St. Louis, MO or about 30 minutes from Alton, IL depending on where you’re coming from, and is well worth the trip for an afternoon of hiking and some great views of the merging of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

DSCN3876

View of the Mississippi & Illinois Rivers from a lookout point

From either location, the only way to get to Pere Marquette is by a drive up the river road. It runs along the the Illinois bank of the Mississippi river until you pass Pere Marquette, at which point it begins to follow the Illinois river upstream. Along the way you’ll pass through a few smalls towns, one in particular called Grafton which is worth checking out if you have the time. There’s a winery, some good restaurants to eat at, antique shopping, craft stores, and one weekend every month a flea market. It’s a popular place so don’t be surprised to find it busy.

DSCN3883

A Hawk flying over the now conjoined rivers

Moving back to Pere Marquette, most of the trails are what I consider to be easy to moderate hikes, and although they’re not always well maintained, they are fairly well marked so it’s hard to get lost. Since Pere Marquette is located along both the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, the hiking you’ll be doing here takes place along the bluffs the area is famous for. This means that there will be a few areas with steep inclines the closer you get to the top, but the view is more than enough reward for your hard work.

Ellie sitting still just long enough for me to get this

Ellie sitting still just long enough for me to get this

The hiking here is very much both kid and pet friendly so don’t hesitate to bring them along. I always make a point to steal my parents dog Ellie for the afternoon when I go for a hike because I think she loves it more than I do, and have never had an issue with it being too difficult for her, nor have I encountered any aggressive animals.

Once you’re done with your hike, there is a lodge at Pere Marquette worth checking out. I haven’t been inside it for years (and was hoping to get photos to aid this section), but it’s air conditioned, has clean restrooms and has a dinning room which is convenient if you don’t want to hassle with finding parking in Grafton or didn’t pack a lunch. There is also a large chess set with child sized pieces that seems to always be in use and is pretty cool for kids to play around with. All in All it’s a pretty good place to spend an afternoon and is by far the best place to go for a hike in the area