Monday, November 20, 2017

(Nearly) Riding The Chute in Little Grand Canyon

Morning y’all!

It’s not quite sunrise here at Kaolin Pond but I’ve got an appointment with a hike about 15 miles north of here so I’m going to get moving. Yeah, the air is really thick and muggy this morning, but I can’t wait around for perfect weather all the time.

Any of y’all that feel like tagging along are welcome but you better get a move on because I’m leaving for the Little Grand Canyon now.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

             Grand Canyon?? you ask in surprise, But we’re in freekin’ Illinois dude!

The truth is lots of states claim to have their own personal Grand Canyon (Erosion envy??) and Illinois’ is just up the road on the bluffs (where the red GPS track is) that overlook the valley where the Mississippi River ran before it moved further west leaving the current day Big Muddy River in its place. Although the big river just might come back here someday. After all, this is near where the wanderings of the Mississippi River in just the past couple hundred years have left little bits of Illinois on the Missouri side of the river and bits of Missouri on the Illinois side.

But enough screwing around. Let’s go!

Main Street, Alto Pass

Wow! Did you see the size of the vineyard and winery operations there around Alto Pass!  Anybody get a photo??

Aw come on! Nobody?

Oh no dude, that's not on me, I’m driving! Someone else needs to be taking responsibility for getting the photos.

But since none of you did I guess I’ll just have to steal this photo from 'commons.wikimedia'

OK, everybody listen up now.

We need to turn left onto a Etherton Rd. up here somewhere so keep your eyes open and sing out when you see it.

Good, we made that turn, now Etherton makes a sharp right pretty soon.

There it is! Oh wow! The road cuts right between the house and a barn here! Feels a little weird driving right through their yard like that.

OK, when we come to a T in the road we turn left onto Poplar Ridge

And at the 4-way stop we go straight onto Hickory Ridge Rd..

Oh hey! Here comes sunrise. Quick! Somebody snap a photo of it on that barn!

At least this time we aren’t driving within feet of their front porch!

And here we are at Illinois’ Little Grand Canyon.  A fee-free National Forest Recreation area.

OK, I’m going to park over here because in a little bit there will be sun on the solar for the rest of the morning.

There are two separate parking areas here able to handle a good 2 dozen cars so we don’t all need to crowd together.

Wait! You mean every last one of you hitched a ride in The Van??  Well dang, I hope y’all brought your own lunches because I’m not feeding everybody!

OK, whoever needs to hit the vault-toilet better do it now. This is going to be a three and a half mile hike and y’all know that my pace is about one mile per hour on a fast day.

Cool!  Based on the concrete footings here by one of the two picnic tables there used to be some sort of tower up here on this knob. Water I would guess based on the 5th footing in the center. Are any of y’all historians that might know what went on here??


Dang!  Sure would be nice if THEY would put up info-plaques letting us know this sort of stuff.

What’s that?  Well yes I did see that little para about the trail being a bit tricky in spots, but I’m still planning on doing the whole thing. After all, what’s life without a little adventure??

(OK, I admit that at this point I didn’t hear the trail-gnomes cackling in glee as they tapped their tented fingertips together in front of their vicious little faces.)

Y’all can do what you want but I think I’m going to hike the trail counter-clockwise. Hit that first outlook, then down into the canyon and back up again to the Main Outlook, leaving that potentially boring southern leg of the trail for last when I'll be worn out enough not to be disapointed.

But sheesh! If this first part of the trail is any indicator I don’t know where the adventure is going to come from! Other than those steps at the edge of the parking area, just barely visible in the distance, you could roll a baby carriage down here and not wake the little one.

And I did read somewhere that this first outlook has a limited view, but I didn’t expect it to be this limited! I mean that’s not really a view at all is it?!

Oh well, there’s more trail ahead so come-on, let’s go see what we find.

OK, don’t get your panties in a bunch.  The trail description did say we’d be dropping down into, and climbing back out of, the canyon along draws, or chutes, formed by side-creeks. But if you don’t want to go for it, just follow that 'trail' arrow back to the parking area then from there out along the southern leg to the Main Outlook. That way you’ll avoid the climbing.

But see? This isn’t so bad. Sure, the camera is pointing more down than out here but we can ease on down this slide to the right or we can edge along the left there and use that series of ledges as steps. A little slick but not so bad.

OK, this is getting a little more gnarly, but look back at what we’ve managed to come down so far. That’s pretty good, right?

Yeah, this wet sandstone is slicker than snot and it would probably be a bad thing to slip and ride the chute all the way down, but we just need to be careful. Watch how I do it. Make sure both feet are planted securely, then move one foot at time, making sure it, and the hiking stick, are planted solid before moving the oth----WAH! ----THUD -----

OK! OK! Relax, or rather don't relax, and make sure we don't jar anything loose because at least we're not sliding down the chute at the moment. But oh shit that hurt!

Everybody just back off and give me a minute to get back some of that air knocked out of me!

OK, that loud crack when I hit was the aluminum hiking stick in my left hand, so nothing to worry about there. That not-quite-as-loud crack was my right elbow connecting with solid sandstone. (Who’s bright idea was that?!) It stings pretty good right now but my arm bends and there’s no blood seeping through my sleave. Same for the right wrist, it hurts but bends without crackling like a twisted water bottle, so that’s got to be good news, right?

Now for the big one. My ass, the right side of my ass, came down pretty good, not surprising considering that gravity has plenty of old-man fat to work with. Add the 25 pounds of gear I’m carrying and that translates into one hell of a thud. Take my word for it! It hurts, not as bad as my elbow but it does hurt. Even so, all my bits seem to be bending, again without that twisted water bottle crackling; so we’re still good. Maybe?

Yes, it's kinda' cold and wet laying down here and no I don’t want a hand getting up! I can do it all by by myself. Just give me a moment.

There. See! Told you I could get up on my own. Now what are y’all laughing about?

Oh. Right. I see.  OK, everybody hand over your phones and cameras. Come on, all of them.  I’m deleting all those photos and videos right now.

Oh man! I didn't know my eyes could get that big!

Holly crap!  Did my feet really go that high??

And yes, I didn’t need this photo to know that my backside is all wet and muddy, I can feel it.

Aannnd, Delete!

OK, OK, I know we can’t stand here all day, just give me a minute to convince my feet to start moving again.

Who’s going to carry my pack for me?? Anybody? Nobody?  OK, fine. I’ll just do it myself!

Well damn right we’re going to finish the hike! (Oh man that hurts to raise my right arm above my shoulder! So I guess I just won’t do that anymore. . .) I'm not bleeding and, despite what you might have heard, I'm a man, a tough he-man, so I'm certainly not going to let a little bump (Oh dang! Sore butt!) make me wimp out now. (mommy I got a ouwie!)

Yep, we’re going really slow now, but can you blame me?

And just look at how far we’ve come since my little – incident – back there, all without any further damage.

And look! This little chute we're in is widening out now and there’s the canyon floor!  (Oh thank God!)

Now admit it. Aren’t y’all glad you came along? It's not everyday you get to see a sight like this!

And check out the way the sunlight dances on the canyon wall there when a hole in the mist drifts by!

And look at all the interesting shapes carved into the rock over the ages.

OK, maybe this one is a little creepy. . .

but check out the fungi growing on this oak log. Isn’t that just amazing when you get your nose down close and take a good look!

OK, it's official, this place is enchanted!! I'll bet if we sit real still and look hard we'll see some fairies flitting around!

Well we’ve been hiking down the canyon for about a mile now, hopping back and forth across the little stream running in the bottom, (Yeah, yeah, my hop has a little hitch in it right now, but you don't have to rub it in, unless one of you is actually volunteering to rub my butt for me!?) but it’s starting to open out now. We must be getting close to the mouth of the canyon where the trail climbs back up another one of the chutes feeding down into it.

Yep, this is where we turn and start climbing. (Gulp) Not to the right, that's back up the canyon the way we came, and not to the left, but apparently straight up!

Well yeah, I suppose if you just don’t want to make the climb you could follow the stream a little farther to where it hits the Big Muddy River. But you still have to get across the river somehow then hope you can find someone in the Turkey Bayou Campground that will drive you the 25 miles it will take to get back to the trailhead!

Me? I’m going to suck it up and climb on out of - - -

Oh crap!!  What the hell it that lurking up there under that overhang?

Once you get past the angry-stare factor those 'eyes' look a whole lot like logs were encased in the sediments and eventually incorporated right into the sandstone!

I don’t suppose there are any geologists along that can verify that?  No?

Dang it! The Forest Service says that there are interpretive signs along this trail explaining things like this, but as is often the case these days, despite what they say I can’t find a single one. . .

Oh well, I guess we’ll have to continue the climb in ignorance.

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!

Yes, I know that each of those diamond-blazes up there (two of them in this photo) is about six feet above the ground and that ledge just past the first one is at least twice that high, y'all don't need to remind me! I can see for myself. (Oh crap that's going to be a bitch to climb without raising my right arm too high!)

OK, nobody panic. We can do this, bum arm, sore butt, and all.

After all, what’s climbing a few snot-slick cliffs to us adventurous hikers? (One reviewer said they would wait for dryer weather before making the climb down into the canyon, but this is creek-bed here and I doubt it gets much drier than this!)


Yes, I know they claimed there are hand-carved steps to help out with getting in and out of the canyon, and see, there’s a couple right there. (just left of center) What they didn’t say was how long ago those steps were carved. 80 years ago? 50? 30? Regardless, they were obviously carved long enough ago that feet were smaller and erosion has since worn them down and slicked them up just as bad as the surrounding rock, so, in case you were wondering, this is not your grandmothers staircase.

Oh crap! And I thought we were almost to the top!

(Half an hour later)

Look everybody! We made it to the Main Outlook!

Once we climbed up out of the chute, yes, on hands and knees half the time, it was a simple, steady climb up a switch-back clinging to the side of a steep slope and here we are. Easy-peasy!

But to be honest, this doesn’t look like much of a Main Outlook to me, what with  being hemmed in on both sides by forest and the vegetation out in front of it grown up to head-height.

But it’s not all bad is it? I mean sure, the Big Muddy River is hidden from view down there just below our feet, but out there through the narrow gap we can get a glimpse of the valley it’s in, along with the small patch of hills on the other side between us and the Mississippi.

And if you zoom in there is a bit of color showing out there. That’s kind of nice in a calm, understated way. But I’m not sure I would build right down there on the flats like those buildings on the far right. That little isolated bit of high-ground out there is one hard rain away from being an island, what with the Mississippi on one side and the Big Muddy on the other. That place is going to flood someday!

OK. Everybody get their chance to peer through the narrow gap of the Main Outlook? Then I guess it’s time to start down that last boring leg of the hike.

Only this isn’t so boring after all is it?!

This part of the trail, almost all the way back to the trailhead, follows right along the top of a deeply wooded, knife-edged ridge.

You can almost imagine that this was once a narrow-gauge railroad out through here except that the grades, the ups and downs, are too steep for that. A railroad, even a rough and tumble logging railroad, would have used fills and cuts to flatten this out a little. (All right, all right! I'll give the railroad stuff a rest since y'all are groaning so loud!) But it’s still really cool how long this single, narrow ridge buried deep in the trees is. Oh, and as a bonus, it’s not nearly as slick as that damned sandstone was!

OK, now that we’re back at The Van and have had lunch, (Oh stop your complaining, I did warn y'all that I didn't have enough to share!) y’all want to see what a profile of our hike-track looks like?

Those two small black circles are the outlooks. The one on the left is that first, non-outlook and the one on the right the so called Main Outlook.

The blue circle is where we were hiking along the bottom of the canyon and the two red circles are the chutes. The one on the left is the one we climbed down and the one on the right is where we climbed back up.

Yeah, those chute-climbs do look pretty steep don’t they, especially that one going back up. I’m glad we didn’t see this before we hiked it!!

And yes, that black-fringed red arrow is pointing out the spot where I went ass over teakettle and drifted none-too-gently flat on my back onto the rocks. Happy now?

But right now, even though it’s not really hot, it’s been thick and humid all morning and I’m wet and sticky, so if any of y’all are adverse to seeing naked-old-man it’s time for you to get out of The Van because I’m going to take a sink-shower and get into some fresh clothes before starting out on the 8-hour drive I have ahead of me before reaching my stopping point for tonight.

Everybody out that’s getting out?

OK, let’s get this shirt off and check that elbow. Yep! Really hurts when I try to move my right arm certain ways but I don’t see even so much as a red-mark on my elbow, which really sucks! When a guy gets injured he could at least have something to show for it. Something to attract a little sympathy and maybe even some tender mothering.

Oh dang! It really hurts to wash my right butt-cheek!

I used to be able to see much of my own butt, but that was back when I was more flexible and without so much flesh to get in the way, younger and slimmer as it were. Maybe I should dig the hand-mirror out and take a . . .


Now I’m not particularly prudish. After all, we all have a pretty good idea what each other looks like under our clothes so I don’t see that it’s a big deal, but I do have a thing about keeping my identity somewhat under wraps and I have what the police would classify as an ‘identifying mark’ on my ass, so this photo is highly cropped and shows only a portion of what I saw in the mirror that day, which, to be honest, was somewhat frightening.

I had a chemical cold-pack in The Van’s first-aid kit and sacrificed 20 minutes to use it right then and there, and I picked up 2 more a few hours later at the Walmart in Blytheville Arkansas to use later when I was tucked into the Texas Welcome Center in Texarkana for the night, but for the next few days sitting down was a careful and well thought out affair, (sliding in and out of The Van’s seat was – well let’s just say it was particularly adventurous) and laying on my right side was out of the question for nearly two weeks.

That’s all in the past now though. My butt went from a purplish black to pinkish magenta to sickly yellow and finally back to normal flesh, I can sleep on whatever side I want, my right shoulder still gives me a twinge or two when I move it certain ways, but fewer every day, and I’m back to not thinking twice about sitting down anymore.

But long after the injuries fade, I will still have the memory of that glorious, enchanted morning hiking the Little Grand Canyon Trail.


  1. Usually, with a story like that, someone will say it didn't happen without pictures. But you have the bruise photo as proof. It's a good thing you were able to continue and get yourself out. Sometimes, I worry about spraining an ankle or twisting a knee and not being able to get myself out. It doesn't stop me from hiking alone, but I still think about it.

  2. I've spent a great deal of my time hiking alone, often in some fairly remote places, and the 'what if' thought is always there in my mind, (when I hit the ground I had visions of having to crawl back up out of there and draging myself back to the trailhead) but with some prep and care I go anyway. It's just that in order to know where the limits are, sometimes you have to bump up against them. Fortunately this time I didn't bump up against it too hard.

  3. The climb back out would have been interesting. For the views I guess I'll continue to climb up on my roof when I get the urge I need a different view here in 'the tropics'. I wonder when that part had it's last hiker? It's good that you always seem to miss tourist season.

    1. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm actually missing tourist season or if A) no one in their right mind goes to the places I end up or B) people just avoid me.