Pretty Pounds Hollow in Autumn & Garden of the Gods Rock!

November 3rd, 2012 Permalink

Most folks have heard of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, but did you know that there is also a Garden of the Gods in Illinois? Nestled within the Shawnee National Forest, this spectacular wilderness area is over 320 million years old and covers over 3,300 acres of amazing old growth forest and humongous rocks that call out to scramble over and climb here. The landscape is drastically different than most of southern Illinois because it is unglaciated. The fractured bedrock at Garden of the Gods, along with erosive forces like windblown sand, rain, freezing and thawing actions, have created beautiful hoodoos and fascinating rock formations. Cave In Rock is not too far away, so you can both climb and cave if you are so inclined, but today we’re exploring three “must see” areas with hills and hollows, magnificent bluffs and massive mossy boulders: Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock, Pounds Hollow. Other areas near Garden of the Gods and Pounds Hollow Recreation Area, include Rim Rock National Recreation Trail, River, River Trail, High Knob Picnic Area and the Illinois Iron Furnace, But all of Shawnee, the only National Forest in southern Illinois, is gorgeous. Take a backpack, wear shoes you can climb in that are comfortable, some water, your thirst for adventure, maybe a picnic, and, oh yes, your camera. [58 Photos]

Garden of the Gods is located in southern Illinois in the Shawnee National Forest

Garden of the Gods is located in southern Illinois in the Shawnee National Forest. The spectacular wilderness area is over 320 million years old and covers over 3,300 acres of beautiful old growth forest. During the Ice Age, glaciers didn’t flatten this region, so it offers great rock formations to climb, hills to explore while hiking and streams to cross. There are also magnificent bluffs which drop more than 100 feet down, but provide breathtaking views of the forests below and beyond. Some of the more popular rock formations surrounding the cliffs acquired titles such as Monkey Face, Mushroom Rock, Anvil Rock, Noah’s Ark, Table Rock and Devil’s Smokestack. But Camel Rock is probably the most photographed feature along the paved Observation Trail at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois. Photo #1 by Grover Webb

Rim Rock overlooking Pounds Hollow

Rim Rock overlooking Pounds Hollow. There are three choices of trails here, but Rim Rock National Recreation Trail leads around the rim of a rock escarpment. From the bluff top, there are continuous views with exceptional scenic beauty of cliffs, forest and rock formations. Photo #2 by Love These Pics


Natural arch and cave with hole in the top Garden of the Gods

Across from the backpackers’ Garden of the Gods Wilderness parking lot, there is a trail that is much less explored. Horseback riders occasionally take this route. You should explore it as you never know what hidden treasures nature has in store such as this natural arch and cave with a hole in the top. Photo #3 by LoveThesePics

Monkey Face Garden of the Gods

The sediment rock in this area is about 4 miles deep. The fractured bedrock, along with erosive forces like windblown sand, rain and freezing and thawing actions, have created beautiful hoodoos and fascinating rock formations that are far from normal for rural Illinois flatland. This is Monkey Face at Garden of the Gods. Photo #4 by Michael Rivera

Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods, South Illinois, USA

In summer it is pretty too. According to the USDA Forest Service, “The Shawnee Hills took millions of years to form. The rock formations and cliffs at Garden of the Gods are made of sandstone and are about 320 million years old. Long ago most of Illinois, western Indiana and western Kentucky were covered by a giant inland sea. For millions of years great rivers carried sand and mud to the sea, where it settled along the shoreline. Over time, the weight of the sediments turned them into layers of rock thousands of feet thick.” Photo #5 by Fritz Geller-Grimm

At Garden of the Gods during fall, the rocks whisper Climb Me

The rocks whisper, ‘Climb Me,’ and both young and old can been seen scrambling over the amazing rock formations. The fantastic fall foliage draws big crowds, so it’s best if you visit in early morning during the middle of week. This awesome landscape is almost foreign for the area; unlike most of Illinois, this plateau was never covered by glaciers; the furthest advance of ice sheets during the Illinoian glaciation stopped just north of Garden of the Gods. Photo #6 by Love These Pics

Rock formations at Garden of the Gods

People have long been drawn to this place for the bizarre rock formations. Along Observation Trail, there are various signs explaining the history and geology of the area as well as the bizarre rock formations. You know how you look up at the clouds and imagine what shapes you see? The same is true when viewing the weathered sandstone outcroppings where you could make out an old man’s profile in the rocks, a turtle, a monkey’s face or even a camel. Photo #7 by Love These Pics

Below massive rock formation at Garden of the Gods

The Forest Service said that in this area “the sediment layers were over 20,000 feet thick or about 4 miles deep. Eventually, a great uplift occurred, raising the inland sea above sea level causing it to fill in with sand and mud. The uplift also fractured the bedrock exposing it to nature’s forces” that “have worn down the layers of sediment creating the beautiful rock formations at Garden of the Gods.” Photo #8 by Love These Pics

Bizarre bands in the rock formations at Garden of the Gods

The park signs near these state, “Bizarre Bands: The dark, reddish-brown swirls and rings on these rocks are called liesegang bands (pronounced LEE ZEH GANG). Long ago when this sandstone was underground, it was saturated with groundwater mixed with iron. Chemical changes caused the iron to solidify as rust between the rock particles. Held together by iron, the raised dark bands have resisted weathering as compared to the softer, light-colored rock. The patterns of the bands are the result of these chemical changes.” Photo #9 by Love These Pics

Camel Rock in summer and under winter snow, Garden of the Gods

Camel Rock in summer and with a snow-coated head. Although there can be a high volume of visitors in this recreation area through the end of October, due to the fall color season, there are virtually no crowds in the winter. Every year, people fall while climbing here in the spring, summer or fall. In 2012, several people have fallen as the sandstone can be “slick.” The winding roads are curvy and hilly, so even reaching Garden of the Gods in winter is a bit treacherous. Scrambling over the snowy and icy rocks, or otherwise climbing them in winter is not a wise life choice. Photo #10 by Sean Nicholl & #11 by Bill Rand

October 2012 climbing Garden of the Gods in autumn

October 2012 climbing Garden of the Gods in autumn. There are two main hiking trails here. Observation Trail is the best-known and follows a 1/4-mile flagstone loop walk containing unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views overlooking the surrounding Garden of the God Wilderness. It’s an interpretative trail, featuring some interesting information. A more challenging hike to see the remaining ‘lesser’ known rock formations is on the Wilderness Trail; it’s about 4 miles round trip. Photo #12 by Love These Pics

Devil's Smokestack at Garden of the Gods

Devil’s Smokestack. In case you can’t make out the sign: Strange rock formations have drawn people to Garden of the Gods for ages. Devil’s Smokestack is a huge pillar that formed when softer sandstone around it washed away. This “smokestack” measures 30 feet (9 meters) from the wedged boulder to the top of the pillar. Long ago, these rock formations were buried more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep. Years of erosion washed away much of the sandstone exposing the bedrock beneath your feet. Photo #13 by Love These Pics

Hawk circling for prey Garden of the Gods

From scenic overlooks like Buzzards Point, raptors, scavenger birds, and hawks can see seen circling for prey over Shawnee National Forest. This forest was named after the Shawnee native American tribe who once lived and hunted in the beautiful rolling hills. Photo #14 by Love These Pics

Mushroom rock - a fun but challenging climb

Mushroom Rock, Anvil Rock, Turtle Rock and the Big H are among the unusual rock formations found on less crowded trails. From the gravel backpackers’ parking lot, you can hike to Indian Point Overlook, but these trails interconnect and combine for about 5.5 miles. Photo #15 by a_codepoet

Hike Little Grand Canyon or climb at Garden of the Gods

In Shawnee National Forest, you can boulder, hike Little Grand Canyon or climb at Garden of the Gods. Middle images, standing on the Camel’s head in summer, the head of Camel Rock in autumn. Photo #16 by Kirk Kittell & #17 Daniel Schwen & #18 by a_codepoet & #19 by joelplutchak

tree growing near red-brown rings in the rock formations

Tree growing near red-brown rings in the rock formations. Garden of Gods is a very tactile experience, calling for you to reach out and touch the rocks . . . but that never seems quite like enough and you will more than likely be lured to climb them. Photo #20 by a_codepoet

Tunnel through the rocks at Garden of the Gods southern IL

Tunnel through the rocks. Photo #21 by a_codepoet

Liesegang rings in rocks at Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, southern Illinois

Liesegang rings in the rocks. Next stop was supposed to be Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow but . . . Photo #22 by joelplutchak

Opposite side of the road of backpackers lot at Garden of the Gods road

I stopped off in the backpackers’ gravel parking lot as the rocks on the opposite side of the road were whispering on the wind to stop and climb them. Photo #23 by Love These Pics

Autumn hiking toward Garden of the Gods

Autumn hiking toward Garden of the Gods. The drive itself was magical in the morning as the Shawnee National Forest tall trees and brightly colored fall leaves formed a tunnel over the roads. Leaves were falling in a gentle wind. I was driving behind a camper trailer that swirled the leaves covering the road like I had entered some kind of wonderful fairy tale land. Photo #24 by Love These Pics

Rock formations on lesser traveled path near Garden of the Gods backpackers lot

I highly recommend to take this hike as it was an absolutely gorgeous experience on lesser traveled path. Photo #25 by Love These Pics

Red foliage, autumn at Garden of the Gods southern IL

Not only was I blessed enough to pick a fabulous Indian summer day in the middle of the week and avoided the crowds that are normal for Garden of the Gods while the fall foliage is bursting with colors, but I also couldn’t pass up the temptation to climb the massive rock formations along the road, and across from the backpackers’ area. Photo #26 by Love These Pics

Leaf following in front of arch open to cave, Garden of the Gods

Leaf following in front of natural arch. A couple people were horsebacking riding on this side toward Garden of the Gods. Otherwise it was completely peaceful as if I had the entire gorgeous place to myself. It was well worth the hike. Photo #27 by Love These Pics

Rim Rock Rocks

But if you come to Garden of the Gods, you really must make a short trip down the road to Rim Rock and the house-sized moss-green boulders leading to Pounds Hollow. The high bluffs overlooking the forest far below Rim Rock makes it a hidden gem and might be why it was named a National Recreation Trail in 1980. Photo #28 & #29 by Love These Pics

Top of Rim Rock near descending stairs to Pounds Hollow

Top of Rim Rock near descending stairs to Pounds Hollow. On hot, humid summer days, you can meander through the cool damp rocks and wind around the path to Pounds Hollow lake where you can swim. Photo #30 by Kevin Terlep & Love These Pics

Stone steps from Rim Rock to Pounds Hollow coated in leaves

Stone steps replaced the gravel and those steps were covered in leaves from Rim Rock to Pounds Hollow. The best part was that I had all to myself for awhile. A week earlier, the colors had probably peaked but on this 78 degree Indian summer day, the trees raining leaves in the wind made it a magnificent magical place. Photo #31 by Love These Pics

Be careful jumping around as people have fallen at Rim Rock

The area has two trails. Beaver Trail begins along the base of the bluffs and follows Pounds Hollow Creek and connects with Pounds Hollow Lake. The Rim Rock Trail makes a shorter loop along the top of the bluffs. The green mossy rocks are gorgeous but also slick, so be careful jumping around and climbing at the top as people have fallen at Rim Rock. Photo #32 by Love These Pics

Climbing high above Pounds Hollow forest in October

Climbing high above Pounds Hollow forest in October. Description of Rim Rock Trails from Illinois Sierra Club: “You are confronted with three choices of trails. 1) The one on your right goes below the cliff line. 2) The one on your left ascends the bluff top to hike the west side. 3) The one in the middle is also a bluff top trail, exposing one to the east side. A loop of the bluff top would be 2 miles. Note that the trails are paved with flagstone. Hiking along the top offers continual views of ravines and the surrounding forest. At the midway point (northside), you will have a choice of continuing the loop on top or descending down staircases which squeeze you thru moss-covered rock walls, mazes, and ‘ox-lot’ cave. Go either way at the bottom to follow along the bluff. There will be continuous views of the cliffs and rock formations.” Photo #33 by Love These Pics

Overlooking Pounds Hollow in autumn

Overlooking Pounds Hollow in autumn. Photo #34 by Love These Pics

Woods stairs path from Rock Rim to Fat Man's Squeeze and Pounds Hollow

Wooden stairs and the path from Rock Rim through Fat Man’s Squeeze down to Pounds Hollow. Photo #35 by Love These Pics

Fat Man's Squeeze & Ms. Busty

Fat Man’s Squeeze & ‘Ms. Busty.’ Photo #36 by a_CodePoet & #37 by Tyler Neu

Fat Man's Squeeze

Fat Man’s Squeeze is a cool, damp passage through huge boulders to the 1/2 mile Beaver Trail that connects with Pounds Hollow. The names are a bit funny so you might be astounded how beautiful it is. Photo #38 by Love These Pics

Etched in time

Etched in time. The photographer wrote, “Sandstone in the side of notch in the Little Grand Canyon — how long ago would it have been for the water to be at this height for long enough to carve the walls? I don’t know, I don’t know.” Photo #39 by Kirk Kittell

Mossy rocks and autumn foliage descending to Pounds Hollow

Mossy rocks and autumn foliage descending to Pounds Hollow. There are many beautiful boulders ranging in size from car to two-story house huge. Photo #40 by Love These Pics

Half way down to Pounds Hollow

Half way down to Pounds Hollow. The Forest Service said of Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow: “A wonderfully scenic trail, Rim Rock National Recreation Trail leads around the rim of a rock escarpment, hence its name. Rim Rock has a long history of drawing people to its forested bluffs for hiking and picnicking. In 1980, it was designated a national recreation trail because of its exceptional scenic beauty and historic values. To early settlers this unique formation was known as ‘the Pounds,’ an old English term meaning ‘some sort of enclosure.’ This is how the valley lying to the east got its name, Pounds Hollow. A 7/8-mile trail leads the hiker around the top rim of the ‘Pounds,’ which is a circular 40-acre tract of land isolated from the surrounding terrain by steep sandstone bluffs. Interpretive signs along the trail explain the history of the much-used ‘pounds’.” Photo #41 by Love These Pics

Climbing at Pounds Hollow

Climbing at Pounds Hollow. Photo #42 by Love These Pics

Stone steps covered in leaves to Pounds Hollow

Stone steps covered in leaves made the place feel like you were walking into a mystical, wonderful wilderness world. Photo #43 by Love These Pics

Pounds Hollow in Garden of Gods and Rim Rock area

Second set of stone sets and approaching a piece of Pounds’ history. Photo #44 by Love These Pics

Ox-Lot Cave

Ox-Lot Cave: The sign posted here said: This large rock overhang provided shelter to many hunters and explorers who passed this way. It wasn’t until loggers entered Pounds Hollow that the natural overhang received extensive use. A fence was built to create a corral where oxen, mules, and horses were kept; hence the name Ox-Lot Cave. The boxed-in spring at the back of the shelter provided a watering hole for the animals. As the trees were harvested oxen dragged the logs out of this steep valley where they were loaded onto wagons. Much of the lumber was used locally for railroad ties, building materials and to fuel steamboats. Logging operations in the Hollow were profitable from 1902 to 1906 Photo #45 by Love These Pics

Pounds Hollow is a magical place during the fall

Pounds Hollow is a magical place during the fall. Car-sized boulder coated in soft, cool, green moss and falling autumn leaves. Photo #46 by Love These Pics

Steps down to Pounds Hollow and Ox-Lot Cave

View looking where I descended and view looking at Ox-Lot Cave. Stayed around here for a good little bit before wanting to hike off-trail like I usually do. It was so peaceful that I sat down to watch nature’s show as golden, red and orange leaves rained down from the autumn trees in the warm breeze. Tried to upload a phone image to social media, but there was no reception in the area, and then more people came along to break the peaceful solitude. Photo #47 & #48 by Love These Pics

Autumn coloring Pounds Hollow

There are wooden bridges and stone steps which can be slick but also makes the trail easier to negotiate. On the East bottom trail there is the junction for Beaver Trail. If you follow that trail for a mile, it will take you to the Pounds Hollow Lake Recreation Area. If you take the West bottom trail, it’s less well defined and doesn’t have signs. There’s more scrambling over the rocks like climbers do and the scenery is great. Photo #49 by Love These Pics

Hidden caves in mossy sandstone at Pounds Hollow

Hidden caves in mossy sandstone at Pounds Hollow. Photo #50 by Love These Pics

Slight breeze raining leaves at Pounds Hollow, Garden of the Gods

Sunshine and light breeze raining golden leaves. Photo #51 by Love These Pics

Beach and Lake at Pounds Hollow

Beach at Pounds Hollow Lake. Photo #52 by Love These Pics

Late afternoon hiking Pounds Hollow

Late afternoon hiking. Photo #53 by Love These Pics

Late afternoon sunshine Pounds Hollow

Late afternoon sunshine. While it is much more of a challenge to climb when you carry a camera, which you don’t want to put away and yet don’t want to damage, do make sure you bring a camera. Photo #54 by Love These Pics

Immense and ancient fallen rocks at Pounds Hollow

Immense and ancient fallen boulders, about the size of a house, were covered in moss at Pounds Hollow. Photo #55 by Love These Pics

Trail out of Rim Rock, Pounds Hollow, Garden of the Gods

Wooden bridge in the distance and the trail out of Rim Rock, Pounds Hollow, Garden of the Gods. Photo #57 by Love These Pics

jump! sunset Shawnee National Forest

Jump! Have a great time before sunset at Shawnee National Forest. Photo #58 by Matt Northam


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