San Francisco

In the December of 2015 I visited San Francisco, California with two friends, one I’ve known since we were each five, the other was a good friend from high school. They’re roommates in Chicago and while visiting them for Halloween they asked I accompany them on their trip. How could I say no?

They already had tickets for flights out of Chicago, I was living in Springfield, Illinois at the time and decided to fly out of St. Louis, MO since it was only an hour and a half away compared to 3 hours to Chicago. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it was going to be my first time flying and I was nearly 25. (My family didn’t travel too much other than annual camping trips in Tennessee at the Land Between the Lakes area and a couple trips to Destin/Panama City Beach, FL.) I wasn’t nervous at all for the flight, I was just nervous getting through all of the hoops at the airport prior to the flight. I arrived early at the airport a couple hours early as everyone suggests and had ample time after getting through security as it was only around 6 am.

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Centralia, IL: A Brief History

The following is an edited version of a chapter of my thesis project taking a brief look at the history of my hometown, Centralia, IL. While I knew a lot of what I came across during my research, I also came across a lot that I didn’t know. For those of you who are from the Centralia area, I really encourage you to do some research on the city. There’s an incredible amount of information and history behind the town, some of it incredibly interesting. For those of you not from the Centralia area, I suggest you do some research into your own hometown. You never know what you may dig up, for example, I found out through my research that I grew up within a mile of the largest oil producing fields east of the Mississippi River in the 1940’s. Sure there’s evidence as there’s oil derricks still in the fields today, but I’d have never imagined the magnitude and impact those fields had on the surrounding region.

The Beginning

Downtown Centralia – Year Unknown

The history of the city begins around 1852, when the Illinois Central Railroad was being developed and laid out. Ground was broken for the railroad in what was later to be called Centralia in 1854. Because accommodations were needed for the men that would be working on the railroad, cottages, cabins, and structures for necessities quickly sprang up close by. The city was later named Centralia in honor of the Illinois Central. As the railroad neared completion numerous types of businesses and services began showing up around the train depot, from churches and doctors, to attorneys and orchards. The State Fair was held in Centralia in 1858, where Abraham Lincoln and Stephan A. Douglas would both attend and make appearances as part of their campaign during the 1858 campaign for U.S. Senator from Illinois. On March 1st , 1859, a charter was adopted and Centralia officially became a city. Elections were set to elect municipal officials. Centralia was an important city during the Civil War. With it being a transportation hub for the region, military men could be trained and easily moved via railroad all over the country. Railroads from Chicago connected to Centralia in 1882 and from Louisville, St. Louis, and Evansville, IN in 1887. As the railroad flourished after it was finished, the coal industry built up steam in the early 1870’s as a seven foot vein of coal was discovered, and an eight foot vein found just a decade later. In 1906, the Central Coal Mining Company organized and a year later, coal was found in their No. 5 shaft.

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Rocks State Park, Kilgore Falls, & Hidden Valley

My first hiking experience in Maryland came was a result of unusually warm February weather and the perk of having Martin Luther King Jr Day off (Perks of working for the government). Rocks State Park is an 855 acre area of forested land set aside by the state of Maryland. It was one of Maryland’s first state parks, the state acquiring the land in 1949. Rocks State Park is about 40 minutes north of Baltimore in northern Harford County.

The main area of the park includes 3.5 miles of well marked trails. The main attraction of the park is the King and Queen seat. The King and Queen seat is a rock outcropping that extends 190′ into the air and over looks Deer Creek. Deer Creek is a hot spot in the summer for fishing, tubing, and wading. I didn’t have the issue since it was February, but supposedly the park can fill up quickly and they’ll stop allowing people into the park after a certain number of vehicles.

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Shawnee Wine Trail

Southern Illinois is…….. wine country?

It’s true. Down in the hills of the Shawnee National Forest is a wine trail consisting of 11 wineries, all within 30 miles of each other. Here’s a link to the map, which is also below.

Shawnee Wine Map

Unfortunately I didn’t hit all of the wineries in my time in Carbondale, but I did hit 7 of the 11. I’ll start on the west side south of Murphysboro and work my way around, which was generally the path my friends and I took when doing wine tastings. It was always a pain to bounce between all of their sites for hours of operation when I was planning a trip down there, so I’m making a compilation (as much for myself for future trips as for the readers haha). This is also about raising awareness for the wineries as well. I loved going to them and hope to see them succeed.

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Starved Rock & Matthiessen State Parks

One of the things I was most upset about when moving on from college and out of southern Illinois was losing all of the hiking down in Shawnee National Forest. I had grown used to having all of those places in my “backyard”. For anyone not familiar with central Illinois, it’s incredibly flat and there are not many hiking opportunities, not of the likes of Shawnee anyway. I did, however, stumble upon Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks near Oglesby, IL, which was about a 2 hour drive north of Springfield. It seemed promising from some of the photos. I would do them both in the same day as they were within 10 minutes from each other, but Starved Rock would be the first stop.

Starved Rock

Starved Rock was part of a shallow, inland sea about 425 million years ago. Later, only about 14,000-17,000 years ago, the glacier melt released torrents of water through the area and it created the gouges in the sandstone and glacial debris resulting in the Illinois River Valley and Rocks State Park. The Kaskaskia Indians inhabited the area for most of the last millennia, but Europeans discovered the area in the mid 1600’s with the French establishing Fort St. Louis on the sandstone butte in 1683. There is a recreation of the fort at Starved Rock where you can see where the fort was and a small scale replica in the visitor center. The significant French and Native American history is a huge draw as well as the landscape.

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Illinois’s Hidden Gem: Shawnee National Forest – West

n the second part of this post, I’ll explore what to see in the western portion of Shawnee National Forest. In case you missed the first part about the eastern portion of Shawnee, you can see that here..

Little Grand Canyon


Jumping across to the far west side of Shawnee is Little Grand Canyon located near Pomona, IL. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980, it’s my second favorite place in Shawnee, but favorite spot to go hiking. The trail is 3.6 miles long, which takes 3-4 hours from start to finish. The path starts at the high point of the canyon with a pretty easy and level path. The trail bring you to an observation point that overlooks the Big Muddy River and on clear days you can see the Mississippi River in the distance. I find the best view from the observation point is past the chain warning you not to go beyond this point. There’s a path that leads down a little further to an opening. Many people stop here and turn back, however I find the most beautiful part of Little Grand Canyon is the hike down into the canyon. The 3.6 mile loop takes you 365 feet down into the canyon and back up to the parking lot. You won’t come across many others here either, even on beautiful days I rarely came across 10 or more other hikers total in the 3 hours I was there. You truly get to experience nature in peace.

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Illinois’s Hidden Gem: Shawnee National Forest – East

When people think of the state of Illinois outside of Chicago they think of cornfields, cornfields, and well, more cornfields. They’re not entirely wrong either, the Land of Lincoln doesn’t offer much in the terms of scenery outside of a few small pockets. Most people, even those living in Illinois, don’t realize there’s a national forest with beautiful features in the far southern portion of the state with a total area of around 415 square miles. You can see the area covered by the Shawnee National Forest in the map below. il-map

Shawnee offers well over 250 miles worth of hiking/walking/horse trails, the most well known is the 160 mile River to River trail that spans from the eastern edge of the forest on the Ohio River all the way to the west part of the park that border the Mississippi River. I’m going to cover some of my favorite hikes in this post and the following post. In this post I’ll cover areas east of State Highway 37, the next post will cover areas west of State Highway 37.

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