Always looking for trail riding opportunities, horse pals Linda, Mary, Esther and Pat (that’s me) concocted a horse trip to the Shawnee in Southern Illinois. Alas, a trip to the hospital for Mary’s husband resulted in Linda and Mary staying behind. Despite several set backs – should we REALLY be doing this? – Esther and I decided nonetheless to set off for the Shawnee with trusty steeds Chappy and Olivia.
Last minute confusion – and believe me it truly WAS confusing – resulted in us having LOTS of food and NOTHING to cook with. Jim lent a hand by preparing delicious sandwiches for travel and lending us a box of camping utensils. Riding pal Chicago Bob who was to meet us there, provided all the missing tools, grill and firewood.
Chicago Bob, his neighbor Jenny and husband Mike met us as we pulled into the Double MM Campground. Esther and I unloaded our gear into a charming, rustic cabin. Horses got themselves acclimated in open stalls nearby. Is there time for an evening ride, asked Esther. Of course! says Bob. At dusk we were grilling steaks outside with a roaring campfire courtesy of Bob.
The Shawnee National Forest contains 415 square miles of horseback riding heaven. Many riders come back with stories of getting lost so having a guide like Bob and Jenny to take us around eliminated the anxiety of getting ourselves back to our camp after a long day of riding. The trail system down there can be confusing with many camps, trail riders or groups lending their opinions and expertise over the years leading to a conglomeration of trails and designations. In 2010 the Forest received nearly $4 million of stimulus funding for the purpose of rebuilding and reorganizing this vast network.
We were fortunate that Bob and Jenny knew both trail systems plus all the short-cuts in between so we got to see the best that you could see by riding out of the Double MM.
Bob’s trail savvy mare, Shawnee, endured the indignity of her adlib fly mask.
Bob, Jenny and Shawnee led us down secret trails, crossing cool waters, and into ravines with amazing rock features.
You could feel the temperature drop as we descended into the “hollers”.
Native ferns and Heuchera (Coral Bells) grew lushly from rock walls.
Jenny’s faithful dog, Willy, knew how to beat the heat.
Always on the look out for interesting foliage, I had Esther stand next to a Paw Paw tree.
One of the best parts of trail riding is coming back into camp and sitting around the campfire at night, chatting with old friends and new neighbors.
As we shared camp and trail stories it didn’t take us long to learn that cabin neighbors Linda and Mike had been camped next to us last fall in Indiana.
Each evening we shared stories and experiences around the fire. If I could remember the one Bob told about the circle flies I would tell it here!
At a place called Dead Horse Canyon, Jenny watched our steeds while Bob took Esther and I climbing into the amazing rock formation above our heads.
Esther never stopped telling us she was afraid of heights. Onward and upward, Esther!.
It’s called Dead Horse Canyon for a reason. Yep, you guessed it, the horse spooked while standing a bit too close to the edge above. The rider bailed and was uninjured.
The horse remains.
That evening we came back to camp with ticks galore.
After showering I joined the others by the fire. “Found two more — one behind my knee”, I announced. Just as Esther and Bob were standing up pulling up their pant legs, Jenny and her husband show up laughing. “What is this, the tick dance?”
We missed you, Mary!!!
We missed you, Linda!!!
Here are some more pictures of the camp and the Shawnee so you can see all that we enjoyed. Can we all go this fall? Sure hope so!
My favorite of the many cabins, trailers or prefabs in the Double MM. They are all privately owned. Lessors pay $95 per month for a space to set up their camp for the season or permanently.
There are many overhanging cliffs or caves, some that you can ride into. This is one we saw last fall near Lusk Creek with Lorraine in the picture.
The Stone House we rode to last fall out of the Double MM.
It’s for sale!
Chicago Bob on Shawnee.
View from Hurricane Bluff.
The copperhead snake that Bob killed — with a BIG stick!
Almost every day we rode, there was a chance of showers or thunderstorms. On the last day our luck did not hold out. We got caught about an hour out of camp and boy, did we get drenched!
The trails turned into churning masses of mud and water including the spillway that separated our trailer from the cabin.
That meant packing up wet the following morning.
I’m still drying out at home as I write this.
Driving through Marion, Esther and I stopped at a fabulous tack shop where we both garnered some bargains, me — a used Tucker breast collar, new reins and an extra halter.
We first unloaded at Esther’s house. Out came the wet saddle blankets, gear, food not consumed, suitcases. Oh yeah, Olivia, too! At Pat’s house I got to repeat the process. I seem to be missing my wet laundry bag, but I do have Esther’s wine coolers. Good deal!