Let me start at the end. We found a waterfall.
Now that you know how the story ends let me tell you how the story begins.
The innkeeper told us it was the first July he could remember that the waterfalls were running and we should make it a point to see them…assuming we were outdoors-types. He found my blog somehow and knew we were.
We decided to start at the waterfall marked on our map furthest from our hotel. Clever, eh? We drove to Burden Falls. There is a small parking lot at the trail head. Ours was the only car. The trail looked nice enough. We were at the top of a hill. Julie and I started on our way. Much of the trail was under dense canopy of a forest that appears to have been planted 30 years (or so) ago.
The path was nearly covered in places by thick growths of poison ivy and, clever young man that I am, I was wearing shorts.
But we soldiered on through. How far could it be? We followed the trail through the tall trees.
The trail went down and down the hill. Poison ivy everywhere. The path blocked by innumerable spider webs. Julie cut a hickory branch and I used it to knock down webs in our path but eventually the branch became a waving mass of webs and unhappy spiders. The trail worsened. The spiders worsened. And horseflies. Did I mention the horseflies? Oh, there were horseflies. You can be sure of that.
Our only comfort was the few smashed plants in the path, evidence that someone had traveled this path before us, even if days ago. So we continued.
The path just kept on going. No sounds of water falling. No sounds of anything, really. Just more steps to take.
15 minutes. 30 minutes. Should we turn back? Surely we are almost there. Look! A grove of tulip trees!
The path worsened. Still, someone had been here. We continued.
The path worsened again.
The path continued to worsen.
At this point the trail was mixed with a trickle of water rolling down the hill. Not a waterfall. And then the trail became little more than a deer path.
I suggested that it was a joke. They must tell us carpetbaggers to follow the trail to the waterfall. Or maybe it’s a contest. “How dumb are you?” Hidden cameras along the trail as unwitting contestants show how willing they are to overcome poison ivy, fallen trees and dense spider webs to follow a trail to nowhere. Or to big rocks by a stream at the bottom of the hill.
And that’s where the trail ended. Or maybe we missed a turnoff uphill. I don’t know.
There was nothing else to do. An hour into the depths of Southern Hillinois we were unable to continue.
We spent another hour trudging back up the hill, Julie’s feet wet and blistered. She even found a deer tick on her jeans. The trip uphill took seemingly forever. Was this the way we came? Had we found another path? The way down we chatted. We enjoyed ourselves. We fought off the spiders bravely. On the way back we were quiet.
A minivan full of carpetbaggers pulled up just as we emerged from the trail. They were pleased to see us but looked disappointed when we told them about the poison ivy, spiders, rough trail and complete and total lack of waterfalls.
They were looking at their maps as we left. We drove back the way we came. A mile back down the road we had crossed water in the road. There was a parking lot, a car and the sound of falling water. Not 10 feet from the road was the waterfall pictured at the top of the post and nothing to mark its presence.
Our adventures did not end there. We continued to explore Shawnee National Forest. There will be other stories for another day. I’ll end this by admitting that we noticed, as we were driving away, we could smell ourselves. Ugh.