Continuing with our monthly series, "Adventures with Uncle Bob-Guide to Self-Adventure in Southern Illinois," this article takes us to the north section of Lusk Creek. A previous article on this area covered the southern section, also known as Indian Kitchen (see http://illinois.sierraclub.org/shawnee/unclebob/adventures.htm).
Directions: take Rt 145 south from Harrisburg. A few miles north of Eddyville look for the turn for Circle B ranch. When this tar road curves right (south), you need to go straight ahead on a narrow, unsigned, gravel road. Travel approx 3-4 miles and look for a trailhead parking lot. Walk across the road and start the hike for trail #481. The sign says 1 1/4 mile to Saltpeter Cave and 1.5 mile to Natural Bridge. Prior to August, 2007, this trail was a 6 inch wide horse-damaged mud hole with numerous, user-made junctions. Now we have excellent tread and user-made trail junctions have been roped off (plus explanation signs).
The trail gradually descends and passes steep ravines. At one point we encounter an unmarked "T" intersection. Mark this spot so you don't miss it on the way back. Go right-the trail is rocky for the first 1,000 feet. Later we travel along bluff lines on both sides. Another unmarked fork appears. Don't take the one going uphill. We arrive at a junction with Lusk Creek. You have a choice of turning right for Saltpeter Cave or cross the creek on stones to visit Natural Bridge. I made a loop of both, bringing me back to this spot. Across the creek, a pretty cliff line awaits us as well as the bridge. It appears to be 50 ft long, 4 ft high, and 30 ft thick. Trail 481 ascends to become a rim trail. Note a junction for Secret Canyon: I walked a mile or more on the latter thru woods. There was a fork where one path took me to trail #001 (river to river trail) and the other went to a ravine bottom with no further signs. Trail 481 comes to a junction with trail #457. Turn right and travel a short distance to Saltpeter Cave. For a closeup views, one needs to cross the creekbed. Walk both ways along that cliff line to view 3 major shelter bluffs (cave is the wrong term). Cross back and continue #481 a short distance to another creek crossing. Upon crossing, note another unmarked junction-go right on #486. We soon close our loop next to the Natural Bridge creek crossing. Turn left and follow #481 back to the car.
If you are ambitous for a long prettier hike and don't mind getting wet, here are the directions to the same forementioned features: Park at the Circle B ranch trailhead. Walk south 100 ft and take trail #001. After 40 minutes you arrive at Lusk Creek. Turn left onto trail #457 and follow this muddy, narrow trail to Old Guest Farm Creek Crossing. Trail #457 will continue north on the other side of Lusk Creek and junctions with #481 about an hour later.
Back at our parking lot for trail #481, I note that this county road travels further east to provide access to #457D and #483, but a high clearance vehicle or jeep would be advisable. Ask for the green Shawnee 2007 Interim Trails map at ranger stations for further assistance. More information from Bob Tyson at 684-5643. Due to creek crossings, I would avoid this hike during early spring.
GPS coordinates at natural bridge 37 32' 8.13"N and 88 32' 48.25"W
3/20/2012: The trail on the south end has disappeared from the website so i am re-writing here. From Eddyville, turn onto Golcanda road and go 1/2 mile to the first right turn. Drive 2 miles to the parking lot on the left. This will be a 2 mile walk thru woods until reaching a rock glade. Before you descend to Lusk Creek, go right and discover a short ledge trail that brings you to a cave in the cliff for a birdseye view over the gorge; Otherwise, go down to the creek to look at this amphitheater shaped steep canyon wall and stream forming a hairpin turn. Unusual plants found here. Return the way you came.