Monday, September 24

Panther Den Wilderness

Continuing with our monthly series, "Adventures with Uncle Bob - Guide to Self-Adventure in Southern Illinois," we offer an update from a previous article written on Panther Den (see the December, 2002 posting

Directions: From Carbondale, take Grassy Road south to Rocky Comfort Rd. Turn right and follow the signs to Blue Sky Winery. Just past the winery, turn left on Panther Den Road and follow to Panther Den Lane. The county has now reclaimed this lane along with road improvements. This lane will end at a new Forest Service parking lot and can accomodate 6-8 vehicles. The other parking area near Panther Den Road junction is still available.

Both trail loops start here. Let's take the one on the right. This access trail will meet the River to River Trail after 1.5 mile. I turned right (east) on the latter out of curiosity. This muddy, horse damaged segment traveled continuously uphill for 2 miles to end at Fairview Road. No prominent features were noted. The new forest map shows Trail #386 intersecting this trail. I also explored that trail for a short distance until it disappeared into thickets.

Returning to our junction with the access trail, I continued on the River to River trail west to the cliff canyon area. There is an unmarked trail on the right which follows the base of the cliff line for 0.5 mile. That trail passed several slot canyons and ended in a pretty circular shelter bluff. Return to the maze of cliff walls which includes a 50 ft long tunnel cave thru rock. After exploration, continue on the River to River trail as it ascends the valley, passes a small bluff line, and three creek crossings. This muddy, horse damaged trail gets worse. We finally reach a junction: The R-R trail turns west. You want the white diamond access trail straight ahead (note the concrete block). This will follow ravine bottoms back to our parking lot. Trail maps are available at the Murphysboro ranger station. More info from Bob Tyson at 684-5643. GPS coordinates are 37 34' 47.46"N and 89 5' 17.25"W 04/01/2011:new trail segment 382 now runs about 1.5 mile and branches off R-R trail from east of the den. It reconnects with R-R on the north end before you ascend to the ridge. Features are ravine views and walking thru pine plantation. It by-passes the main feature of the rock maize. Be careful on the return part of the loop: the sign back to the parking lot gets vandalized and you may end up following the R-R trail when it makes a sharp turn to go east and end up on Rocky Comfort road. error: trail 389,not 382. In June,1011 it is noted that the trail marker is often stolen at the point where the R-R trail suddenly turns sharply west. In order not to get lost and return to your car,just continue straight ahead thru this long ravine even if there is no trail tread. It will bring you to the parking lot.
09/16/2012. The Forest Service has made significant improvements this past year. Starting at the parking area,our access trail #371 has many switchbacks to counter erosion and to make the trail less steep. Evidence of the old trail is still here and blocking the old is not all complete. Much of the access trail has been graveled. About 1/8 mile down, a new connector segment will go to R-R trail to the west. After crossing the first creekbed, watch out for a junction where you are to go right on 371,not the obvious old trail. Later on,we encounter a sign which has not been changed. It says Panther Den loop-go right, and R-R go left. That loop does not go to the cliff area; it is the by-pass trail. You need to turn left. The new trail gives us much closer views of cliff lines than the old one. Eventually we reach the canyon maze.   

Mill Branch Trail

Continuing with our monthly series, "Adventures with Uncle Bob - Guide to Self-Adventure in Southern Illinois," we feature Mill Branch Trail in Bell Smith Springs.

Directions: Going east from Marion, take Rt 166 thru Creal Springs to US 45. Turn right and proceed to the Village of Ozark. Turn left at the brown sign for Bell Smith Springs and follow approx 10 miles to its entrance road. Rather than driving all the way to the deadend and main parking area, turn at the sign for Hunting Branch Picnic area.

Upon parking, cross a small creek bed and look up to the right for the red diamonds. There is also a white diamond trail straight ahead that will take you to a huge shelter bluff; beyond that, the trail just goes in circles. Our red trail is a 2 mile easy rim loop trail and its main features include frequent views into massive stone glade canyons and waterfall cascades. Near the end of the loop, there is an unmarked trail junction; turn left and continue downhill back to the parking lot.Approx GPS coordinates N 37.565807 and W -88.607482.

While here, consider driving on to the main parking area where there are more trails, including the yellow diamond Natural Bridge Trail. Brochures are available at Forest Service offices. Any questions, contact Bob Tyson at 684-5643.

9-25-10. If the Forest Service still has the turn into Hunting branch Picnic area blocked, continue to the main parking area for Bell Smith Springs. Go to the stone overlook and take the trail on the right as a rim trail. Go about 1/4 mile, descend on the rocks to the bottom, and commence the trail behind the signboard.