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Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area

When people think about the Midwestern state of Illinois, the terms “flat”, and “corn fields” are likely to come to mind. Or perhaps one might think about its largest city, Chicago, or even its most famous native son, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States.

But there is another Illinois, down in the southern tip of the state, where the terrain and its beauty will amaze you. The Shawnee National Forest encompasses the southeastern tip of Illinois, and it is in the national forest you will find the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. The wilderness is a place of ridges, bluffs, canyons, and some of the most interesting rock formations I have ever seen.

More than 300 million years ago, this part of the nation was covered by a huge inland sea. As rivers brought sand and mud into this sea, the sand and mud settled along the shorelines, and with increasing weight and pressure, created thousands of feet of sandstone. At some point in time there was an uplift, and this sandstone was exposed to the forces of wind and rain. Because each of the layers of sandstone that had formed had varying mineral content, ribbons of color were exposed as the sandstone weathered. When I saw them for the first time I actually thought they might be petrified wood, but they are solid rock and they are beautiful.

The rock formations are called “hoodoos”. A hoodoo is a rock formation that has been carved and formed by the influence of ice as well as normal weathering. When melted snow falls into the cracks and crevices of rock, it will refreeze as temperatures drop at night. Ice takes up 10 % more space than liquid water, so the crack widens and rocks crack in new places, creating new shapes. As I read in one reference, if you understand the science of a pot hole, you will understand the science of a hoodoo.

There are many hikes, of many lengths in the wilderness. The easiest one, the one that will give you a good overview of the area and its many interesting formations is the Observation Trail.

The Observation Trail is an accessible trail that is a one quarter mile loop laid with flagstone. It is an easy trail to walk, with no climbs or obstacles…well, the one obstacle is staying on the trail, because you want so badly to get off the trail and onto the rock outcroppings…don’t, many of the drops are 100 feet or more.

I took so many pictures as we walked the Observation Trail…a one quarter mile long trail that took us over an hour. It provides truly amazing views of a truly amazing place…

Many hoodoos have a “totem pole” appearance.

This rock formation is called the Devil’s Smokestack.

It took all my willpower…and a husband that was constantly at my elbow…to keep me off that ledge for a better look!

About twenty-five miles south of the Garden of the Gods, you will come to Cave In Rock State Park situated on the Ohio River. We stayed in one of their cabins as we explored the southern Illinois area. We had a great view of the river, and the river traffic. We had that awesome view of the river any time of the day, as seen in the photos below. It was a quiet, beautiful place for a week-end stay, and a terrific base for all our explorations.

I hope you have an opportunity, at some time, to visit southern Illinois…you will get a much different view of this state in the middle of our country.

Grandma’s Stewed Tomatoes

I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house when I was a little girl. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother, who was raised in southern Illinois, moved into our house. One of the things she would always make, whenever my mom needed help in the kitchen, was a side dish of stewed and breaded tomatoes. I loved them, and I still do! Not only are they yummy, but they also bring back great memories.

I grew up within the Detroit city limits…it was, by the way, a terrific place to grow up. Every summer my dad would pack the four of us kids and my mom into the car, and drive out to one of the truck farms outside the city to pick tomatoes, or beans, or corn…or whatever was in season. We would also go out to the orchards to pick bushels and bushels of apples, peaches, and cherries…lots of those cherries never made it into a basket, and we never wanted supper after we were done picking.

Then it was back home, and mom and dad, with the help of my grandparents, would can all that produce….jars, and jars, and jars of good things to eat all the coming winter. All those jars of tomatoes became wonderful bowls full of stewed tomatoes, or went into soups and big pots of chili. I do not go out and pick tomatoes, but I do go out to the farm and buy a couple bushels of tomatoes each year to can and put into our soups and our tomato dishes. It feels like I am keeping all the good memories alive!

Grandma's Stewed Tomatoes

  • Servings: 4
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  • 4 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 2 pint jars of home canned tomatoes, or a 28 oz. can of tomatoes from the store, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3 slices of toasted home-made wheat bread, or any bread you would like, torn or cut into 1 inch pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in your grandmother’s old cast iron skillet…well, any skillet will do, I just happen to have my grandma’s frying pan.
  2. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the remaining butter.
  3. Add the torn toast and stir to mix.
  4. Stir in flour, and cook for 3  minutes, stirring constantly.
  5. Add the tomatoes and sugar and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Season to taste.