It's not necessary to drive long distances to visit wild, rugged terrain. The hills on the opposite side of the Mississippi River from Cape Girardeau feature plenty of ruggedness.
Take, for example, Hamburg Hill and Atwood Ridge, part of the Shawnee National Forest between Ware and Jonesboro. Forming a continuous ridge, these hills represent a formidable obstacle above the river's floodplain. The highest point of Atwood Ridge reaches an elevation of 900+ feet, almost 600 feet above the level of the river.
The hills can be seen in the distance from Refuge Drive in Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area.
A gravel road climbs to the top of Atwood Ridge. While tame by Colorado standards, the drive is a challenge by Midwestern standards, featuring steep slopes, loose gravel, and tight switchbacks.
The road ends at the site of a demolished fire tower. From here, the Atwood Ridge Trail heads southward. It's a quality hike along the ridge, featuring glimpses through the trees of valleys and farms in the distance.
For this blog, however, I have a different trail in mind, one that isn't as well marked or traveled. The trail descends from Hamburg Hill into swampland at river level, following the path of an old road.
Historic maps show that this road originally connected with the village of Pottsville, now located within Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area. The road no longer connects with the townsite, but still provides access to a remote valley and wetlands area.
Starting at a barricade and faded "ROAD CLOSED" sign, the road cuts through a hillside and then follows a small creek. The valley, narrow at first, begins to open up. When I visited in early April, the woods were filled with purple wildflowers.
After roughly half a mile, the road suddenly ends, blocked by a series of downed trees and debris. From here, I found two ways to proceed:
1. Bad: Plow straight ahead, climbing over and under the fallen trees
2. Worse: Bear right and wade through the muddy creek.
Beyond the obstacle, the road picks up again, turning left and hugging the hillside.
The wetlands on the right start as a shallow pool:
But soon get deeper and deeper:
The old road continues south, eventually connecting with Old Cape Road east of Reynoldsville. I didn't make it very far, as the road became a muddy quagmire.
On the way back, I spotted a stand of morel mushrooms. I'm not at liberty to divulge the exact location of my fungi find.
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge and turn left (north) at Highway 3. At Ware, turn right on Highway 146 and go east 4 miles. Just past the roadside park and historic marker, turn right on Berryville Road. After crossing the wooden bridge, bear right to remain on Berryville Road and continue 1 mile. Make a right on Water Plant Lane. Drive past the water plant, drive through the low-water bridge, and follow the road (which turns to gravel at this point) up the hill.
After roughly half a mile, the road meets an intersection. The left fork continues to the top of Atwood Ridge, while the right fork is a dead-end forest road that heads northwest. Find a place to park and look for the old road and trail behind the guardrail and "ROAD CLOSED" sign (Point "A" on the map below).
Hike along the old road downhill to Point "B" where it suddenly ends. Continue straight as best as possible, keeping close to the hillside on the left. The road picks up again, turning to the south. At Point "C", look for the beginning of the wetlands on the right. I was forced to turn around due to mud at Point "D", but you might have better luck in drier weather.