I'm sure we've all been in this situation: the nagging voice of the GPS navigation system wants to turn left on a road that is little more than goat path through the woods, and probably hasn't seen a motor vehicle since the Eisenhower administration.
One Horse Gap in Southern Illinois presents the opposite problem. The most convenient access road isn't shown on my GPS system, nor does it appear on Google Maps. But it's the real thing: a decent gravel road marked as Forest Road 186.
After turning on this road, my nagging GPS was thoroughly confused, believing that my truck was flying through space and demanding that I make an immediate U-turn even though my destination was straight ahead. Thankfully, my printed maps showed otherwise. Technology is great, but sometimes old-fashioned methods work best.
From the road, a short one-third mile trail leads downhill to One Horse Gap. As the name indicates, this is a narrow slot along the trail that is only wide enough for one horse and rider at a time.
The gap, however, is not the main reason to visit One Horse Gap. The huge number of other rock formations make this place special. Within a small area, I found...
...boulders larger than elephants:
...curiously textured bluffs:
...and prickly-pear cacti overlooking the whole scene.
From One Horse Gap, trails radiate in all directions. The River-to-River Trail, in particular, meanders northward along the base of a long series of bluffs.
Beyond a maze of trail junctions, the R2R leads to a point called Rocky Top. Just like One Horse Gap, this landmark has a name that doesn't leave much to the imagination. It's a large rock outcrop sitting on top of the world.
The crest of Rocky Top provides a stunning view to the east.
When visited together, One Horse Gap and Rocky Top provide plenty to explore, but without requiring a strenuous hike. You may, however, need to put your GPS device on silent mode and brace yourself when leaving the Known World According To Google.
From Cape Girardeau, take Highway 146 east through McClure, Ware, Anna, Vienna to Golconda. At Golconda, turn left at the stop sign to continue north on Highway 146. After 6 miles, turn left on Lusk Road (also shown as Rock Shop Road on some maps).
Follow this road 3 miles to the four-way intersection with Dutton Chapel Road. Turn left, and follow this gravel road 1.1 miles to the intersection with Forest Road 186. Make a sharp right turn here, and then drive 1.5 miles along this gravel lane. Look for the sign for Trail 175 on the right (east) at GPS coordinates 37.521017, -88.462867. Park on the side of the road where convenient, or backtrack a short distance to find a clearing and parking spot on the west side of the road.
Hike down Trail 175 for one-third mile to reach a clear spot and trail intersection. Make a slight jog to the left to reach One Horse Gap itself.
The most interesting rock formations are on the south (right) side, along Trail 175 at the top of the bluffs and Trail 175A at the bottom. These two trails form a loop, with most of the scenery on the inside of the loop.
To reach Rocky Top, take Trail 001 (River-to-River Trail) north from the lower portal of One Horse Gap. This trail follows the base of the bluffs before coming to a network of trail junctions. Keep following Trail 001 until reaching the intersection with Trail 177, then turn right and walk a short distance east to reach Rocky Top.
All of these trails are shown on the Herod Vicinity Interim Trail Map from the Shawnee National Forest.