Do you like climbing over rocks? Keep reading.
Let's say you had the opportunity to build your own state park. Maybe you'd like to have the elephant-sized boulders from Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri. And no park would be complete without the cascades and slick rocks from Johnsons Shut-ins. Let's not forget about the crazy bluffs and box canyons from Giant City State Park in Illinois.
Put those all together, and you'd have a pretty sweet park of your own.
Actually, it already exists: Dixon Springs State Park between Vienna and Golconda, Illinois.
This park has springs, a man-made waterfall, a swimming pool, cabins, and even old town buildings. But the best part is the often-overlooked Ghost Dance Canyon, a small canyon filled with elephant-sized boulders, cascades, and crazy bluffs.
Best of all, the trail is short -- and well marked.
When I visited last month, the road leading to the trailhead was closed and gated off. But it was easy to park elsewhere and walk to the trailhead.
The first sight along the trail is the towering concrete-arch bridge carrying Highway 146:
When it was constructed in 1928, this was reportedly the largest bridge of its kind in Southern Illinois.
The trail continues toward the canyon, running next to the placid Hills Branch stream.
But it doesn't stay placid for long. At the head of the canyon, the creek drains below a "natural arch" between two large chunks of sandstone:
And then cascades over a massive jumble of rocks:
The jumble is fun to climb around, but the trail takes a bypss, following a line of bluffs to the left.
After dropping below the rock jumble, the marked trail comes to an end. But there's plenty to explore throughout the canyon. Look for a hobbit-sized rock shelter:
A precision-engineered stack of rocks:
And, of course, plenty of elephant-sized rocks all over the place:
While the entire Ghost Dance Canyon is relatively small, it could take hours to explore every corner, rock and bluff. But then you wouldn't have time to visit the rest of Dixon Springs State Park...
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge and follow Illinois Highway 146 through McClure, Anna, and Vienna. Continue until you pass the intersection with Highway 145. The turnoff for Dixon Springs State Park is just ahead on the left.
After entering the park, follow the signs for the swimming pool, taking the first road on the left. The parking lot for the swimming pool also provides access to the Ghost Dance Canyon trail, located beyond the end of the road at the small concrete culvert. However, if the road to the parking lot is closed, you can park at the picnic area behind the swimming pool and walk to the trailhead.