I've visited Pomona Natural Bridge many times over the years, but I've always overlooked Cedar Lake located just a few miles to the east.
The lake was constructed in 1974 when Cedar Creek was dammed to provide a drinking water source for Carbondale, Illinois. Unlike most lakes in the U.S., Cedar Lake drains from south to north. This geographic oddity is a byproduct of glacial activity during the Ice Age.
Cedar Lake is best known for fishing, but the lake also features a network of hiking trails within the Shawnee National Forest. The Cove Hollow Trail, meandering along a series of sandstone bluffs on the western shore, provides panoramic views of the lake plus a wide variety of crazy rock formations.
From the parking lot, one branch of the trail descends through a crack in the bluff face.
Another trail branch, not nearly as rugged, follows switchbacks to reach the bottom of the bluff, passing a small rock shelter.
Both branches rejoin at the water's edge in front of a large rock shelter.
To the south, the trail continues past Cove Hollow, a narrow canyon bounded by bluffs on both sides. Much of the hollow is privately owned, however, so the trail veers left, crosses a small creek and proceeds along the lakeshore.
Straddling a narrow path between the water's edge and the bluffs, the trail passes another rock shelter featuring a steady drip of water from above. When I visited on the last day in February, the ground was still below freezing, creating a mound of ice as the dripping water re-froze on contact. I quickly determined that this "micro-glacier" was, indeed, slicker than snot.
A side passage along the bluff opens into a room with walls covered in moss.
The moss grows in a wide variety of textures and colors.
Continuing along the bluff line, the trail enters an area with many downed trees. It's hard to say whether this was caused by Ice Storm Number 1, Ice Storm Number 2, the May 2009 "Inland Hurricane", or some combination of storms, but the damage is extensive.
After leaving the bluffs for awhile, the trail eventually comes to another series of rocks.
I stumbled across an opening in the bluff that provides passage along a surprisingly deep -- and cold -- crevice.
Located in permanent shadow, the crevice walls were coated in ice during my February visit. Even in the height of summer, I imagine this place is always cold, not to mention spooky.
The crack makes a 90° turn and slowly climbs upward. It doesn't quite reach the top of the bluff line, however, so I had to make a U-turn.
Back on the trail, I soon reached another stretch of damaged trees. Somebody had fun with one of the large trees that fell across the trail, carving a step into the log.
At a creek crossing, two fallen logs were pushed across the water to create a makeshift bridge.
The Cove Hollow Trail intersects another trail, the Wolf Den Hollow Trail, at this bridge. As it was getting late in the day, I turned around here, but both trails continue south for a couple miles to reach a second trailhead on Boat Dock Road. Additional trails wrap around the southern end of the lake.
With the lake, rock shelters, bluffs, crevices, and other curious rock formations, the Cove Hollow and other Cedar Lake trails provide plenty to see whether you prefer a short or a long hike.
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge and follow Highway 146 as it turns left at Highway 3 and then right at Ware. Turn left on Highway 127 and drive 12½ miles to the turnoff for Dutch Ridge Road. Make a sharp right on this paved road, then bear left where the road curves in front of a church. At the intersection with Meadows Ridge Road, bear left to continue on Dutch Ridge Road. Then veer right on Cove Hollow Road and follow this narrow paved lane for 1 mile to the parking lot at the end.
Be sure to print the trail map before setting out.