The news was scary: a wildfire had broken out at Little Grand Canyon and it had access to a huge amount of fallen timber from wind and ice storms over the last few years.
Luckily, the end result was not as scary. The fire was contained in short order, burning 18 acres, and the trail was reopened to the public two days later.
I visited soon after to check on the effects of the blaze. I'm happy to report that the main trail shows almost no signs of the fire. However, I did spot an old road which quickly led to the burn area.
Most visitors won't be able see any difference, and this will be even more true once the leaves on the trees have fully grown.
Little Grand Canyon remains the same as I when I first visited years ago. It's still just as hard to find, a fact noted by the fake tombstone in front of a nearby house that memorializes "THE LAST BASTARD THAT STOPPED TO ASK DIRECTIONS."
This must be an effective way to shoo away lost motorists, although a simple "Little Grand Canyon is one mile ahead" sign would have been a little friendlier.
In addition to the difficult drive, Little Grand Canyon remains a challenging hike. There's always that brief moment of horror when you ask, "That's the way down?"
First-time visitors may not immediately realize that foot- and hand-holds are carved into the rock at strategic locations, a legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It would be much more difficult to traverse the slick rocks without these aids.
After reaching the bottom, it's clear that Little Grand Canyon will always live up to its name, with towering bluffs on either side of a narrow chasm.
It doesn't hold a candle to its big brother in Arizona, but the Illinois version is still impressive for the Midwest.
The loop trail remains just as steep as before. It's uphill both ways -- literally -- although the high point does provide a panoramic view of the Mississippi River floodplain.
An observation platform overlooks Swallow Rock, a large bluff that stands guard over the beginning of the canyon.
Little Grand Canyon continues as one of the natural wonders of Southern Illinois, and it will take more than an 18-acre fire to ruin it.
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge and follow Highway 146 towards Jonesboro, making a left at Highway 3 and then a right at Ware. Before reaching Jonesboro, turn left on Highway 127 toward Alto Pass and Murphysboro. Go 16 miles and look for the turnoff for Etherton Road on the left. Continue on Etherton Road as it turns into Poplar Ridge Road and then Hickory Ridge Road (all paved). The turnoff for Little Grand Canyon Road will be on the right at a sharp curve. The parking area is just down this road.