Sunday, October 27, 2013


 Day Two of our Road Scholar adventure started with a hearty breakfast in the St. Noel Center.  The dining room was just down one flight of stairs from where my room was located.  This made it easy to go down to get that first cup of early morning coffee, to get the "engines" reved up before breakfast.  A big THANK YOU goes out to Gina and Brian, who brought samples of Dunn Brothers Coffee, from their business in Iowa ( ).  It was delicious!  Each morning we were offered a wide variety of whole grain cereals, assorted milks, yogurt, fresh fruit, orange juice, and a hot entrée, that changed each day. 
 We only had to walk a few steps to the outdoor patio, where we gathered to prepare for our hiking for the day.  The weather was perfect for hiking, which always makes an outing more enjoyable!
 Our leader for the day was botanist Chris Benda.  Chris is a gifted teacher of all things natural, and works for a variety of government and non-profit agencies who need the services of a trained botanist.  He has taught botany at the college level, and also teaches some of the classes for the Illinois Master Naturalists.  I am familiar with that program through my completion of the coursework in Arkansas ( ), and have a great appreciation for the countless hours of volunteer work done by the organization. 
 Our trek led us over a few water crossings, and fortunately all of them had bridges, so no wading was involved!
 Throughout the hike, Chris would stop at unique sites along the way, to tell us some interesting tidbit about what we were seeing. 
 Chris recited a poem, as we walked around this man-made pond, that taught us the difference between grasses and reeds.  He had lots of "mnemonic devices" to help us remember various botanical principles. 
 After a few miles of hiking, our class of 14 Road Scholar participants made it to Pakentuck, and posed for this group photo.   The dark streak on the bluff behind us represents the trickle of water dripping, from what is called "Pakentuck Falls".  It was named this because decades ago (early 1950's) , a Boy Scout council from Paducah, Kentucky, used this area for their summer camp.  The name comes from taking the first two letters of Paducah, and combining it with the first seven letters of Kentucky.  Before I learned the origin of the name, I had assumed it was a Native American word.  According to some geographical sources, Pakentuck Falls is the highest freefalling waterfall in the state of Illinois. 
 One of the staff pointed out "Friendship Rock" near the falls, which had these words "carved in stone", as words of wisdom for hikers to read.  It says "This is a reminder to all that pass this way, to tell those around you how much you love them, before they drift away."
 And these four couples are the "living example" of a Friendship Rock Group.  They got to know each other when their kids were running cross country track in high school.  The bonds they formed were so strong, that they have continued to travel together, long after their kids had finished school.  However, since this was their first Road Scholar trip, they had carefully studied and reviewed the Road Scholar guidelines in a group meeting, before they came.  They especially took note of the sentence that said "Keep in mind that one purpose of travel is to experience differences, not to judge them.  Skills that will serve you well are: Tolerance for Ambiguity; Ability to be Non-Judgmental; Flexibility and Adaptability; Sense of Humor; Open-Mindedness; Curiosity; Self-Reliance; and Communicativeness.  They joked that since there were eight characteristics listed, and there were eight people in their "cross country club", each person could be in charge of "enforcing" a designated characteristic within the group.  I would say they were very successful in their group dynamics goals, and I would be delighted to participate in any Road Scholar activity they do in the future!   
 Just as there were carved "words of wisdom" on the rocks at Pakentuck, there were carved "endurance tests" within the narrow passages between the massive stones.  In this photo, you can see the legs of the very tall and physically fit Brian, who has almost made it through to the end of the crack.  Staff member, Johnny, was there to help us shorter people, boost our bodies up to the narrow ledge on one side of the crack, that would enable us to make it through to the other side.
 I was between Jean (shown in previous photo), and a the whole line-up of brave people who wanted to put a visual image to the phrase "caught between a rock and a hard place"!
 By continuously quoting the verse from Philippians 4:13 ( I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH! ),  I made it far enough through the crack to hand my camera to staff member Danae, so she could take a photo of me.  I wanted PROOF of this conquest through the Illinois "narrows"!
 I was very thankful to make it out of the claustrophobic space of the rock cleft, and into the wider opening, where Diane and Chris were waiting to give me encouragement!
 The damp spaces around Pakentuck were excellent habitat for ferns, moss, and mushrooms.  Since Chris spends a lot of time outdoors, and is skilled with his super-duper Nikon camera, it is not surprising that he has won several photography contests.  I expect the photo he took of these "china man hat" mushrooms will be another of his prizewinners!
 Our group had the option of spreading out and exploring all around the Pakentuck area, and it was fun to hear people exclaiming over some new and interesting plant or animal or rock formation they found. 
 Chris led us into the bluff shelter beneath the waterfall, to show us a bat colony that lives there.  Using his flashlight, we were able to see the little mammals huddled together on the ceiling of the dark space.
 This bluff overhang was also the site of a permanent structure, whenever the Boy Scout council used the property.  Remnants of their "cave dwellings" can still be seen.
 After thoroughly exploring the lower Pakentuck area, we hiked to the top of the bluff, where we could see the pool of water above the waterfall.  Legend has it, that the Boy Scout leaders used to have a "dam-like" structure at the narrow end of this pool, to regulate the flow of water over the bluff.  When the parents of the young Boy Scouts came to Pakentuck to drop off their boys, they would open the dam gates so that water gushed over the falls, to impress the parents.  As soon as the parents were gone, however, the dam gates were closed, and the water was once again just a trickle!
 All this hiking and climbing and squeezing through cracks works up an appetite, and the staff had counted on that, by having a delicious lunch ready for us in a pavilion near the big pond.  (There was also a primitive-type toilet adjacent to the pavilion, which I was thankful for!)  We had a wide choice of cheeses, meats, peanut butter/jelly, breads, condiments, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chips, dessert, and beverages to tide us over until supper.  There was a large fire ring beside the pavilion, which was the perfect spot to enjoy our tasty lunch!
 After lunch, we continued our hiking a few more miles to Hogs Bluff.  That was a beautiful sandstone location above a long, narrow body of water.  This was the spot where we saw an American Bald Eagle, soar by us---at eye level!---several times!---as we all watched in amazement.  The day ended with a delightful dinner on white tablecloths back at the St. Noel Center, followed by swapping funny stories of our experiences, around the fireplace.  It was a FANTASTIC day number two!  If you would like to visit some of these places on your own, instead of just via the Internet, log on to and/or to see the huge variety of travel experiences that are available for you to enjoy.  I guarantee, they will give you MILES OF SMILES!  Tricia
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