Today, the day after Independence Day, we drove to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site just south of Petersburg, IL for our walk. We left the house a bit late, around 9:00 am… but it was cool, a bit hazy, and a wonderful morning. We commenced our walk from the parking lot by the Visitor’s Center (information) building, and started by following the trail at the south end of the lot, Mentor Graham’s Footsteps. We crossed a small creek early on, and from that moment on we were escorted by huge swarms of mosquitoes and Buffalo gnats…
And did I mention the Buffalo gnats???
So we tromped merrily along until we came to State Highway 97, crossed it and entered Cardinal Ridge. We followed that through the woods until we came to Pritchetville Road. We decided to take a break from the breeze-free woods and swarms of skeeters and gnats for a while and walked on the road until we came to the Boat Ramp on the Sangamon River…
In addition to a boat ramp leading to water, we found a beached paddle wheeler (The Talisman)…
We were a bit shy of a couple hours into our hike by this time, and just north of the boat ramp we found 2 important landmarks… First – Toilets!!! and Second – Picnic Shelters!!! A shelter served us well as a place to drop our packs, sit down for a bit on a bench, and in the case of The Mrs, take her boots off! But more importantly, we broke out our folding backpacker stoves, titanium mugs, and heated water for coffee (me) and tea (she). How civilized we were!!!
Having rejuvenated ourselves, we pushed on traveling north on Damselfly Trail, which is adjacent to the west bank of the Sangamon. The path started out as a mostly old single-track asphalt paved track, but as we walked it became more overgrown. And boy did the skeeters seemed thrilled to have us all to themselves! Fortunately we each had sprayed on about a quart of insect repellent, so the little buggars only had limited spots on our body they chose to attack. Like our eyes! But as long as we kept moving, they were just a minor annoyance. At one point on the path, we came across three downed trees across the pathway, the first we had to crouch under, and the other two climb over… Quite a treat dontcha know!
We continued on until we reached the Grist Mill, except we were on the wrong bank from the mill, and to get to the other side, we would have had to slog through some very foul smelling and brackish water that was of unknown depth, and NOT AT ALL INVITING! We decided this was the end of the trail, did an about face, and headed back in the woods. We found a shortcut pretty quickly that led us out to IL 97 and the Grist Mill. Of course, this stretch of unused pathway had the densest populations of skeeter & gnats of our whole hike!
Once we got to the Grist Mill we walked around it and we quickly realized that the Damselfly Trail did continue on to just north of the Grist Mill… when the river wasn’t flooded!
From our vantage point on the Mill platform, we could see the trail where we had to turn around to avoid being swept away by the river… or at least sucked under by the mud.
Well, we found a side path that was an old old asphalt path? road? we were able to walk along at a good pace, staying one step ahead of the skeeter swarms. AND… The Mrs almost stepped on a Bull Snake! I pointed to it on the pathway and exclaimed, “Oh, look!” She thought it was just a stick until I said, “It’s a Bull Snake! WOW!!” She said she was happy she did not stomp on it!
So, from this point, our next direction was across the highway and back into the New Salem Site. To get across the highway, the State had built a pedestrian bridge/walkway so we didn’t even have to risk getting run over!
From this point, our walk became much more of a tourist wandering through the Historic Site looking at the buildings, spending a few moments in the Gift Shop enjoying the Air Conditioning, and gradually making our way to the campgrounds area. We took a tour of the campgrounds marveling at the huge expansiveness of it, and the inviting nature of the grounds! The only thing left for us was to walk back to the van, and clocking our total hike for this day at 9 miles in 2 hours and 45 minutes. We turned the clock off while on our Tea Break….