Where We Circle Southern Illinois Like a Turkey Vulture

There are few places less uncovered by Hennacornoelidays than Southern Illinois. The actual boundaries of Little Egypt (as this area is sometimes known) are a little vague. Generally speaking though, it is defined by the Mississippi and Ohio which come together at Cairo to form Illinois’ most southern point. The top lid is less clear but probably lies no further north than Effingham (a good four hours south of Chicago). You may still be in Illinois, but just try to get a Chicago newspaper or find a Cubs fan. Both are near impossible to do and any conversation reinforces the fact that most of this area rests further south than Richmond, Virginia.

So why do we keep coming back? It is part nostalgia. Corey and I honeymooned here almost fourteen years ago in the same cabin where I typed up these thoughts. Henna sat up for the first time here and in this cabin we have also searched for Easter eggs, listened to owls hoot at night, cowered by a television to track powerful storms headed our way, and walked the trail immediately outside a little bit further into the woods each visit.

But the area has a strong pull on us as well with each visit a mix of the old and the new. Very few things here are carefully marked and most visits involve a lot of time spent looking at a map. We are also happy to say that even GPS finds the area a bit dense and listening to it might cause the traveler to wander in circles. Return enough times and one begins to see each visit exists in fact as a circle with each trip overlapping the last.  For this adventure we circled the familiar while stopping at the new.

Pamona Winery

Those wine varietals you are accustomed to drink do not fare well in the Midwest. For that reason many of the Southern Illinois vineyards use hybrids resulting in wine that sort of resembles what you can buy a lot cheaper at your local grocery store. A few of the special vineyards, however, focus more on grapes that actually thrive in the thin southern soil. Pamona does it one step better by offering up a variety of apple wines. They are delicious with their Jonathon surprisingly tart and dry. Pamona also ages one in oak with the flavors reminding us a lot of Sake. The winery excels also in conversation and most visits include one with the owner, Jefferson Park native and self-described hippie George Majak who moved to the area in the late 1970s and had to initially learn to do without electricity. Things are more developed now, but the essential character of his place is a rugged retreat perfect for a picnic lunch or glass of Southern’s finest.


Little Grand Canyon

This was not the first time we hiked into the canyon, but it was the first time we successfully navigated the entire three mile trail. It involved a lot of wet rock scrambles with the trail often resembling a slowly moving waterfall. We also were fortunate to encounter a few hikers along the way many of whom had gotten lost somewhere along the trail. We heeded their advice and for that reason spent more time admiring the pock marked canyon walls and less time arguing over which way to go.

If you attempt this trail search out the terrain for white diamonds marking the trail and know that a few key junctions do not have said diamonds to guide you in the right direction. Also bring water and maybe hike your socks high and/or wear pants to help defend against the bugs.

henna at the lgc              waterfall


Longbranch Café & Bakery

We cannot believe it has taken us almost fifteen years to discover this vegetarian diner that is located in Carbondale across the street from the train station. The only thing better than the friendly people working there is the yummy food they serve. Henna recommends the Puerto Rican Black Beans and Rice. Corey and I both loved their home made hummus, delicious grilled cheese sandwich, and their made from scratch tomato basil soup. If you do not have time for lunch, grab something to go at their bakery.

Plaza Records

Our 3 new favorite words are “dollar record bin.” There were so many quality records to choose from I had to talk Corey out of renting a U-Haul trailer. The store also promotes local talent, has a small listening station, and can be found in Carbondale.

Greetings from Union County

Greetings from Union County.  Where exactly is Union County?  If I told you it is south of most of Virgina and possessed several mighty good wineries, would you guess Illinois?  Probably not, but Union County is one of the southern Illinois counties in a region often referred to as Little Egypt.  Why the shout out to Egypt?  Maybe the early settlers thought the Mississippi resembled the Nile River which would explain a couple of town names (Thebes and Cairo).   Corey and I first discovered this special delta ten years ago when an internet search brought us to Rustic Hideaway for our honeymoon.  Two years later we brought baby Henna (she was about 7 months old) and it was as good a spot as we remembered.  The three of us have been back most Spring Breaks since then.


Corey and I once camped at Giant City State Park (en route to New Orleans) and the three of us also once rented a house close to the same state park.  But our first choice is always Rustic Hideaway.  To Hennacornoelidays, Rustic Hideaway represents the type of travel we seek out.  Although more now than ever before, there are not too many restaurants nearby which encourages us to stay in and make use of the small electric stove and the propane gas grill (lucky for us the grill has been recently upgraded and I can now use it without the usual accompanying cusses used to get it started).  The cabins are private and off a gravel driveway which is itself off a small road that gets little traffic.  There are two cabins on what I am guessing is an acre of land.  Behind the cabins is National Forest and a trail leads up and then on seemingly to nowhere.  This time we took it further than ever before and came to a better maintained trail that we followed before getting tired and turning back.  Without a destination the hike is both maddening and liberating to us as we feel no pressure to go on and thus have never hiked more than a mile in.  At night we have easter egg hunts (something I never did as a child) and play lots of board games (something I gratefully did have  as a child).  We also take frequent dips in the hot tub and enjoy bird watching from the deck.  The small inconveniences of the cabin are hardly worth mentioning but I will mention them anyways: well water and not as comfortable of beds as one would hope.  The first is easily enough remedied and the beds are only slightly worse than what we have at home.  Everything else in the cabin is simple charm and useful extras like coffee filters and spices.


This is going to be the first of a couple of blog entries about Union County and the surrounding area.  I am also going to write-up a review (my first ever travel review) of Rustic Hideaway for Splash and when I do will post the link here.  Right now the coffee is starting to wake me up a bit and I am going to warm up in the tub before the ladies wake up.