After spending the night in the charming town of Marion, Illinois, we drove to Harrisburg, an entry point to Shawnee National Forest. We stocked up on food, water and everything needed for s'mores, found Highway 34 and headed into another new experience.
Timber Ridge Outpost was a welcome sight after miles on narrow, canopied-covered roads. Lacy checked us in with maps and suggestions for area attractions. The four corners on Karber's Ridge Road really is an outpost in the middle of nowhere. Part general store, gift shop and an ice cream parlor, there's also a working phone booth in the parking lot.
Lane watched the mileage counter for exactly 1.5 miles to North Iron Furnace Road, an unpaved lane that got bumpier as we drove deeper into the Shawnee woods. And there it was...a private drive to White Oak Treehouse, our home for the next two days and nights.
Twenty-four feet up in the branches of a 200 year Oak Tree...it was magnificent!
This is what I love about traveling-
The serendipity of discovering something greater than expected.
Twenty steps up and down...we took our time unpacking. Lane would carry up groceries, then swing on the round, smiley-faced board attached to a very long rope. He'd haul a few more things up, then go swing again. I took the duffel bags and totes to the first landing and had a sit-down. Just gazing at the treetops that went on forever, amazed to be a small speck in a 280,000 acre forest, excited that we were really doing this!
We finished emptying the car. Why do road trips require so much stuff? We'd have been fine with backpacks...the duffel bags held sweats, boots and rain gear for cold nights and wilderness trails. Never used any of it. Groceries filled up the third row of the Armada. Luckily, there was no hurry. Swing and explore, sit and relax. We had all day.
There's a full size refrigerator and bathroom and lots of space to spread out on the first floor of White Oak. The loft holds two queen beds tucked beneath the rafters...one side is tall enough for an adult to stand, smaller folks have to bend and crawl into bed. Outside we found a wood-stacked fire pit, a picnic table and several folding chairs.
The camping resort has a smaller treehouse in the woods and several log cabins clustered in an open area. A covered pavilion provides picnic tables, swings, corn hole, tether ball and horseshoes for guests. It's quite isolated, but I was reassured knowing the owner lives just across the fishing pond.
chase lightening bugs like he did when he was five.
Now he was mature enough to light the fire and took charge of roasting the marshmallows. Another thing not to be found, skewers. The woods offered us crooked but pointed sticks...good enough. I had the graham crackers and chocolate squares ready as he pushed the gooey delight in between. We had more dessert than dinner that night!
I was concerned about using the loft ladder during the night since the bathroom was downstairs. "Guess I'll have to pee in a pot," I told my grandson. He couldn't believe it. "What about your dignity?" he exclaimed. Giggling, I answered, "there's no dignity in camping, kiddo...plus you'll be asleep." But Mother Nature intervened in another way. Thunder and lightening woke us and we hurried down the ladder to the sofa. It's a pull-out bed, but we tossed our pillows at each end and slept head to toe...with the bathroom just steps away!
Morning brought chirping and sunlight streaming through the branches. It was humid as I drank coffee on the deck watching Lane swing below me. He'd get a running start and soar higher and higher into the varied shades of leafy greenness, still damp from the early dew. It was going to be a long, hot day but we looked forward to kayaking, fishing and maybe some archery practice.
Whoops, those plans didn't work out. Those activities require guides and rentals and I'd neglected to book in advance. I tend to plan loose...get from point A to B, have a place to sleep and the let the rest fall into place. So we enjoyed the morning hiking camp trails and playing games at the pavilion. We decided to explore Garden of the Gods and other nearby attractions after lunch.
Suddenly, there was knocking on the cabin door. "Didn't you hear my truck? Hear me coming up the steps? asked Marty, the Timber Ridge Resort owner.
We'd been reading and chillin' thanks to the industrial-size air conditioner so no, we didn't hear a thing. He'd come to warn us heavy rain, hail and strong winds were approaching and offered to take us to a "safe house" on the ground. I grabbed our phones and car keys and followed him to a solidly built, unfurnished log cabin in the clearing. The high winds blew the rain sideways and the hail looked like ice cubes tossed everywhere. Watching from the covered porch, the wind and wetness felt refreshing after the morning heat. As quickly as it had arrived, the pop-up sputtered out. Serendipity made our day! We headed to the Outpost for some ice cream and locally-made souvenirs.
The logs were too soaked for a fire, but the sky was clear and we finally got to see the stars. What better place to look up than a dark night in the woods. Hundreds of twinkling constellations held our attention until...
Noises from the surrounding trees and bushes.
Noises too close for comfort.
Noises that spooked us!
We hustled up the steps guided by motion lights, scared, but laughing all the way. With more storms predicted, we slept on the first floor sofa again.
After breakfast and packing up, it was time to head for home. We could stay on the forest roads to the free ferryboat that crosses the Ohio River. It sounded pretty adventurous, but further inquiry revealed it takes an hour, keeps passengers in their cars and drops off in rural Murphy, Kentucky. With a homesick boy and a long road trip ahead, staying on land and interstates seemed a better choice. I went back to Harrisburg, found I-24 and headed southeast to Atlanta. We had fun savoring treetop life, the scary woods, Marty to the rescue. By the time we arrived home, the stories were even better!
Riding the Rails let us embrace new places and encounter friendly strangers. Camping in a treehouse gave us a different perspective of nature...sleeping in birds' habitat, entertained by bugs, outrunning a storm. Travel is both invigorating and soothing. No matter what our age, travel grows us, sparks our curiosity and courage, enriches our brains and activates our WOW mode.