Garden of the Gods Wilderness
The Garden of the Gods Wilderness is a 3,318-acre (13.43 km2) parcel of land listed as a Wilderness Area of the United States. It is located within the Shawnee National Forest in Hardin County, Pope County, Saline County, and Gallatin County in the U.S. state of Illinois. The nearest town of any size is Equality, Illinois.
Geology and history
During the Carboniferous period (circa 300 million years before the present), local geological conditions laid down a thick bed of gray sandstone in what is now southern Illinois. This bed of sandstone was later uplifted, and the Garden of the Gods is part of an uplifted sandstone plateau. Unlike much of Illinois, this plateau was never covered by glaciers; the furthest advance of ice sheets during the Illinoian glaciation stopped just north of Garden of the Gods.
The morphology of Garden of the Gods is much steeper and rockier than in much of Illinois. Comparatively dramatic erosion patterns have created hoodoos and other unusual sandstone formations, as well as scenic overlooks such as Buzzards Point from which raptors, scavenger birds, and humans can look out over the Shawnee National Forest. Several of the hoodoos have eponymous names, including Anvil Rock, Camel Rock, and Table Rock.
As with other wilderness areas within Shawnee National Forest, the Garden of the Gods Wilderness is made of second-growth forested areas that were used, until the land condemnations of the 1930s, as agriculture land.
Shawnee National Forest was created in 1939, and in 1990, the Illinois Wilderness Act set aside seven separate parcels of land within this National Forest as relatively small wilderness areas. The Garden of the Gods Wilderness, one of these parcels, is a roadless parcel of land within the national forest.
A tongue of non-wilderness land provides a route for a paved road from Buzzards Point to a hiking, campsite, and public-use location in the southeastern corner of Saline County. From this location, hiking trails provide access to much of the Wilderness, making Garden of the Gods the most-visited wilderness area in Illinois. The trails and overlooks are often utilized by visitors during the fall color season.
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