Garden of the Gods, Illinois

 

To me freedom is a feeling of peace. To best find that peace in life, I must wander. Sometimes that means just sneaking away to my secret spot at my favorite park after a tough day at work for a few hours to just breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. But on weekends I enjoy taking day trips to get me by until my next vacation. My favorite destination within 100 miles of my home in southern Indiana is a hidden treasure in the neighboring state of Illinois located in the middle of Shawnee National Forest called Garden of the Gods.

It is a Saturday in early summer here in Indiana and the corn and soybeans are tall and green. I wake up early and pack a light lunch, fill my car up with gas and head west. As I pass through quaint little towns, the sun peeks through the puffy clouds and I notice the tension in my neck and shoulders begins to subside. After crossing the Indiana border into Illinois, I pass a hitchhiker. He reminds me of Forrest Gump on his run across the United States just because he “felt like running.” This man is very youthful though and has a long dark beard, aviator sunglasses and a camping backpack. He doesn’t stick his thumb out for a ride as I pass by either. I wonder if he is traveling to Garden of the Gods like me, but just has more time to get there. As I approach my destination, the terrain begins to change. Soybeans become wild flowers. Corn stalks become tall trees. And flat ground becomes rolling hills.

I arrive at the park and feel a rush of excitement overcome me. I’m about to experience a breathtaking view that many people will never see. I feel lucky. I remove my flip flops and slip on my hiking boots, grab a blanket and my lunch and begin to walk the quarter mile path leading to the lookout point. I pass an elderly gentleman on the trail on his way down dressed in suspenders. He looks like a farmer. He’s sweating and stops to catch his breath. As I pass him, he says to me “I think I almost bit off more than I could chew.” I respond “but you made it!” And with a grin from ear to ear he said “I did and it was worth it!”

I reach the summit and take in the breathtaking views. The vastness of the wilderness makes my hectic life back home feel like a million miles away. I take pictures. I hear the excitement in the voices of the other explorers I pass by who have never been here before. I see a man in a wheel chair and I’m reminded that you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it and want it badly enough. I take a little detour off the main trail and spread my blanket on a big flat rock covered by shade trees. I wonder how many people have sat here in this exact spot before me. I enjoy my lunch then grab my pen and paper from my bag and begin to jot down my thoughts and feelings in that moment. I’m at complete peace and close my eyes and drift off for a few minutes. I imagine the native Americans and early settlers who must have stumbled upon this area on their journeys. They surely thought it was a piece of heaven on earth like I do. It is a place that could only have been created by God, a beautiful rock garden with majestic views in the middle of nowhere.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and sometimes the the middle of nowhere you find yourself.” -Unknown. And I realize that I don’t always need a plan. Sometimes I just need to let go, breathe, trust God and see where my journey takes me. I will always wonder where that hitchhiker was going that day. He may not have found the Garden of the Gods but I have a feeling he found his freedom too.

About the Author: Stacey Sloughfy was born in Western Kentucky and now resides in Southern Indiana. She is an aspiring writer and is also passionate about travel, concerts, animals, the environment and promoting positivity. Besides travel writing she maintains a blog website where she has recently started sharing biographies about people who aspire to make the world a better place. She also has nearly 20K followers on Twitter where she posts positive quotes and pictures daily.

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