Thebes Courthouse

Day 7 – Sights along Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway

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Day 7 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

I’ve made it a week on my adventure…and I have to say it has been pretty smooth so far, except for Scout.  I’ll have to see how she is today.  For some reason, I get the feeling she’ll only get to enjoy the journey for a week.  At least that is better than sitting in the backyard in the Texas heat while I’m at work.

Today begins my drive along the Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway in Illinois. My usual nature sights turned to towns on this drive. There are several small towns along the Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway that are worth a visit.

Thebes Landing RV Park & Campground

Beginning where I left off last night, as expected, I didn’t get much sleep, but not only for the reasons I thought. The trains blare their horns as they cross the river at a rate of about four an hour. The plus side to no sleep was seeing the moon shine on the Mississippi at 3:30 in the morning. It was phenomenal!

Despite the lack of sleep, I’d still recommend Thebes Landing RV Park & Campground to anyone.  As I mentioned in my previous post (Day 6 – Meandering through the Missouri Ozarks), Neal, who has had several businesses over the years, lives in Cape Girardeaux, and has two college aged girls, is going to bring in a barge and add a bar to it.  He said the Corp of Engineers denied his permit three times, but consistency paid off.  The guys in the St. Louis office decided to hand deliver the permit instead of mailing it because they just wanted to meet him. 

It is already turning into a happening place. A few days ago, a canoer stayed at the campgrounds.  He was going from the headlands of the Mississippi all the way down to New Orleans.  Others go all the way around the tip of Florida, back up the Atlantic Ocean, and complete a loop.  Now that’s adventurous…it puts my journey to shame!  Additionally, this weekend, a BMW bike rally is coming to the area, and they are all camping at Neal’s place. 

Before I headed out to take in the sights on the Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway, Neal offered me a free breakfast of coffee and donuts. Free dinner last night and breakfast this morning…what a giving guy!

View of Mississippi River from Thebes Landing

Thebes Courthouse

Thebes Courthouse, completed in 1848, was the County Seat of Alexander County until 1864 when the County Seat moved to Cairo.  The building was constructed with local sandstone, hewn timbers, hand sawed boards, plaster, and with a split shingle roof.  Dred Scott was imprisoned here in the dungeons below.  As per the posted sign, he was a fugitive slave for whom the judge’s decision was made “establishing a negro’s right to his own person.”  The courthouse wasn’t open on Monday, so I couldn’t go inside, though Missy said she could get the town to open it for me if I wanted.

Thebes Courthouse

Smithland Locks and Dam

I continued past more forest, roadside crop fields, and two more deer on my way to Smithland Locks and Dam.  According to Reader’s Digest, Smithland Locks are just one link in a system of 20 locks and dams that slow the Ohio River into a series of steplike pools.  The book also suggests there is a Visitor’s Center that describes the locks and visitors can watch a barge pass through. 

When I got there all I saw was barbed wire and signs posted, “Government vehicles only”.  I know there is high protection on our dams and waterways due to 9/11, so I thought maybe something has changed given the age of my book.  I guess next time I’ll push the button at the intercom, but this time, despite all the road signs to the dam, it didn’t look very inviting.

Small Towns of Illinois Along the Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway

Speaking of signs, those were about the only road signs.  I felt somewhat lost almost all day.  My map and GPS would say, “turn right on Rte 1, and when I would get to the intersection the street sign said “Country Club Road”…or “go left on Rte 5”, while the street sign showed “Adams Street”.  As a result, I opted for a change of pace and a little more civilization.  We stopped at a couple of towns, the first along the Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway being Golconda.


Golconda is a very historic town that thrived when commerce on the Ohio River brought vast riches in the 19th century. Around the courthouse, all sorts of signs were posted and memorials were erected for different historic moments in the area and for war veterans.  I took the opportunity to fill up with gas at the local station complete with two pumps. 

Dave, a resident with a cabin nearby, took a liking to VANilla.  He said I could visit his cabin and he’d tell me the history of the area.  He also gave me a few places to stop along the way.  I would have taken him up on it, but I wanted to get to campsite early today and get a good night’s rest.


Elizabethtown, my next stop, is home to the Rose Hotel that opened in 1812 and is now the pride of Southern Illinois, a national historic landmark, and operating  as an information center.  In the 1800s, pilot men stopped here to provision their barges and to escape life on the river for an evening.

Rose Hotel, now information center, in Elizabethtown Illinois

Parks in Illinois

Tower Rock

I moved on to Tower Rock, hoping to find a campsite, but there were only primitive sites.  I met Tracy and Tonya at the trailhead to Tower Rock.  Tracy owns a hair salon and Tonya sells shampoo.  They were out for the day collecting rocks.  They had just gone to Rosiclare, another small river town, that still mines fluorspar, a mineral that is used in glassmaking.  It was all types of colors and really cool – Tracy gave me a piece.  We all took a short hike up to Tower Rock, a cliff 160 feet above the river.  According to Reader’s Digest, it is the tallest bluff on the Illinois side of the Ohio River.

Cave In Rock State Park

My final stop of the day was Cave-in-Rock State Park.  I plan on exploring tomorrow.  The rest of the day is going to be spent tending to some paperwork, blogging, and my dogs.  For the first time, I had to give an animal a shot!  Petey needed his medicine for Addison’s Disease.  I was so nervous…Petey survived! ETB

Map of My Road Trip Across the USA

For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.

Other Articles About Illinois You May Like


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

6 thoughts on “Day 7 – Sights along Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway

  1. In addition to Song of the Day and Thought of the Day, you may have to add a Bark of the Day and give us all an update on Scout and Petey…
    Sounds like a great week. You Go Girl!

  2. One week already….you’re almost home again !!
    Scout is absolutely better off with you right now and vice versa.

  3. Just think, I could have had my hair done if I had been with you when you met Tonya and Tracy! 🙂

    So, what are your thoughts on your first week? Loving it? Is it easier or harder than you though?

    Judy Teel called me (all the way from Mexico) to let me know she is so proud of you! She loves reading your blog and following along on your trip. You two should be kindred spirits — Judy is an adventurer too!

    I hope you are taking a “breather” today. You, Petey and Scout would all do well with a little rest. I can’t believe I’m from IL and no longer have any relatives there. What a bummer! I know you would probably love a couch.

    Your pics are great! And I’m thrilled you are running into nice folks. It’s fun be able to put a name with a face.

    I hope Scout is doing better today. I know she loves being with her “mommy.”

    Love you, Punkin and miss you TONS!

  4. Go Beth! If you go anywhere near Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke VA let me know as my best friend and her husband and dog live on the lake. The have plenty of room! Happy Trails!

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