The Perseid meteor shower of 2018 was unlike any other for Mollie and I. We had only just started to really get to know each other, and for some reason, she trusted this guy with an idea to hike the 3-mile Salt Lick Trail at night, lay on top of a cliff, and listen to some tunes commingle with the annual light show. At the time I was serving tables, and after badgering the manager for a while I managed to get my shift cut short so I could pick up Mollie and see some stars. The Perseids are spectacular and something worth being so excited about, but they weren’t what had me most excited that night. The drive across the river to the Illinois bluffs seemed to take forever.
Giant Pack, Short Trail
We arrived at the gravel parking area down below the old quarry, after pretending to not see the sign that clearly indicated we were not welcome on this trail at night (there have been some issues with kids partying on the cliffs in the past). Mollie seemed happy and excited for the hike up to the top but wondered why I had a 65-liter hiking backpack strapped to my back and stuffed full. I looked prepared to rough it in the woods for a week. I wanted to make sure we had a good setup though, and sometimes that requires carrying a few things.
Things Start Off Well
The hike couldn’t have started off any better. We took the low, west side of the loop, heading north first. Shortly into the hike, we encountered a spectacular structure that stretched across the trail at head height, engineered by the biggest spider either of us had seen that summer. About a quarter-mile later, an armadillo suddenly scooted across the trail, fully expecting us to get out of his way. Much of the lower portion of this trail is swamp-like, so the frogs and insects were deafening. Maybe the Perseids are nature’s way of celebrating the time at the end of the summer when everything is so alive; before things cool off and become quiet and dormant again.
A little more than a mile into the hike, after coming out into a brief opening next to a farm field, we began the climb up the bluff toward Salt Lick Point. This cliff is one of the grandest around. You’ll be breathing hard by the time you get to the top. About two-thirds of the way up, I was feeling that I’d over packed and was getting sweaty. I didn’t tell Mollie this, but at one point I stopped and pointed out how neat the silhouette of the hill and the trees above us looked in contrast with the dark blue sky behind them. This was partly a ploy for the pack and me to catch our breath, and partly because it truly was beautiful.
When we made it to the overlook, there was much to take in. It was cooler and less humid than down below, St. Louis was shimmering off in the distance, and you could hear the songs of the wetland below us. This was my first time seeing it at night, and Mollie’s first time seeing it at all. I vividly remember her face shortly after we got to the top. We were so happy and excited. I dropped the pack and struggled to pull out some cushions I’d managed to compress into the bag, some refreshments, and some snacks. We were set up for the evening. Typically the Perseids peak later in the night, so we were a bit early, but still saw a few after setting up. At one point a train sitting in the bottoms decided to take off. The sound of each railcar taking out the slack echoed down the line and through the river valley. It was unique to experience the way that sounds a mile away on top of a cliff. We often wish we could time-hop back to this moment.
Short and Sweet
After having some time to talk, listen, snack, and stargaze, but just some, Mollie’s phone started ringing in the backpack. I’d turned mine off because all of my attention was elsewhere. We ignored it and continued on, but then the phone started to ring a second time. Confused by the unknown number, Mollie answered. I could recognize the voice of our manager at the restaurant but was utterly lost as to why she was calling, and why Mollie looked so panicked. Apparently the law was down in the parking lot of Salt Lick waiting for us. They had tracked my car plates to my dad and called him. Unable to reach me, since my phone was off, and unable to reach Mollie because he didn’t have her number, he had reached out to our manager in order to contact Mollie. To say the least, that ended our Perseids experience.
The hike back down to the car went a lot faster than the hike up to the overlook. The officer waiting for us was nice and very understanding. I even invited him to go back to the overlook with us to watch the meteor shower, promising I’d keep it between us. He didn’t take me up on that offer and waited until we were on Bluff Road before he left the parking lot. Night or day, Salt Lick Trail is a short and sweet experience, and we recommend visiting this trail, preferably between dawn to dusk.
Find more great trails here.