I took this photo a few years ago at the Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest, which is located in extreme southern Illinois. It was almost winter, so most of the leaves had fallen already. Can you imagine how beautiful this rock formation would be with the Fall colors surrounding it! This particular photo is of a formation called "Camel Rock." The camel's head is on the left and you can see the hump to the right. This is a gigantic rock formation, so large that people professionally rock climb on it.
Springfield's Illinois Times did a feature article in May called Exploring the Shawnee National Forest. Click here for the link, which includes several stunning pictures of the natural beauty.
One of my first summer jobs was at a very young age (about 14), when I worked in the Youth Conservation Corps program. I was so happy to get to work at the Garden of the Gods. We built and maintained trails, retaining walls, cleared brush, painted signs picnic tables, etc. We worked in crews of about a dozen kids and had a Park Ranger as our crew leader. Each day about two hours after lunch, we would gather around for thirty minutes and have "Environmental Awareness," which we called "E.A." During that time we would learn details about our surroundings. For instance we learned what kinds of trees were among us.
I still remember from that time learning how to tell a White Oak Tree from a Red Oak Tree. I bet you don't know, but it is so simple. The White Oak has "rounded" tips on the leaves and the "white man" used bullets fighting the Indians and those bullets had round tips. The Red Oak has "pointed" tips on the leaves and the Indians (red skin) fought with arrows, which were pointed. I hope that makes sense!
As far as I know the YCC program is still available in areas that have a national forest. This National Park website gives you all the details. Many teenagers that work for YCC go on to become Park Rangers after high school. I know several Rangers, including my aunt who worked for 40 years before retiring! I thought about going into that line of work, but during YCC I once stepped right over a poisonous Copperhead snake. Luckily I had protective leg gear on, but it still scared the crap out of me. Rattlesnakes are also very common in southern Illinois. My fear of snakes was enough to keep me from being a Forest Ranger!