Venomous snake by Cyrene Krey

My Adventure Along Snake Road!

Last September I made a trip to Southern Illinois. I was there looking for ghost towns, historical sites, and of course, snakes. While the ghost towns and historical sites didn’t live up to my expectations (although were cool to check out nonetheless), the famous Snake Road of the Shawnee National Forest didn’t disappoint!

Abstract photograph of leaves by Cyrene Krey
The bright sunlight shining through the green leaves created interesting and colorful abstracts.

The sights were amazing! The area is absolutely stunning. I could tell on the drive that things were going to be very different than northern Illinois where I’m from. About an hour or so away from my destination, the flat plains that Illinois is famous for gave way to beautiful rolling hills and imposing limestone bluffs.

Turtle in swamp by snake road by Cyrene Krey
The swamps along the road were home to numerous species. Standing on the road and looking out into the swamps, I was able to observe a wide variety of wildlife, particularly turtles.
Campsite with tent by Cyrene Krey
I camped at a small campground with several well-maintained primitive campsites. There were no facilities, but it was free to camp for up to fourteen days and there was a gravel drive for parking at each site.

I realized on this trip that I’m getting old! I’m now 30 and sleeping on the ground doesn’t seem to be as enjoyed by my back quite as much. I’ll need to look into a hammock for future trips so look forward to a review of that when I test one out. But it was still incredibly relaxing to listen to singing bugs and hooting owls as I dozed off.

Venomous snake by Cyrene Krey
The most common snake to see in the area is the cottonmouth. Although venomous, they tend to ignore humans as long as they aren’t being harassed or harmed (which are also illegal activities).

It’s always a little intimidating to wind up around a new animal, but it’s easy to quickly become comfortable around the venomous snakes of Snake Road. They’re so abundant and so calm that I learned after running across just a couple of them there was nothing to worry about. Even when they “smiled” at me, it was clear they were just offering a friendly reminder that they didn’t want people to harass them.

Object by Cyrene Krey
There was a lot of human debris in the area. While litter was common, so were artifacts left over from when farms existed where the forest is now.

The area is filled with a lot of history. Even just a simple walk in the woods produces some really interesting leftovers from when farms filled the region. It’s worth while to walk around and see what’s there!

Walker grave by Cyrene Krey
A small family cemetery existed just off of Snake Road. The largest tombstone was damaged. Some people assumed it had been damaged by visitors to the area, demonstrating the importance of being careful and responsible.

Be careful when exploring off the trails to avoid damaging the habitat. It’s better to stay on the trails, but occasionally something you want to explore is off the trail. Speak to locals, they’ll be able to give you directions to the site without wandering around which will limit your impact in the area.

Snake in front of sign by Cyrene Krey
A cottonmouth, the snake the road is most frequented by, sits in front of the entrance to the closed off road.

There are a lot of interesting species in the area, but even with nine days of exploration, I barely scratched the surface. For shorter trips, it will definitely take a bit of planning to make sure you’re there at the right time and during the right conditions to maximize the number of species that you see.

Lots o' green by Cyrene Krey
A frog clings to a leaf along Snake Road of the Shawnee National Forest. As I photographed him, he drew his body closer and closer to the leaf he was clinging to, making him less invisible as he blended in to his surroundings.

It’s important to pay attention while you’re out! Wherever you are, it’s good to look closely at areas you might otherwise ignore. In the photo above, the frog blends in very well to his environment. Had it not been for seeing him jump onto the leaf, I probably would have never noticed he was there, emphasizing the importance to look closely at a scene.

Swimming snake by Cyrene Krey
One of the images I really wanted to make while I was there was of a swimming snake. Snakes are beautiful swimmers and I love watching them in the water. I was thrilled when this cottonmouth entered the swamp next to the road on my last day visiting the area!

I loved my trip! It was absolutely amazing exploring the Southern Illinois area. I highly recommend visiting, even if it’s just for a couple days. If you want to read more about my adventure of the Snake Road area, read about it in the current issue of Reptiles Magazine or on their website. You can also order prints from my trip from my website at and support more interesting adventures! Thanks for reading 🙂

Ducks by Cyrene Krey

More DAPL Photos

Blue Heart on Tree by Cyrene Krey
A blue heart painted onto a tree near the Illinois River, one of the major waterways the Dakota Access Pipeline crosses. The risk of a spill along one of these major sources of fresh water has been a motivating factor in the opposition to the pipeline.
Old Tree by Cyrene Krey
A tall, old tree stood along the roadside at a scenic turnout located near the Illinois-Iowa crossing. Based on the survey flags that were there, it stood directly in the path of the pipeline at the time of my visit. This probably means this beautiful tree has since been removed to make way for an oil pipeline.
Gray Trees by Cyrene Krey
Bare autumn trees are reflected in the waters at the Mahaska County Conservation Center in Iowa, near where the pipeline route is located. Locals complained to us about the pipeline, stating they felt it put their waters at risk and compromised unmarked Native burial grounds located in the area.
Ducks by Cyrene Krey
Several different species of aquatic birds were observed at the Maskunky Marsh, a small marsh maintained by Mahaska County Conservation. The pipeline is immediately adjacent to the marsh that waterfowl make home during breeding seasons and use to refuel during migratory periods. Loss of habitats like this have led to numerous disease outbreaks, compromising both bird and human health.
Wind Farm by Cyrene Krey
A wind farm in Iowa was the last stop of the second day of the trip. While wind turbines are controversial because of the harm they can inflict on birds, it was an interesting dichotomy to see an oil pipeline being constructed through a source of renewable energy.

More photographs from this and other projects are available at my website, For additional background on my work and extra info, please like my Facebook page.

Smith Lake

Smith Lake is near an itty bitty town in Illinois and right nextdoor to the pond the Dakota Access Pipeline cuts through. The pond and lake are connected and during flooding, the lake spills over into the Illinois River. It’s a very risky area to place an oil pipeline and yet it’s one of the locations Energy Transfer Partners decided to cut through.

White Pelicans at Smith Lake by Cyrene Krey
Smith Lake was absolutely stunning! It was our first destination of the second day for our journey. Gravel roads were the only route to the out-of-the-way lake. We went early morning and arrived just at sunrise. It was chilly and there was a thick mist all across the lake. Flocks of over 150 white pelicans were gathered there, likely on their way south for their fall migration.
White Pelican Drifting by Cyrene Krey
This pelican was the star of the morning! He kept swimming out of the mist closer towards the center of the lake where the sunlight was. It’s always nice when critters decide to cooperate 😉
Bird in the Sky by Cyrene Krey
Birds soared overhead, just awakening for the day as the sun rose over the lake. Although the waterbirds were still lazily drifting in the lake, several species of gulls and birds of prey were already moving about overhead ready to find food.
Private Pier by Cyrene Krey
Small homes dotted the lake, several with small piers. Other than a couple of birders out observing the migrating pelicans and waterfowl, we didn’t see or hear anyone else. It was beautifully peaceful.

Other photos from this location and my DAPL project are available on my website at for purchase and viewing. Please contact your representatives to let them know you aren’t interested in any more pipelines and want cleaner energy sources (and the tons of jobs that will come with them!). The Army Corps is also taking public comment on the pipeline, please voice your opinion.

Turkey Vultures at Devil’s Lake State Park

On Monday, October 26th my husband and I drove up to Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin to so some hiking. We both had different expectations and goals going up there. He didn’t think he’d enjoy hiking around for several hours but was still looking forward to getting some exercise and fresh air. I was excited for several hours of hiking and wildlife watching but concerned that I wouldn’t be able to stay as long because he wasn’t as much of an outdoor enthusiast. It ended up working out perfectly though and he enjoyed himself more than he thought he would, so we were able to hike for a few hours.

I decided to visit because I wanted to see the turkey vultures gather before they began heading south. Turkey vultures aren’t a species that are really thought of as migrators, but northern birds do go a little bit south in the winter (Cornell University, n.d.). One of the areas they tend to gather is Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

We saw several as we drove into the Baraboo area circling in the skies above us. But for the first half of our hike once we were at the park, didn’t see any. I was concerned we weren’t going to spot any when one flew right in front of the cliff we were standing on. I quickly pulled out my camera and waited for him to circle again, thrilled to see one of my favorite bird species so close. When he disappeared from view, I figured that would be it. Until I glanced down at the rocks below us and saw two small groups of them hanging out. (Interesting sidenote: I counted a total of 13 vultures on the cliffs and realized later that it was a full moon that day :p)

How many vultures do you count?
How many vultures do you count?
They are sometimes mistaken for eagles or hawks, but turkey vultures can be identified by their raised wings and the uneven circles as they soar (Cornell University, n.d.).
They are sometimes mistaken for eagles or hawks, but turkey vultures can be identified by their raised wings and the uneven circles they fly in as they soar (Cornell University, n.d.).
This guy was watching me while I was watching him! :)
This guy was watching me while I was watching him! 🙂
Turkey vultures serve a valuable purpose in ecosystems as scavengers. Without scavengers, carcasses are left to rot and can pose health dangers to humans and wildlife.
Turkey vultures serve a valuable purpose in ecosystems as scavengers. Without scavengers, carcasses are left to rot and can pose health dangers to humans and wildlife.
Although not a technically "perfect" shot, it's one of my favorites of the day. They are some of the most beautiful birds in flight.
Although not a technically “perfect” shot, it’s one of my favorites of the day. They are some of the most beautiful birds in flight.

The vultures weren’t the only spectacular sights that day! We had beautiful views of the last little bit of fall colors all throughout our hike. Everything from within the woods to the stunning sights from the tops of the cliffs, nothing disappointed!

Beautiful Baraboo as seen from the cliffs in Devil's Lake State Park. (c) Cyrene Krey
Beautiful Baraboo as seen from the cliffs in Devil’s Lake State Park. (c) Cyrene Krey
The last of the fall colors. (c) Cyrene Krey
The last of the fall colors. (c) Cyrene Krey

Be sure to get out and enjoy the little remaining fall colors while you still can! They’re fading fast and winter will soon be upon us. While I’m looking forward to lovely snowy days, I will miss the bright orange and yellow hues of autumn, the last incredible shows of migrating birds, and an excuse to eat leftover Halloween candy! 😀


Cornell University. (n.d.). Turkey Vulture.

Devil’s Lake State Park Visitor Guide.