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The Max Creek Vortex

One of 3 Earth Light articles in the 2005 Waterman and Hill-Traveller's Companion. Used by permission.

Since publishing the three articles on earth lights in the 2004 edition of the Almanac and talking to local residents in the southern Illinois area I've been informed of three new locales where earth lights have been reported and at all three sites they seem to be sporadically active still.

Earth lights (for those who were unfortunate enough to miss the last edition) are naturally occurring balls of light that are seen - nearly always at night - floating through lonely, uninhabited areas. They occur on all continents, come in a variety of colors and sizes and have been responsible for untold numbers of myths and tales concerning spirits, elves, ghosts and - most recently - aliens. They seem to be generated within the earth by natural (but unknown) processes, are most commonly encountered along fault lines and are electrical in nature and are far more common than most people believe.

One of these earth light sites is in the Shawnee National Forest in extreme southeastern Johnson County. A portion of the River to River Trail passes right through the heart of the earth light activity and is locally known as the Max Creek Vortex. Like all good earth light locales this one comes complete with a vague story of tragedy, mayhem and restless spirits, and may in fact be based on actual events - though it seems highly unlikely (to your author at any rate) that the earth lights result from the events.

According to local legend the husband and children of a family of early settlers dwelling on the bluff above Max Creek were killed by the family matriarch when she flipped out one night. The lights seen in the rocky valley below are supposed to be their restless spirits wandering the earth until they find closure on the tragedy that ended their existence. And while this event may have actually happened - the story is quite an old one in the area - there are a number of clues to indicate that the appearance of the lights predates the murders.

First of all Max Creek is on the edge of the Hicks Dome Disturbance - an area of highly disturbed geology with fault lines and volcanic dikes radiating outward from its center like cracks around a bullet hole in glass. The actual feature called Hicks Dome is only ten miles or so in diameter, but beneath the surface it spreads out for at least fifty miles in all directions and Max Creek is well within its sphere of influence. Second, earth lights have been reported from several places within this area of disturbance and all the reports date from the time of earliest settlement which indicates that they were active prior to the arrival of American settlers. And finally the local Indians tended to avoid large portions of the Hicks Dome area whenever possible claiming the land was the abode of evil spirits - a good indication of earth light activity.

The lights of Max Creek are sporadic at best with relatively few recent cases reported. This could be because the area has been largely unpopulated since the 1930's and fewer people are present to witness events in the valley - especially at night - than in the past. However, should anyone wish to investigate this mystery further detailed directions to the Max Creek Trail can be found in the River to River Trail Guide on pages 62 and 63. Let me know of any earth lights you discover.

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The information on this page is tailored to Southern Illinois, Southwest Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri

Copyright © 2006 Jim Jung