Horseshoe Lake, Illinois Sunrise, Bald cypress and Tupelo trees

Olive Branch Illinois, in Alexander County, is the home of Horseshoe Lake, not to be confused with Horseshoe Lake in Madison County.

Horseshoe Lake is an oxbow lake in Alexander County, Illinois. It is the site of Illinois’s Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, a state park 10,645 acres (43 km2) in size. A remnant of a large meander of the Mississippi River, it is today a shallow, isolated patch of water located near Cairo and the southern tip of Illinois.

The Alexander County lake has major problems with siltation. During the Great Flood of 1993 the river tried to shift back to the Horseshoe Lake meander, but returned to its modern channel after the flood subsided. Much of the lake resembles a swamp or bayou. This is one of the northernmost parts of the natural ranges of the Bald cypress and Tupelo trees, which are found on the shoreline of the lake. Another tree found here is the swamp cottonwood. There is a good growth of the flowering American lotus.

Feature Image Details

The feature image shows Bald cypress and Tupelo trees at sunrise.

For the image, I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 30mm, for 1/8 of a second at ISO 400, f16.


  • The key to reflection images such as these is for the water to be in the shade.
  • Play around with various exposures and time durations.
  • Get low to the water! Sometimes you cannot see any reflections unless you get low. Find a composition you like, then set up the tripod in that position.

Here are some more images from the same morning.

I like the above image a lot. It distinctly shows the Bald Cypress trees. It was taken with a  Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens. I did not have my tilt shift lens with me at the time. It was in the car. Had I walked back to get it, I would have missed the shot.

The trees were hugely pointed in, but I corrected the perspective in Photoshop. A Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens would have been about perfect.

Here’s a clip of what it looked like as shot.

Perspective controls in Photoshop are amazing but it is better to use the right lens.

Glorious Sunrise

The above image was taken with a Canon 100-400 MM F 4.5-5.6 L Lens. I seldom carry that lens, simply because of the weight. I had it with me because I knew there were opportunities like this.

Hatfield vs McCoy

Horseshoe Lake is not a “family destination”. There are few services and unless you are interested in photography, fishing, or birding, there is little else to do.

The above images are recent and digital, but here’s my story from twenty years ago that highlights the issue.

In the immediate area, there was then and there still is today precisely one place to eat, and it’s in a bar. I sat down at the bar and asked for a menu.

Then I made a mistake: I asked the person sitting next to me a question about the number of the geese in the fall. This was the resultant conversation.

Me: Is this an average year for geese in the area.

Him: Do I know you?

Me: I’m Mike – cutoff

Him: Are you from the DNR?

Me: I’m Mike – cutoff

Him: I did not ask you who you are. I asked if you were from the DNR.

At that point, he pulled out a gun, pointed it at my head and said If you are from the DNR I’m going to blow you away.

I assured him that I was not from the DNR and he put the gun away.

I should have immediately left at that point, but I had already ordered dinner and waited for it. The man who pulled the gun on me started talking to the person next to him. The other fellow mentioned that his daughter was dating someone who he did not know.

As you might imagine from this, our “hero” said that if his daughter was dating someone he would know when he got up, where he went, and would stake him out until he knew everything about him.

The next day, I filled up at a gas station and a young kid came out to pump. This was not self-service yet. I told the kid what happened and he laughed.

He then said: “I am not surprised. In fact, if anyone sees me talking to you, I can get in serious trouble.”

The moral of this story is please do not try to talk to anyone in deep Southern Illinois unless you know them.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock