A Zen of a Day

After a wonderful visit in the Chicago suburbs, it was time for us to move on.  The drive took about an hour and a half and put us closer to the Wisconsin border.  Shortly after our arrival, we met our new neighbor.

Rockford, Illinois

Trooper coming to check out that big white box near his barn.

We set up house at Al’s sister’s place, which is located a few miles north of Rockford, Illinois, and less than ten miles from the Wisconsin line.  His sister owns a lovely seven acre piece of property complete with a beautiful home, large barn, some out buildings, plenty of room for us to park, and Trooper.

boondocking

Barn on the right and tack room/out building behind the truck.

The next ten days were filled with lots of visiting with sister(s) – Al’s other sister lives nearby as well.  There was no shortage of food, drink, or laughter.Japanese Tea GardenI did sneak off for a day, allowing the siblings the time to reminisce and me to have a little time to myself.  I called it my Zen day.Japanese Garden

With camera in hand, I set off for the Anderson Japanese Gardens.  One of the first lines used on their website says, “Inspires the mind and energizes the soul”.  Sounded perfect and exactly what I was looking for to enjoy a Zen kind of day.Japanese Garden

The three essential elements used to create a Japanese garden are;
* stone = structure of the landscape
* water = represents life-giving force
* plants = provide the color and changes throughout the seasonJapanese Garden

Secondary elements include; lanterns, water basins, pagodas, arbors, and bridges.Japanese Garden

Japanese Gardens

The Founder and History:
Construction of Anderson Japanese Gardens began in 1978, when Rockford businessman John Anderson was inspired by a visit to the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon. With the ongoing assistance of renowned Master Craftsman and designer Hoichi Kurisu, the Andersons’ swampy backyard along Rockford’s Spring Creek was transformed into a Japanese-style landscape. From groundbreaking to today, the placement of every rock, alignment of every tree, and layout of all paths has been made with careful consideration by Mr. Kurisu. In 1998, John and Linda Anderson donated the Gardens as a supported organization to the Rockford Rotary Charitable Association. It now exists as a not-for-profit entity and continues to grow and change to this day.Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens are very carefully designed and patiently pruned according to aesthetic principles to create a work of natural art that inspires calm, renewal, discovery, and an invigorated soul.Japanese Gardens

I spent several hours strolling the gardens and snapping lots of photographs.  I was a little disappointed that they don’t allow tripods, but with many of the trails narrow, I can understand why.Japanese Garden

However, that didn’t stop me from playing around with the shutter speed on my camera.  I was bound and determined to finally capture flowing water in a soft way.Japanese GardensThe slow shutter speed would require me to stabilize the camera somehow.  With a little thought, I found boulders to aid me in my quest. Japanese Garden

I set my camera on an uneven boulder with the strap securely wound around my wrist (having the camera topple into the water was not part of the plan).  I then set the 2 second timer and hoped for the best.Japanese GardenUnfortunately, without the assistance of a tripod the boulders dictated the angle of the composition.  Overall, it was fun experimenting with the different settings on my camera and using a neutral density filter for the first time.Japanese Garden

If it hadn’t been for the temperature approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit with 80% plus humidity, I would’ve spent the entire day exploring every inch of this 12 acre Japanese Garden (which I may have done anyway).  Regardless of the August heat, it was still a Zen of a day.Japanese Garden

Today was a good Day – WordPress Photo Challenge
Creating Your Own Japanese Garden
Kenroy Home Waterdrop Natural Slate Tabletop Fountain

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Let’s get social

After enjoying regular luncheons with my dad, it was time to give him a break and find someone else to chat with over lunch.  It didn’t take long before fellow blogger, Ilex of Midwestern Plants, and I were setting up a time and place to meet.  Ilex is anything but shy, but does shy away from posting her photo on the blog.

friends

Ilex and me

So once a time and place were arranged, she graciously sent me a photo of herself letting me know I wasn’t meeting some crazed old guy.  Let’s face it, one crazed old guy in my life is plenty …. hehe!

After a mere three-hours (trust me, we could have talked longer), Ilex and I  parted ways determining it would be a blast to camp together some day.

The next day, I met an old friend for lunch.   St. Charles, Illinois, seemed to be a nice half point for us to meet.  Brenda and I originally met at a postnatal exercise class 28 years ago.

friends

Brenda and me

Shortly after Brenda’s son and my son started kindergarten, Al and I (and our kids) left Illinois and moved west. Somehow Brenda managed to kept track of all my changing addresses.  Over the years, I always looked forward to receiving her Christmas cards with the latest family photo.

We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty-some years and it was wonderful reconnecting and filling each other in on our lives and that of our children.

St. Charles, Illinois, is a quaint little town that sits along the Fox River.  It’s located about 40 miles (64km) west of Chicago.  I noticed the town is cutely decorated with foxes throughout.

Fox River

St. Charles, Illinois, sits along the Fox River

Brenda was running late for our luncheon, which didn’t present a problem for me or my camera.  I wandered around the town a little and slipped into the Hotel Baker, a historic landmark.  After all, I’m always on a quest for blog material.  And with my dear readers in mind, I proceeded to roam around the hotel snapping photos ….. that is until the manager interrupted me.Jenny McCarthy wedding venue

I had just completed taking some photos of this stunning event room when the manager approached me with a quizzical eye and stern comment, “Can I help you?”  Being quick on my feet I responded with, “Why yes.  I’m looking for a wedding venue for my son”.  He didn’t seem to buy it and informed me that I’d need to set up an appointment with the gal at the front desk.  His body language indicated where the exit was.  Now I know how Julia Roberts felt in Pretty Woman.

historic landmark

me in the lobby of the Hotel Baker – just trying to blend in!

A little factoid I did not know until I started putting this post together:  Turns out Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg chose this historic hotel to celebrate their wedding weekend with family and friends.  I’m sure we all care and wish them the best 😉 but that might explain the managers concern; perhaps I looked more paparazzi than Julia Roberts hooker.  Reality; more like an RV traveler in a non-RV world.

St. Charles, Illinois

elevator doors at the Hotel Baker

Although the hotel is rather small, some of the historic details were quite interesting and beautiful.  I can see that the Hotel Baker makes for a lovely wedding venue.wedding venues in Illinois

Thanks Ilex and Brenda for your company and taking the time to share lunch with me.  Next up, we move to Al’s sister’s place and ever closer to the Illinois – Wisconsin border.St. Charles, Illinois
Teva Women’s Kayenta Strappy Sandal, Vega Black, 8.5 M US

The Windy City

By now, you all know I grew up in the Chicago suburbs.  Thus, the city of Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart.  During past Illinois family visits, we always managed to squeeze in at least one trip into this iconic city.Chicago, IllinoisWhen I was in my twenties, I thought nothing of driving into the city.  With the exception of a school bus, public transportation was foreign to me.  Plus, I always preferred the freedom of driving my own car.  Now a days, I wouldn’t fathom driving in Picasso Chicagodowntown Chicago traffic, opting instead to take the train and walk to all the amazing sights this city has to offer.  Plus the Metra Transit System is just so very convenient.

With Lollapalooza scheduled during our targeted downtown venture, we chose to forgo a Chicago sojourn during this Illinois trip.  The addition of hundreds of thousands of concert goers invading the city acted as a deterrent to us like Raid to a bug.  Ah, next time I’ll do a better job checking event dates.

It you’ve never visited Chicago, I highly recommend you do.  Obviously it’s one of my favorite cities.  Here’s a sampling of things to see and do……

1.   Millennium Park is a wonderful place to stroll around.  This 24 acre park was constructed in the late 1990’s.  Sculptures, water features, a music venue, and gardens are a pleasure to explore during a warm summer day.  The “Cloud Gate” elliptical sculpture other wise known as “The Bean” is a photographers delight.  The Chicago skyline is uniquely reflected in this seamless stainless steel structure resembling a drop of mercury.

Millenium Park Chicago

Me back in 2009 in front of “Cloud Gate” aka “The Bean”.

2. – Next door to Millennium Park is the Chicago Art Institute Museum.  I was in elementary school the first time I visited this beautiful art museum.

Art museum lions

I’m standing behind one of the famous copper lions in front of the Chicago Art Museum.

Although at the time I found the visit rather boring, today I’m extremely grateful to have been exposed to this level of art at such a young age.   I remember one painting in particular making an indelible impression upon me (I was a mere eight years old) – Seurat’s –  A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte.

French Impressionist art

My daughter stands in front of my favorite painting. Georges-Pierre Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte

Until this day, this Seurat is one of my favorites.  So much so, that I had a large print hanging in my home office that I purchased at the museum.  Did you know there’s not one brush stroke, only dots?  The entire canvas is composed of dots. Amazing!

French Impressionist art

We had a reproduction of this Monet hanging in our living room.

I’m such a huge fan of French Impressionism that our sticks and bricks home was decorated almost exclusively with art purchased from the Museum Shop.  And they remain waiting for me in a storage locker 🙂

My 2009 visit with my daughter, is most memorable.   Ashton had just completed a college prerequisite “Art” course of some sort and was sharing all kinds of fascinating tidbits on various artists including Seurat and Monet.  Until this art class, she hadn’t realized she grew up surrounded by famous works of art.  Cultured, indeed 😉

3. – A nice walk down Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) is a shoppers delight but head south and it’ll take you to the Field Museum.  Everyone loves the Field Museum; young and old alike.  The new dinosaur room even impressed me and I’m not necessarily into dinosaurs.  I can most likely be found in the Gem Room salivating over the largest pink diamond or blue sapphire.

Chicago's Field Museum

My son and I visit the Field Museum in 2007

My son, Logan, has always had an interest in dinosaurs…. what boy doesn’t?  He was in elementary school when the original Jurassic Park movie was released and visiting this display had his imagination running wild.  However, the Field Museum offers so much more than dinosaurs and gems.  Free admittance day is usually on a Monday and thus a perfect time to take a quick stroll through the museum without feeling a need to dedicate an entire day.  Two hours in a museum is usually long enough for me.

4.  Skyline;  I’ve had the privilege of traveling to most of America’s major cities as well as those in Germany.  That said, in my opinion Chicago has the most photogenic skyline I’ve ever seen.

photogenic city

Me and daughter in 2009 with the Chicago skyline in the background

With the exception of being in a boat on Lake Michigan, the next best place for a Chicago skyline photograph is near the Adler Planetarium.  One of these days, I’d like to be here at sunrise to photograph the skyline.

5.  Architecture;  you just have to love the amazing architecture Chicago has to offer.  Willis TowerFrom the Sear’s Tower (aka Willis Tower) to the John Hancock building to the old water tower to the original Marshall Field’s on State Street (now Macy’s), the mix between new and old is not to be ignored.

You could spend an entire day just walking around Chicago looking at buildings.  I know, I’ve done it.

Not to be missed is a visit to a sky deck/observatory.  I’ve been to both the Willis Tower and John Hancock and although I prefer the view out of the Hancock building, others prefer the Willis view.  Regardless, a visit to one is a must.

6.  We all know what a taxi is, but did you know Chicago offers a water taxi?  This is a fun way to get from the Field Museum to Navy Pier or from Navy Pier to the train station.  In an effort to give our legs a break, we’ve taken both.  It’s a great way to see the city from another angle.

Trump Tower Chicago

The Chicago River. Trump Tower (tall bldg. in background)was still under construction in 2007.

7.  Entertainment; Chicago is known as the Second City….. second to New York Chicago, IllinoisCity. Therefore, there’s always wonderful theater and live entertainment to be found.  My favorite; Second City.  Here’s a list of comedians who got their start at Chicago’s Second City – list.   Many ended up later joining Saturday Night Live.

And then there’s Wrigley Field and Navy Pier with their own entertainment venue.

Seriously, there is so much to see and do in Chicago that I feel guilty ending my list here, and don’t even get me started on the shopping.  So many fantastic shops.  Moving on….

Grant Park

Ashton in front of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

Lodging in Chicago is also part of the adventure with endless options.  We stayed at the historic Knickerbocker Hotel several years ago and enjoyed it.  We flew from Denver to Chicago partly to spend Christmas with family but to also expose our children to the city around the holidays.  If I had to visit Chicago in the winter, December is the perfect month to do so.  The holiday decorations are incredibly pretty.

Chicago’s a huge city offering an abundance of things to see, do, and experience, but a little street smarts will serve you well.   Safety first and always be aware of your surroundings.

Chicago, Illinois

Me and Logan near the Field Museum – 2007

Chicago has long been associated with gun violence; from the Al Capone days to today’s gang violence.  Much of the gang activity is within their neighborhoods and not much of a concern for any of the areas I’ve mentioned in this blog post.

What about RVing in Chicago?  I’ve recently read a couple of blog posts on people boondocking (dry camping) at McCormick Place, Illinois’ premiere conference and convention center.  In both instances (at separate times) the couples found themselves parked in the parking lot alone.   The only RV on site…..  Hmm, I wonder why?  Fortunately, they both had an uneventful and safe experience.  However, it’s not a place I would stay.

Staying in the country at the Paul Wolff Campground surrounded by forest preserve and cornfields sounds like the perfect place to camp for anyone wanting to visit Chicago with an RV.  From there, a one-hour train ride into the windy city will allow you to enjoy all this marvelous place has to offer. the windy citySo why is Chicago nicknamed “The Windy City”.  Since the city sits at the shores of Lake Michigan it does experience a fair amount of wind from weather, but no more than a bunch of other places.  The power of the name lies in the metaphorical use “windy” for “talkative” or “boastful.”  Early on, Chicago politicians became famous for long-windedness.  Chicagoans were also considered braggarts.

But in another way, Chicago is actually earning the title of “windy city”.  Architects and engineers did not foresee the effects of tall buildings and air current.  In some areas, the wind is literally sucked down into the streets.  It may be perfectly calm in one area and extremely breezy in another.  Ladies hang on to your dresses, and men your hats!

There you have it….. Chicago, my kind of town

Patagonia Atom Sling, Black
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago

 

 

From prairie to suburbia

After exploring waterfalls, cornfields, and indulging in root beer floats, it was time to leave the Illinois prairie and head into Chicago’s suburbs to visit family.IllinoisWe’re quickly reminded about the Illinois tollway.  With the two additional axles on the Fifth Wheel (toll fee based on number of axels), our first toll was $7.50 and we only  used this stretch of road for about 10 miles.  (Thank you Hildi.  Once again hubby listens to the GPS instead of the wife.  Wife would’ve saved the money by rerouting)  Oh well 🙂  Before leaving Colorado, I considered purchasing the Illinois I-Pass but didn’t think we’d use the tollway enough to make it cost effective, plus I had concerns there would be a mail delay and the darn thing would arrive at our daughters home after we hit the road.  Illinois I-Pass

Sycamore IllinoisHaving the I-Pass makes it very convenient since there’s no stopping involved.  You get to pass the toll plaza without slowing down as the little contraption is scanned through the windshield.  Also the cost of the toll in most cases is half price with the I-Pass.  And trust me, those tolls add up real quick.

Hildi has us exit Interstate 88 shortly after the toll plaza and takes us through some small towns.  It’s a fun drive.  Al nor I have driven through this part of Illinois in nearly twenty-five years.  With the exception of a little growth, much has remained the same.

We pulled into the Paul Wolff Campground with low expectations considering we were rather disappointed with the Starved Rock State Park Campground.  Wow, what a pleasant surprise.  There’s 89 paved sites with 50 amp electric and 10 primitive walk-in tent sites.  Water spigots are scattered precariously throughout the grounds.  We snagged a large pull-thru site with a water spigot nearby to hook up to.

Elgin Illinois

Paul Wolff Campground, Elgin, Illinois

The more popular RV loop offers shaded sites amongst a grove of large trees.  We chose the open meadow loop to optimize TV and internet reception.  This is a Kane County run Forest Preserve and is maintained impeccably.  It’s located on the far west side of the city of Elgin in northern Illinois.

Paul Wolff Campground

9 miles of trails meander through the Burnidge Forest Preserve/Paul Wolff Campground. This is one of the mowed meadow trails. I loved all the wildflowers.

I grew up east of Elgin, Illinois, and my dad still lives in the house where I was raised.  Thus, the Paul Wolff Campground was a great find and the quick 15 mile drive to dad’s house made for lots of enjoyable visits.

gardening in Illinois

picking cucumbers and tomatoes with my dad in his garden

My dad’s house is within walking distance to the train station and usually we never pass up at least one sojourn into Chicago anytime we’re back in the area.   The Metra train even has a stop near the campground; Big Timber Road.  After serious consideration, we took a pass on the day in the city opting to focus on family visits, especially since our son, Logan, surprised everyone with a visit.

Illinois farm stand

Logan and I visit the local farm stand to pick up dinner

Logan had flown to Chicago from Phoenix earlier in the week for a business trip and ended up extending his stay so he could spent some time with his Illinois relatives.  My dad was thrilled to see him, as were his aunts.

When it was time for Al and I to drop Logan off at O’Hare Airport, I did the driving.  I was a little nervous driving the big truck through congested traffic, especially at Chicago’s O’Hare.  When I lived in the area years ago, I always had little cars. I managed the big truck just fine, but was relieved to get that drive out of the way.  We encountered stop and go traffic, insane road construction, heavy congestion, and mean pointing police officers at the airport, and of course tolls.

Al and I decided it was best I drive since this was my old stomping grounds and I know the roads better than he does.  Hubby doesn’t like it when I give him directions (aka – tell him how to drive).  Hildi (the GPS mistress) can tell him how to drive, Ingrid (the wife) cannot.  Must be that marital thing!

Next up, we move over to Al’s sister’s place……

Gardening

88 year old Dad says, “Oh no. What happened to my flowers?” In the foreground, you’ll notice the weight of the blooms toppled the limbs. With a little attention, they’ll be upright in no time.

Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles

Upstairs, both ways

As the sun was slowly rising, Al steps out of the RV to start the generator for the drip coffee maker.  The two other RV’s that were camped across from us in the Cabela’s parking lot have already moved on.  And we thought we were early risers.

Cabela'sWith coffee mugs filled and a couple of scones pulled from the freezer, we hop in the truck and start rolling east on Interstate 80.  Five minutes later, we cross into Iowa from Nebraska.

It’s a Sunday morning with slightly overcast skies and almost no  traffic.  A perfect travel day.  By early afternoon, we cross the Mississippi River and enter the state of Illinois.

RVing in Illinois

Looks like Illinois to me! Filling up with gas.

Al and I both grew up in Illinois and when we moved away in the early nineties, we never looked back.  If it weren’t for family, we probably would not return.  During our long drive yesterday, we both decided to embrace this trip to Illinois with an open mind …. as newbies to the state, you might say.  Let’s play tourist!  Having said that, we still chuckle each time we see a little blue sign saying “tourist info”.  Although Illinois does have some unique and interesting sights, I still wouldn’t put it on a tourist destination list.

Illinois River

Crossing the Illinois River

Last night while we were camped in the Cabela’s parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, Al and I each got out our laptops and started doing a little Googling.  Family wasn’t expecting our arrival for a few days which allowed us a chance to slow down and explore a little.

Hmm!  We came across these words;  Voted # 1 attraction in the State of Illinois …. a world apart from anything else in Illinois ….. towering trees, amazing waterfalls.  Al says, “I went there once on an elementary school field trip”.  We quickly decide to veer 50 miles out of our way to visit Starved Rock State Park.

We arrived late on a Sunday afternoon and drove around the campground a couple of times looking for a suitable campsite.  It’s obvious the area experienced a good dowsing of rain the day before.  With the exception of the handicap sites which are concrete, all the other sites are grassy.  The grassy ground appeared soft and many sites featured tire ruts.  We had concerns of sinking in the soft ground and possibly getting stuck.

camping in Illinois

Typical campsite at Starved Rock State Park

After serious consideration, we pulled into one of the six available concrete handicap sites and paid for one night.  When the host/ranger came around checking sites, Al was quick to tell him we can be moved within 15 minutes if the site was needed.  We were assured since we weren’t staying on a busy Friday or Saturday night, that it wasn’t a problem considering there were plenty of other handicap sites available.

Illinois State Parks

Starved Rock State Park

We ended up booking another night so we could spend a day hiking and exploring the area.  First up;  we hit the trails in search of waterfalls.

LaSalle Canyon Waterfall

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

We visited Starved Rock State Park at the end of July and even though the area had experienced plenty of rain, so much rain that the road to the visit center was blocked off, it was still mid summer meaning the waterfalls would be few and far between…. snow melt had long been melted.

hiking in Illinois

Hiking at Starved Rock State Park amongst lush vegetation. We haven’t been around this much dense greenery in years.

The most popular trail and waterfall is French Canyon.  There was no waterfall and only a trickling stream.  We ventured on taking in the lush, green vegetation.

poison ivyThere’s definitely a beauty to this landscape.  It was a rather warm and humid morning and while other hikers were sporting shorts and tank tops, Al and I stayed in our western hiking attire of being covered up.  We actually managed to avoid using bug spray and didn’t think the mosquitos were terribly bad.  We were also concerned about poison ivy and were vigilant about staying in the center of the trail, that is when we weren’t going up or down stairs.hiking in Illinois

What’s so unique about the trail system at Starved Rock is the series of planked trail and stairs.  You’ll find stairs AND more stairs.  So many stairs, we climbed up stairs both ways.

state parks in Illinois

Note the little plaque on the right post saying “RETURN”. That means the trail leads toward the Visitor Center

Al and I counted 227 steps on one stairway alone.  During our two-hour hike, we have no idea how many stairs we climbed or descended overall.hiking in IllinoisEven with all the stairs, we found the hiking to be very easy.  It was also extremely easy to navigate.  I love maps and rarely hit the trails without one, but here a map is not necessary.  They’ve dumbie proofed the trail system by using little color coded plagues.hikingYellow “AWAY” means you are hiking away from the Visitor Center.Illinois State ParksWhite “RETURN” means you are returning to the Visitor Center.  Pretty easy peezie.  Now if only we could dumbie proof some of the visitors to this lovely Illinois State Park.  We hiked on an early Monday morning after a very busy and crowded weekend.  Al and I were disappointed and disgusted with the amount of trash left behind on the trails.  We’re talking piles of plastic water bottles and empty snack and condiment packaging.  Gross!

We’ve never seen anything like it and I can only assume these are the same ignorant people who approach wild animals for photo ops.  Who do they think is going pick up THEIR trash?  Fortunately, there are volunteers willing to step up and tackle the task.  On July 30th just 3 days after our hike, the Walkers Club and Lodge Staff picked up over 5 huge bags of garbage.

Starved Rock State Park

Volunteers gather trash. On the day we hiked, we had the trail and waterfall to ourselves…. with the exception of that pile of plastic water bottles that greeted us.

The above photo is from the Starved Rock State Park Facebook page.  I did my best not to show any trash in my photos, wanting to share only the beauty of this park.

Illinois State Parks

LaSalle Falls – Starved Rock State Park. If you look real close, you’ll find trash.

Rant over!  No wait.  Did you know the Illinois State Parks are FREE to use?  Yep, that’s right, no day use fee….  nada, no dinero.   So the Bozo’s that left their trash behind, got to hike here totally free of charge.  And by the way, the trails may have been littered with trash, but the campground was spotless and well maintained.

waterfalls in Illinois

a ten second timer was not long enough for me to scurry behind the falls to join Al, without falling on my a*s!

How did the park get its name?  You can click here by learning more about the local Indians and the history surrounding Starved Rock State Park.  We enjoyed our 2 night, 3 day stay very much and would return in a heartbeat to tackle more stairs.Illinois State Parks

Dual Hydration Waist Pack Moss By Everest
Manfrotto MKCOMPACTLT-BK Compact Tripod (Black)

 

Re-calculating mid stream

canadian geese It’s an early Saturday morning as we wind our way through Denver. We’re perplexed by the amount of traffic on the roads at seven in the morning on a weekend. Don’t you people ever sleep in? Ah, with so much beauty and recreation out their front door, it’s obvious, it’s time to play….. that’s what we do!

A mere thirty minutes east of Denver, we practically have the road to ourselves. With the RV pointing east, there’s no longer a view of any mountains, just a long stretch of openness in front of us. As we pass sprawling ranch land and cattle feed lots, our emotions about this excursion are mixed. That’s kind of the norm for us as we rarely relish trips back east even though we do look forward to reconnecting with family.

As we enter Nebraska, the land gets flatter – about as flat as a Monopoly board and the agricultural land is divided off into similar parcels. America’s Great Plains can be harsh and unforgiving land. There’s nothing to stop the winds from blowing snow in a sideways direction or a spring storm turning into a deadly twister, not to mention the extreme temperatures.Interstate 80

While we meander down the road, we take in our surroundings. We appreciate our comfy cushioned leather seats versus a hard saddle. We appreciate the climate
covered wagoncontrolled truck cab versus the open air exposed seating of a covered wagon.

The air is thick with 90% humidity and an equally hot temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius). Yep, we appreciate the modern-day comforts of air conditioning along with our version of horse and wagon.  I can’t imagine the perils encountered while crossing this land a hundred years ago.

The route from Colorado to Illinois is a drive Al and I have made more times than we can count.  However, this is the first time we’re making the trip with the RV in tow.  Past trips were always done with just the vehicle and most times the 1,100 mile (1771 km) journey was driven in one very long day.  We’d hit the road around 5:00 a.m. in the morning and arrive at our destination at about 10:00 or 11:00 at night. We always dreaded these days.corn fields

Today was different.  We didn’t dread the drive or the day.  I found myself snapping photos out of the truck (the majority of photos turned out blurry, of course… love that delete button).  The plan all along was to make it to Omaha for the night, with a backup of stopping sooner if we weren’t up to driving 550 miles (885 km).  There’s comfort in knowing we can stop anytime we want and take a nap in our own bed.  Comfort in knowing we have a well stocked fridge and freezer for healthy meals.  Comfort in knowing we don’t have a schedule to maintain.  And comfort in knowing we are foot loose and fancy free.  Ah, the freedom of the open road.field of corn

We find ourselves engulfed with a sense of calm and adventure and enjoying the scenery unfolding in front of us.  This isn’t the in your face jaw dropping beauty we see in the Rocky Mountains.  Discovering this beauty requires a little digging…. figuratively and literally.  This is America’s heartland.  This land feeds people around the world.  Images of backyard barbeques, apple pie, and little kids running around are conjured.  It evokes a sense of home.

The nearly nine-hour, 550 mile drive to Omaha was pleasant and uneventful.  The two new audio books purchased for the drive remain sealed.  Al and I found ourselves talking about our plans for the next seven weeks instead of listening to books or music.  In so doing, we changed our mind about our journey about as many times as a teenage girl changes her outfit.  To say we were re-calculating is an understatement.

Cabela's

Our horse and covered wagon. We spend the night at the Cabela’s in Omaha, Nebraska

Before pulling into our parking spot in Omaha for the night we finally decided once we’re in Illinois, we’ll visit a state park for a couple of nights not far from where Al grew up.  As a matter of fact, the last time Al visited Starved Rock State Park  was during an elementary school field trip.

Next up we’ll share whether or not Starved Rock State Park lives up to all the hype; voted number one attraction in the state of Illinois.corn fieldsInfo on our overnight stop in Omaha, Nebraska.  When Al and I are hightailing it from point A to point B, we usually look for a quick, safe place to overnight.  For such a short stay, we usually won’t bother with a campground or RV Park.  We’re self-contained and comfortable dry camping / boondocking.  Wal-Mart of course is a popular option that we’ve taken advantage of many a time especially when we need to stock up on supplies anyway.  Another option, one we prefer is a Cabela’s  store parking lot.  Although few and far between, we’ll check anywhere along our route and make notes as to any possible stores.  Many of the newer stores not only have a designated RV and truck parking area, they also offer a dump station and fresh water.

32 BridgeAl was once a preferred Cabela’s shopper receiving this sporting goods stores’ hard cover catalog.  So it may be free overnighting for most people, but for us???  😆  Even our daughter wore her Cabela’s hat to the Luke Bryan Concert, which I initially thought was inappropriate until I realized Luke Bryan is not only a Cabela’s spokesperson, he has his own brand of product line sold at Cabela’s; 32 Bridge.

As we pull into the Cabela’s in Omaha, we quickly look for the sign pointing us in the direction of “RV Parking”.  It doesn’t take long and we realize this is a popular spot with semi-truckers.  We find a spot off to the side, away from the rumbling truck engines, and are quickly joined by two more RV’s.  Of course, an in store purchase was made before calling it a night.  The Omaha Cabela’s does not have a dump station but does have fresh water and has super easy access on and off Interstate 80.

Cabela’s in Colorado – along Interstate 25 (easy on, easy off), there is a new Cabela’s north of Denver and another to the south.  Both have dump stations, fresh water, and designated RV parking, all free of charge ….. unless wife buys a new pair of shoes!
Teva Women’s Kayenta Strappy Sandal, Vega Purple, 9 M US
Browning Men’s Buckmark Gold And T-Shirt Black X-Large

Being Neighborly

Friends who live just a few streets over from us are planning to head out of town for the weekend.  Problem….who will feed their horses?  Al grew up in a small farm town in northwestern Illinois with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends living on farms.

Agriculture and caring for farm animals are second nature for Al.

Al is the perfect candidate to care for these beautiful animals and he does so with great pleasure.  What a great neighbor!

Chicago – continued

After our return home to Colorado, a neighbor asked me for recommendations and information on a visit to Chicago.  Her husband had an upcoming business conference in downtown Chicago and she was planning on accompanying him.

I was able to quickly compile a list for her to consider.  However, keep in mind a city as large and diverse as Chicago has immense entertainment possibilities.  Here’s a “short” list of things to consider…….

  • English: John Hancock Tower as seen from Willi...

    English: John Hancock Tower as seen from Willis Tower in Chicago, IL, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    John Hancock Building Observatory and/or the Willis Tower……  For a bird’s-eye view of the city, a visit to one of these is a must.  My favorite is the John Hancock Bldg and my dad’s is the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower).  The Willis Tower boasts 110 stories and is located in Chicago’s financial/business district, just across the Chicago River from Union Station.  The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor, 1353 feet high.  The John Hancock Building Observatory offers a 360 degree view from its 94th floor.  It is located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile near the shores of Lake Michigan.  The John Hancock Observatory elevators are the fastest elevators in North America; 1,000 feet in 40 seconds. Yes it’s fast and you can expect your ears to pop.  Don’t forget to catch lunch/dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, located lower level of the John Hancock Building….yum.

    English: Buckingham Fountain in the foreground...

    English: Buckingham Fountain in the foreground with one of the Prudential Buildings at the far left and the AON Center (the tallest building) in the background. The top of the John Hancock Center is also visible (the one with two antennae at the top). I took this photo 11 Jul 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • A visit to at least one museum…….  Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum of Natural History, Shedd Aquarium.  These are all within walking distance or a short cab ride near the heart of the city.  The Museum of Science and Industry is also popular with tourists, but I haven’t been there in years.
  • The Theater………Chicago’s theater district has grown and improved over the years and now rivals New York City’s Broadway.  Personally, I’m more drawn to comedy and the improv-based sketch comedy of Second City.  Many of NBC’s Saturday Night Live stars began at Second City.  Some alums include; Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray, John and Jim Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd, just to name a few.  So you never know what rising star’s performance you’ll witness.

    Daughter at Buckingham Fountain

  • Buckingham Fountain, Millenium Park, an abundance of Gardens, Oak Street Beach, Lake Shore Drive……..On numerous occasions we’ve been known to visit the city and just hang out, especially on a nice summer day.  Walking, biking, picnicking, sunbathing, there’s a place for all.
  • Retail Therapy…..Water Tower Place is a prominent shopping destination.  It boasts seven stories of indoor shopping.  The Magnificent Mile is Chicago’s largest shopping district.  It is home to retail stores, restaurants, museums, motels, and several of the tallest buildings in the United States.
  • Architecture and History…….endless possiblities.  One of my favorite buildings is the Marshall Field’s Building (Macy’s) on State Street.  Beautiful architecture and shopping all in one place, works for me!

I’ve just barely touched on all the things to do in this amazing city.  I know as soon as I post, I’ll remember something else I should have added.  Guess that’ll just give me an idea for a future post.  I’ll add one last photo from Zemanta.  When I came across this photo, I was super excited.  I took a similar photo many, many years ago and with as many moves as we have done, misplaced my copy.  Besides, I would’ve had to scan mine since it was shot with good old-fashioned film.  I’m sure this one is better anyway 🙂

Chicago north from John Hancock 2004-11 img 2618

Chicago north from John Hancock 2004-11 img 2618 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rock Cut State Park

one of many hiking trails – Rock Cut State Park

Somehow I manage to carve out a little time during this hectic visit to explore Rock Cut State Park.  The Park is located in northern Illinois just off Tollway I-90 and Route 173.  It’s an area of rolling plains, heavily wooded forest, and offers a variety of recreation.

Rock Cut State Park has two lakes among its 3092 acres.  Pierce Lake is perfect for anglers and paddlers while Olson Lake is geared for swimmers.  Recreational options include camping, biking, hiking, canoeing, fishing, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding trails.

The trail system at Rock Cut is designated for specific use.  The trail system is clearly marked and color coded.  Blue trails are for hiking and mountain biking, yellow trails are for equestrian and hiking, and red trails are restricted to hiking only.

Pierce Lake

Picnicking at Rock Cut is probably the most popular activity among visitors.  Picnic areas are scattered throughout the park.  Each park area is complete with tables, grilles, and bathrooms.  At the Pierce Lake boat launch is a concession stand offering drinks, snacks, and a scenic deck overlooking the lake.

If you’re stuck in this part of Illinois, I would recommend spending an afternoon at this park.  I wish I would have had more time to explore the trails.  I thoroughly enjoyed the lushness of the park.

Rock Cut State Park                     815-885-3311         www.dnr.illinois.gov

Ah, Colorado

Home alas.  After a very overwhelming and daunting two weeks in Northern Illinois, we have returned to colorful Colorado.  Loosing a loved one is never pleasant and the need to settle the estate was somber to say the least.  Al and his sisters are doing amazingly well….all things considered.

dad in his garden – hibiscus

On a lighter note, I was able to take the time to visit with my dad, who lives about an hour from Al’s family.  My first visit was spent in dad’s amazing garden followed by lunch at his favorite Chinese buffet.  On my second visit, I brought lunch and then we went to a couple of RV dealers to look at motorhomes.  My mom and dad preferred motorhomes and loved their RVing days.  Although Al and I enjoy the 5th wheel, we occasionally think about changing over to a motorhome.  Dad and I had a great time looking at rigs at the dealership and dad was amazed with all the changes in the RVing industry over the past years.  Oh, and I did find my ‘dream’ RV…….. first purchase when I win the lottory…lol.

I left Illinois and headed west over twenty years ago and haven’t looked back since. Although I love to go back and visit family in the Chicago burbs, with the occasional trip into downtown Chicago, I relish my returns west.  I have become rather accustomed to days and days of sunshine with the occasional overcast.  In Illinois, its days and days of overcast with the occasional day of sunshine.  We also encountered the day and a half of persistent rain and downpour.  My how we’ve forgotten midwestern weather.  Yes, memories flood back.  Yes, we’re ready to return to Colorado.

Colorado is our home, that is when we’re not out traveling in our Rig.  Then it’s “home is where you park it”.