This place on the eastern side of the Mississippi River is a bit of a well kept secret. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville, Illinois has been a UNESCO World Heritage since 1982 yet too few Americans are familiar with this amazing place. Cahokia was the capital of the Mississippian Culture and in 1050 CE it was a bigger metropolis than either London or Paris at the time with as many as 30,000 inhabitants! Perhaps this site is not nearly so well known as it should be because the pyramids were constructed as earthworks and the henge was made of wood rather than of stone unlike the Mayan and Aztec pyramids or Stonehenge. The state has done amazing work rescuing properties from modern development and rehabilitating the site, educating the public, and encouraging archeological research. With access to an amazing visitors center, an award winning video presentation, life sized dioramas, and opportunities to climb Monks Mound, and stand within Woodhenge, we came away in awe of the accomplishment of the people’s who lived here for hundreds of years and then abandoned the location before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.
When we arrived back at the Kansas City East KOA near Oak Grove, Missouri yesterday, Labor Day afternoon it was evident that the summer camping season was over. The formerly bustling campground was resembling a ghost town and the workers were beginning to heave a sigh of relief. They will still be somewhat busy with new retirees and leaf peepers in the weeks to come but the pace will be slower. Then this afternoon shortly after we checked in at the St Louis N.E. KOA near Granite City, Illinois we discovered another sign that we’re in a slower season. The state historic park we planned to visit today is on its post Labor Day schedule and is closed on Tuesdays. We did a quick reassessment and decided to take the afternoon off, do laundry, work on the blog, go for a swim, and watch one of the videos we’ve collected in our travels. Actually it’s a welcome respite. We’re moving pretty fast on this phase of the trip and taking a few hours to catch our breath is a good thing!
Our home for the evening was on the shore of Lake Carlyle in a Army Corps of Engineers campground with the most unoriginal name of Dam West. It was a pleasant place to pause for the night or to linger for several days. And it was a beautiful place from which to view the October Full Moon reflecting off the surface of the lake while enjoying perfect weather and gentle breezes.
Since we haven’t shopped for groceries recently we popped into the local McDonalds where we received some most extraordinary service. We wanted to post a rave review on Yelp! but couldn’t find a listing for the specific location.
Just north of the Quad Cities, we scored a site in the Fisherman’s Corner COE campground with a view of the the mighty Mississippi. As night falls we can watch the red and green lights of the barges move along this great waterway. We’re reflecting on the fact that Karen’s GG-Grandfather lived on the Illinois bank of the Mississippi at the same time that Samuel Clemens was growing up on the Missouri bank. One of the significant features of this summertime experience is the incredible hot and muggy weather we’re having right now!
It’s the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois and it’s full of incredible machines from a tiny robotic lawn mower to massive logging machines with walking technology and from 1930’s tractors to the latest innovations. As we expected, this amazing museum details the history of a company that played a profound role in the transformation of agribusiness but we didn’t know we’d get to climb into the control cab of some amazing machines and to peek into the future of a global organization.
This morning we sprung for the Roadside America app hoping it would help us find some of the off the beaten path attractions. Then we set off in the direction of Moline but avoiding interstate travel. IL-17 and the new app lead us right to this gem. Through a series of owners this station served motorists traveling Route 66 from 1933 to 1999! Restored to its 1930’s appearance when it was known as Ambler’s Texaco it’s a time machine. It harkens back to “You can trust your car to the man who wears a star” as you traveled the Mother Road on a Great American Adventure! Thanks, Roadside America!
Thought we were headed to a city park campground in western Indiana but that didn’t happen. Then perhaps the state park near Kankakee but the campgrounds there are closed for renovation. Thankfully we found a KOA along our route. We’re in eastern Illinois tonight with a cornfield to our west, just on the other side of a row of brush so we can peek through at the gorgeous sunset.
Since shortly after leaving Dixon we’ve been the southern part of the Chicago area along the Historic Lincoln, better known these days as US-30 but in Joliet the US-30 bridge over the Des Plaines River is closed. We detoured onto IL-54 and discovered we were on Historic Route 66! If we’d been taking The Mother Road, also known as the Will Rogers Highway, from LA, we be almost to the eastern terminus which incidentally is at its intersection with US-41. But we have miles to go before we sleep and from here we’ll take the most expeditious route to our destination in Indiana, hopefully Indiana Dunes State Park.
Dixon IL was the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, known as Dutch. Although his family only lived in the house on Hennepin Avenue for three years, it figured prominently in his childhood memories. He and his brother Neil, known in childhood as Moon, provided significant input into the renovation of this house in the early 1980’s. The stories associated with this family home provide such insight into the formation of the man who served us as our 40th President!
Starting in Winona MN we traveled south on US-61 with the sunlight sparkling on the waters of the Mississippi River to our left and clouds shrouding the tops of some of the bluffs on our right. We crossed the mighty river at LaCrosse. It actually required three bridges, over Blue Lake, over a side channel, then over the main channel.
Once we got through the town of LaCrosse, we were in the rolling agricultural land in Wisconsin. Then instead of merely crossing into Illinois, our route took us over the Mississippi into Dubuque IA then back across the Mississippi into Illinois (Hello, Iowa, goodbye, Iowa! )
and shortly then into Galena where we were guided through the home of Ulysses and Julia Grant by a delightful and well informed guide, Georgie.
It gave us a little more insight into the man who grew up in Georgetown OH, graduated from West Point, served in the Mexican War, failed at business, led the Union Army to victory, and led the nation as president. And we learned more about Julia Dent Grant and their children. Now we’re settled in at Vel Terra Ranch, a tiny, delightful, independent campground where the owner truly makes us feel like guests!