When Ed told our neighbor that we were vacationing in Southern Illinois, our friend laughed because he thought we were joking. We weren’t. Lily was 10 months old at the time, and we didn’t want to travel far. She hated traveling; she hated her car seat. When she did sleep in the car, it wasn’t for very long. So we decided to pick a destination that would require minimal travel.
Southern Illinois is about a six hour drive from where we live in the Chicago area, but we were scared to even travel that far! (What? We were newbies at this parenting thing!) We wanted to have fun on our vacation, after all. So our first stop was halfway, in Effingham, Illinois. (Since then, we have become much braver–this summer we are driving from Chicago to Colorado with our 5 and 2 year olds!)
Sometimes, a place between your home and your travel destination is like stumbling upon a treasure in a scavenger hunt. Effingham is not your typical tourist destination, but this city has some interesting things to see. It is in Central Illinois, right where Interstate 57 and Interstate 70 meet; before you even arrive in Effingham you will see the 198-foot tall Cross of the Crossroads.
Since our driving time was cut in half, we were able to spend a little time in Effingham. We strapped Lily in her stroller and took a self-guided walking tour of Effingham’s Sculpture on the Avenues. If art is your thing (as it is mine!) there are over 20 permanent sculptures to see in this outdoor exhibit. After our walk, we were fortunate to stumble upon an outdoor pork chop dinner, sponsored by the Lion’s Club, to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. The food was fantastic, the money spent on tickets went to a good cause, and there was even dancing!
After our pleasant stay in Effingham, we traveled downstate to a cabin we rented for the week. (Dog included!) Cabins are awesome when you have kids, especially when they come with a hot tub! After we tucked Lily into bed for the night, we opened a bottle of wine and sat in our private spa. This cabin was also located on a farm property, and so we were able to walk to the barn which housed a horse, chickens, and other farm animals. Peacocks roamed the property as well, and the owners of the property would sit by the barn and pop open a can of beer while conversing with their guests. Yet the barn was located far enough away from the cabin that we had complete privacy if we wanted it. (And we couldn’t hear OR smell the farm animals.)
During our week’s stay, we explored the Shawnee National Forest and Illinois State Parks. Our first hiking trip was to Giant City State Park. As we hiked among the bluffs, we literally felt like we were walking in streets carved out by giants.
We also were able to hike on the top of a bluff, where an old stone fort, probably built by Native Americans in the late Woodland period (AD600-900), was discovered in the late 1800s.
How do I remember the details about this pile of rocks? No, I don’t have a photographic memory; instead, I often take a picture of the sign marking the trail. With a digital camera, I don’t worry about wasting my film on pictures of signs like I would have 10 years ago!
Our explorations in Southern Illinois were far from over. Next week: Garden of the Gods, Cave in Rock, and a historic hotel.
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