Road Trip 2018: Stop 6

2018.07.08.035Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Stop 6: Peru, Illinois, July 6th – July 9th

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 4 | Stop 5 | Stop 7

I never intended to stop in Peru, but the project I was supposed to be working on had been delayed so I had some time to kill, plus the drive directly from Springfield to Sheboygan is nearly 350 miles & I just didn’t feel like doing that all in one go.  Peru was a nice halfway point with a big state park marked on the map, so I stopped for a few days & it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful area.  The campground I stayed at had some interesting patrons: a large Mongolian family who rented a large chunk of the place for the whole summer & set up a legit yurt village for weekend visits.  They must have worked hard setting it up, from little glimpses through open doors as I walked around the campground I could see that they were fully furnished with some really beautiful pieces.  I think yurt living might be fun, I’d like to try that someday.

Getting to Peru on Day 19 was a 160-mile drive up from Springfield.  I made a lunchtime stop in Washington, where I found not only one last Lincoln connection but also one to Father Jacques Marquette.  Marquette was a 17th-century French Jesuit missionary whom I’ve been partial to ever since my time on Mackinac Island, where there’s a statue of him in the middle of town.  He was quite a prolific traveler so I see references to him all over the Midwest.

On Day 20 I went to Starved Rock State Park, which is right on the Illinois River & has some incredible hiking along a cliff line with lots of waterfalls to visit.  I started off my day by climbing the park’s namesake rock, where legend has it that people of the Illinois tribe starved in their efforts to escape a battle with the Ottawa.  After a stop at the Visitor’s Center (where I found Father Marquette again) I headed out onto the red trail, which winds along the bottom of the cliff to several side canyons.  Wildcat Canyon has the largest waterfall in the park after a good rain.  In the afternoon I went for a tour of the Illinois & Michigan Canal on a boat pulled by a mule, which was something I didn’t even know I needed to cross off my to-do list.  I never realized how important canals were in the transit systems of the past.  The I&M runs 100 miles, all the way from Peru to Chicago.  I also definitely snuck my dog into a movie that day.  Looking to escape the heat, can’t leave her alone in the tent, certainly can’t leave her alone in the car, so I took her to see Ant-Man and the Wasp.  She’s tiny & ancient & deaf so she just slept on my lap & nobody even knew she was there.

On Day 21 I went to a different section of Starved Rock for a hike out to more waterfalls in Tonti & LaSalle Canyons.  It really is a beautiful park, I highly recommend it.

Next stop: the end of the journey in Sheboygan, Wisconsin!

Destination: Round Island Lighthouse

Round Island is part of Hiawatha National Forest, is entirely uninhabited, and really doesn’t have any tourism to speak of.  Occasionally someone will take a kayak across the channel, or we’ll see a bonfire on the beach, but for the most part it’s pretty forlorn, the lighthouse locked up tight, nobody around.  One day a year the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, together with Boy Scout Troop 323 of Freeland, Michigan, open it up for tours.  The tour itself is free, but if you don’t have your own way across transportation from Mackinac costs $15.  First they put seven people into a smallish fishing boat, then they transferred us into two inflatable Zodiac rafts.  I wish I’d been wearing lighter pants, I was siting right in the bow and my jeans didn’t get dry the whole time I was there.

Nobody really took care of it from the time it was decommissioned in 1958 until a storm swept away a whole corner of the building in 1972, and people started to realize they might lose it forever.  They kept it from collapsing then but the interior is still in desperate need of reconstruction.  Holes in the walls, holes in the floors, but it’s a beautiful building.  Boy Scouts throughout the building talked about the history all the way up.  The first floor housed the two massive compressors that created steam to run the foghorn, the second and third floors were living quarters for the keeper, his assistant, and their families.  Some of the bedrooms had the foghorn right outside the windows – I’m sure that was fun to sleep through.  On the fourth floor there’s just a ladder up into the lantern room, and from there a tiny hatch opening out onto the deck.

While I was there a woman named Gertie came to the island.  She’s 90 years old, and her father was once the lighthouse keeper.  She spent a handful of summers living here as a girl, and sat for a long time telling us about carrying water up from the lake, the things her sisters found walking the beach, and making whatever fun you could in such a lonely place.  We moved into what had once been her bedroom, and while she spoke a floorboard broke out from under her daughter’s foot.

Going inside Round Island Light is a rare opportunity, and one that I passed up too many times.  I probably spend three hours wandering through it and listening to Gertie’s stories.  It would be nice to see it restored someday, but the money and effort involved with such an undertaking may be too much.  In the meantime we’ll just have to love it as a beautiful ruin.

Destination: St. Louis

 

St. Louis is, weirdly enough, the only city I’ve ever been in where I saw an actual tent community on an empty lot.  It’s also the only city I’ve ever been in where entire buildings were painted with murals and Roman columns.


The Gateway Arch

For anyone unfamiliar with St. Louis, the Arch is exactly that: a gigantic steel structure randomly sticking up from the bank of the Mississippi, holding up nothing.  It’s actually part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the nearby Old Courthouse.  They’re doing some work on the museum underneath the Arch, so until that reopens the Courthouse is acting as the museum/visitor’s center/ticketing location.  I opted for the Arch + river cruise combo for $25 ($22 with a NPS pass).  After checking out the incredible dome and somewhat comical dioramas in the Courthouse I hopped aboard the not-so-imaginatively named Becky Thatcher for a narrated 1-hour trip up & down the Mighty Mississippi.  Our captain told us some of the history of the area and pointed out some interesting things along the way, including river traffic, abandoned buildings, and a casino that filled its basement with river water to comply with the law that all casinos must be “on the river”.  I guess it works.

Disembarking from the boat, I headed back up the Grand Staircase (being sure to find the 33rd one, the high-water mark of past flood) and headed down into the heart of the Arch.  Getting in here only costs $3, but while the museum is out of commission there’s really only the documentary movie.  The cool thing to do is to head to the observation deck on the weirdest elevator ride in town, up through the leg of the Arch itself ($10).  The elevators are these crazy little round pods with 5 seats that tilt & ratchet themselves along with the leaning leg of the arch, with windows in the doors that offer a great view of the inner workings of the building.  The visitor’s center in the Courthouse has a sample one set up for anybody who’s not sure if they can handle the confined space.  It takes 4 minutes to get to the top, but only 3 to get back down (yay gravity!), and they run about every ten minutes.  The view from the top is of course spectacular, with one side facing out over the city and the other across the river into Illinois.  I stayed up there for a long time watching people and cars, and looking for whatever little oddities I could spot.  Click here for a short video I shot on the way down.  (It’s not the greatest, but hey.)


St. Louis Zoo

The zoo itself is free, but they charge a huge amount for parking in the lots.  I was lucky enough to find a single open spot on the street that I didn’t have to pay for.  It’s a surprisingly nice zoo for not costing anything.  I only had time and energy to cover about half of it.  I really liked the insect house, although I was careful to avoid the employee walking around with a hissing cockroach asking people if they wanted to pet it.  One of the coolest things was a display of ants: they had the ant nest on one side of the box and the food on the other side, with a winding vine in between that the ants walked on.  I could have stared at them for hours, going back and forth with their little leaf pieces.  I also enjoyed the indoor penguin habitat (bring a jacket, the climate is for the penguins, not the humans!) and the seal tunnel.  There’s a train ride through the zoo ($5) that I didn’t go on but I’m sure it’s fun.