Today is Aug 28th , day 10 We drove 185 miles today from Muscatine, Iowa to Tinley Park, Illinois.
With last night spent not in a hotel but in a real bed everyone felt a better and I think that's why the kids slept so well. The kids slept in until 7am (which being 5am PST is more or less their normal time, but at least no one was up in the night). I think having a day where we didn't drive as much was a big help too. We've been pushing so hard now a respite was very welcome.
When the kids got up we played more games of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, as well as Jenga, and Bingo. Alec still doesn't ant to learn the rules, but he's loving all these new things to play with! Bingo was a pretty bad idea (too many small pieces) so we ended up putting that one away. But then Alec discovered Twister. That one he sort of got the rules to... but he kept leaving his spot on the mat because he wanted to “spin the clock”.
Soon Ruth treated us with a wonderful breakfast of eggs, sausages, and homemade biscuits. The kids we're happy and ate lots.
After breakfast we decided to take advantage of Aunt Ruth's awesome swimming pool. The idea was relax a bit and get Calum especially tired out and then we could drive on through and push for somewhere around the Chicago area.
The kids had such a good time swimming that we ended up staying a bit late, but that's ok. As long as everyone is having fun, that's the important part. It was already getting hot (ended up mid 90s in Muscatine) and very bright out so we eventually pulled the kids out of the pool.
Since the carseats were already out of the car and in Ruth's Yukon I took advantage of it and vacuumed the car before reinstalling the seats and packing up. Wow, our car is SO dirty. Its pretty amazing. While I was out, Erica played with Calum and Ruth read some stories to Alec.
Soon enough it was time to say goodbye and hit the road. We had such a great visit with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Marty. They were very gracious and we really appreciated everything.
We headed out on the 61 to the 280 East across the Mississippi and soon found ourselves into Illinois, coming up along the south side of Moline. Calm slept for a bit and Alec played well. Hes definitely gotten used to entertaining himself with just the rest of the family.
There's not really a ton to say about the landscape here, we're getting closer and closer to what Erica and I grew up with. Same kind of trees, same kind of houses as Southern Ontario. Its still hotter than we're used to, but I don't think we'll be too impressed with the landscape while driving anymore. Not that its bad, just not terribly exciting or different. I will say both Erica and I enjoyed seeing sunflowers growing wild at the side of the road though.
Eventually Calum woke up and we stopped for a bathroom break at somewhere called the Great Saulk Trail rest area. I thought it was just a rest stop on the side of the road but it was obviously built up pretty well. I think it must've been a trail-head. Either that or the State of Illinois makes the nicest rest stops ever. That's possible too.
There was a playground and a ton of picnic tables. I think Alec was a bit punchy because we lathered him and Calum up with sunscreen and he walked out onto the playground in the hot sun and came right back to me onto the sidelines saying “”playgrounds are too hot, trees are better” Then he played in the shade and with the brush on the side of the nearby woods for the next 20 minutes. Calum of course flowed. He'll pretty much do whatever Alec does.
Eventually Alec propped himself up at a picnic table and asked for snacks. We told him that we were planning on pushing through, and that this was just a stretch the legs stop, but he very calmly explained that it was late, and he was hungry. And that we should stop for a snack now and then have a BBQ later on. Well, he made a convincing argument. Especially since we swam in the morning it was already well into the afternoon, and despite the time difference for us, we were pretty hungry once Alec pointed it out. So we had cheese, bread, crackers, and humus, along with some strawberries. Definitely made everyone feel better :)
Then it was really time to get back in the car. We had an idea of a hike in the afternoon and wanted to get there.Driving on the 80 East now we passed La Salle, and turned south onto the 178. I had seen the Starved Rock State Park on the map and thought it might be good. I mean its right on a river, maybe we could swim again? Anyhow, I called them to ask if they had any good hikes they would recommend for families with young kids. Firstly they informed me that NO ONE swims in the Illinois River. Apparently that is a bad idea. And then she suggested we actually go to another state park! A little one just South of Starved Rock called Matthiessen.
After picking up some groceries in town we headed into the park itself. Although it doesn't look like much when driving up, we were told that there was a play area for kids and a place to BBQ and a good short hike. Since we'd already eaten a big snack recently we decided to look around and hike before eating again. We looked for a play area. There was definitely no playground around the mostly barren and boring parking lot though. Just one sad set of swings that Alec couldn't even bring himself to use. Not so promising...
There was a rebuilt fort there though. I had read online that it was a replica of the French Fortifications that we're built in the area at some point or another. Don't quote me on that … this isn't a history blog. Anyhow, we enjoyed exploring the small fort even though it was a top a very long looking set of stairs that proved to be the trail-head.
Just seeing the people come u pall sweaty from those stairs made me worry. I know how this plays out. Lots of stairs with kids means lots of carrying :( It couldn't be helped though, so we packed up our hiking gear and headed down for what we planned as basically a 2 mile hike.
I won't keep you in suspense though. Thankfully, all of my doubts were quickly washed away. This park was honestly amazing. We got to the bottom of the long staircase, into a valley and found the bridge crossing the shallow river flooded with water! Well, we needed to get to the other side of that water. So we started our adventure walk by shimmying along the railing of the bridge. Avoiding the water like it was lava or something. Alec did a super job, although he couldn't totally understand it since he loves walking in water.
Getting to the other side we started our hike out about a mile slowly careening up a gravel path along the opposite hillside of the valley. Up, and up we went. Not so bad considering it was a slow climb, and Alec did pretty well. The trees were beautiful here in the valley, especially the way the sun broke through them, and the little grey squirrels we saw running around we're very cute. This is the kind of hiking I enjoy.
We walked the mile out and ended up at a “lookout”. What a weird structure. I can't tell when something like this would've been built and I'm not entirely sure why. There was no explanation, no signage, but The lookout, actually looked out over a nice green lake. Lilly pads, algae covered much of the surface while and bulrushes dotted the sides and big oaks surrounded the perimeter. If it wasn't a state park, I might say the lookout was a hunting post, and maybe it was sort of. There was a road leading up to the back of the lookout and a sign about fishing in the lake. Yes you are allowed to fish, but only certain amounts and sizes. Maybe this is a fishing lookout... do people who fish have lookouts? But why the weird design with the pillars and everything? Very odd. Anyhow, we stopped for a snack of blueberries and enjoyed the view.
Then we moved down to the bridge crossing beside the lake. As we got onto the bridge I realized what this was a bit better. The lake was actually made by damming up the river which naturally flowed through the valley floor. I had wondered why the valley floor and riverbed was so deep, steep and much lower than us. You would think they would've designed the park to have us hiking along side the river. But the dam held back a ton of water considering how big the lake was. This bridge was built above and over the dam. Separate, and above. Once in the middle of the bridge I looked over the side expecting to see just to the lake level, but instead found myself looking all the way down to the face of the dam to the mostly dry riverbed below. I'm not sure If I'm explaining it properly so you'll understand it but this was a very cool view down the face of a dam. It was really far down.
Crossing the bridge one way, we stepped onto the bank on the other side of the valley and then we're able to walk back across again on the top of the dam. It looked like maybe the majority of the dam was actually natural rock-face. My guess is that this was a very cool waterfall that the parks dept just stopped up the top of forming the lake. Really neat stuff, and beautiful.
The best was yet to come though as we followed the path which looped us along back to our starting point across the water bridge. This time though we didn't walk on the gravel path, no instead we wound down some more stairs and found ourselves walking right on the bottom of the mostly dry riverbed! It was very very cool. I've been on a lot of hikes, and I don't think I've ever been hiking along the bottom of a riverbed like this. At some points I'm sure the wall was 30 feet straight up, and the ground was pocked with puddles, rocks, sparse vegetation, and deep tree roots. We hopped along a path on the riverbed, thoroughly enjoying the really original hike.
I'm not sure the pictures can convey how cool this was. I was really impressed with it, and the kids loved it too. We walked along until we came to a large pool called the Giants Bathtub. Alec had a good time with that one, especially after we told him the giant was gone for now.
We continued on and found ourselves at Ceder Point where we reluctantly headed back up the slope to the main gravel path. Along the way we came to a point where the parks department had placed this meshed large rubber netting along the ground, no doubt to stop the path from eroding. Alec thought it was just about the funniest thing. He decided that it was a great place to sit, and every few feet would just sit down again.
He might have been getting tired too, since once we got back to the top I carried him for a while. We crossed back across the water bridge shimmying along and then hit the stairs.
Alec was definitely getting tired as we started back up. I told him he had to walk, and he did but that didn't mean he couldn;t stop for a rest along the way. Roughly every three sets of stairs there was a bench for people to rest on. Alec climbed up on every single one of these benches to “take a little rest” It was pretty hilarious.
Once we eventually made it back up to the top Alec started running around again. I guess he wasn't that tired out ;) We played in the fort again and Erica got us a snack. We'd decided not to BBQ at the park, since Calum was so tired and we really wanted to get closer to our destination. Instead we had dessert. If you'll recall Alec had made some cupcakes with Aunt Ruth yesterday. Well at Ruth's instance we had taken a few along with us on the road and it made for a good snack at the picnic tables. Alec was again very funny as he kept trying to make a cupcake mustache. He did this of course by rubbing the cupcake all over his face! What a guy!
Finally we hit the road and got on our way back towards Chicago. We'd thought about staying in the city, but then thought better of it. This is not the trip for that kind of stuff. We're not trying to do a ton of sightseeing here, just taking advantage of the opportunities around us. Also getting in and out of Chicago would be super annoying. And would Alec or Calum care? I mean we'd still just be hanging out in a hotel room at this point.
So as we started passing the city to the south we decided to call it quits once Erica had enough of the rush hour commuters. We stopped once again in Denny's for a quick meal. Since we'd pushed off BBQing to get some more distance on the road. Not a great meal, but not terrible by any means and they are immediately set up for families.
We decided that enough was enough and found a hotel as close to the Denny's as we could. Well, a hotel as close as possible that wasn't a dump. We ended up at the Comfort Inn in the suburb of Tinley Park. And surprisingly we found a way to get it cheaper than Priceline. We've been using the Priceline app as we've been traveling, and are usually very impressed with it. After finding the hotel we wanted though this time, we just called them to see if we could do it over the phone directly with them. If they said no on a price match then we could always just do it through Priceline. Instead they told us that they could do it cheaper than Priceline, especially since we also got a AAA discount. Fantastic.
We settled into the hotel and got the kids changed and into the pool asap. Both kids we're squirrely and we wanted to get hat final last bit of energy out. Also it had been a hot long day hiking and a swim (or another swim I guess) sounded great. We all went into the small but very nice pool at the hotel and had a good time.
Afterwards we had a good excuse to throw both kids into the bath. Something they are definitely not getting enough of on this trip. But there is really only so much time... Then it was off to bed for the kids, and Erica while I stepped into the lobby to get a bit of work done.
Fun times all around. We had a great day, and I'm looking forward to another one ahead as we make our way in towards Michigan and the end of our trip. Just two more full days to go!