With a short visit to Starved Rock planned to see bald eagles (maybe), I decided to look for a place to stay in or near Utica vs. Ottawa. I wasn’t optimistic, but to my surprise I found one only a couple of miles from Starved Rock. For some rooms, they didn’t require a two-night stay. Feeling northwoodsy (or nautical), I booked the Mackinac because it looked comfortable. I wasn’t disappointed.
I told the owners about the themed room at Ann Arbor Bed & Breakfast, including how my favorite room, the Maine Woods, earned its name and decor from the rich green carpet. They said they too named their rooms for their favorite places. They mentioned the Aspen room upstairs. Why Aspen? I must have looked puzzled. Because it’s on the top floor. Yes, I’m slow.
The Mackinac has a big gas fireplace, which we tried briefly. After dinner, we found Trivial Pursuit in one of the comfortable public rooms and played until too worn out to continue. The questions were more difficult than I remember, even in my better categories (science and nature, history, geography).
The next day we had our choice of bananas foster or eggs Benedict, along with muffins, cereal, fruit, etc. A gas fire warmed the breakfast room, which looked like it’d been decorated for Valentine’s Day. You can’t go wrong in a dining room with book-lined shelves, one fronted by a realistic morel mushroom knickknack.
The Mackinac has a large whirlpool that I didn’t take advantage of . . . this time. The room overlooks a couple of corn mazes that would be fun to try when grown. I did turn on the fireplace again and kick back in the recliner. Ahhh.
On the way out, I picked up a jar of aronia berry jam and a candle — I have enough candles for a couple of lifetimes.
It’s high time I wrote about some of the places I’ve stayed — not the chains, but bed and breakfasts, inns, and other local places.
Steeped in history
While visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I stayed at the Rippon-Kinsella House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a Wikipedia entry. I think I may have stayed in the Maid’s Room, the smallest of the three rooms. The house is very elegant, but what I remember most is the garden, which is lovely, and the residential area around it. The owners were charming and amused but helpful when we tried to find a restaurant in Springfield open after 9 p.m. Sadly, it sounds like one of the owners has become seriously ill, and the inn closed December 31, 2017.
Having survived an autumn visit to Camp Bullfrog Lake, and being fond of the Palos area for its hills, moraines, sloughs, woods, and forest preserves, I wanted to plan another stay. There are only two large cabins, and I was happy to get one of them for May, which I had figured would be at the height of fine spring weather. HA.
May 18, 2019
The adventure began in Homewood, where I met J. He was immediately distracted by an Operation Lifesaver “train” blowing its horn as it circled downtown Homewood. It looked popular and crowded, or we might have ended up angling for a ride.
Our first stop was at Cottage on Dixie, where, unbeknownst to us, we were about to have our last meal there. A month later the owner announced it was closing. A few days after that, the owner announced a grand reopening on July 18. My head spins, and I’m guessing it wasn’t the last Cottage meal after all.
We settled in briefly at Camp Bullfrog Lake, then set out for sandwiches at Ashbary House at the Old Willow Shopping Center, set against a wooded hillside. I love the way it looks.
Back at camp, a full moon (well, a few hours past) rose above the lake into the clouds, looking a bit like Saturn. The clouds and moon over the lake were the perfect complement to the campfire. Our fire-starting skills are better if still in need of improvement. A bucket of topnotch fire starter didn’t hurt, and with close nursing our fire flamed merrily for several hours and marshmallows. The full moon was an unexpected bonus. (Usually I pay closer attention to moon phases.)
May 19, 2019
The morning looked promising weather wise.
I found we had a lot of neighbors at the next cabin, with breakfast piled high atop their picnic table. One of their cars had Alaska plates. I marveled that anyone would drive from anywhere in Alaska to Illinois. I might never have gotten past, say, Montana or Wyoming.
After breakfast at Maple-N-Jams, we happened upon the Nut House in Bridgeview. I gained weight looking at the colorful displays, but managed to walk away with mostly seeds.
Upon returning to camp, we found the perfect excuse to skim old travel magazines and, in my case, read more about The Black Death — a lengthy downpour. Undoubtedly payback for the serendipity of the full moon.
With numerous sloughs and the Des Plaines River, Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and Cal-Sag Channel running parallel to each other through this area, there are plenty of steel truss bridges. I love them. I wonder if the blue paint on some is relatively new to dress them up.
I thought we might see a lot of flowers in bloom at Little Red Schoolhouse, but maybe mid to late May was too late. Instead we found one of the ponds full of tadpoles, two northern water snakes, and a green heron trying to be still and invisible. Suddenly, it took off after another green heron we hadn’t noticed across the way. A brief yet epic battle ensued, and in the end I couldn’t tell which one hightailed it to the woods and which took over pond patrol.
On the other side, the great blue herons and great egrets of Longjohn Slough kept a watchful eye on each other, like boxers in their respective corners between rounds.
At Little Red Schoolhouse we’d seen a flier for a mushroom/fungus walk at Swallow Cliff Woods. We decided to investigate on our own. We didn’t get far down the trail before my pain levels rose and my energy levels flagged, just far enough to this tantalizing pathway. Someday.
I hadn’t noticed any mushrooms in the short distance we’d walked, but on the return trip we both noticed several (not the same ones in all cases). J is credited with the find of the day, a magnificent morel. I don’t think I’ve seen one “in the wild.” I began to understand why the naturalists had chosen Swallow Cliff Woods for their fungus walk. Now if only I could find (or recognize) slime molds in any form . . .
For dinner we headed to Jen’s Guesthouse, formerly Courtright’s. It was too wet to sit outside in the garden area against the wooded hillside, but the inside isn’t shabby.
Back at camp, we still hadn’t perfected the art of fire making but finally had enough going to toast marshmallows. When we were sure we’d had enough, we tossed in the Mystical Fire. I found out later we should have used three packs, but even one was . . . mystical. Or at least colorful.
May 20, 2019
We went to Lotus Cafe, which turned out to be part of Pete’s Fresh Market, and ended up with a breakfast-by-weight buffet. We also stopped at Strange Brew Cafe, which I recognized from last year.
Back at Camp Bullfrog Lake, we packed and took a last walk around. When I approached the pier, I was startled by a great blue heron perched on the railing, no doubt keeping an eye out for fresh lake fish (or even the eponymous bullfrogs). Just when I thought it was going to let me get close, it slowly flapped off to shore. They like to keep their distance. I don’t blame them.
While driving around we kept passing a historical marker sign and decided to investigate. This led us to St. James at Sag Bridge Church and Cemetery, which involved some steep hills. I can’t say for certain we found the historical marker, but i did spend a few moments checking out Our Lady of the Forest. It turns out the church is on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m reminded too that I want to read The Mystery at Sag Bridge by local writer Pat Camalliere, whom I’d met briefly at Settlers’ Day at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland.
Despite the I-355 extension and the encroaching warehouse-type developments, I’m still charmed by most of Bluff Road in Lemont. We stopped at Black Partridge Woods, walked along the picnic shelter side of the stream for a bit, then returned to the parking lot to find two male scarlet tanagers paying court — presumably — to a female. I don’t get to see these birds very often, so it was a treat and a thrill worth the entire trip — downpours, damp, and all.
We made another visit to Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center. While no green heron lurked about that I could see, the great blue herons and great egrets were still skirmishing along Longjohn Slough.
For a light dinner we stopped at Spring Forest 2, where I love the terraced outdoor seating areas.
Finally for dessert, we headed to the Plush House to enjoy ice cream from the comfort of an Adirondack chair. And so ended another weekend adventure in one of Illinois’ more interesting areas.
[p]owered by a Midwest-made 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine [and] . . . will be able to operate at speeds up to 125 mph, with faster acceleration and braking for better on-time reliability. They meet the latest safety regulations and feature better traction for improved performance . . . They also are the first higher-speed passenger locomotives to meet the highest federal environmental standards, meaning a 90 percent reduction in emissions and a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 16% compared to the previous locomotives.
I’m wondering if I’ve been behind one on the Wolverine route in Michigan and missed it. I’ll have to look during my upcoming June adventure.
On April 23, 2017, during a trip to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in search of spring wildflowers, J. detoured us briefly to see H. A. Rathje’s Peotone Mill. Looking like a big-nosed woman with arms akimbo, the Peotone Mill sits in what has become a residential neighborhood.
I experimented with taking a photo with an iPhone through a Swarovski spotting scope at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center/Starved Rock Lock and Dam. Hey, give me credit for trying. It’s surprisingly difficult to align the iPhone lens with the spotting scope viewer without a big glob of glare.