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Proof, there are Reindeer in Illinois

“Yes, there are Reindeer in Illinois.”  They are beautiful animals, which were flown in from Alaska. You will hear the ‘clickity click’ of their big hooves.  They don’t go on housetops until December 25th until then, you can see these fabulous creatures at Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Rantoul.

Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch was created in 1995 by Julie and Mark Hardy and family when they purchased their first two reindeer to help sell Christmas Trees on their farm.  They now have 16 reindeer to help pull Santa’s sleigh.  

Hardy's Reindeer Ranch

Take the Reindeer tour and surround yourself with these magical animals of the North. You’ll have a chance to feed them and you can even give them a ‘reindeer kiss’ – if you’re brave. It’s a great photo opportunity. 

Please send us a copy to share on flickr page, send photo to

Christmas is a magical time of the year with the Reindeer. Take a Reindeer tour and get up close and friendly with Klondike, Flurry, Mistletoe and the other Reindeer.  For a fun Holiday treat stop to see the reindeer at Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch as they get ready for their big day.  They are stationed at Hardy’s all year along,  while they wait for next Christmas. 
Happy Holidays!
Tony Fillapot

Tony Fillapot

It’s so fun to find a treasure hidden in plain view. Walking in Evanston beside a new glass-clad building, a colorful window display caught our eye. We were mesmerized by the unusual sight of stout figures and chubby mugs. Suddenly a man materialized beside us, opened the door, and said, “Would you like to come in? Welcome to the American Toby Jug Museum.” He led us down the stairs into a quiet wonderland of history, craftsmanship and ceramics.

American Toby Jugs

American Toby Jugs

The American Toby Jug Museum is a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Nowhere else in the world can you view so many Toby and Character Jugs. What is a Toby Jug? Generally speaking, it is a pouring pitcher created in the shape of a person, usually with a built-in sense of wit or humor. Technically, a Toby is a full-body jug, while a Character Jug includes only the face. In my walks through the museum’s many glass cabinet aisles, I saw historical characters, animals, animated characters and mugs, jugs and teapots of all sizes – some as small as a bee and some clearly too large to lift. Many were made by famous English, French, and German potters and ceramics manufacturers; others were custom produced for private collectors.

This mysterious and kindly man who greeted us at the door turned out to be Stephen M. Mullins, the museum’s founder and curator. He explained to us that the museum is normally open by appointment, but that he had noticed our interest. As their brochure explains, Mullins began his Toby Jug adventure as a boy when he spent his summer camp candy money on six small Royal Doulton character jugs. Over sixty years later, the collection now includes over 7000 pieces from over 20 countries and 200 different makers, dating from the 1760’s to the newest 2011 prototypes. Mullins has also co-authored two books on the subject, including A Century of Royal Doulton Character and Toby Jugs. There’s also an interesting story behind the quietly elegant Museum building. Mullin’s original plan was to build an addition onto the old Bank building at the corner of Chicago and Main. When this plan could not happen due to constraints, he acquired the adjoining properties and commissioned a contemporary structure by architects Brininstool+Lynch. The simplicity of the exterior serves as the perfect foil for the antiquities within.
Toby Jug Museum Aisles

Toby Jug Museum Aisles

I can firmly recommend this museum as a good stop for all ages. There’s truly something for everyone here, and your eyes will not know where to start or stop. Even if you don’t consider yourself an aficionado of small breakable objects, you will find yourself enthralled by the depth and interest of this collection. My kids couldn’t get enough of it.
Amusing Toby Jugs

Amusing Toby Jugs

The American Toby Jug Museum is open by appointment and located at 910 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60202. Visit or call 1.877.TOBYMUSeum (1.877.862.9687).

Shopping and Eats: If you’re in the area, you’ll find lots of other fun stops nearby. Some of my favorite places to grab a bite are The Brothers K Coffeehouse (the North Shore’s best latté), Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant (authentic homecooked deliciousness), and Belgian Chocolatier Piron (chocolate heaven). Just a few of the unique shops in this neighborhood include Vogue Fabrics (sewing and fabric paradise), Healthy Green Goods (eco-friendly bed & bath), and Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop and Prehistoric Life Museum (which deserves – and will get – a post all its own). Learn more about the Main Street shopping area at Getting there: From lakeside Chicago: Take Lake Shore Drive north to Sheridan. Take Main Street west to Chicago Avenue. From almost anywhere else: Take I-94 to the Dempster exit. Take Dempster east to Chicago Avenue and turn right. There’s ample street parking available, and a metered parking lot just across the street from Vogue Fabrics.

Happy Exploring!

– Linda Gardner Phillips

Follow Linda on Twitter:DeerpathFarm

Late fall is deer season in Central Illinois, and hundreds of hunters make the journey to the prairie to try their luck.  I’m not a hunter, but rest assured, the camera is always up and ready for the next great ‘shot’ when moving through the countryside. One evening, in a 30 minute drive I racked up 100 deer images. Being in rut, and with romance on their minds,  the deer aren’t at the most clear thinking critters, and so, tend to be a little more tolerant of humans. Sunrise and sunset are the prime times for catching these critters in the open.
At the end of this particular day (sun dropping fast) I happened across a doe walking the edge of the woods, very patiently pacing back and forth as if looking for a good place to jump in. I shot many, many still of her, and finally got bored with the look and switched the D3s over to video. The video is too big for this site, but you can find it on my flickr stream here:

Whitetail video

…it wasn’t until opening the images for editing later and zooming in that I realized her ‘boyfriend’ was waiting in the woods behind her, explaining her reluctance to leave.

Although rutting season tends to bring the deer out in the open more often, any time of year is great wildlife image making time on the prairie in Central Illinois.

-Ed Baumgarten


Showing Off Her Colors by Tom Yinger

It’s  November now, with the election behind  and a chill in the air in the early mornings.

The cool weather usually comes later in Illinois’ southern counties than it does in places like Batavia, where I grew up.   But come it does, and with it the decorative work that nature does with our deciduous trees.  

We see occasional color at different times of the year, the maples turn their white bottoms toward the sun to indicate they need rain, some of the trees begin to change color when there is a prolonged drought. We had a long drought this summer, and precious little rain since the end of September.

The greatest coloring has been taking place in the last few weeks. We’ve had a few frosts, and the reds, yellows and maroons have made their appearance. There are lots of places in Southern Illinois where you can enjoy the fall colors, particularly if you travel roads like US 51, Illinois 154, Illinois 127, Illinois 3, and Illinois 149.  I drove 51 south of Carbondale, always a lovely ride, with the Shawnee Hills providing surprises around every curve, to Anna, and then west on Illinois 146 to Jonesboro.  Jonesboro is the location of the southernmost of the Lincoln Douglas debates. I followed the roundabout in Jonesboro, turning away from the 1858 Senate election this time, to the 2010 Grapevine Trail. I drove Illinois 127 south out of Jonesboro toward Tamms. There are areas along this route where the tree cover is sometimes close to the road, and at other places, pulled back far enough so that it provides a good view for driver and passenger.  I followed the highway south to Tamms turn right onto the Grapevine Trail. There are farms along the road, and there are sometimes farm equipment moving slowly along the highway, so caution is needed. This is a curvy road, so passing zones are few and far between.

As you complete your tour on the Grapevine Trail, you will be passing through McClure, a small town in Alexander County. It meets Illinois 3, our portion of the Great River Road, here in McClure. If you turn right, you will be passing some very pretty country, along what is called the American Bottom. This is the flood plain of the Mississippi River, and extends quite a distance to the East between McClure and Illinois 149. The bluffs are considerably closer to the road to the north, toward Chester, and the St. Louis suburbs.

If you plan to pay us a visit, there are several places you might choose to stay. There are bed and breakfasts throughout the area, if you click on this site, and look under accommodations, you should find a comfortable place to rest your weary heads.

If you happen to be traveling on Illinois 3, south of McClure toward where Illinois 146 turns west toward the bridge, the Bill Emerson Memorial bridge, after sunset is lit up in the most striking manner.  The view is breathtaking!

I also recommend Giant City Lodge. There is a large building, constructed by the CCC during the Depression, and they feature an excellent family dinner on Sunday. There are also cabins, with all the modern conveniences available. I have friends in Central Illinois who regularly visit and always rent a cabin at Giant City. 
 Bill Byrnes

North of I-74 near the town of Mahomet sits Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. I had set off for this park early on a Saturday morning to feed my need of covered bridge images (those who’ve read some of my other posts know I have an affinity for them). I had heard there was a covered bridge there that had been constructed in 1965, patterned off of the Pepperel Bridge in Boston, and that sounded like something I’d certainly have to shoot.
Situated just 15 minutes or so west of Champaign, Lake of the Woods is a rambling complex over 900 acres. As mentioned I had come to shoot the covered bridge and found out that this forest preserve had a lot more than a forest. Upon arriving at the west gate we discovered a wonderfully kept and well rounded collection of early American artifacts in the Early American Museum. Describing every aspect of life in early Illinois from living with the Indians to getting the crops harvested, there’s not a bit of early American life that’s missed. Stunning examples of antique furniture, tools and explanations of techniques inhabit every square inch of this beautiful piece of architecture.  There’s also a great educational / play area for the kids.
Behind the museum is the stunning Botanical Garden. A photographers dream, this sprawling complex is alive with every manor of ornamental flower, shrub and tree. In the center is a picture perfect oriental influenced bridge and lily pond, backed by a beautiful waterfall. What a gem! The area is a popular spot for weddings and can be rented for such an occasion.
Moving up the road, we came to the Covered Bridge that I’d come to photograph. This structure was built when the original 80 acre tract of land was acquired to join the two sections of the park. It’s 140 foot span is open to pedestrian and motor traffic and was renovated in 1996. A great example of a more modern covered bridge constructed with classic early American architectural style!
Venturing over the bridge one finds an award winning regulation 18 hole golf course and extensive camping, fishing and day use areas. There are kayaks and rowboats for rent on the lake, a 3 mile bike/running path and woodland trails. A six story bell tower caps the high point of the park with a carillon chiming out a happy tune now and again.
I’d come to shoot a bridge and found so much more at this park….what a great place to spend a day with the family, with so much to do one could visit again and again……..

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-Ed Baumgarten