Archive for  October 2013

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Mile MarkersWith All Hallow’s Eve just around the corner, we searched for the most sincere pumpkin patch we could find for a gourd old celebration.

We couldn’t have done better for pumpkin pageantry than Sycamore, Illinois and the 52nd Annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival.

We kicked off the weekend down on the courthouse lawn with the Lions Club Giant Pumpkin Weigh-in, and got to gawk at a 280 pounder. Not quite up to the new world record set this year of 2,032 pounds, but enormously impressive nevertheless.

 

Equally impressive were the thousands of Jack-o’-lanterns on display in front of the courthouse, in fact, this is how it all got started. Wally Thurow, Sycamore’s “Mr. Pumpkin,” began the tradition back in 1956 when he decorated a few pumpkins and set them out in his yard. The town took to it, the numbers grew, and in 1962 the Lions Club helped out and the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival became official.

Of course the festival also happens to coincide with Halloween and that means ghosts, goblins, witches, and even some zombies. Zombies? Yes, zombies, and playing miniature golf no less. This we had to see, so we were off to the library for a good fright and to help raise some funds. We managed to escape with our whole brains, but no holes-in-one.

Watch: Ginormous pumpkins, zombie attacks and Veronica’s heroic pie eating attempt!

There’s more reason to celebrate pumpkins in these parts than just fun and games. Eighty percent of all the pumpkins produced commercially in the U. S. are produced in North Central, Illinois. By far the majority of those get processed into canned pumpkin and we know what that’s good for… pie!

Speaking of pie, what’s a festival without some good old-fashioned competitive eatin’? So it was back to The Courthouse for the Kiwanis Pie Eating Contest.

After watching kids, some no more than three years old, speed-eat giant slabs of pie Veronica was ready to give it a try in the adult category. Give her an A for effort, but she was not even in the same league as some of the veteran competitors.

With dusk falling it was time to scare ourselves silly so we headed over to Elmwood Cemetery for some spooky storytelling.

We entered through historic gates (dated 1865, they are officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places) that looked straight out of a Vincent Price movie.

Local residents took turns spinning yarns to tingle the spine and, as if on cue, a bat flew through the group during the second tale. When the screams subsided the stories continued.

Sunday brought the grand finale of the festivities, the big Pumpkin Festival Parade. We were amazed at the crowd that gathers in little Sycamore – tailgating, dressed in costume and patronizing the non-profit-only food vendors dotting the route.

This is the big fundraiser for many of these do-gooders in the community and we were happy to part with a few dollars for some pre-parade snackage.

Floats, bands, clubs, politicians and businesses from Sycamore and the neighboring area were all represented in the parade – marching, tumbling, riding and waving their hearts out.

This is small-town America at her finest – with a bit of a scary edge. It is Halloween after all.

–David & Veronica, Illinois Mile Markers

Thanks to our partners for making this possible, including Visit DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Meet the Mile Markers:

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David & Veronica

Empty Nesters
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David and Veronica are experiencing the collision of Baby Boomer and Empty Nester. When their youngest headed off to college, they decided to grab life by the horns, sell the nest, hit the road and become GypsyNesters!

They've been full-time travelers and have been breaking the empty nest rules since 2008. Frequent visitors of Illinois, they are looking forward to exploring the Great River Road this spring!

Touching the exhibits is strictly … encouraged! These words are not often heard in the average museum, but the Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal, Illinois was designed with kids in mind. This educational wonderland, located in the Land of Lincoln region of Illinois, houses over three floors of hands-on interactive experiences created to inspire the love of learning through play.

Exterior of Children’s Discovery Museum (Photo credit: Bloomington-Normal CVB)

Exterior of Children’s Discovery Museum (Photo credit: Bloomington-Normal CVB)

With an array of exhibits catered to toddlers through pre-teens, it’s non-stop fun from open till close. Exhibit themes include healthy living, physics, an art-science combination and the environment. The unique “Luckey Climber” is the only exhibit in the world that hangs from the ceiling and adorns the museum’s three-story glass atrium. That’s right. Exhibits at the Discovery Center Museum even hang from the ceilings!

The “AgMazing” exhibit is a fan favorite that engages visitors while teaching children about how today’s farms impact their lives from the food they eat to the fuel in their cars. The “Discover My World” gallery puts the kids in charge with cognitive learning centers such as water works, train express and the kids’ medical center.

An interactive water exhibit designed to inspire curiosity.

An interactive water exhibit designed to inspire curiosity.

Additionally, the Children’s Discovery Museum offers a range of education programs each month from early childhood to family-friendly. This is a museum kids will want to come back to time and time again with continually changing exhibits and an affordable price you’ll willingly return for more.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism

October is the month to see fall color in Illinois and this week is no exception. Escape to one of Illinois’ many natural treasures to see fall color pop before your eyes. From hiking through Illinois state parks and forest preserves to biking through national forests, there’s no shortage of ways to see fall color in Illinois. Remember to check our blog each week throughout the season for updates on where to see the best colors.

Great Rivers Country

Fall colors are peaking in the northern areas of Great Rivers Country, so there is no better time to catch them than this weekend. Red Maple and White Ash are lush with pinkish-purple colors, while the yellow hues of the Hickory and Sumac are transforming into stunning deep reds and purples. After taking in the beautiful colors in the northern part of the state, drive south along the Mississippi River to enjoy the turning of the colors all over again.

Picturesque fall color near Alton

Trails to Adventure

While there’s still plenty of green in Southern Illinois’ Trails to Adventure region, this week is the prime time for bold colors to being appearing. The Red Maples are finally showing their famous deep crimson color, while the Persimmons are bright yellow with beautiful orange fruit. Sugar Maples are showing bold harvest orange and Sassafras abounds with an array of oranges, reds and yellows.

Chicago & Beyond

In the past week, colors in the Chicago & Beyond region have begun reaching their peak, with stunning reds seen throughout the area. The Oak trees along the Illinois River bluffs are still green in many areas, providing vibrant contrasts to the surrounding yellows and oranges. Sugar Maples are showing a rainbow of shades as Sumacs are bright red and yellow.  Also, be sure to keep your eyes open for the striking reddish orange of the Sassafras trees.

Land of Lincoln

Most Sugar Maples in the Land of Lincoln are turning a beautiful combination of yellow, orange and red. White Oaks are just starting to sport some purple leaves and the Sassafras trees are in full color with brilliant reds and oranges.  Ash and Maples are also turning vibrant shades of orange and red, providing an abundance of different hues throughout the region.

Striking orange and yellow leaves shine bright in Glenview

Striking orange and yellow leaves shine bright in Glenview

— Illinois Office of Tourism

Looking for a unique getaway that’s not a typical hotel stay? Plan an overnight trip to the historic Davie School Inn, originally built as a schoolhouse in 1910. After undergoing a major transformation in 2002, the Inn is now one of the largest bed and breakfasts in the state of Illinois, welcoming visitors year-round to the Trails to Adventure region.

The Davie School Inn houses the largest suites in Southern Illinois

The Davie School Inn houses the largest suites in Southern Illinois

The old schoolhouse charm is still apparent throughout the Inn, making it an experience unlike any other. Each of the 11 custom suites features an original chalkboard and bookcase from the old school days and the Inn’s hardwoods floors still show where student desks left their marks. If the interior of the Inn doesn’t intrigue you enough, peer out of nine-foot-tall windows to catch a beautiful view of Anna Park.

The Gold Suite offers a romantic atmosphere ideal for a couple’s weekend getaway

The Gold Suite offers a romantic atmosphere ideal for a couple’s weekend getaway

The Davie School Inn serves as a great base for exploring the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, made up of 12 award-winning wineries sprinkled throughout picturesque landscapes. Giant City State Park and the Shawnee National Forest are also close by, offering miles of hiking trails and sheer sandstone walls for rock climbing and rappelling. Spend your visit unwinding while enjoying activities such as music festivals, local artisans and even grape-stomping.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism

Fall colors shine at their best this week throughout Illinois, offering a rainbow of color for leaf peepers to observe. Explore the great outdoors on a trail walk, drive along one of the state’s breathtaking scenic byways or soak in red, orange and yellow hues at one of the state’s vineyards. Whatever it is, be sure to get out and enjoy the vibrant colors of this spectacular season in Illinois. Remember to check our blog each week throughout the season for updates on where to see the best colors.

Maples begin to transform from yellow to red this week in some areas of Illinois (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Maples begin to transform from yellow to red this week in some areas of Illinois (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Here’s what you can expect to see this week:

Land of Lincoln

In the Land of Lincoln, the sugar maple and hickory are rich with orange and yellow. White oaks are just beginning to show hints of purple and scarlet. Central Illinois is seeing lots of yellow and gold, with sassafras showing brilliant orange and gold. Sumacs, meanwhile, are turning gorgeous shades of red.

Trails to Adventure

Colors are moving slowly, but surely, in Southern Illinois’ Trails to Adventure region. Sumacs are still very red, while walnuts are hanging onto its yellow leaves. Catalpa is still yellow. Black Gum is beginning to go scarlet.

Southern Illinois’ Trails to Adventure Region begins to burst with fall colors (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Southern Illinois’ Trails to Adventure Region begins to burst with fall colors (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Great River Country

Great Rivers Country continues to turn, as many of the bright yellows from last week are now a striking orange. These include ash and maples, while hickory and elm have retained their golden hue. The oaks are still green, so more changes still to come.

Magical fall colors near Galena, Illinois (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Magical fall colors near Galena, Illinois (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Chicago & Beyond

In Chicago and Beyond, many white ash have turned or are turning various red to deep purple shades. Shagbark hickories are turning with shades of dark green to yellow green to brilliant yellow all in the same area. Hackberries have turned yellow in the upper crown and shine brightly in the sun.

–Illinois Office of Tourism