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View from Lovers Leap

I hope you’re enjoying the great fall weather we are having in northern Illinois.  If you’re like me, you’re trying to spend as much time outdoors before the winter.  As a true Illinoisan we grab onto the beautiful sunshiny days like it was our last.  May I suggest taking a scenic drive and check out Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL.

Take a moment to explore the splendor of nature, and unplug. I remember going there has a child and biking while my Dad fished.  There was a mini hill near the dam, my brother and I used to race down on our bikes.  Recently I visited the hill and laughed how small it is from what I remembered.  I enjoy

LaSalle Canyon

watching my kids riding down the same hill on their bikes now.   So don’t forget your bikes!

I have always wondered how the Park got its name.  So with a little research here is a brief description.  French explorers built Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock in the winter of 1682-83 to take advantage of rock formations strategic position.  According to legend, in the 1760s a group of Illiniwek warriors were trapped on top of the 125-foot sandstone bluff by opposing Potawatomi and Ottawa fighters. Surrounded and unable to flee, the Illiniwek starved to death, giving rise to the park’s name. The bluff was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960. Governor Quinn recently celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL. It’s one of the most visited state parks in Illinois. It is home to 18 canons formed by glacial melt water and stream erosion with over 2,800 acres to explore along the Illinois River.

Ottawa Canyon

I encourage everyone to see these spectacular rock formations in person. I hope you can take drive in the next few weeks although winter is ideal time too for bald eagle watching.  The adjacent Plum Island Eagle Sanctuary provides an ideal roosting habitat for bald eagles, I digress (I will save that for another post).

Ciao –


Hey BBQ enthusiasts, I just enjoyed a great lunch at Shemwell’s BBQ in Cairo, IL. This is a family run, old fashioned diner, with interesting people and a very good BBQ. It’s worth coming to Cairo for, and stopping down at the confluence, where America’s two greatest rivers come together and the ghost of Ulysss S. Grant still walks along Fort Defiance Park!

Throw out any preconceived notions of “barbeque” as beef brisket slathered with thick tomato-based sauce before walking in the door of this place….we’re talking authentic southern-style smoked pork shoulder, or “pulled pork” as it’s known out west. Shemwell’s specializes in slow roasting pork shoulders and serving them with the hottest bbq sauce in the south. Thick slices of perfectly smoked shoulder are served on white bread after they are squashed flat on a sandwich grill. One sandwich is never enough so plan on ordering two or more. You’ll want to take along a lb or more for sandwiches later…just don’t forget to get the bbq sauce. And for real authenticity squash your sandwich in a sandwich grill to drive all those delicious juices into the bread. Shemwells is on the main drag in Cairo, and open 7 days a week.

Tell us about your favorite BBQ!

Enjoy eating in Southern Illinois!

Today starts the final weekend before Halloween. 

If you want to be scared, check out Steward’s Haunted Barn & Trail, which won the Illinois Governor’s Hometown Award.

Steward's Haunted Barn & Trail by Ed Baumgarten

So the legend goes… that a “Psycho Farmer” is chasing gypsies off his land.  Some say you can hear the farmer to this day in the hay loft walking and banging around in the barn.

This year’s haunted attraction consists of 2 barns and a wooded trail. In the late 1800’s, gypsies were known to jump the train and cause havoc wherever they went. Their spirits still haunt the area. Madam Zoyla is on hand to predict your future and to have a séance with your group. There maybe a beast or man known for hanging out in these woods. This year’s attraction is newly located 4.3 miles south of Stewardson on Route 32.

Prepare to be frightened!


Do you think this barn is haunted, let us know?

Enjoy Illinois

Basement of the Dead

 I’ve always loved the spookiness of Halloween but at some point I took haunted houses off my recreational menu. But my son’s older now and I’ve kind of made this commitment to creating more excitement in my life, so time to revisit my old haunts. 

 It started before we even got in.  A greenish-gray “gargoyle” bobbed and hissed at me while a ghoul in stilts creeped out my friend really setting the mood before we made it into Basement of the Dead in downtown Aurora.  I won’t spoil what awaits you inside, but you probably heard my screams echoing through the Fox River Valley. The only thing to quell our senses afterwards was to grab a slice of gourmet ‘za upstairs at Doughballs Pizza Palace. LOVED the Popeye. Tasted just like spinach artichoke dip with chicken. But I digress.


Death comes to the Tanner House

Next week, I’ve got tickets to an old-fashioned séance. Spooky, right? The Tanner House and Museumis conjuring up the dead in a “real” Victorian séance commissioned by the “widow Tanner.” Buy a ticket and maybe we’ll be holding hands at the table together!  Hopefully,  forcing myself to push past my fears will make me courageous in other aspects of my life. Who knows? Terror therapy—it might catch on.

 Remember, October isn’t over yet. To find out more spooky happenings or for more family-friendly fall fun in the Aurora Area, visit enjoyaurora.com. It’s less than a quarter-tank from Chicago.



Garden of the Gods Late Fall

I recently enjoyed some beautiful scenery along the Ohio River Scenic Byway  in the Southernmost tip of IL. with quaint small towns and the spectacular Shawnee National Forest, as we followed the Ohio River through the counties of Gallatin, Saline, Hardin, Pope, Massac, Pulaski, and Alexander.  Each county is full of history, outdoor adventure, endless recreation opportunities, as well as awesome scenery.  

We started our trip at the Wabash Bridge near the Indiana border and traveled south along the Ohio River all the way to the Mississippi River at Cairo.  At 188-miles, it’s a four hour journey. That is, it’s four hours if you can resist stopping to discover the moving stories of America’s early years at historic sites, or the invitations to simply relax and enjoy the scenery.  It was an all day adventure for us!

Cave in the Rock

From New Haven to Cave-in Rock, the Ohio River valley will stir your senses and show you exotic, wild, and natural beauty you may have never imagined. Here, where the river is at its most dramatic, you’ll be at the edge of the Shawnee National Forest.  Drive the byway to Rim Rock National Recreation Trail to see geological wonders, and Pounds Hollow, where an ancient Indian wall still stands surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Just west is the Garden of the Gods wilderness area with its vast view from bluffs, eroded into shapes like “Devil’s Smokestack” and “Camel Rock.” Then take in the passing ferryboats and other river traffic from what was once a hangout for river pirates at Cave-in Rock State Park, an enormous limestone cavern. The park lodge rests high above the river. Heading south, a narrow and hilly segment of the byway leads to Tower Rock, the highest point on the byway.

 From Elizabethtown to Brookport, the byway tells many parts of the American story. Hog Thief Creek, near Elizabethtown, is the site of the state’s first iron ore furnace, a major source of iron for the Union in the Civil War. Rosiclare is home to the fluorspar industry, an important part of the history and lives of many people throughout the area for several generations. Golconda, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is famous for its 603-acre marina-getaway to the Smithland Pool and one of the best fishing spots in the Midwest. Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site, located north of Brookport on Unionville Road, is a nationally significant Native-American archaeological treasure. From about 1,000 AD to 1,450 AD it was the ‘capital’ of a chiefdom that stretched from Brookport to Hamletsburg along the Ohio River. Stop by to see the mounds from a viewing platform with interpretive panels that boasts this historical story. 

 Onward to Metropolis, then Cairo, the byway will also take you to the home of the ‘Man of Steel’. The only city in the U.S. named Metropolis, the city has adopted Superman as its’ favorite son! The Town Square boasts a 15ft. statue of this hero. Leave your kryptonite at home, and come on in to the Super Museum in Metropolis to see its $2.5 million collection.  Follow the river out of Metropolis toward Cairo, you’ll pass the Mounds City National Cemetery, burial site for Union and Confederate soldiers. The 1874 Caretakers House has been renovated and houses a museum. Cairo was a strategic site during the civil War and served as headquarters to Ulysses S. Grant. Visit the Custom House Museum and Safford Memorial Library. A fitting place to end, (or begin), the scenic drive is Fort Defiance Park. From the observation deck you can watch the blue waters of the Ohio flow into the muddy waters of the Mississippi.

 As you travel the Byway, be sure to stop at the Ohio River Visitor Center in Equality or the Mound City National Cemetery Visitor Center for area brochures and information.

Take the drive, and, let me know your favorite stop along the route!

Enjoy Southern Illinois!