Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Escaping Chaos: Illinois, Wild Bill, and Chief Black Hawk

Monday morning we were up and out, destination…Illinois. The day was a little grey, but we didn’t get any rain. The clouds did nothing to quell the ridiculous heat, though! (Checked the heat map of North America, and we would have to go to Alaska or middle Canada to get away from this mess! Have I mentioned that I REALLY do not like summer??!) It was a beautiful drive through flat farm country for the most part. Along the rivers you would get a little hilliness and some trees, but it is mostly vast and open. At the Flying J in Effingham, Illinois, we met our mobile mechanic, Chad West, owner of Mobile RV & Marine Repair. He was great! We received his information from Grand Design, and first called him on Friday after the blowout when we were over in Indiana. He asked where we were, and was willing to drive the 2-1/2 hours to get to us. In the conversation we found out where he was and realized we would be going right to him. Petunia was towable, but the wiring in the driver’s side brakes was ripped out. We didn’t want to go too far or leave the flat land without getting that looked at. Chad had just pulled up when we arrived, and by the time I went in to get a drink and came back, he was almost done. He also told us that the damage to the slide should not affect its operation, which made us happy. Since the blowout last Thursday, we had been keeping the slide in, just in case. Let me tell you, when you live in an RV, that little extra 3 feet is important! MW (Mr. Wonderful) and I were constantly in each other’s way! LOL With the repair complete, we talked to Chad a bit (Of course, the sun came out for the standing in the parking lot part. Ugh!), then headed on up to Shelbyville, Illinois. (Their courthouse would definitely make MW’s book of bests!)

We were almost to the campground when we came upon a “Cattle Crossing” sign, followed by something I’ve never seen before…actual cattle crossing! Well, I wouldn’t say crossing so much as fleeing in a panic. Maybe they were a part of the great wild cow herd of Illinois. You know, like the wild horses on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. MW didn’t think it was likely, but he has no imagination. There were a couple of guys out there trying to shoo them away from the road, and the cows were clearly confused. They ran towards us, then saw Brutus and turned around and ran back, turning into the front yard of the house on the right. When it was safe to pass, we continued on our way. As we passed the house, we saw the cows wandering around in the owner’s flower garden. I hope they were actually their cows, but either way, that garden was toast.

Just a couple more miles down the road was our destination…Coon Creek Campground on Lake Shelbyville. For a Monday, there were a lot of folks camping, but our site was at the end of the loop and faced into the woods. The privacy was great, but the site was steep and leveling required quite a kneel. The campground was well kept, with multiple loops. The one negative for us was that our loop had only toilets and no showers. There was a main bathhouse and a secondary bathhouse on other loops, but they were quite a hike in the heat. MW ended up using the She Shower…not his favorite thing. (He likes the larger space of the bathhouse showers.). After setting up, we settled in.

On Tuesday we struck out to explore the area and ended up in Arthur, Illinois. The Visitor’s Center was closed due to Covid, but we walked through the cute, little downtown area. One of the shops had a trio of greeters that was just adorable. We popped into Heartland Deli and Delights to check out their cheese selection (one of MW’s favorite things), and picked up a couple of things including Gooey Butter Cookies that were totally delicious. A little further down the road we found Yoder’s Kitchen. In our travels we have been to many Amish areas of the country. One thing we know for sure, Amish restaurants and bakeries tend to be awesome, so that was our lunch stop for the day. Yoder’s had a buffet going, but we decided to order off of the menu. The food did not disappoint…the broaster chicken was great! After lunch we headed back to Petunia to relax.

Wednesday, as always, was laundry day. I headed into Shelbyville, Illinois, to accomplish the task, stopping at CVS to pick up some detergent and McDonald’s for a McMuffin on the way. While I was gone, MW walked around the campground despite the heat and vacuumed Petunia. With the chores complete, I focussed on getting some tax work done and MW patched up the underside of Petunia with FlexTape (amazing stuff).

Thursday was moving day. After a bit of a sleepless night, we were up and heading north by 8 AM. It was a beautiful day for a drive, and the open farmland was gorgeous. Coming from the southeast, it always blows me away to see crops for as far as you can see. Plus, corn in Illinois or Ohio or Indiana doesn’t look like corn in the south. This stuff is dark green and very lush, despite most farmers not using irrigation systems. At Cerro Gordo we stopped for breakfast at Judy’s Kitchen and Catering, which was delicious. Our plates came with eggs, lots of bacon, hash browns, and toast with a choice of Rye, Sourdough, Wheat or White. Aside from the bread, which all seemed to be homemade and terrific, I’m not quite sure how they made the rest of that taste so much better than other places. We also had a nice chat with a local fellow who was a Korean War veteran. Back on the road, we continued north to Ellsworth to check out the Twin Groves Wind Farm Lookout. This is a really cool vantage point to see some of the 240 turbines located along the Bloomington Morraine, an ice age glacial formation. It was really beautiful seeing so many towers strewn across magnificent corn fields. One of the cool things was their sidewalk, built in the shape and size of the tower shafts and blades. To put it into perspective…one of the propeller assemblies laid on the ground would be almost the length of a football field!

Heading north once again, we passed through Norway (the town, not the country) before turning west to Troy Grove, birthplace of James Butler Hickok, better know by most of us as Wild Bill. Hickok led a storied life with stints as a spy, soldier, drover, scout, gambler, and gunfighter, but at least some of the tales were purportedly fabricated. One that was not is how he died. Jack McCall was a drunk, failed gambler who lost to Hickok in a poker game earlier. While Bill was playing poker in Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, Jack shot him in the back of the head. At the time Bill was holding two pair, black aces and eights, a combination that to this day is known as the Dead Man’s Hand. Our final leg for the day took us northwest to Lowden State Park in Oregon, Illinois.

On Friday we awoke to heavy thunderstorms. In fact, MW said that the thunder was really loud about 5 AM, but I slept through that. I do my best snoring when the wind is howling and the thunder is crashing. We hung out for most of the morning waiting for the rain to let up, then took a ride over to the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan in Dixon, Illinois. His family moved there when he was 9 years old, and while he was born a little further south, Dixon was where he called home. The visitor’s center was closed, but we checked out the outside of the house and the park and statue next door. (Incidentally, that statue didn’t look like him at all.) Afterwards, we drove down to the river overlook where they had a statue of Reagan on a horse, which really did look like him. Reagan was a lifeguard during high school and some of his college years. During that time he saved the lives of 77 people, pulling them out of the river. Less famous, but a big part of Dixon’s charm is the annual Petunia Festival held over 4th of July. (Imagine that…a festival just for our sweet Petunia!) It must be a big deal, because they have a Petunia Festival headquarters office just across from the riverfront statue. Next we headed to lunch at Flynnie’s Diner, number one on the TripAdvisor list of area restaurants with good reason. The staff was very attentive (and happy to be back at work on their first day with an open dining room), and the food was great. MW had the Ruby, their version of a reuben, which the waitress highly recommended. I went for the Chicken Spinach Swiss Panini. Both were great, as were the onion rings and tomato basil soup. Before we left we were presented with one of their cinnamon rolls to go, which they apparently give to folks on their first visit. (It was great, too!) After lunch we headed back towards Oregon, planning to stop by the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Illinois. It was there that John Deere created the first commercially successful steel plow. Luck was not on our side, though, as the facility was closed. We continued along the river and stopped at an overlook which afforded us a little exercise…LOTS of stairs climbing up to see the entire area. It was beautiful, and after taking our time looking a bit, we hustled back to Brutus just in time to miss more rain. Back at Petunia we napped a little, then just hung out as some pretty serious storms passed. At one point they were predicting high winds, golf-ball-sized hail, and potential tornados. We ended up just getting a lot of water, though.

The next morning we hung around Petunia. I felt a headache coming on that I needed to curtail so I walked around the campground a bit, we both took a little nap (sometimes you just have to), and then walked over to the snack bar for a drink with a little caffeine in it (helps knock out the headache). Thankfully, by mid-afternoon I was feeling much better. We took a ride north to Byron, Illinois, up on the east side of the Rock River. While there, we hit the Country Market grocery store for a few items. They had a good sale on cokes (or sodas or pop, depending on where you grew up), so we picked those up, too. At the counter after she rang everything up, the young checkout girl asked if we had a rewards card. Of course, we don’t. As she is handing us the receipt, I happened to ask if we still got the sale prices without the card. “Sorry, no.” I’m officially adding that to my pet peeve list. First, why was that little bit of information relayed only when I asked? I’m sure there was some type of notification on the sale label, BUT I guarantee it was in print I could not read without getting down on the floor. They should have a big sign posted as you are coming in. They can put it right next to the “you must wear a mask” sign that everyone, including some of the employees, was ignoring. Second, why in the heck do I need to have a loyalty card to a store I will never go back to in order to receive the advertised sale price of an item??!! I have cards to about six stores in the areas we most often shop, so it’s not like I’m dodging the loyalty programs. The same situation has come up before, but then the helpful (hmmmm…that may be the issue) cashier asked up front if we had their card, then found out we were from out of the area and scanned her card (or I’ve even had a local standing there give them her card for my purchases to get the points). I think I’m just going to have to remember to ask when I walk up to the register, then give the cashier back the items that I am not purchasing if they aren’t on sale. Okay, rant over. Sorry for the left turn. We drove back to Oregon on the west side of the river, then drove around looking at the beautiful old houses and downtown. We went to the Kiwanis Park, which is on the river just downstream from the dam. The Rock River is very wide and has a LOT of pleasure boat traffic. It must not flood too bad, because some of the houses are only 12 feet or so above the water level, and there is no evidence of high water like back home on the Clinch. We also saw the Chief Black Hawk statue up on the hillside. (We would see it up close later.) After that, we headed over to the Blackhawk Steak Pit, which was highly rated on TripAdvisor. This was their second day back to serving in the dining room, and they were happy to be there. Our waitress, Jeannette, was awesome. I talked to her a little about all of this Covid mess, and she said she had been out of work since early March and was very thankful to be working again. The atmosphere was rustic, and we loved the old music…Sinatra, Martin (Dean, not Ricky), Elvis, etc. That would have been perfect if we could not hear the percussion from the music at the biker bar on the other side of the four lane. It was just loud enough for you to wonder what is making that throbbing noise. The menu was nice, although the beer selection was lacking. We shared the Grecian Meatballs appetizer (served with feta, kalamata olives, and pita, which tasted fresh baked). This place is known for its steaks, which are cooked over charcoal, so I had the ribeye. It was tender and delicious. I now understand why some folks always grill over charcoal. Yum! MW had been jonesing (no pun intended) for prime rib, but was disappointed when it was a little on the tough side. It was enough food for us to take leftovers home for another meal, and he added a slice of Reeses Cheesecake to the bag (which he ate later and did not even offer me a bite…really). I gave him two demerits for not playing well with others and not sharing. Back at Petunia we relaxed for the rest of the evening, enjoying watching old TV…Hazel, Virginian. I was a little worried when there were fireworks and loud music playing outside as we went to bed, but it all quieted down at 10 when quiet hours began. (It’s a good thing, too. MW calls me the “quiet hours Nazi”. I’ll admit I have been known to offer to wake someone up when we get up at the crack of dawn if they don’t shut the noise down. LOL)

On Sunday we got up early to take a good walk around the park. Lowden State Park is located on the high bank of the Rock River, although there is no river access and the campground is on the other side. It has about 4 miles of trails, and a large picnic area with pavilions and a playground. The star attraction is a 48-foot-tall statue of Chief Black Hawk (not a real person but designed to represent Native Americans as a whole.) As parks go, it is not too big, but it is pretty with all of the hardwoods. There is a snack bar near the campground that sells drinks, hotdogs, candy, etc. The campground is not great, though. Most of the sites are pretty level, but they are really close together. The roads are narrow and don’t seem to be laid out in the most efficient way to get to the sites. In fact, when we arrived the host told us the best way to get to our site was to drive past the “Do Not Enter” sign, circle around, and come in from the back. It was a pull-through that had our door side facing the door side of the next site. Thankfully, while most of the sites in the park were filled on Friday, the one closest to us was not. It is also VERY noisy, not only with campers but motorcycles are constantly riding through, circling on the statue road, then riding back out. The facilities were clean, but inadequate for the number of campsites. (One toilet and two showers in the men’s and two toilets and two showers in the women’s covering approximately 88 sites.) After walking to the statue and back through the campground, we got cleaned up and took a ride up to Freeport to run a couple of errands and enjoy the beautiful farm country. Then we returned to Petunia, and I worked on TheJonesPath. Dinner was leftovers, and we spent the evening watching some more old TV.

Finally, an update on the blowout situation. In addition to Chad from above, we had help from some very professional and impressive people. First, Angela Kniffen at Grand Design was awesome. She gave us contacts for mobile repair people, checked back to make sure everything was okay, and quickly got us on the schedule at their facility in Indiana for the repairs. She even made a point of touching base just before she left for vacation. The other person, also amazing, was Chris Nemetz at Foremost Insurance (through USAA). He reviewed our coverage, and had the estimated payment (based on the pictures we provided) transferred into our account in a matter of days. Then he called and explained the entire process going forward.

Next up…Iowa. See you on the road!

Talisa

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2 Comments

  1. Joseph Sasso

    I really enjoy reading your posts and your writing style. It’s very entertaining and informative. Thank you.

    If you were to follow the Rock River north into southern Wisconsin you would come to Janesville, my birthplace. So I am somewhat familiar with the Rock River there and in Beloit, WI.

    • TJP2018

      Thank you! So glad you enjoy the blog. Your home state is certainly beautiful! We have explored a little up there.

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