I forgot to talk a little more about Illinois in the last post, so here goes: Our 21st state, also known as the Land of Lincoln, was admitted to the union on December 3, 1818. It is a central state with global reach…the port of Chicago reaches the Atlantic Ocean via the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway, and the Illinois Waterway and Mississippi River will take you right to the Gulf of Mexico. Wouldn’t it be cool to take a boat in a big circle around the eastern half of the United States?! After John Deere (who they claim as an Illinoian, but was born in Vermont) invented the self-scouring steel plow, the state’s vast, fertile plains were reborn into an agricultural Mecca attracting immigrant farmers from far away. Although four of our presidents have lived in Illinois, only one was born there…Ronald Reagan. You thought I was going to say Lincoln, didn’t you? The original state capital was Kaskaskia, then Vandalia. It was Abraham Lincoln, as a state representative, who lobbied to have it moved to Springfield, where it remains. Illinois has the 5th largest economy by GDP in the United States, led by pharmaceuticals. The list of top 10 exports includes corn, which you’d expect. The one that surprised me, though, was at #5…human blood, animal blood preparations. Ewwwww! We’ve spent a good deal of time in Illinois and have stayed at some great parks. The landscape ranges from rolling hills to flat farmland, and outside of the giant cities, it’s all beautiful.

On Monday, April 10, we said our goodbyes to Lori and Jimmy and at 8:30 AM or so headed north through Herrin on IL-148. At Sesser, we spotted Bagels & Brews and stopped for a little coffee and breakfast. Continuing north, we turned west on IL-15, then hit US-51 north, passing through Centralia, Illinois, “Home of the Winningest High School Basketball Team in the country”. Apparently the boy’s basketball team has held that title multiple times since 2008, switching it up with Dobyns-Bennett High School. The latter, from our neck of the woods in Kingsport, Tennessee, currently holds it with 2,343 overall wins. The town is also home to the rather impressive Centralia Carillon. The eighth largest in the world, this tower houses 65 bells, the largest of which weighs 5-1/2 tons. Wow!

At Vandalia, we stopped for lunch at the Copper Penny, a pub on the square. Their specialty was the Pony Shoe…a slice of bread, meat patty, French fries, and cheese sauce. Mr. Wonderful (MW) said it was pretty good, but the meat portion was too small for the volume of other stuff. (Y’all should know by now that, for him, more meat equals better!) Before getting back on the road, we walked around the square and checked out the Vandalia State House, the fourth capitol building of Illinois. This little town was also the western terminus of the Cumberland Road, the first highway funded by the federal government which ran 591 miles from Cumberland, Maryland.

After our little walk, we continued north, hitting IL-29 at Pana, which took us up to Springfield. The final leg was on IL-125 up to CR-11 north. We ended up at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area around 3 PM.

I spent the next two days mostly working on tax returns and catching up on writing. In the middle of nesting season, there were birds everywhere, including a pair of robins in the tree just to the rear of Penelope. They spent quite a bit of time letting us know they did not appreciate where we parked. LOL. There was also a male cardinal who was very threatened by all of the reflected males he was seeing in the windows and mirrors. He kept attacking the truck mirror and back window. Too funny! The weather on Tuesday was terrific, so I did a little exploring on my bike. The park has 24 miles of mountain biking trails, and there are miles of roads throughout and in the wide-open surrounding area. With only about 10 campers in the entire place, it was incredibly peaceful.

Wednesday we decided to head into Petersburg, Illinois. Our first stop was Mom + Pop’s for lunch, which is a small, local joint opened 4 days a week. There was a crowd, which either means great food or limited choices. In this case, the reason was definitely the food…all homemade with a good variety and totally worth the stop. After that we headed over to O’Reilly’s Auto Parts to pick up a hex bit, then filled Brutus’ tank before heading back to the campground. On the way we got a better look at Three Pines, a historic mansion on the edge of town. (It is available for rent, and with TEN bedrooms, you could bring the entire extended family with you!!)

Back at the park, we drove around to get pics, then later walked a bit in the campground. It was a BEAUTIFUL night!

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area is huge and pretty awesome. The land was originally sited for a coal-fired electrical plant by Commonwealth Edison, but those plans never came to fruition. Through a cooperative agreement, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was already using part of the 16,550 acres for hunting, so when the building plans were scrapped, the state jumped at the opportunity and purchased the entire tract in 1993. The park is a varied landscape of forest, farmland, grassland, and prairie around lakes Gridley, Prairie, and Drake and several smaller ponds, well-stocked for fishermen. You can canoe, sail, and low-wake boat on some, too. Hunting opportunities include deer, wild turkey, dove, pheasant, quail, woodcock, snipe, rabbit, raccoon, opossum, red and gray fox, striped skunk, coyote, and squirrel. In addition to the mountain bike trails mentioned earlier, there are also a 3-mile hiking trail, 26 miles of equestrian trails, an archery range, several picnic areas/pavilions, and a fish-cleaning station. They also had two stations at the dump area for hanging game. That’s something we had not seen before. There are 9 heated rental cabins around Prairie Lake in the campground, each with two rooms, electricity, and ceiling fans. One, number 9, was isolated at the end of a path on an inlet. It would be a great place to relax for a while and bank fish. An equestrian campground with 51 electric sites and a primitive camping area are available. The main campground has 83 gravel sites with 30-amp electric, picnic tables, and fire rings, and about a quarter are full-hookup. There are also a new bathhouse, playground, and several vault toilets nearby. Although I’m sure it would feel much more crowded in the summer, the sites were somewhat spread out, and it was a really well-kept, beautiful park. Cell signals were moderate, and we had a few over-the-air tv channels. For families, keeping kids entertained for a week might be a challenge, but we would definitely visit again. For this stay in April 2023 we paid $66.44 for 3 nights in electric only.

At the dump station Thursday morning, we noticed the two posts with pulleys. It took us a while to realize they were game hoists. We also laughed at the carnage on our mirrors from 3-days of cardinal attacks.

We hit the road around 8:45 AM heading west through Beardstown, where we crossed the Illinois River. Continuing west on IL-103, we took US-24 through Mount Sterling, and Camp Point, over to Quincy. We were making good time, so a little break was in order. First we had lunch at McAlister’s Deli, then did a little shopping at Kohl’s (spending my Kohl’s Cash before it expired, of course). After that, we crossed the Mighty Mississippi and found ourselves in Missouri.

The Show Me State became our 24th on August 10, 1821. Like outsiders and some natives, you might pronounce it Missour-ee, but you will also hear locals go with Missour-uh. Two of its larger cities are responsible for serious meats and sounds. Kansas City is the home of its own brand of jazz AND bbq. Likewise with St. Louis barbecue and blues. One other thing those two cities have in common….Federal Reserve Banks; Missouri is the only state to have two. All that and the birthplace of ragtime! There’s LOTS of dancin’ and sticky fingers there! Notable Missourians include Mark Twain, Harry S. Truman, Chuck Berry, and General John J. Pershing. I’ve often wondered about the nickname. Show me what? While there are several possibilities for origin, it basically means Missourians are skeptical and not easily convinced, requiring proof. I was amazed to find that there are more than 7,300 recorded caves in the state. I was more amazed to find that they were SECOND TO TENNESSEE with that number. Watch where you step when hiking in either place. Missouri’s highest exports are a mixed bag of agricultural and industrial stuff. They also ship out a LOT of different heterocyclics, you know…atoms in a ring with different elements. (Okay, honestly, I quit reading what it was because it started sounding like the teacher from Charlie Brown. Not my thing.) Glaringly absent from the list, though, was BEER. I mean seriously, Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis, IS the WORLD’S LARGEST producer of the stuff! One final thing I did not know, St. Louis is an independent city and not a part of one of the 114 counties in Missouri. Interesting.

LITTLE FUNNY: Just west of the river we passed a shop named Hebrews Coffee. Get it…he brews. Or maybe it is He brews, and it truly is heavenly coffee! Creative.

We continued west and caught MO-6 up to Kirksville, where the Jones luck struck again. About 5 miles from our final destination for the day, we were flagged down by another vehicle about our flat tire. Seriously??!! Luckily, there was a large parking lot right there, so MW and his assistant (me) spent the next 30 minutes changing the tire. Ugh! On the plus side, though, it wasn’t 1,000 degrees, the RV blocked us from the sun, and the change went smoothly. Small blessings, right? Not that anyone’s counting, but I think that is number FIVE in 1-1/2 weeks.

When we finally arrived at Thousand Hills State Park a few miles outside of Kirksville, we were dismayed to find another really un-level site. It took quite a bit of work to get level and was very frustrating. Needless to say, after set up, we pretty much vegged for the rest of the evening.

Friday it was time to take care of the laundry, so I headed into town in the morning. My first stop, though, was to drop off the flat tire at Kirksville Auto Works to have the new one mounted. See, having those tires onboard was a good plan! Next I had a bite to eat at DQ Grill & Chill and attempted a client call. Technical difficulties on their end prevented completion, but I did manage to get some other work done. After that, there was a quick O’Reilly Auto Parts run and a little grocery shopping on the way back. Later I cooked a big pot of chili using Lori’s recipe from last week. We just didn’t quite get enough then! MW said that, while I was gone, the camp host came by and was amazed that we were actually level in the spot. She said she tries to head people off at the pass and move them to a different site, because ours is the WORST! My question: Why is the park still renting it out????

Saturday morning started with a couple of client calls as everyone attempts to meet the upcoming tax deadline. Then, while MW changed the tire and re-stored the spare in its normal location, I took a nice bike ride around the park. For lunch, we headed into Kirksville to the Wooden Nickel. Our waiter talked me into Chicken Kreps, which was a “whole breast stuffed with crabmeat, cheeses, and spices, and topped with crab sauce.” What about that wouldn’t be good??!! After lunch we walked around the courthouse before heading back. This is the third courthouse for the county. The first was a small structure built downtown, and the second marked the move to the square, but later burned down. Construction began on this one in 1898, and the final cost was around $60,000. It originally had an ornate clock tower, which was removed in 1949 due to weight. Two significant things have happened in Kirksville: 1) The Battle of Kirksville on August 6, 1862, a Civil War battle where the Union army sought to break up recruiting efforts in northern Missouri by the Confederates. It ended in a decisive victory by the north, but it should be noted that the people attacked were mostly untrained and unarmed. 2) On April 27, 1899, a tornado headed straight for the brand new courthouse. Before making town, it veered northeast and cut a line of destruction right through town. By the time it passed, 150 houses were destroyed, 28 folks were killed instantly, and 104 injured, 13 dying later. There were many odd stories from that night: a) The side wall of the Catholic Church exploded, and furniture scattered everywhere. Yet the crucifix and altar were undamaged. b) A man was picked up, carried 300′, and deposited in a pond. The water was then sucked out of the pond, leaving him standing in mud. c) A barn disappeared into the clouds, but the horse inside was found still tied to a post. d) One woman was sucked up into the cloud and later told of seeing a white horse circling with her. The horse was found a mile from its home. e) Finally, if you ever want to buy a piano, find a Kimble. One was thrown 1,000 feet through a roof and was found in playable condition! It was later taken back to Chicago and displayed by the company as an example of their excellent construction. Amazingly, another tornado hit Kirksville, Missouri, in May of 2009, but didn’t go though downtown, though. After that bit of exploring, the afternoon was spent on writing and relaxing. I was really looking forward to getting past the tax deadline so I could finally get caught up!!

Sunday we decided that breakfast was in order and headed back to Kirksville to Pancake City. Afterwards, we had time to run a few errands before going to a small, local church. This is the first time that I’ve not enjoyed our church exploring on the road, so I’m not going to use names. Prior to the sermon, a few of the regulars were very welcoming, including the preacher who spoke to MW while I was in the ladies room. The sermon, however, was very off-putting. While not the typical “fire and brimstone” rant, which I don’t enjoy either, the entire message was delivered from the negative. Even when speaking of uplifting things like Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, he said it in more of an “I’m going to be saved, but you…meh”, negative way. He also spoke about those who are unsaved with a “stay away from them” bent. It felt like his perspective was to pull all of the believers into the church and shut the doors against everyone else. How in the world will others be saved if we don’t intermingle with them? Why would they want to be if we aren’t friendly and approachable? Jesus didn’t tell us to keep to ourselves! I kept asking God to show me what I needed from the message, but all I ever felt was a strong desire for it to be over. The final weirdness was communion. We’ve been to many churches where you are not allowed to take communion unless you are baptized. I get that, although I don’t necessarily agree with it. (I was a believer long before I was baptized, but followed those rules in the Episcopal churches we visited.) Here, the preacher made a point of saying that communion is for the believers, then excluded everyone in the church who was not a member. So if you aren’t a member, you don’t believe? That exclusion included a young lady whom he had warmly greeted earlier and later congratulated from the pulpit by name as part of a couple newly engaged. She was clearly a regular, but her fiancé was the church member. The whole thing felt like an attempt to control access to God instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to handle His work. Having just had breakfast, we did not stay for lunch, and in all honesty, I was ready to GO. We even had to unlock the front door to get out, which may well have been for security, but just felt wrong. I almost walked flat into a well-dressed man who was waiting to get in, too.

Thousand Hills State Park sits on the banks of the 573-acre Forest Lake and has a lot to offer. Located within 5 miles of Kirksville, it is convenient to everything, yet still very quiet and peaceful. The property features a marina with boat rentals and supplies, dining lodge, picnic shelters including one enclosed, and two playgrounds. Activities include fishing, swimming, boating, canoeing, hiking, biking, and picnicking. You can also explore petroglyphs at the shelter near the beach. Lodging options include seven duplex cabins overlooking the lake with full kitchens and baths, TV, grills, and picnic tables. Camping options include a group area, backcountry, and the regular campground with basic and electric sites. The main camping is divided into two sections, each with its own bathhouse. Campground 2 is the only area open year-round, but our recommendation is to avoid it altogether, unless you can get site 57. Everything else is pretty off-level. Don’t be sucked in by that pull-through at 55, either. (Refresh your memory with our pics above.) Campground 1, on the other hand, had quite a few nice spots. Facilities were very clean, and MW particularly liked the layout of the bathhouse with four separate rooms. Cell coverage was pretty good, and we had plenty of over-the-air TV. With the campground caveats above, we would definitely return. For this stay in April 2023, we paid $106.50 for 4 nights.

Well that’s week two done. Despite a few setbacks, we are excited to be moving northwest. I’m convinced that the trials are just to get this piddly stuff out of the way for clear sailing . MW isn’t quite so positive, but is nonetheless happy to be on the road.

Next up…into Iowa and South Dakota. See you on the path!


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