Thursday, August 14, 2008

pleasant places in northern Illinois

Most of my favorite pleasant places revolve around water. We took a trip a few days ago however, that once again opened my eyes to how many fun little places there are virtually right under your nose. All you have to do is look instead of glossing over the close spots on the map and searching for the far away.

My wife wanted to go somewhere for a day. She looked at those close by spots and found Apple River Canyon State Park,
Apple River Canyon State Park

At the base of an impressive cliff on the bank of the Apple River

just across the border in Illinois, about 1:45 from our house here in southern WI. Off we went. The plan was to hike and goof around at the park and then go into Galena, a nearby little tourist town, for dinner. This little state park has all sorts of neat little day trip type places and a variety of hiking trails. The Canyon was impressively deep and narrow. The bluffs were definitely of the vertical cliff-type variety. The river was small, but it was midsummer, well beyond any runoff, so I would expect it to be at low-flow. Fun to wade and catch minnows. Or try to anyway. We watched one of the three other people there actually catch a little trout, so I'm pretty sure there are even fish in the river.
3 story flood gate protecting Galena

A set of very impressive gates on the Galena levee

Like Leavenworth, Washington, Galena, Illinois is another worn out and used up resource town. In this case the resource is lead. This part of Illinois and Wisconsin has all sorts of metals rich geology. I believe the mines in this area were a significant supplier of the lead that Union soldiers used in the Civil War. Happily, after that sad part of our history, someone had the drive to remake the town and dress it up into a little destination place for tourists. They largely succeeded. As far as I can tell tourism and shopping are the main products of Galena. It's a cute little town. The Galena River, which flows right next to the town border was tiny when we saw it. Appearances must be deceptive though, as the town had a giant levee surrounding it and a set of flood gates the size of which I had never seen before. When the river floods I guess it really must get big.

The biggest surprise of all was waiting for us south of Galena. We had some time to kill so we wandered out of town and spied a small sign pointing the way to something called Chestnut Mountain.
view of three states from Chestnut Mountain

Three state view from a surprisingly good vantage point

A few miles outside of Galena all of a sudden the road went straight up, wound around a few corners, and topped out on the bluffs along the Mississippi. In the parking lot of a surprisingly large ski resort. Chestnut Mountain. I was shocked at the vertical this place has. The summer time view was gorgeous. You can see three states from the top of the chairlift. The lifts were running, so they let us ride them down and back up. Our kids had never done this before so it was a real treat for them. The view over the Big River was beautiful. They have an alpine slide which they open up during the summer.
alpine slide at Chestnut Mountain near Galena

Big fun on the alpine slide

Looked like big fun. Sadly it was closed because of a recent rain, from which the concrete sliding tubes were still wet. But it looked FUN. I also saw a rack full of mountain bikes available for rent. I thought this place looked like a great weekend getaway during the summer. Big fun. Nice sights, a workout or two if you want, and a great view from a summertime chairlift ride. Wish I had known about this place sooner.

Next time you want a day trip, go to that spot on the map 65 miles away that you have been ignoring forever. It might just surprise you. It sure did for me.