Wednesday, September 29, 2010

East Bound and Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

As everyone knows, I am still trying to catch up on our blog.  I think I'm getting close and then I find myself behind again.  I am writing this on September 28th and I'm trying hard to remember what we did almost a month ago.  I want to get to the point where I write something every day -- hopefully, soon, I will get there.

After leaving South Dakota, our first stop was at the Checkers Campground in Welcome, Minnesota.  Checkers is a Passport America park -- can't beat $12 for full hookups with 50 amp service. However, the little man that escorted us to our site informed us if we planned on doing laundry it would be a dollar more -- "city water, you know."  There's nothing special about this campground, but it was okay for a one-night stop.  

We were up and on our way the next morning.  We stopped at a rest area just inside the Wisconsin line.

We picked up a listing of Wisconsin campgrounds and Alan selected one and we were off to find it. Unfortunately, I do not have anything to even remind us of the name -- as you see, after we drove several miles off I-90 and finally arrived at the campground, we immediately knew we would not be staying.  When the first thing we saw was a beer advertisement on the front of the office, we knew this was not the place for us -- not to mention we would have to climb a hill to a parking site and there were folks swimming in what looked like a dirty pond.  We promptly turned around and headed back down the road, telling ourselves if it's not right off the highway, we aren't stopping!!

However, we again chose one that was approximately ten miles off I-90 -- Leon Valley Campground in Sparta, Wisconsin, but it had decent reviews on

Leon Valley had a LOT of residents and seasonals and they charged way too much -- $36 and no sewer.  We should know better by now.  And rules -- did they have the rules.

We thought this one was the best of all -- did you notice the sign "Garbage Dumpster" with an arrow pointing to the left...then the big sign under it "NO REFUSE CONTAINERS...TAKE GARBAGE WITH YOU."  What a classic -- don't think we have been anywhere, where they told us to take our garbage with  We know there's a reason for every rule, but expecting everyone to take their garbage with them was just too much.

We made it through the night with no problems and we were up  and determined to make it to Utica,  llinois.  We had reservations at the Hickory Hollow Campground.  Hickory Hollow is a Good Sam and a Passport America park.  The limit on Passport America is two nights in a given week.  It is a very nice campground and very big.  The literature says it has 85 total RV sites, but it also has a number of tent sites.  The owners were very friendly and helpful.

More cornfields

Our initial plan was to stay at Hickory Hollow four nights but we ended up staying nine days total.  Even though it was Labor Day weekend, they gave us the Passport America rate for two more days.  It ended up costing us $26 a night with both Passport America and Good Sam discounts.

We did a little shopping at the local mall and I got my hair cut.  We even visited the Starved Rock State Park, a short distance from the campground.

The Illinois River is adjacent to the park.

We visited the Information Center where we learned about this elm tree.
This was one of the largest American elms in Illinois.  It was destroyed by the elm bark beetle. It was 85 feet tall with a  diameter of over 5 feet  and supported the largest known crown in the country of 126 feet.  We also learned about the early Illinois explorers and the Indians that once roamed this area.

The Illinois Valley was formerly the site of the largest Native American population in the United States.  Tribes hunted buffalo herds and caught fish in the river.  Archaeologists report there is evidence that archaic people lived within Starved Rock State Park thousands of years before the birth of Christ.  Village sites and burial mounds have been mapped by archeologists within the park.  The best known and possibly the largest group of Native Americans to live in this area were the Illinois -- or Illiniwek -- from the 1500s to the 1700s.  This tribe, between five and ten thousand, were divided into sub-tribes.  In August 1673, five French voyagers led by explorer Louis Jolliet, accompanied by Father Jacques Marquette, became the first known Europeans to enter the area.  They canoed up the Illinois River from the Mississippi River.  Two years later, Father Marquette returned to the village and founded the Mission of the Immaculate Conception, the first Illinois Christian mission near what is now Utica.  Several years later, Rene' Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle and Henri de Tonti claimed the Mississippi Valley for France.  Their objective was to build a chain of forts to confine the English colonies to the east coast.  They built Fort St. Louis on top of Starved Rock in 1682, towering above the rapids of the Illinois River.

Native Americans settled in great numbers near the fort to gain protection from the feared Iroquois tribe and to be near a source of  French trade goods.  Fort Louis was used as a refuge by traders and trappers until fire destroyed it, approximately in 1720.  In the decades that followed, the French halted plans of colonization and left the area in 1765. 

Starved Rock State Park derives its name from a Native American legend of injustice and retribution.  In the 1760s, Pontiac -- chief of the Ottawa tribe -- was slain by an Illiniwek.  According to legend, during one of the battles that occurred to avenge his killing, a band of Illiniwek, under attack, sought refuge atop a 125-foot sandstone butte.  The Ottawa and Potawatomi surrounded the bluff and held their ground until the Illiniwek died of starvation -- thus the name of "Starved Rock."

We decided to find our way to "the" Starved Rock. We could see it in the distance -- so we thought -- can you see it to?

The signs all said this is the way you need to go to the rock -- UH???  You're kidding right -- go down & not up???
There must be at least a 100 steps down

Here we go...don't forget we've got to come back up.

Okay, we're down...what -- we've got to up -- again -- OH ME!!

We made it to the top and this is what we saw overlooking the Illinois River:

Plum Island where bald eagles can be seen in the Fall.

We did make it down and back up.  We planned to seek out a waterfall we were told about, but after we got to the canyon and started the trail, we both realized there was no way we could leg started hurting very badly, so we went back to the campground to rest.

We're pretty sure I re-injured my leg with all that walking and's been swollen and painful a lot since then -- thank goodness for Ibuprofen.  When we return to North Carolina, we want to see if we can be seen at the Duke Orthopedic Clinic -- both of us...Alan for his foot and me for my leg.

We watched everyone pack up and leave the park on Labor Day.  Then we left Utica ourselves the following Tuesday for Elkhart, Indiana, a few short miles from Goshen and the Escapade.  Be sure and come back to see what we found there.  In the meantime, may God continue to bless our voyage, as well as our family and friends everywhere.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota

We bade farewell to Ellsworth AFB and Rapid City and headed East -- destination:  Goshen, Indiana, for the 50th Escapees Escapade -- more about that later.

Back in June when we first came to South Dakota to get our drivers licenses, before we ever crossed the Iowa/South Dakota border, we began to see advertisements for "Wall Drug."  We were like, "What in the heck is Wall Drug -- they have spent a fortune on advertisements."  Of course, we never made it to Wall Drug in June because we had to return to Illinois to complete the repair of our A/C.  This time, in August, before we crossed the Wyoming/South Dakota line -- same thing...more Wall Drug advertisements.  It definitely peaked our interest, so we decided to check it out.

Wall, South Dakota, is a short 55 miles East of Rapid City and has a population of approximately 800.  From the looks of the parking area, a lot of other people's interest was peaked as well.  Today, Wall Drug is a large tourist attraction and consists of a drug store, restaurants, western clothing store and various other shopping opportunities. 

There's even a chapel. 

The chapel was patterned after a chapel in Dubuque, Iowa, built by Trappist Monks in 1850.  The beams were shaped by an ax.

The stained glass windows came from a church built in the late 1800s at the State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota.

Before we go any further, let me explain how present-day Wall Drug came about.  The small town drugstore made its first step toward fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931.  Hustead was a Nebraska native and a pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic church.  His father had died and left him $3,000 that he wanted to use to purchase his own drugstore.  In Wall, they found both a small town and a Catholic church.  The population at the time was 231 and the Hustead's family referred to Wall as "in the middle of nowhere."  Business was very slow until Hustead's wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly-opened Mount Rushmore.  So, they constructed some signs and modeled them after the Burma Shave highway signs and put the signs along the highway.  The signs said:

     "Get a soda...Get root beer...Turn next corner...Just as near...
      To Highway 16 &14...Free Ice Water...Wall Drug."  

From that time forward, business was brisk and Wall Drug was turned into a cowboy-themed department store.  By 1981, Wall Drug claimed to give away 20,000 cups of water a day between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Wall Drug still provides free ice water, as well as free bumper stickers and signs.  They also give free coffee and donuts -- which are made on-site -- to Veterans.  

Now we know how and why there are so many signs on the highway advertising Wall Drug -- from east to west.  Both Ted and Dorthy Hustead have since passed and the store is now in the hands of their son, Bill.  Wall Drug draws up to 20,000 people a day during the summer months.  There are over 500 miles of billboards on I-90, stretching from Minnesota to Billings, Montana.  Wall Drug spends an estimated $400,000 on billboards every year.  It's amazing what the offer of free water did for the little town of Wall, South Dakota. 

There's even a dinosaur with sound, smoke and everything.

We also had lunch.  Alan had a ham plate with potato salad, beans, roll -- and his free donut and coffee.

I had a hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes -- YUM.

Leaving Wall, basically ended our visit to South Dakota for 2010.  We did stop for the night in Mitchell, which is approximately 75 miles from the South Dakota/Minnesota border.  As we head East, we are very pleased with our decision to become South Dakotans -- after 50+ years of being Arkansans.  We still call Arkansas home -- North Carolina our second home -- but we are proud to be South Dakotans as well. 

May God continue to bless our voyage and bless our family and friends everywhere.