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52 Hike Challenge – Hike 17 – Route 66: A Geographic Journey, Towanda, Illinois

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 17 – Route 66: A Geographic Journey, Towanda, Illinois

When I was in high school, I had a very influential teacher. He continues to be an important mentor to this day. But back in the “olden days”, he inspired me to become involved in a new project of his: transforming a section of Historic Route 66 from barricaded pavement to an educational linear park. It was a big task, but if you’ve ever met Mr. Walk you know not to underestimate him. The man gets things done.

My first hands on exposure to the project was pulling weeds after school one day. I know that doesn’t sound captivating, but it was. I was immediately hooked on the history and romance of traveling this historic road. Thinking about it now, it was probably the earliest seed of adult wanderlust in my brain. I spent many hours over the next few years working on creating informational markers, staining benches (so much staining!), planting beautiful gardens and broadening my knowledge of the Mother Road.

When I was a senior in high school we embarked on one of our biggest projects: designing, painting and installing eight 4 ft x 8 ft murals, one representing each state Route 66 passes through. Great care was taken to make sure these murals would weather as slowly as possible. Roofed shelters and UV-blocking plexiglass were installed with each mural, and it’s great to see each piece hold up pretty well over the last fifteen years.

For Hike 17 of my 52 Hike Challenge I revisited my beloved park, and took some photos so I could share the experience! I know some of you reading were involved in the early stages of this project. I hope you enjoy seeing your work still shining in Towanda, Illinois!

The trail starts with a trio of flagpoles flying the US, Illinois and Route 66 flags. There is also a welcome sign, informational pamphlets in several languages and a guest book that has been signed by people from all over the world. I’m not the only one captivated by the Mother Road.

As you travel along the path, you’ll see large gardens with labels on many of the plants, trees planted on the roadside (many with memorial markers), Burma Shave signs, informational placards, birdhouses, benches to rest on and the murals.

The murals are placed in the order in which you would travel the states if you were starting the Route 66 drive in Chicago and finishing in L.A.

I’m so grateful to have had teachers who valued service learning, and I’m especially grateful I was able to work on a project that is stillĀ thriving. It’s great to be able to visit, but it’s also great to know there are many other people learning about and enjoying the project as well.

Have you ever traveled Route 66 or participated in a historical/travel/outdoor service project in your community? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Lincoln Day

Lincoln Day

Hailing from the Land of Lincoln, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about him. Numerous school field trips, home state pride and an interest in Civil War history meant I had no shortage of Lincoln info growing up. And yet, I’m still fascinated by our 16th president and his tumultuous yet remarkable life. When I realized I would be spending some time in Illinois without other obligations I decided I had to have a “Lincoln Day” and go tour some of my favorite Lincoln sites.

I got extra lucky with my Lincoln Day plans. A good friend who shares my interest in Civil War history came from NYC for her first visit to Illinois and we were able to incorporate the Lincoln trip into her visit. It was meant to be!

Our first stop in Springfield, Illinois was the free tour of Lincoln’s home which was also the only house he ever owned. The tour is short but very informative and our National Park Service guide, Ranger Rosie, was great. She pointed out ways to view Lincoln as a father and husband, not just a legend and hero, by having us imagine him working at his desk late at night, sequestering the family pets into the informal rooms or playing on the floor with his children. It was a great way to humanize Lincoln and made us feel closer to him as a man. Another way Rosie connected her visitors to the past was to encourage us to hold onto the bannister when heading upstairs – the same bannister Lincoln himself used. I have a hard time imagining our historic idols as everyday people, and these small suggestions by our tour guide helped. The NPS staff was so friendly we had to stop and grab a photo with them and Buddy Bison after the tour.

Our next stop was my favorite museum of all time – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This museum is just perfection. It’s the perfect size. You can move through quickly if you’re short on time, but could also easily fill the time on a longer visit. The exhibits are laid out in an easy to follow arrangement with a natural flow. However, the best part of the exhibits is their effectiveness in telling an emotional story. And both of the shows left me misty-eyed! Some of my favorite displays in the museum are the Civil War soldier stories, the media display in which Tim Russert gives a modern day political news broadcast about Lincoln and his opponents, a recreation of Lincoln lying in state and the bedroom where Lincoln’s son Willie lies very ill, with an eerie clock ticking away the seconds and ballroom music plays in the distance as the Lincoln family entertains at the White House. We were lucky to visit during the last week an exact replica of Lincoln’s hearse was on display, which I was very excited to view. If you’re anywhere near Springfield, Illinois…GO to this museum. You won’t regret it. I love it so much I became a member on this trip!

Our last Lincoln stop of the day was his tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. We got a great tour of the family tomb area, rubbed bronze Abe’s nose for good luck, and visited his original tomb.

The day was a great way to revisit an important piece of US history, and you can’t help but feel for poor old Abe. His life was so tragic. It seems like every win was followed by serious tragedy. Despite that, he was an important leader, and I’m so proud to be from the Land of Lincoln!

Have you visited any cool Lincoln sites? Or do you have another presidential interest? Tell me about it in the comments!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 14 – Cahokia Mounds

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 14 – Cahokia Mounds

Hike 14 of my 52 Hike Challenge was a Native American historical extravaganza. I love learning about Native cultures and the ancient city of Cahokia is a fascinating piece of history that has been studied and preserved in Southern Illinois. I had planned to visit the museum (free, $7 donation suggested for adult visitors) and then hike a bit and climb Monk’s Mound. Luckily I arrived just before the only tour of the day, an hour-long walking history lesson through an important area of the city.

The tour was excellent and our guide was very knowledgable about the site. We learned about the three types of mounds built in the city (platform mounds used to elevate elite/ceremonial buildings, conical burial mounds and ridge-top mounds that are a bit of a mystery but probably used to measure direction and distance as they are placed at regular and intersecting intervals). We also learned about different areas of the site like the palisade wall and the common area called the Grand Plaza, artifacts found in the largest active archeological site on the continent, clues about the residents’ extensive trading practices and possible theories about the quick and mysterious abandonment of the city (which was bigger than London in AD1250 with approximately 20,000 – 40,000 residents).

I cannot stress enough how much I recommend a stop at this UNESCO World Heritage Site if you are visiting Southern Illinois or the St. Louis area. Cahokia Mounds was only a 15 minute drive from downtown St. Louis – it’s a must do.

After the hiking tour, I continued my hike on my own by climbing the 154 steps to the top of the 100′ tall Monk’s Mound, the largest of the 120 mounds on the 2,200 acre State Historic SiteĀ andĀ the largest man-made earthen structure in North America. The views from the top were gorgeous, especially in the spring when everything was lush and green.

Again, I think this is a can’t-miss hike if you’re in the area, and is worth the effort for a day trip. Beautiful midwestern scenery, many trails to choose from, interesting features to hike and rich history make Cahokia Mounds so much more than a regular hike! I hope to visit again and try out some other trails.

Have you ever visited Cahokia Mounds or a similar Native American site?

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