Mitch's Blog 7.0

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 6 Summary

Day 6 Summary – August 5, 2005
Metropolis, IL to Rochelle, IL

Day 6 would be an anomaly during my vacation, in that the entire day would be spent traveling entirely within one state. After spending the previous day in 5 different states, this would be a refreshing change of pace.

I woke up on day 6 in the city of Metropolis, IL. Now, if you’re familiar at all with the comic strip hero Superman, you’d realize that Metropolis is the name of the city he lives in. While Superman’s Metropolis was not intended to be located in any one state, the city of Metropolis, Illinois, the only place in the United States to have that name, has adopted Superman as its own. Besides having a large billboard that says “home of Superman” and banners along the town’s main streets that prominently feature Superman, the city also has a Superman museum and a gigantic statue next to the county courthouse. The museum wasn’t yet open when we drove past, but the statue was, and it was quite fun to look at.

After seeing the Superman stuff, we headed on down to Fort Massac State Park, which is very conveniently located within the city of Metropolis. The state park is the oldest in Illinois, having been established in 1908, and features a recreation of an 1802 American fort that was on the site, right next to the Ohio River overlooking what is presently Kentucky. The fort contains 2 barracks, 3 block houses, officer quarters, a well, a stockade with a fraise fence, and offered a fascinating portrait into the life of early American settlers in the area.

Besides the fort, the park also featured the usual interpretive center, hiking trails, and picnic areas so common in state parks. Illinois’ state parks are all free, however, which can be looked at as both a good and bad thing.

Following spending a little more than an hour at the park, it was time to get on the interstate to begin the arduous journey from nearly the very southern tip of Illinois to a city about 45 minutes away from the Illinois/Wisconsin border.

First, we had to get on Interstate 24 heading north through the very heavily forested country of southern Illinois. The interstate actually closely abuts the Shawnee National Forest in this portion of Illinois.

After Interstate 24 ended and merged in with Interstate 57, we continued along this road for another 70 miles. Past the towns of Marion, West Frankfort, Benton, and Mount Vernon we went, until finally reaching exit 116, which would start us on the way to traveling on a 2-lane highway for the 80 or so mile stretch to Decatur.

Exit 116 brought us up to U.S. Highway 50, which we followed into the cities of Odin and Sandoval. At Sandoval, we had to turn onto U.S. Highway 51, which would be the one we would be taking more or less up to the cities of Bloomington and Normal.

Although interstate highways provide a fast way to get from one point to another, it is definitely true that you see more by traveling on 2-lane back roads such as highway 51. I enjoyed going through all the small towns along the highway between Sandoval and Decatur.

As a side note, one of those small towns I passed though was Vandalia, which, if you didn’t know, was the capital of Illinois from 1819-1839. That’s just something interesting I thought I’d point out.

By the time we finally made it to the Decatur bypass on highway 51, things were beginning to feel much like the Illinois I had known before. The endless block of trees began to give way to endless blocks of corn and soybeans, the terrain became increasingly flatter, and the people started to speak with a Midwest accent rather than a southern one.

From Decatur, it was just a short, 30-minute drive on the 4-lane U.S. Highway 51 up to Bloomington, which was one of the cities I stayed overnight in during my 2002 vacation to Washington D.C. Needless to say, we pretty much bypassed the Bloomington/Normal area to get on Interstate 39 going north.

About 40 miles past Bloomington/Normal, we exited on exit 41, Illinois Highway 18, to head into the rural city of Streator to take a backroad way into Rochelle.

From Streator, we got on Illinois 23 and went north to Ottawa, a city that appeared to be a far exurb of Chicago. The city was quite a nice place, though, and is located in somewhat of a deep river valley.

After Ottawa, all that was required of us to do was follow highway 23 up to where it came to an intersection with U.S. Highway 34 going west. This was a pretty neat area, since it was so utterly rural for being a mere 65 miles away from downtown Chicago, the third largest city in the United States. The land was completely flat, there were few trees, and corn seemed to be growing everywhere I looked. It was just amazing how far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Chicago metropolitan area this region of Illinois is considering how close it is to Chicago.

It was also in this area of Illinois that I was reminded of why I love the landscape of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota so much; north central Illinois looks so incredibly like the Red River Valley region of the Upper Midwest. In both areas, I just love the paucity of trees, the flatness of the land, and the straightness of the roads. It’s ironic, considering I’ve now intimately seen both the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains, but I’d love to live in a house offering an interrupted view of nothing but flat farmland. Although I think mountainous areas are extremely beautiful, living in, for example, one of those Appalachian towns in North Carolina would feel far too confining for me; I prefer the “big sky” county much more.

In Mendota, we turned off from highway 34 and onto Illinois Highway 251. It was about 7:30 PM – about a half and hour before sunset – when we began faring the 30 miles from Mendota to Rochelle.

I can honestly say that this 30 mile trip was probably one of the most beautiful and memorable I’ve ever been on. The sun was right on the verge of setting, with all the colors that make up a stunning sunset beginning to appear, and all of the corn and cropland looked wonderful lit up in the final sunrays of the day. Neither words nor pictures can express how inspiring this voyage was.

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As can be seen in this picture from the radar on The Weather Channel, Paducah and Metropolis lie almost in the middle of a region containing 6 different states

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Looking down main street in Metropolis, notice the Superman displays on the streetlights

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Metropolis's huge Superman statue

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The Superman museum

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The fort at Fort Massac State Park

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Another view, this time from the outside of the fort

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Inside one of the barracks at the fort

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Another view inside one of the barracks

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The Interstate 24 bridge that spans the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois

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A view of the Ohio River looking into Kentucky

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Fort Massac State Park also had this statue of George Rogers Clark looking onto Kentucky

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The inmates were out mowing the grass at the park

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Another view along the shore of the Ohio River

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Appropriately enough (Illinois' state bird is the cardinal), this cardinal showed up to feed while I was at Fort Massac State Park

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The scenery near Pana

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Illinois farmland near Decatur

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Some farmland near Streator

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A country road near Mendota

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The beautiful road on the way to Rochelle

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Somebody decided to fly over the farmland near Rochelle

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This insect managed to hold onto the window, while the van was going 60 mph, for quite a distance (see the video below)

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Downtown Pana

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Normal's watertower

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The Amtrak train from Chicago comes to Mendota

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Our van made quite an interesting shadow amongst the cornfields while on the road to Rochelle

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Just a few minutes before sunset

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Just as we got to Rochelle, the sun set

Fort Massac State Park
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Ant at Fort Massac State Park
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An Insect Clings onto Window
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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001