Summer travel

Heron Pond, Cache River SNA, Illinois

About a month ago Erin and I took our first long road trip with Madelyn–2,300 miles in 12 days. We started our trip by driving to southern Illinois, with plans to visit the parks &c. which dot the region (many in the Shawnee National Forest). Illinois is a big state, and its southern reaches have much more in common with Kentucky and West Virginia than the cornfields, prairies, and suburbs most folks identify with.

Our first stop was Giant City State Park, outside of Carbondale. We stayed two nights in one of the cabins in the park, which enabled a very early start. I wish we had stayed longer; we could have easily spent more time on the hiking trails and enjoying the excellent facilities. As promised, the rock formations on the Giant City walk were really amazing. We also enjoyed the lush Trillium Trail. The food at the Giant City Lodge was OK (nothing special, but definitely serviceable), and the park staff were very helpful. I’ve already recommended the park to quite a few folks.

From there we drove around the Cache River State Natural Area, which had an amazing visitors’ center. The exhibits had the typical “Development has nearly irrevocably screwed up the local environment, but we’re gonna fix it!” optimism, but the highlight was a pond and wetland which backed right up–and I mean right up–to the visitors’ center. A set of floor-to-ceiling windows opened up onto the water, offering great views of all kinds of birds, fish, turtles, and the like. I wish we had pictures; Madelyn was too jacked by the array of stuff to play with, and kept us both busy.

After a night in Metropolis, IL, we visited Garden of the Gods on our way to spending a night at Cave-in-Rock State Park on the banks of the Ohio River. Again, we stayed at cabins in the park. We spent most of the night on the balcony watching barges pass on the river. Madelyn was very happy to be able run around “outside” by herself.

From Cave-in-Rock we drove to Raleigh, NC for a super weekend with John, Kim, Jack, Grace, and Peter, friends we met in Gainesville when I worked in advertising. We continued spending most of our time outdoors, on their shady deck, watching the kids tear around the yard. John made amazing ribs (some of which we happily took with us) and we took a trip to the Museum of Life and Science with the older kids. I think John and I had as much fun as the little ones. It had been three or four years since we’d seen John and Kim. Leaving, I remembered how sad I was in 1997 (?) when they moved away from Gainesville.

Whitewater Falls, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

We began moving toward home by heading to Cashiers, NC, for a few days at my parents’ timeshare. All of us took a trip to the Dillard House, and Erin, Madelyn, and I made frequent excursions to check out the waterfalls the Smokies are known for. We also hiked Whiteside Mountain with my folks, enjoying fantastic views and flowers too. I was not surprised to see how much Cashiers has been developed since I’d last been there. And to say the least it felt very strange to be there without seeing Papa. After our stay in Cashiers, we headed home.

Throughout, Madelyn was a great traveler. We tried to make things fun for her, driving only six or seven hours a day, with a long break for lunch and playtime. Erin had a few new toys to try out as well, and they never failed to amuse the Bee. Somewhat reluctantly, we didn’t camp, electing for motels with pools, which made Madelyn happy as well, and provided a gentle push towards bedtime every night.

I hope to head back to Southern Illinois this fall. We had pretty good weather, and the hiking and scenery was great. I imagine it would be even better with milder temperatures, or maybe even with a little snow on the ground. I’d love to do some canoeing or maybe bike the Tunnel Hill trail. We’ll see.

By the way, Erin’s page on the trip has more links and details.

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