First-things-first, Nick is playing Mario Kart on the Wii. It's pretty damn awesome driving with the wheel. It's a whole new level of interaction. It's a whole new reason for me not to play it and become addicted...
Megan and I saw this on the way to Cave-In-Rock. Why does the skunk (?) look so concerned? Does he fear getting caught for murder?
Ahhhh, America with your corn fields that stretch forever...
Look what we found in Effingham, Illinois. Here's what the book "Illinois" by Moon Handbooks 2006 has to say. All my "info sections will be from this book:
Situated at the edge of an industrial park, just off I-57/70, The Cross at the Crossroads (Exit159, I57/70, 217/347-2846, www.crossusa.org, 10am - 7pm, daily, free) is a towering glaring white structure that attracts everyone from truck drivers to minivans full of families. The cross itself is nearly 200 feet tall and 113 feet wide and was completed in 2001. You can't actually go inside the cross or climb to the top, but you can stand below it or sit at one of the many benches arranged in a circle at its bottom. Surrounding the cross are polished granite stones with the Ten Commandments carved into them. During your visit, orchestral music booms out of speakers (speakers made to look like granite rocks). At the visitors center (a trailer just below the cross), you can watch a short film about how the regional foundation built the cross. A visitors center on the site sells religious items.
Megan having a bad malt and somehow stale fruit at Steak-and-Shake. If you are ever in the Effingham area, don't go to Steak-and-Shake. I love them and this one was bad...
COULD IT BE! WE'RE IN CAVE-IN-ROCK!!!
It's a very small town...
This was our lodge for the four day, three nights at Cave-In-Rock State Park
This is our kitchen/dining room...
our sleeping area...
and our view of the Ohio River. The other side of the river is Kentucky's Amish country, which makes Cave-In-Rock seem like a thriving metropolis in comparison.
Here's downtown Elizabethtown, which we passed through in our futile attempt to find groceries. If you visit this region, by your food in Harrisburg or earlier. Anyway, if you see a farmer selling his goods at a tent, stop by. He sells all sorts of preserves. Mostly normal stuff like strawberry and grape. But, he has some interesting ones like corn cob and Mountain Dew jam!!!
Look into the abyss. This is a hole that leads down to Cave-In-Rock.
Megan and I at the foot of Cave-In-Rock
Here it is. CAVE-IN-ROCK!!!
Like most caves, Cave-In-Rock was an ideal hiding place for outlaws. This large cave on the Ohio River has had quite a chilling history. Samuel Mason, once a soldier for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, was one of the more notorious inhabitants of the cave. He and his gang in the late 1790s were said to have lured unsuspecting travelers to the cave, then rob them, beat them, and maybe even murder a few. After Mason's gang disbanded, the Harpe brothers, who were convicted of murder in Kentucky (and somehow escaped execution) took refuge in the cave and used it as their headquarters for more murder and mayhem. Now the worst activities that occur in the cave are visitors writing their names into its walls. The cave and surrounding area are part of Cave-In-Rock State Park (1 New State Park Rd., Cave-In-Rock, 618/289-4325, www.dnr.state.il.us). A set of stone stairs leads down to the cave and a small beach. There are also two trails that follow the river and cut through the woods. Several picnic tables are throughout the nearby wooded valley. And there are tent and RV campsites.
Here's what the abyss looks like from the inside of the cave.
Me in the heart of the cave
Megan at the entrance of the cave, which our neighbor was excited about because it's not a "bear cave."
Megan and I at the Ohio River
Another abyss dropping some 160 feet to the river.
A view of the Ohio River from the bluff that runs along the river.
What amazes me about this area is how much it looks like Asian watercolor paintings. The rock formations, the grey hill and mountain landscapes, and a lonely tree growing from rocks...
Some pretty flowers
Megan having a picnic on the edge of a cliff
One of the lonely trees I talked about.
looking up in a cave from the foot of the river.
Here we are at Kaylor's, which was right across the street from our cabin. We didn't realize how much southern Illinois was like the southern United States. Everyone has a southern drawl and fries all their food. Here's my patty melt, which was delicious, but the meat patty was only under half the bread.
Megan had the chicken. They had an awesome Catfish buffet that night. Awesome if you like catfish... Kaylor's Restaurant is one of two (possibly three) restaurants in town and they have a GREAT gift shop that you have to check out if you are there.
The lamp in our lodge I contemplated stealing every time I looked at it...
Some landscape pics of the Ohio River Valley from our patio
The most Asian of my pictures.
Here we are at Garden of the Gods. This is "Fat Man's Misery" rock formation.
More than 300 million years ago, Illinois was covered by an inland sea. Through time, sand and soil washed into the sea from rivers that flowed into it. The sand and mud settled along the shores, building up layer by layer, year after year, becoming bedrock. At one point there was a great tectonic uplift and these bedrock formations pushed up out of the water, exposing them to wind, rain, sand, and other elements. What you see during your visit to the Garden of the Gods country is the result of all that erosion: pretty cool-looking rock formations. The Garden of the Gods Wilderness is a 3,300-acre site southwest of Harrisburg where a cluster of these formations are viewable from a short hiking trail. The .25-mile Observation Trail takes you past rocks called Mushroom Rock, Camel Rock, and Devil's Smokestack. The trail is steep, but short. Nearby Pharoah Campground has 12 tent campsites available year-round. To get to the site, follow Highway 34 south to Karbers Ridge Road (there will be signs to the Garden of the Gods Wilderness). Head east for 2.5 miles to Garden of the Gods Road.
Megan between the rocks
The view down the valley from about 150-200 feet up.
Me on top of some rock formation
Megan and I
Jeez, what is this, a friggin' photo shoot?
Megan going through "Fat Man's Misery Pass"
Megan looking through some formation after climbing up another
Megan surveying the sea of green trees before her from her perch a couple hundred feet up.
Me on the edge of oblivion. It's not the first, nor the last time either...
Megan looking cute with some grizzly guy.
Megan looking around in wonder!
Look how proud she is of her rock climbing skills!
Me pointing out some giant birds, which were probably Red-Tailed Hawks, perched on the rocks.
Megan kept saying "Ok, just one more step back. Com'on Mike, it'd be a perfect shot. Just one more step..."
"Ohhh, he's so dreamy."
There was a lot of barge traffic on the Ohio River. They'd go at all hours of the day and night. This is a small barge. We saw one that was four barges long and two barges wide.
Megan and I decided to bike to Tower Rock, which was only a few miles away. But, it was all up-and-down in our stolen police auction bikes. So, we treated it like sledding. We walked up the hills and rode them down.
Here's a Eastern Box Turtle (?). This was one of many animals we saw on this trip. Here's the list I can remember:
Red-Tailed Hawk (?)
Turkey Vulture (?)
Eastern Box Turtle (?)
Southern Two-Lined Salamander
Eastern Racer Snake
tons of red, blue, and yellow birds
So, we biked all the way to Tower Rock and this is what the park looked like. It looked like New Orleans after Bush didn't send any relief to New Orleans. Why haven't they pushed trees off the road? We wouldn't have been able to visit if we drove.
So, this is it. Everything we read said "TOWER ROCK IS THE BEST THING EVER!!!" and it was basically a disaster area with a similar view as our lodge.
Still pretty, but it was a lot of work to get there by fighting possibly venomous snakes and fallen trees.
Here's one of the many deer we saw. He watched us more than we watched him.
Here's the other of the two (possibly three) restaurants. There's a handwritten sign when you walk in stating "No Profanity."
When you're in town March - November, drop by the casual local joint GeeJays (7:30am - 8pm, Mon. - Thurs., 7:30am - 9pm Fri.), where you can fill up on a cheeseburger and fries or a chicken sandwich for a few bucks
This was heaven. I got the roast beef sandwich with potatoes and gravy. I could eat this everyday for the rest of my life. I'd look like Marlon Brando and never were pants again.
Megan's shrimp, sweet potatoes, and beans. Like everything else we ate, it was fried! We even got fried vegetables for free, which were delicious. At Kaylor's, I was made fun of by the locals because I ordered a "Mike's Mix Up" without gravy.
A camping trailer pooping.
Megan looking lovely on the patio.
I insisted we by this from the mini mart. Nothing better than Cousin Willie's Buttery Explosion Microwave Popcorn.
I'm getting this tattooed on my back
So, on a rainy Sunday, Megan and I decided to look for activities in Metropolis, Illinois. This is Big John. Let me start off by saying this town loves giant cartoonish statues...
For example, SUPERMAN!!! This is a commanding statue overlooking the town square. Metropolis really wrapped its hands around Superman and pushed it as far as they could.
Look at how little I am next to it. I'm serious when I say it commands the town.
Here's the Super Museum. I like the graffiti where the last Superman actor is Barrack Obama.
The Super Museum (Metropolis, 618/524-5518, www.supermancollectors.com, 9am-5pm., daily, $3) is a maze of a museum with constantly changing exhibits that run the gamut. The owner has hundreds of thousands of pieces of Superman paraphernalia: action figures, costumes worn by television and movie actors, lunch boxes, posters, inflatables, you name it. The museum has a large shop with plenty of T-shirts and Superman and comic book ephemera. A few feet from the Super Museum is a bronze statue of Superman in the town square. You can't miss it. (footnote: I don't think the statue is bronze.)
It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's Super Megan!!!
Kyrptonite Tattoo & Piercing. I told you, they really embrace Superman in Metropolis.
Somehow, this looks really, really wrong. And, I kinda like it.
So, we went around Metropolis and everything you could do inside was closed on a Sunday. It's a very, very religious (I think mostly Baptist) area. Think "Footloose." The only thing open was the sin-filled Harrah's Casino. Megan and I made a plan. She lost $2.25.
Parked on the bank of the Ohio River, Harrah's Casino (100 E. Front St., Metropolis , 800/929-5905, www.harrahs.com, 9am - 7pm, daily) is one of Illinois' several riverboat casinos. (It's not really a boat moving along the river, though) This place is hopping, especially on weekend nights. There are 1,100 slot machines, 25 tables with games such as blackjack, plus three restaurants (a diner, steakhouse, and a buffet restaurant). Harrah's has a hotel and event center adjacent to the casino.
Here I am. I lost $2 that day...
Here are the Kincaid Mounds. This is where some ancient Native Americans built a town.
This is what it use to look like.
One last view of the Ohio River before heading home...
Time to go...