Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Getaway Guide – Spring Edition

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Our region is filled with plenty of exciting destinations. Here are a few that remain practically in our own backyards.

Starved Rock’s new Artisan Ice Cream features in-season and locally sourced ingredients, in keeping with its farm-to-table dining approach. (Kathy Castevens-Jasiek photo)

Starved Rock Lodge: Get the Scoop on this Delicious New Treat

In a never-ending quest to bring guests something new and unique, Starved Rock Lodge in Utica, Ill., has created its own brand of gourmet ice cream. Choosing to call it “Artisan Ice Cream” was a decision made by Lodge CEO Terry Cross.

“I recently ordered ice cream at a restaurant out west and found it to be some of the best I’d ever tasted,” Cross says. “When I found out it was homemade, I thought, ‘What could be better?’ I knew that this would be a success in Illinois, too, because when people travel, they want something decadent and out-of-the-ordinary. So, our goal was to create our own brand of ice cream. The word ‘artisan’ means skilled craftsman, and it took the skill of many to develop the right ingredients, flavors and textures.”

Executive Chef Barry Brooks, known as ‘Chef Bear,” took part in the initial research and development of the product that would be sold at the Café, Main Dining Room, Lounge and Outdoor Veranda of the lodge, and at Treailheads Concessions at the Visitor Center. Knowing that Starved Rock State Park attracts more than 2 million visitors each year added to the challenge to create a product that would appeal to a wide variety of guests.

“So far, the Artisan Ice Cream has been very well received,” says Chef Bear. “We tested the flavors before we made them official and we tweaked the tastes, sweetness and textures until our critics gave it a thumbs-up. We met with local distributors to use local dairy products, fruits and herbs from our own herb garden. Our farm-to-table approach with main courses in the Dining Room has now expanded to ice cream. Using in-season, locally grown fresh fruit supports our mission to give guests a great experience when they come to the Rock.”

Flavor options are constantly expanding and evolving, and include original flavors with seasonal themes.

Chef Bear is in the process of creating the recipe for beer-flavored ice cream – Leinenkugel-inspired Berry Weiss beer to be exact – which will be featured at the Lodge’s annual Leinenkugel Dinner in November.

And that’s only the beginning! There are plans to offer Artisan Ice Cream at weddings and special events, too. Hopes are high that the Lodge and Veranda outdoor dining experience will offer dessert with every meal.

Now that all the elements are in place, the Lodge is ready to serve this new and refreshing treat to its guests as another unexpected perk at one of the Midwest’s best getaway destinations.

If Chef Bear gets his wish, the Lodge will be processing ice cream in pints, just like other superstars in the ice cream world! ❚

Rocky Mountain National Park showcases diverse habitats, from wild grasslands to mountain tundra. Some 60 mountain peaks divide the park along the Continental Divide. (National Park Service photo)

Chicago Rockford International Airport: Explore the West’s Pristine Landscapes

The American West is still a pretty wild place, but not because of its cowboys and gunslingin’ bandits. Rather, the majestic mountains, wild herds and scenic landmarks are still on full display at our western national parks. Thanks to Chicago Rockford International Airport, their beauty is more accessible than ever, by way of Frontier Airlines flights from Rockford to Denver.

From Denver, you’ll be on your way to accessing Colorado’s 13 national parks and 42 state parks, which together boast more than 16.6 million annual visitors. There are plenty of interesting sights to see along the way, 1,400 of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Start your journey to the west of Denver, with a two-hour drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated around the city of Estes Park, this giant national park is bisected by the Continental Divide and contains contrasting ecosystems and weather patterns. From grassy valleys at 8,000 feet above sea level, more than 60 craggy mountains climb skyward, including Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet above sea level. With campgrounds and more than 359 miles of trail, plus mountain climbing and fishing, visitors can enjoy the beautiful landscape and learn about it at various visitor centers.

To the north and south of Rocky Mountain National Park stand the Roosevelt and Arapaho national forests, which, combined, encompass 1.5 million acres of forest and grassland. The highways are few, but there are far more rugged ways to feel the terrain. Pull into a campground or set up a rustic tent most anywhere around the park, then tour by horseback, ATV or kayak. For a unique experience, visit any of the parks’ 10 wilderness areas, where the land remains virtually untouched by humans.

Farther south, about half an hour from Colorado Springs, are the Pike and San Isabel national forests, containing some 3 million acres of Colorado’s easternmost mountain ranges. Amid massive mountains and lowly grasslands, discover the wild terrain that provides metropolitan Denver with nearly 60 percent of its water. This massive tract of land includes famous Pike’s Peak and the Picket Wire Canyonlands, which are filled with an enormous cache of dinosaur fossils.

The fun doesn’t stop in Colorado. Connect to a flight from Frontier’s Denver hub and reach some 80 destinations across the Unites States, Canada and Mexico. Fly far north to Anchorage, Alaska, where you’re in reach of the seaside Chugach National Forest, and the 6 million-acre Denali National Park, home of Mount McKinley.

For a warmer experience, fly out to Las Vegas or Palm Springs, Calif., where you’re a few hours from the bone-dry desert of Death Valley National Park and the ancient, towering trees of Sequoia National Forest.

Closer to Denver is Jackson Hole, Wyo., where, after just a short flight, you can take in the majestic, snowcapped mountains at Grand Teton National Park. Travel a little farther north and view the diverse wildlife and bubbling hot springs at America’s very first national park, Yellowstone National Park. Stretching through three states, Yellowstone is home to grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk, which roam freely. Stay at the historic log cabin lodge at Old Faithful Inn, right near the hot springs and America’s most famous geyser.

Go westward this summer, and discover the land that has captivated generations of Americans. Frontier flights from Rockford to Denver depart about three times a week. To learn more about these and more exciting destinations, visit flyrfd.com. ❚

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