A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.
The Quad Cities: Explore the Surrounding Landscape This Fall
BY CHRIS LINDEN, MANAGING EDITOR
What’s autumn without spectacular scenery? The riverside landscapes are sure to please around the Quad Cities, where five communities sit along the Mississippi River: Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. This fall, several destinations outside of town really come alive.
Your fastest travel route is Interstate 88, but a scenic detour along the Great River Road reveals the Mighty Mississippi’s incredible bluffs and vistas. Follow either Illinois Route 84 or U.S. Route 67 in Iowa as you weave around the river’s bends.
The Black Hawk State Historic Site, in Rock Island, provides plenty of outdoor adventures. The 208-acre park along the Rock River has six miles of hiking trails, areas for picnicking, and generous amounts of colorful fall scenery.
The historic site also is filled with cultural attractions. This land was settled long ago by native tribes, including the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians, whose warrior, Black Hawk, is commemorated in a statue near the Watch Tower Lodge. Inside the lodge is the Hauberg Indian Museum, where you’ll learn about local native tribes by examining their authentic trade goods and jewelry, and recreated dwellings.
Travel a little bit east toward Alpha, Ill., to enjoy a day on the farm at Country Corner. Named the Illinois AgriTourism Business of the year in 2011 and 2012, this farmer’s market and operating farm hosts kid-friendly attractions throughout the fall season. It’s also a favorite destination for Jessica Waytenick, public relations and marketing manager of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“They have a hay maze and lots of activities for kids, including a train that’s painted like a cow and is pulled by a tractor,” she says. “Kids can ride the cars around the park while they learn about the pumpkin patch and how the farm works. And, they have a petting zoo with goats, chickens, horses – all sorts of farm animals.”
Across the river in Iowa, several small towns provide a fun escape. The village of East Davenport, Iowa, is filled with historic architecture, quaint shops and delicious food. The Plaid Rabbit offers unique gifts and stationary, while the Soap Box sells a variety of scented candles, some of which are homemade.
“The smells are just amazing there,” says Waytenick. “Yum.”
The 11th Street Precinct Bar & Grill serves a wide array of American foods, from homemade soups to pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and “award-winning” pork tenderloins. Lagomarcino’s is like a walk back in time, with its 1900s period decor. It’s also one of the best spots in town for hot fudge, fine chocolates and homemade ice cream.
“They were established in 1908 in Moline, and they opened the East Davenport location in 1997, giving it the old-time feel of their original store,” says Waytenick. Elements of the store’s ice cream bar and soda fountain were salvaged from long-gone stores around Iowa.
Upriver in LeClaire, visitors can go back in time with a visit to Antique Archaeology, the antique store whose owners host “American Pickers” on television’s History Channel. The town’s other claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody. The local Buffalo Bill Museum is filled with artifacts from the Wild West showman and other Mississippi River history.
LeClaire is also home to the Mississippi River Distilling Co., which relies on local ingredients.
“The Big Peach Liquor this summer was from local trees, and the gin was from cucumbers raised at a family member’s home garden,” says Waytenick. “They’re working on a cream liqueur for winter, which is kind of like Baileys Irish Cream.”
Discover more weekend adventures this fall at VisitQuadCities.com.
Dubuque, Iowa: Encounter History at Mines of Spain
BY RACHEL SHORE
History comes alive at the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, located south of Dubuque, Iowa. This 1,380-acre nature preserve and National Historic Landmark encompasses 21 miles of hiking trails, incredible Mississippi River views and a variety of natural habitats.
This site was first settled by American Indians nearly 8,000 years ago, but the area’s most recent tribe was the Meskwaki, a collection of Sac and Fox natives. When white settlers first reached the area, natives traded furs with French Voyageurs and mined the lead embedded in these hills. Those mines are still visible along the Calcite Trail.
Julien Dubuque became the first European to settle in Iowa when he arrived in 1788. In 1796, Dubuque obtained a land grant from the Governor of Spain to work the area’s lead mines. He maintained a close relationship with native settlers.
“Dubuque was said to be married to Potosa, the Meskwaki chief’s daughter,” says Taylor Cummings, director of marketing at Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Now, both of them serve as namesakes in the area.”
When Dubuque died in 1810, the Meskwaki buried him with tribal honors atop a high bluff, overlooking the Mississippi. In 1897, the tribe constructed the castle-like Julien Dubuque Monument upon his resting place.
Nearly a century later, in 1981, the Mines of Spain became a recreation area opened to the public, with help from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Now considered a Watchable Wildlife Area in Iowa and a National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat Area, the park exhibits wetlands, creeks, forests, prairies, cropland and meadows that are home to many forms of native wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may spy bobcats, red-shouldered hawks, flying squirrels, wild turkeys and butterflies.
Five main trails wind through every part of the park. The two-mile Catfish Trail offers a perfect view of Catfish Creek, ancient Indian mounds and oak trees that are more than 200 years old. The 1.5-mile Cattesse Trail winds through a valley, between towering rock formations and fall foliage.
Other trails, including the Prairie Ridge Trail and the Cedar Ridge Trail, are well-suited for hiking and cross-country skiing. Overall, the park contains about six miles of cross-country ski trails.
The visitors center is housed inside the E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center, a popular destination for school field trips. Outside the center, visitors can see the bird and butterfly garden, where monarch, swallowtail and painted lady butterflies flit and flutter alongside hummingbirds, finches and sparrows.
Inside the visitors center, you’ll find hands-on exhibits highlighting the history of Dubuque and the Mines of Spain.
The park is managed by Friends of the Mines of Spain, an organization led by volunteers. Visitors are welcomed every day, year-round, from 4 a.m to 10:30 p.m. Hours at the visitors center vary by season.
“It’s a really great attraction for everyone,” says Cummings. “Not only does it add to the beauty of the area, but it also adds to the variety of opportunities for visitors.”
To discover more about the Mines of Spain and other Dubuque destinations, visit www.TravelDubuque.com.
Savanna, Ill.: A Small Town Steeped in Americana
BY CHRIS LINDEN, MANAGING EDITOR
How many small towns can deliver amazing views of the Mississippi River in an historic, rustic old river and rail setting? Savanna, Ill., is one of the few. Located about 30 miles south of Galena, Ill., remote Savanna is actually Carroll County’s largest settlement.
The roads to Savanna wind through cornfields and massive hills, much the same terrain that surrounds Galena to the north. Many visitors arrive by boat at the city marina; still others choose to travel by motorcycle, on their way to Savanna’s quintessential biker bar, Poopy’s Pub ‘n’ Grub, on Illinois Route 84 (aka The Great River Road). Despite its image, Poopy’s is family-friendly and serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re really hungry, ask about its one-pound burger, the “Big Poop.” Bikers also flock to the Iron Horse Social Club, a downtown restaurant that’s home to a vintage racing and motorcycle museum.
Savanna boasts other good, family-friendly eats. Cafe Crumbles serves up homemade breakfast, lunch, bakery items, and a renowned breakfast burrito. Manny’s Pizza is a local favorite that specializes in both pizza and tacos.
While you’re downtown, explore some of the unique shops, such as the Savanna Marketplace, which specializes in locally handcrafted goods. A real general store of local ingenuity, the marketplace is filled with soaps, candles, jewelry, chocolates, crafts, furniture and more. Just up the street, Frank Fritz Finds showcases some of the unique antiques and collectibles discovered by the co-host of the History Channel’s “American Pickers.”
Also downtown, you’ll find the Savanna Historical Society Museum. Much more than a collection of local artifacts, this museum displays more than 100 handmade mannequins dressed in authentic replica Civil War uniforms. Each soldier tells a story, collected by local history teacher Gene Wright. The museum is also developing an HO model railroad of Savanna and an exhibit about Savanna native Wayne King, a famous musician and orchestra leader of the Big Band era, known for “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”
A few blocks away from downtown, the Havencrest Castle is a museum unto itself. Rooms in this unique estate are decorated to the hilt, each in a different period style. There’s the Russian Rococo Library, covered in gold, or the Grand Foyer, with its marble fireplace, gold leaf accents and antique European velvet walls. Upstairs, the Le Chambre Royale bedroom exudes French flair, while the Kali-Ma Room feels like a sultan’s chamber. The unique home was once the estate of Alan and Adrienne St. George, founders of an international mascot-making company that still operates in Savanna. Some of its creations include Smokey Bear and Tony the Tiger.
The Savanna area is filled with outdoor adventures for those who enjoy boating, hiking, biking, golfing, bird watching and cross-country skiing. This time of year, there’s plenty of colorful scenery in the Mississippi Palisades State Park. The rugged 2,500-acre park is home to caves and sink holes, great bluffs and wooded ravines, all of which can be experienced along the park’s 15 miles of trail. For an especially rugged trek, follow the southern routes. Camping, fishing, boating and hunting are allowed inside the park.
Who says there’s nothing to do in small-town Illinois? Explore Savanna. To learn more, go to VisitSavanna.com.
Travel Wisconsin: Nothing But Fun Up North This Winter
Wisconsin is filled with fun activities to enjoy with the family this winter. Here are just a few things to watch out for, when planning your next visit.
Outdoor Winter Fun
Only two states have more downhill ski areas than Wisconsin, a state that maintains more than 30 downhill offerings. And, Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for snowboarding. These family-friendly slopes have plenty of offerings for skiers of all ages. Not sure if you’re coordinated enough for downhill skiing or courageous enough for snowboarding? Many Wisconsin slopes offer the option of plopping down on a snow tube for a frosty slide down the hill.
Snow Conditions Report
Savvy outdoor enthusiasts know the best way to keep up with the latest in ski and trail conditions across the state is with the Travel Wisconsin Snow Conditions Report. The report is the leading tool to track conditions for the state’s ski areas, snowmobile and cross-country ski trails. The report is the most popular page on TravelWisconsin.com during the winter season.
The report’s success and popularity are due in part to the more than 130 local snow condition reporters who cover all 72 Wisconsin counties and report “virtually live,” updating their area’s status as conditions change with each snowfall. At a minimum, reporters update once a week, making the Snow Conditions Report the most comprehensive and timely report available. Sign up to have the report emailed every Thursday – just in time to plan for weekend activities.
Indoor Winter Fun
Relaxing by the fire might be cozy at the start of winter, but a few months later, the cabin fever has set in. You don’t have to face the cold – all over Wisconsin, there’s fun to be found indoors. Here are a few favorite indoor escapes, from rock climbing to ballroom dancing, to get you off the couch and into the action.
Climbing the Walls? Give a real climbing wall a try – it’s a lot more fun. Boulder’s Climbing Gym in Madison gives you more than 8,000 square feet of climbing space, with routes and boulder problems to offer a new adventure every time. Rookies need not worry: you can learn to climb in as little as 15 minutes. Parents can bring the kids along for just $6 a day.
Ice Skating, Olympian Style: If you’re a runner or skater, you’ll love the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. This Olympic training complex is the largest ice center in the country. The Pettit offers public skating seven days a week, with admission from $5 to $7 and skate rental for $3. If sneakers are more your speed, get moving on the 433-meter indoor running track, which circles the ice rink and provides a great view of the action.
Back to Bowling: Of course, we can’t talk about Wisconsin’s indoor sports without saluting the granddaddy of them all: bowling. Local bowling alleys throughout the state offer lots of family fun, but Koz’s Mini Bowl, a Milwaukee favorite, is a must-see establishment. Its four miniaturized bowling lanes are the main attraction, but this spot is also popular for its pool table, dart boards and old-school jukebox. People travel to Koz’s from all over the Midwest to experience this one-of-kind bowling alley.
To learn more about Wisconsin’s winter destinations, visit TravelWisconsin.com.
Playing in Peoria: Smithsonian-Quality Fun at Riverfront Museum
Who says learning can’t be fun? Not Peoria Riverfront Museum, where family entertainment and personal enrichment are around every corner.
Opened in October 2012, this Smithsonian-affiliated museum celebrates art, science, history and achievement inside several attractions, from art and local history galleries to kid-friendly halls, an enormous movie screen and a planetarium.
“We’re trying to be edgier than we’ve been, and appeal to a wide variety of audiences,” says Cathie Neumiller, vice president of marketing and communications. “We want to appeal to families who want an experience, and to those who want a community gathering place. We’re focused on the experience, not just the parts.”
And oh, what parts there are. Kids are naturally attracted to the colorful IHSA Peak Performance gallery, where several game stations celebrate the accomplishments of Illinois’ record-setting high school athletes. Kids can test their might in more than 40 sports and after-school activities, through games like the chess challenge, the football throw-meter and the goalie reaction time test.
In that same gallery, kids can learn about the great Illinois River in the museum’s backyard.
“Kids can learn about the locks and dams on the river, and work an example,” says Neumiller. “We have two demonstrations, and each has a boat inside, so kids can make them rise and fall. And, there’s a stream table where kids can make their own river. They can change the force of the water and direction of the flow, and they can pile up the ‘dirt’ as obstacles to see how rivers form.”
The Giant Screen Theater puts a new spin on educational films, with a screen that stands five stories tall and seven stories wide. In addition to its regular run of shows like Great White Shark 3-D, the screen also hosts recently released blockbuster films.
“We have an unbelievable lineup,” says Ann Schmitt, vice president of programs. “Coming around the holidays, we’ll have The Vatican Museums 3-D, and it’s such a rare opportunity to see the treasures of the Vatican. You can get to experience the Sistine Chapel up close.”
This fall, the museum also welcomes an exhibit on American art’s transformation from Impressionism through Modernism. This showcase of works from 1880 to 1950 reflects the works of Chicago-area artists and includes paintings that have never before been on public display.
The local history gallery collects an impressive snapshot of life in Peoria through many time periods, from early American Indian settlers and French explorers through today’s downtown landscape. There’s an African-American Wall of Fame that celebrates significant achievements, and inside the Story Studio, visitors are encouraged to share their oral histories of Peoria.
“We’re making an appeal to veterans to tell their stories for Veterans Day,” says Neumiller. “And, for after last year’s tornado, we had a night for victims and responders to tell their stories.”
Finally, the Dome Planetarium offers a unique projection technology that shines more than 7,000 stars onto the ceiling. The four or five shows every weekend offer a glimpse of the night sky over Peoria.
“What we’re doing at Peoria Riverfront Museum isn’t all that different from a liberal arts college or university, in that we’re encouraging lifelong learning,” says Neumiller.
Plenty of other surprises, such as the museum’s sustainable construction tour, a sculpture garden, and a Peoria-built automobile, are hidden inside, but you’ll have to visit and find them for yourself.
For more information, visit peoriariverfrontmuseum.org or peoria.org.