Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Dancing Horses/Animal Gardens
5056 Hwy. 50, Delavan, Wis., (262) 728-8200, thedancinghorses.com
There’s a reason you don’t see many performing horse acts, despite their wild popularity with audiences. Horses are expensive to keep and expensive to train; every new movement they learn represents large investments of time and patience from horse and trainer alike.
This is why we’re so fortunate that Lake Geneva resident Dana Montana merged her love of horses (and all animals) with her talent for entertaining. The result is Dancing Horses Theatre, which features 25 horses, mostly Arabians, all trained on site, performing with richly costumed riders against a backdrop of soaring music. This takes place inside a climate-controlled, fully accessible 300-seat arena.
“Everything is built around the horse,” says Montana. “This is a unique experience that took me a lifetime to put together.”
In the adjacent Animal Gardens, visitors can pet, hold and feed baby animals inside the petting zoo; paddle across a pond with swans; and wander through a 40-acre wildlife exhibit with 76 species of hay-eating and exotic animals. Enjoy the park by foot or by haywagon.
There’s also a bird show starring Echo the Amazon parrot, who’s appeared on “America’s Got Talent” and “The Tonight Show.”
Dancing Horses performs year-round. Animal Gardens is open May 28-Oct. 31.
Amboy Wood Carvings
East Main Street, Amboy, Ill., (815) 857-3814
Astroll through lovely, 40-acre Amboy City Park, which stretches along Green River in Lee County, reveals top-notch recreational facilities including two lighted baseball diamonds, playgrounds and picnic shelters with grills. Hundreds of century-old oak trees offer shade to visitors and shelter to wildlife. But that’s not what makes the park unique.
In 1999, when scores of large trees were destroyed or damaged by a fierce storm, the park was turned into a sculpture garden of sorts. Locals invited chainsaw artists Bob and Marie Boyer, former Amboy residents, to come view the damage.
The Boyers transformed the devastation into more than 30 works of art, leaving behind a baseball player and umpire, a train representing Amboy’s historical ties to the railroad, an ear of corn and much more. Additional sculptures are in the works.
When in town, be sure to stop by the Amboy Depot Museum, which served as a division headquarters for the Illinois Central Railroad.
The park is open daily until dusk.
The Chana Schoolhouse
201 N. River Road, Oregon, Ill., (815) 732-4714
Built in 1883 and originally located in Chana, Ill., this two-room schoolhouse was used until 1953 and scheduled to be razed in 1997. Citizens formed the Chana School Foundation to save it and, in 1998, moved it to Oregon Park East near the Rock River.
After five years of refurbishing and restoration by volunteers, the little school opened as a museum in 2003. The interior features curved walls, 14-foot pressed and painted tin ceilings, and decorative carved woodwork.
The school’s unique shape is explained by its history. It began as a one-room school, but a smaller room was added 10 years later, at a right angle. The bell tower was built to connect the two rooms. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Today the school provides a living history experience and sheds light on 19th century education.
Special public events take place here occasionally and tours can be made by appointment.