On the road with 36 million people

By: 
Dennis Warden

According to the Automobile Association of America 36.6 million people traveled on the highways over Memorial Day weekend. Of course Connie and I had no idea we would be joining the biggest group of travelers for the Memorial Day weekend in the last 12 years when we made our plans last Thanksgiving. We usually avoid travel on holidays.

At Thanksgiving it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of this three day weekend and spend some time with our family away from home.

Along with over 36 million travelers there were a proportional number of Illinois’ finest patrolling Intestate 55 and 39 during my drive north on Friday evening. Luckily they had plenty of other speeders to keep their attention away from me.

I don’t know about you but for me to relax (there is always something to work on either at home or at the newspaper) I have to be away from home. 

This is the second time this year we have left the homestead to get away from it all. The first was in March, when we headed to Florida for warm sunny beaches. Unfortunately for us the jet stream headed south also dropping the temperatures (which were in the 80’s and 90’s the week before) to the 60’s and low 70’s. Not ideal temperatures to lay out on the beach. 

So this weekend we headed to a northern climate where many people only use an air conditioner, if they have one, a couple times a year. 

This was one of those times. It was just as hot there as it was here — 90 to 98 degrees.

We chose to rent two villas at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort in northern Illinois right next to Starved Rock State Park. 

According to its web site the park was voted the #1 attraction in the state of Illinois. Everyone who voted decided to show up at the park on Saturday. The only way I can describe the crowd is to compare it to Six Flags or Silver Dollar City.

The park has 13 miles of hiking trails characterized by many canyons and waterfalls within its 2,630 acres. We ended up hiking between six and seven miles that day. Sometimes we were in a group of 30 to 40 other people.

If you love nature and the outdoors I would highly recommend this park. We may even go back another time. Just not on a holiday weekend.

On Sunday we rose early and headed farther north to visit another place I have never been, Chicago. Ethan and Hillary had been there before and were excited to be our guides. 

Our plans were to beat the traffic and arrive early, 8:30 a.m. Unbeknownst to us there were upwards of 10,000 bike riders (my guess) on Lake Shore Drive who beat us. They started at 5:30.

We spent the first two hours enjoying the scenery in Chicago’s Grant Park and Millennium Park. These parks were full of beautiful flowers and hostas. It is also home to the “Bean sculpture.”

I had never heard of this. It’s an aluminum sculpture of a bean, about the size of a house. Because of it’s shape it reflects the surrounding Chicago skyline. Although a little weird, it’s unresistable, drawing everyone to it like a magnet for photos.

Our primary visit was the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the largest and oldest art museums in the United States. There we enjoyed paintings by Picasso, Salvador Dali, Monet, van Gogh and more, along with a couple thousand other people. One that we were looking forward to seeing, especially dad, was American Gothic by Grant Wood. Unfortunately it was on loan to another museum until June.

After the museum we went back in the park and enjoyed some famous Chicago stuffed deep dish pizza by Giordano’s. Unless you have ever had this pizza it’s hard to explain. The first thing you notice is the sauce is on the top of this one and a half inch thick pizza. This keeps the crust nice and crisp. The next thing that catches your eye is the price — $80 for two large pizzas. Not something I would have on a regular basis, but worth the experience.

Our last stop in Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. Full of interactive educational exhibits this reminds me of the Science Center in St. Louis.

The good thing about the two museums is they kept us out of the heat. But we did end up walking a total of six and one half miles that day also.

All in all it was a great relaxing weekend. I never thought about all the work I needed to do and thoroughly enjoyed the time with my family. 

I hope you had a wonderful weekend also.

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