Writing 101

writing. living. learning.

Menu Close

Tag: history (page 2 of 5)

hiking, history, and the i&m canal

Last Sunday, we all headed out for a day about town in beautiful Lockport, IL. The focus of our trip was the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal (I&M). The I&M Canal was commissioned in 1823 in order to connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River (via the Illinois River). This marked the first complete shipping passage from the east coast to the gulf of Mexico upon its completion in 1848. The Canal cost $6.5 million to build and stretches 96 miles from the mouth of the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Illinois River at LaSalle. The Canal–in its original state–was 60 feet wide and six feet deep. Now, from observation it looks to be about three feet deep and 20 feet wide, as it slowly trickles its way around river rock and through a thick sludge of mud and leaves. It closed for good in 1933.

So, the three of us journeyed back through time as we walked onto the porch of the old I&M Canal Headquarters building, which is now the site of the Will County and I&M Canal Historical Museum. With a creak, we opened the screen door and stepped inside the cramped foyer lit dimly by a single incandescent bulb overhead. We paid our modest $7 admission fee and had the museum to ourselves. (Seriously, other than a single volunteer sitting alone in the back room, we were the only time travelers this day.) We saw all kinds of cool stuff–turn-of-the-century doctor’s equipment and supplies, old tools and sewing machines, looms and spinning wheels, an original civil war Union Army uniform, old maps and all sorts of local 19th century artifacts. We even walked inside the original iron vault to see bits of history strewn about yet to be cataloged. (I think the museum needs more volunteers.)

After our visit in the museum, we continued our journey through history to walk along the historic I&M Canal tow path. We strolled (and Aidan “scooted” a while) along the path that mules used to tread upon, towing the heavy barges with long ropes through the canal. The mules would tow a barge the distance that they could walk in a single day. (Incidentally, the towns that grew up around the canal were spaced about this same distance.) During our walk, we took our time and enjoyed the fall colors and the cool autumn breeze. We visited Lock 1 along the canal, took some photos, and read the interpretive signs. All in all, it was a beautiful fall day for such an adventure. Perhaps we’ll travel there again soon.

come sail away

Recently we spent a beautiful day down at Navy Pier. We started our day taking a ride on the giant ferris wheel–a first for all of us. This 150-foot wheel was modeled after the very first Ferris wheel, which was built for Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. It was a fun 7-minute ride where all three of us were happily snapping pictures of the Chicago views.

Our main pull to the Pier that day was the tall ships festival, which included viewing twenty majestic ships and boarding about half of them. There were ships of all sizes and from various ports, including a several from Canada and from Europe. It was fun reading and learning about the history of the ships and the current usage for the vessels. One (the Unicorn) is used for sail training and for leadership development for teenage girls and women. Another, the Bounty, was used in a variety of movies including Mutiny on the Bounty, Treasure Island, and Pirates of the Caribbean. This ship was one of the largest ones that we explored–we even got to go down to the lower section to check out the cabins. While I enjoyed the seeing and exploring the ships, after boarding seven or eight ships they all started looking the same to me. This, coupled with tiredness setting in for all of us, led us to just looking at the last few from the dock, which was just as satisfying. It was a fun family day out.

embracing tacky tourism

After spending two peaceful weeks in the U.P., where at times we had beaches, trails, and the road all to ourselves, we went into a bit of culture shock as we made our way to the tacky tourist spot of the Mackinac area.

On our way to the Mackinac area we stopped at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Seney, MI in search of wildlife that Mike could capture with his new lens. Seney Wildlife is noted for birds, especially migrating birds, and the park is a nice one [singlepic=720,270,270] Southeast to St. Ignacewith a 7-mile road the loops around the various areas within the refuge and has stopping areas with spotting scopes to help visitors view the area. While the area was a pretty one and Aidan and I had fun exploring some of the short trails and seeing a few swans, loons, and osprey, the sightings of animals were pretty limited. I was disappointed for Mike that he wasn’t able to capture as much as he was hoping to with our new lens, but hopefully next time he’ll have better luck.

Leaving Seney we debated about which direction to go. I really wanted to see the Taquamenom Falls and go out to Paradise, MI (just the name of it sounds so inviting); however, the little man was chomping at the bit to get to our next place (a hotel) so we could go swimming–his whines–I mean his persuasiveness–won out. So, we decided to head down to US 2 and drive along the shoreline of Lake Michigan as we drove into the Mackinac area. Let me say there is really nothing on this road for quite awhile! Hungry and tired, we were all a bit cranky as we tried to find a restaurant. We finally found a little diner in the small town of Naubinway that helped energize us enough to make to our hotel.

We opted to stay in St. Ignace, which technically is still in the U.P., but believe me the area feels radically different than what we were getting accustomed to way up north! Here there were souvenir shops lining the road, traffic cruising the main drag, and people mingling about on the sidewalks. We stayed at the Best Western on Lake Huron and even though our room was small, we had awesome views of the lake and the hotel was more resort-like with two pools and evening bonfires on the beach. We stayed over the 4th of July holiday and tried to embrace the culture of the place–we swam a lot, walked the boardwalk in St. Ignace, watched the local parade (which was simply awful), and enjoyed front row seating on the beach of our hotel to watch the fireworks.

We did spend one full day over at Mackinac Island. Mike and I enjoyed the ferry ride over. The lake was shrouded with fog and had a eerie, but neat feeling to it. Aidan was a bit disappointed in the ferry ride because we had selected the Mighty Mac ride which was supposed to go under the Mackinac bridge, but with the fog on the lake, they had to abandon that voyage. We docked and headed out to find a breakfast place. (It was an early outing for us at 11am, and Mike and I didn’t have our coffee, nor did we have time to grab food beforehand). As we meandered down the main street, I was taken back by all the bicycles! I knew this island was car-free and knew that bikes were very popular, but the number of bikes waiting to be rented was unbelievable! And the “brrring, brrring” of the bikes’ bells instantly brought me back to our days in Japan. It was very cool and surreal at the same time.

We found a cute pancake house and enjoyed breakfast. (Aidan had 10 silver dollar blueberry cakes–that’s 2 orders!) After breakfast we decided to check out Fort Mackinac, a fort from the American Revolution. We spent several hours exploring the fort–watching the cannons being fired, witnessing a re-enactment of a court martial, dancing along with the bugle music, and just walking the grounds of the original buildings. We all enjoyed the fort and the history and interactive activities it provided. After the fort we decided to head over to the Grand Hotel to see just how grand it is.  Boy, is this hotel big! As we approached we were informed that unless we were guests of the hotel we could not continue past a particular sign–that is, unless we paid for the self-guided tour. After shelling out $25 (yes, 25 bucks!!!), we were permitted to walk through the entire premises–both inside and the outside grounds. I have to admit, while the place is huge, there is definitely an air of pretense, and I wasn’t that impressed. While I’m glad to say I’ve seen the place, I would not recommend the tour. After all our walking and the tours, we grabbed some dinner and bought a few souvenirs and headed to board  one of the last ferries for the evening. Eight hours of exploring Mackinac Island was enough for one day. Perhaps if we come back again we’ll opt for the bikes and ride the 8-mile loop around the perimeter of the island, stopping to see some of the more natural beauties of the Mackinac Island State Park.

Our departing day from St. Ignace led us to a little Native American museum that focused on the Ojibwa tribe. The Museum of Ojibwa Culture is a free museum right on the main strip of St. Ignace, and I have to say I was impressed with the place. We ended up spending several hours watching the informative videos and looking through all their interactive displays, including a smaller version of a longhouse and a tepee out on their grounds–a good way to end our stay in the Mackinac area.

Next stop: Traverse City and the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

© 2020 Writing 101. All rights reserved.

Theme by Anders Norén.