I can’t think of another state where one city dominates tourist attention like Chicago does in Illinois. I recently finished writing about the attractions Ruth & I saw in Chicago recently with a blog about MCA, its Museum of Contemporary Art. I focused on lesser known places like the fantastic Driehaus instead of the big stuff like The Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Millennium Park, etc. We considered Chicago our 2nd home for many years and visited more than 100 times.
Since we lived across the Mississippi River from Illinois for most of our lives, Ruth & I explored The Land of Lincoln from Rockford to Cairo, pronounced Cay’ row by locals. I had many relatives in places like Valmeyer and Springfield. Ruth was born in Granite City and had kin in Lemont near Argonne National Laboratory. We know Illinois. And we know some places and attractions NOT in Chicago that are worth exploring.
Galena is the best NOT in Chicago place in Illinois. It’s also, surprisingly, the ski capital of this mostly flat prairie State. Yes, you can actually downhill and snowboard near Galena at Chestnut Mountain. Its 220 skiable acres include a 420 feet drop and 3 advanced runs. During warmer months, its resort entertains families with an Alpine Slide, etc.
The town of Galena itself is a picturesque jewel. TripAdvisor has rated it one of America’s top ten small towns. Perhaps my favorite attraction here is the retirement home of Ulysses S. Grant. He was one of several Generals who moved here after the Civil War. In the northwest corner of Illinois not too far from also-must-see Dubuque, Iowa, Galena is a 2nd home to many Chicagoans who enjoy its hilly, forested quaintness. A Main Street stroll is a must. The post office at Commerce and Green is the 2nd oldest in the U.S.
Another north Illinois attraction worth seeing is in Rock Island, one of the Quad Cities. Rock Island is a little less than 100 miles south of Galena. If you take either of the scenic routes along the Mississippi, State Highway 84 in Illinois or U.S. 67 in Iowa, to get there, add a couple of hours for stopping, staring, and being behind someone slow. Once in Rock Island, head for the Arsenal, an active U.S. Army facility on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969. It’s on a 946 acre island in the Mississippi, and you’ll have to show a picture ID to gain admittance. The Rock Island Arsenal Museum is the Army’s 2nd oldest where you can learn something about the island’s history and see a renowned gun collection. Among the Arsenal’s other attractions is the Mississippi River Visitor Center at Locks and Dam 15 where you might get lucky and see an impressive barge work its way through the system.
More about Illinois but NOT Chicago tomorrow.