Showing posts with label Illinois. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Illinois. Show all posts

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Last Day Exploring Wildlife Prairie Park

My friend Joan and I had been enjoying Wildlife Prairie Park, just outside of Peoria, Illinois. It was a perfect post-pandemic trip with lots of space in the open air.

Brad Windsor, Volunteer Coordinator, and Sam Himegarner, Director of Hospitality, picked us up in the morning for another tour. The property is so big we still hadn’t seen it all between the first day tour and our previous day exploration.

Our first stop was to see Mike the bison. The 19-yer-old was once a movie star and now shares his home with Elsa the elk.

We took a look at the banquet hall. It can hold up to 200 people and the ability to both have a moonrise and sunrise over an open patio makes it an ideal wedding location.

I was impressed with Hazel’s Overlook. Beyond the spectacular views is Native American folklore plaques dedicated to Hazel Rutherford. She and her husband Bill were major benefactors of the park.

I was also happy to see the park is set up for accessibility in many areas. I was able to take my scooter on some of the trails and walkways.

Wildlife Prairie Park also has a Sculpture Garden. It is dedicated to blind children, who can “feel” sculptures to size of the actual animal.  The park also has a Touch Cabin that St. Jude Children’s Hospital set up for children with heart issues.

We also saw the Pioneer section, which has an original cabin and the actual one room schoolhouse used until 1959. Nearby there is a butterfly habitat which is worth a stop.

The park is a great place for locals to spend the day whenever they want, with a family membership of only $85 a year. Visitors from out of town should consider the accommodations for a few days, or even a week. You won’t get bored. They even have special events, including a Halloween Scary Park, throughout the year.

Joan and I bid farewell and headed into our Legacy Cabin to pack up. We were going to miss the new, spacious accommodation with a sunrise facing the bison pasture from the patio. It was fully furnished, including a modern kitchen.

Before heading home we stopped at  Trefzger’s Bakery, which has been making baked goods in Peoria for over 150 years. It didn’t not disappoint. It was really hard to choose what to get, but finally decided on a quiche, a raspberry cheese danish, their famous Thumbprint cookies, and a cinnamon bread that was perhaps the best I’ve ever had.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Wine and Wildlife in Central Illinois

The bison didn’t come out to greet me while I had my morning coffee on the patio, but there was definitely a sense of peacefulness to start my day with.  


My friend Joan and I were staying at this hidden gem in Central Illinois. Not only did we get to enjoy this enormous scenic part, but it was filled with (mostly contained) wildlife and we had a brand-new cabin to stay in where the bison roamed in Wildlife Prairie Park.


After breakfast and coffee, we took the car down to the main entrance and boarded the train. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the park. You’ll get a basic overview from the conductor as you pass through the highlights. 

There is also a stop at the Pioneer area and butterfly habitat. You can get off to explore and pick up a train later to go back to the station.


We met with Brad and Sam at the Visitors Center. It’s worth a stop as there’s a lot of information on the area, from how it figures into the history of American Agriculture to charts of the fish you can find in the area.

After a walk through the trail to check out some of the animals, we got into the jeep for a tour of the other accommodations the park has.


Tent campers are welcome at Wildlife Prairie Park, but you may want to think twice about roughing it once you see all the unique accommodations.

The Cabooses are perfect for families, especially younger kid. They were created from actual train cars and have bunk beds in them. 

There are Prairie Stable suites with patios that have two small bedrooms in them. Just outside, picnic tables are a great place for groups to meet, as is the recreation center.

In the same area are the cottages. I really liked the way these converted grain bins, with kitchenettes, faced the lake, making them ideal for kayakers and fishermen. Firepits and grills are also outside in front of the lake.


From there we headed to Kickapoo Creek Winery which is just a few miles away from the park.

The tasting room is spread out and welcoming, and the grounds are just beautiful, making them ideal for weddings and other events. They also participate in Harvest Hosts, a group that list wineries that allow for RV parking.


The wines here are also worth the trip. The Rose Blush was our favorite, strawberry and cherry flavored, and not overly sweet. The Sun Kiss was also terrific, and my friend Joan, more of a red lover than I am, went home with a bottle of the St. Croix.

 I couldn’t resist the Chocolate Raspberry, which has strong notes of my favorite treat.

Kickapoo Creek Winery also serves food and the menu is wide ranged. After sharing a spinach artichoke dip, I had a Turkey Rueben while Joan had the Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich (served with a sesame ginger mayo). They were both delicious.


For dessert, we shared a Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake and Pecan Bourbon Pie, both of which were delicious.

We headed back to Wildlife Prairie Park for some rest on our patio. 


Before we had left for the winery, we met with Mike of the Mike’s Knot Just Ribs food truck, which parks by the Visitors Center. We took back a ton of barbecue for dinner.

We were still pretty full from lunch, but we did taste some amazing ribs, pulled pork nachos, coleslaw, beans, and macaroni & cheese. There were plenty of leftovers.


It didn’t take long before we were both exhausted from the day and headed to our bedrooms. We had a little more time the next day to see more of Wildlife Prairie Park.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

A Wildlife Oasis in Illinois You Can Stay At

It wasn’t easy to make the decision to go on my first trip after the pandemic started. I am high risk and had been good about sheltering at home and only staying around people within my pod. I hadn’t even seen my family, with the exception of a few, short, outdoor visits with my mom, who lives nearby in an assisted living.

I was definitely ready to get out for a bit and, when researching outdoor activities in the outskirts of Peoria (I was going there to see my puppy, who wasn’t quite ready to go home), I came across the perfect place for a safe getaway.

Wildlife Prairie Park is in Hanna City, Illinois, about three hours from Chicago. It’s a tremendous 1,800 acres that offers a ton of outdoor activities for all ages and abilities. It also happens to have an unusual selection of accommodations,

My friend, Joan, and I met with Brad Windsor, Volunteer Coordinator, and Sam Himegarner, Director of Hospitality, at our accommodation for the next two nights. We were one of the first to stay in a new Legacy Cabin.

The cabins have everything needed, for a family to stay for a few days, or even a week. There’s a full kitchen, large living room (with flat screen cable tv), two bedrooms, and a full bathroom.

The most special thing about the cabin is the backyard. You can sit on your patio and sip coffee in the morning, or barbecue on the grill in the evening, while watching the bison and elk roam in the pasture.

It’s hard to believe the park has been open since 1978 and it’s not better known.

Brad and Sam took us around in a jeep to get acquainted with the surroundings, which we would explore more over the next two days.

The park has five lakes, most of which you can kayak and/or fish at. There are hiking trails that are accessible (I brought my medical scooter) and others that are for the more experienced.

There’s also disc golf, mountain biking, a 30-foot sliding board, an Adventure Trek behind the scenes tour, and, of course, lots of wildlife.

They try to keep it to wildlife indigenous to the Midwest. Among them are Longhorn bulls, a black bear, bison, elk, owls, eagles, and a groundhog, Gerdie. Brad pointed out that Gerdie has a better record at predicting the weather than Punxsutawney Phil does.

We ended the tour with plans to get together the next day and check out some of the specific areas of the park. Joan and I decided to head to downtown Hanna City and find someplace to eat.

I had read online about Gil’s Supper Club and it sounded like a good place for some comfort food. I was right.

Gil’s has outdoor and indoor (bench) seating and a very big menu. I rarely eat fried food, but when they told me the chicken had its own fryer, it sounded quite good. It was and the portion was huge. I only ate about half, saving it with the rest of my potato and coleslaw.

Joan had the fried shrimp, which she said was delicious. The menu also includes chicken and seafood combos, pork chops, tenderloin, burgers, and more. Even the kids’ menu has a varied selection.

We went back to the Wildlife Prairie Park and relaxed in the cabin before bedtime. We had a big day of exploring, and a visit to Kickapoo Creek Winery, coming up.

Friday, October 11, 2019

24 Hour Girls’ Getaway in Chicago, Part 2

It was a very comfortable night at the Hyatt Centric the Loop in Chicago.

We were able to take our time in the morning and I was excited to find out my friend and fellow writer, Kristine Hansen, was in town. We met for breakfast at Cochon Valent Brasserie, just downstairs from the hotel.

Their blueberry pancakes were loaded with fruit and as delicious as everything always is there.

My Joan picked something up to eat and relaxed in the room. and we met up to head over to the Art Institute of Chicago.

I have been to the Art Institute many times. I try to check out all of their special exhibits as well as some of the smaller ones. The exhibition that brought me here this time was Manet and Modern Beauty. 

Edouard Manet was a late 19th century painter known for what was a modern style at the time. He especially flourished when painting women.

The collection, the first of its kind in 50 years, was well worth a trip, but we decided to spend some time looking around. I stopped at some of my favorite classics, including Edward Hopper’s “Night Hawk” and Georgia O’Keefe’s “Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses.” We also saw a temporary exhibit dedicated to artist Jeanne Spring.

Before we left the museum, we stopped to take a look through the powerful display, “The AIDs Crisis Is Still Beginning.” It included newspaper clippings from around the world, showing the history of the crisis. George Bordowitz, I want to Be Well (after 1977 Ramones song) artist 30 years, spent half of his life with AIDS Professor at University of Chicago. Many pieces were from his own collection.

We checked out of the Hyatt Centric Loop. I wish we had been able to check out the Aire Rooftop Bar, but it had been closed before we got back the night before and hadn’t opened yet when we left. Next time!

We chose a very unusual place for lunch. Pinstripes in Chicago is a welcoming place for families or adults to have a lot of fun at, while enjoying good food. Think Chuck E Cheese for gourmets!

You can start here with the activity, food, or drinks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time for the fun, but we did get to watch other people.

Pinstripes has bowling, even offering shoes for rent. There’s also bocce ball.

As for the food, we loved everything we had. The Stuffed Mushrooms were served warm and gooey, just out of the oven, and were stuffed with goat cheese, spinach, and zucchini.

For the main course, the wood fired oven, which is visible to guests, looked to good to pass up and we ordered pizzas.

I had the Eggplant Flatbread, which had pistachio sprinkled on top for extra flavor, and Joan went for the Margherita. We had plenty left to take home.

Joan agreed with the popular opinion that the Strawberry Shortcake, served in a jar, was fantastic.

Pinstripes Chicago has a full bar that includes many local beers, a selection of wine, and handcrafted cocktails. I sipped a Riesling while Joan thought the Limoncello Martini was great.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

24 Hour Girls’ Getaway in Chicago, Part 1

No matter how many times I go to Chicago, the minute I see the skyline there is an excitement that runs through my veins. I know I’ll always have a fun time in the Windy City.

This trip was for a 24-hour getaway with my friend Joan. We had the perfect mixture of food, activity, and chill time.

We started with lunch at Cantina Laredo. It had been years since I had been there and it was even more welcoming than I remembered, with our seats in front of a gas fireplace.

The waiter brought us tortilla chips and immediately suggested some of their famous margaritas with the current month’s guacamole. It was as delicious as it sounded, with cotija cheese and tomato, for a combination of sweet and a bit spicy.

I sipped one of their fruitful Pineapple Infused Ritas, a mixture of pineapple infused Avion Reposado Tequila and Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur. Joan had the current margarita special, which was Jalapeno.

Although we were starting to get full from devouring every bit of the guacamole, Joan loved the tamales, which were a bit spicy for me, but the Flautitas were amazing. They went especially well with the Passion Fruit Mojito.

Finally, a basket of warm Churros came out, with chocolate and mango sauces, as the perfect finish to our meal. We washed them down with Cantina Laredo’s house-blend coffee, a must try.

I had arranged for us to spend the night at the HyattCentric Loop in Chicago.  We checked in to our large modern room. I enjoyed the large soaking tub and their soft robes before a nap.

Refreshed for the evening, Joan and I headed to City Winery. I had never been there before and was excited to check out this all-inclusive location (winery, restaurant, and concert hall) that’s perfect for dates night or a girls’ getaway.

I had actually heard about City Winery from the representative of AJ Croce. The son of Jim Croce was performing there that night.

The building itself is large and well-appointed, with unique and modern artwork everywhere. The wine is made right here (the only winery in the city of Chicago) for sale and tasting at this location as well as the riverfront venue.

Equally fantastic is the food at City Winery, led by Chef Mark Mendez. Mendez, who previously worked at Carnivale and Vera, put his twists on some standard favorites that we really enjoyed.

I couldn’t say enough about the burrata and the shells and cheese. Joan, who is more of a steak eater than I, raved about the ribeye which was served with gorgonzola butter.

I was impressed with their selection of wine, which included reds, whites, and my favorite, the Riverwalk Rose.

The AJ Croce show, which was opened by the talented Adam Ezra, had the audience singing and laughing. We sipped wine and vowed to check out this newly discovered venue again soon, but that was it for the first half of our getaway, with ore to come in the morning.

For more on the concert and City Winery, read my story on Beat.  

Friday, September 27, 2019

More Cheap Trick, Gardens & Brew in Rockford

When I planned my trip to Rockford, I heard from quite a few people that I must have breakfast at The Stockholm. I was a bit disappointed when it wasn’t on our (very full) schedule, but a twist of fate brought us there anyway. 

The first stop of the day on the Rockford itinerary for Brittany, Amanda, and I was the Anderson Japanese Gardens. We were to have brunch there and then explore. 

Since they were also having an event that day, there was no brunch. That opened up our chance to go to The Stockholm. This restaurant is on the Cheap Trick Trail because of the Rick Nielsen connection. He’s a part-owner and full lover of this restaurant. 

The menu is huge, reminding me of a New York diner, but Swedish specialties where you would see Greek ones. Due to the breakfast mix-up, we were starving by the time we sat down. I ordered a Swedish Coffee Cake for us to share while we waited. 

It was as scrumptious as it looked and certainly whet our appetite for the rest. I always go toward the sweet and I continued with the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, which are well worth an order at The Stockholm Inn

I also got the potato bake. Although it was delicious, it was a bit too rich for me to have more than a spoonful of. I did pass the rest around the table. 

Brittany and Amanda went for more traditional egg and meat breakfasts and were enjoyed their choice.

The trails were all filled with beautiful plants and flowers and the lakes had colorful fish and ducks. It was a bit warm, but the scenery was tranquil.

We then headed to the Anderson Japanese Gardens. I knew there would be a lot of walking and took my scooter along. Almost all of the garden paths were very accessible. 

With the Japanese Festival taking place there were also booths and additional tea ceremonies taking place (they do have authentic tea ceremonies at other times too). 

The Midway Village is a most unusual place that is a great experience for children and adults. In addition to the recreated 19th century village, representing a typical Northern Illinois town, there is a museum dedicated to the history of Rockford. 

I asked Brittany and Amanda to explore the village while I walked around the much smaller Dollhouse exhibit. We then met up in the museum.

I was really amazed at the history of Rockford after going through the Midway Village Museum. 

There were displays on the Emerson Carriage Company, the immigration to this area from Norway, Sweden, and Italy that was recruited through Ellis Island, and the dedications to the Rockford Peaches, the baseball team you may remember depicted in A League of Their Own. 

Also at Midway Village is another Cheap Trick shoutout, this one a Sock Monkey (Sock Monkeys were also made in Rockford) in their honor. 

We drove through downtown to look at some of the nine murals created in the Rockford CRE8IV project. They are well-worth a look. 

Our last Rockford stop was at Prairie Street Brewing Company, located in the spot Englishman Jonathan Peacock arrived in 1849 with the dream of building a brewery. 

Prairie Street has a large selection on microbrews, with the Peacock, Passion Fruit, and Peach Wheat all getting accolades from Brittany and Amanda. I enjoyed one of their mules, and their house made non-alcoholic root beer. 

The menu is very large and has some interesting things on it. The Poutine was a huge hit and Amanda raved about their creative Trolley Burger, with Applewood bacon, fried egg, provolone, thousand island dressing, and an onion ring. 

For dessert, we shared a rich and chocolatey S’mores Tart. 

Rockford is another Midwest spot that outlived my expectations with so much to see and do. The team at the CVB really put together a great trip for us!