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The Prairie State is considered by many to be the heart of America, and certainly represents the best of everything our nation aspires to be.
Small towns and big cities, industrial factories and cornfields can be found here. Illinois has been termed the “Land of Lincoln,” even though he was born in Kentucky, due to the fact that he began his renowned political career in Illinois. As such, there are several monuments to one of our greatest presidents, some of which are on our itinerary.
Peoria is a fine place to start. It’s a diverse city, rich with culture in the form of museums such as the African-American Museum Hall of Fame, the Dixon Mounds State Museum, which is devoted to the archaeological history of the Illinois area, and the Lakeside Museum of Arts and Sciences, which has many exhibits and galleries, and its own planetarium. There’s plenty of entertainment no matter what your taste, whether you fancy golf, antiquing, or trying to win the eye of Lady Luck at any of the area casinos.
Once you decide to get on the road, head southeast on the I-75 for a little over 33 miles to the city of Normal. This is a prime place to pull over and get some fresh air and exercise. The Constitution Trail consists of 14 miles of pavement that’s optimum for biking, walking, or jogging. If you fancy a bit of waterborne fun, head over to Evergreen Lake and rent a paddle boat for the afternoon and glide across the water under the warm sunshine. For a rare look at one of the largest buffalo herds in Illinois, don’t miss the Grand Village of the Kickapoo Park, which is open year-round and serves as a refuge for these magnificent, endangered animals. Normal is also home to equestrian centers, where you can rent a horse for the day and ride through the incredibly scenic back country. There are billiard halls and bowling lanes aplenty. You can also visit several local wineries and enjoy a tour, followed by a wine tasting and a Sunday brunch – the latter being conditional on your visit falling on a Sunday, of course…
The city of Decatur lies 43 miles to the south, reached via Highway 51. In additions to Decatur’s own attractions, it also serves as an ideal staging area to explore the nearby towns of Forsyth – which is a charming artists’ community whose streets are lined with art galleries that feature all types of styles – or venture a few miles east into Amish country and experience the back-to-basics lifestyle of these fascinating people. The Decatur area also features several historical sites devoted to Abraham Lincoln. If you take the “Looking for Lincoln” tour, you can see the Lincoln’s first Illinois home, the site where he was nominated to run for President, and the log cabin courthouse where he tried several of his first cases as a rising attorney. The tour provides a truly fascinating and educational look at our sixteenth president.
Traveling east on Highway 72 across 39 miles of the nation’s heartland brings us to Springfield, the state capital and our final destination for this tour of Illinois. Besides being the home of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, there’s the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Lawrence Memorial Library, which underwent a thorough restoration in the early 90s and features a great deal of information about Wright himself. The Old State Capitol building is an awe-inspiring historical edifice, and is the location where Lincoln gave the speech that stated “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Informative and fascinating tours are available on a daily basis; the air itself seems thick with history and it’s a truly heady experience to stand where such important deeds occurred.
Springfield isn’t just about the past; it has a firm foot in the present and keeps an eye toward the future, particularly when it comes to the preservation of nature and wildlife. The Adams Wildlife Sanctuary is such a place, a 30-acre preserve that has both woodland and prairie habitats for various plants and small animals. The Sanctuary is operated by the Audubon Society and has several trails that are open to the public on a daily basis. Nearly three dozen parks provide ample opportunity for hiking, biking or just communing with nature right within the city.
No matter if you stay three days or thirty, Illinois has enough diversity and places of interest to keep you well-entertained no matter what your idea of a relaxing vacation is. Come see the Land of Lincoln and prepare to have your breath taken away more than once.