Friday, April 6, 2012

Road Trips Are Awesome (details from our spontaneous adventure!)

spontaneous road trip
Happy Friday!  On Monday, I posted a little glimpse of last weekend's spontaneous adventure, and now I'm finally getting around to sharing the deets with you guys.  I'm serious - if you have even one day to just get in your car (or a borrowed car, or a rental car) and drive, do it.  I've been very lucky to be able to travel the world, but I'd forgotten how amazing it can be to venture out close to home without a plan.  Our lives are so filled with constant stimuli and stress and rushing around that it's almost impossible to actually notice the details of our surroundings.  Taking a mini road trip is almost like meditating - it allows you to slow down, pay attention, breathe, and let the universe guide you.  I'd had a really rough couple of weeks leading up, and this little journey was exactly what I needed to recharge.  I'm really going to try to make it a priority to happen more often. 

When we left last Friday morning, we knew that we were going to head to west, away from the city.  After grabbing coffees, we plugged in my iPhone, set the music to shuffle, and were off.  As soon as we hit farm country, I start snapping pictures.  There is no shortage of farms in northern Illinois, and they're something we see on a pretty regular basis.  But again, the things that you overlook in day-to-day life become interesting on spontaneous adventures.  The old silos and freshly painted barns and prairie grass were so beautiful.  Even an hour into our trip, I already felt like I was on vacation in a far off land. 

After some brainstorming, we decided to take Route 20 toward Galena.  I'd been there as a little girl, but only vaguely remembered it.  Galena is a little town in northwestern Illinois, right across the Mississippi River from Dubuque, Iowa.  It's actually a pretty popular weekend getaway for city residents hoping to escape Chicago's madness, so we were a little concerned it might be crowded with tourists.  But we'd read about the gorgeous hills in the area (which apparently escaped the massive glaciers that made the rest of our state excruciatingly flat), and figured that if all else failed, we could at least explore the scenery and move on.

When we pulled into town, we were both pleasantly surprised.  We knew that the town had a rich history and that most of original structures had been well preserved, but we didn't realize how pretty the architecture would be in person.  Robbie and I are both serious antique and vintage dorks, and we were excited to see how many antique shops lined the curved main street, which was literally filled with old brick buildings and cool signs.  We parked the car and stopped in Rendezvous Coffee, a cute little coffee shop on the main drag with local art on the walls and an area in the front for live music, then took a stroll up and down the street.  It seemed like there were a lot of cool things to check out, and thanks to the chilly weather, it wasn't nearly as crowded as we'd anticipated.  We decided to check into a hotel and stay for the night so we could explore.

I could easily write a novel of a post about Galena, but I'll just keep it short and let the photos do the talking.  We ended up enjoying this sleepy town a million times more than we thought we would.  Even though we both love antiques and old buildings, neither of us are really history buffs, and neither of us are big on tourist town shopping.  Before we got into town, we kind of assumed that it would be an older crowd, and that it might be a little cheesy (or just really boring).  There were definitely a lot of touristy shops, but it never felt like we were in a tourist trap.  The buildings were stunning, the people were friendly and interesting, there were some rad shops, and the natural scenery was breathtaking (and this is coming from someone who lived at 10,000 feet on top of the Colorado rockies!).

Some highlights for us were a tiny log cabin from the early 1800s (that housed a family of 8!), President Grant's home (pretty cool to see in person), the Desoto (the oldest hotel in Illinois; it's haunted too), Chestnut Mountain (we took a short drive to the top and the view was amazing), Peace of the Past (super cute used book and antique shop), and Otto's Place (where we had the most incredible breakfast Saturday morning).

We got up early Saturday morning, did some more random exploration, then said goodbye to Galena and headed south.  Saturday was probably my favorite part of our trip because it felt the most like an adventure.  Aside from looking to see where we were starting and the occasional glance to make sure we were heading in the general direction of home, we barely used a map.  We just drove. 

We ended up on Route 84 right along the Mississippi, and noticed a really cool blue bridge over the river.  Obviously, we had to cross it (duh!).  After a couple of minutes, we noticed the "Welcome to Iowa" sign.  Cool.  Hey, Iowa!  Whatever road we were on reminded me of my time living in Florida because we were were essentially driving through swamps and wetlands.  We ended up pulling into a tiny town called Sabula, which we came to find out is Iowa's only island city.  True story.  After snapping a few photos, we turned around and headed back into Illinois. 

From there we hopped on 64 west (which, if you have a lot of time to kill, actually takes you right into downtown Chicago).  And then... we passed through farmland.  And more farmland.  And yep, more farmland.  I won't lie; this part of our journey was boring.  Our remedy was to blast the music and sing heavy metal songs at the top of our lungs until we came upon the next cool thing. 

Eventually, we did stumble upon the next cool thing, which was another little Illinois town called Oregon.  The town is nestled upon the Rock River (which is soooo pretty), and from the road, we noticed a huge statue of a Native American on a bluff from across the river.  We decided to cross over and check it out, and after driving through a lush nature area full of budding woods and blooming flowers, there it was.  And friends, it was glorious.  We learned that over a hundred years ago, the area was an arts colony, founded by sculptor Lorado Taft and populated by Chicago artists.  In addition to its residents, many famous artists, architects and writers spent time at the colony.  Over a three year period beginning in 1908, Taft and another sculptor from the Art Institute of Chicago designed and built a 50-foot tall statue called "Black Hawk," as a tribute to the many Native American tribes that once inhabited the area.  The statue is massive (the second largest monolith statue in the world!), and is part of the National Register of Historic Places.  And yes, all of this impressed me.  An art colony in the middle of rural Illinois?  So bad ass.  I'm glad we stopped, because it was cool to see the structure up close and to learn this little area in the middle of nowhere had been a well-known, thriving creative collective waaay back in the day. 

It was getting to be late afternoon at this point and my sister was coming up to visit from Indianapolis, so we decided to head home.  I continued to obsessively snap photos of anything and everything I found to be even remotely interesting, and we talked about all of the rad things we'd seen over the last two days. 

If you made it this far (and your browser actually allowed the ridiculous amount of images in this post to load), you rock!  I can't stress enough how rewarding a mini spontaneous adventure can be you guys.  For real.  When I think of all the time I spent in cars and RVs in my early 20s (the majority of my life at the time was a road trip), I'm amazed at the fact that I'd basically completely forgotten how awesome it is to just GO.  Day trips or even quick overnight trips like ours cost next to nothing, don't require missing a lot of work or commitments, and can be a great way to make fun last-minute plans with your partner, friends, family, or even alone.  The next time you're feeling overwhelmed with life, just try it.  Then come back and share your story (you can thank me later. :))

Do you have anything fun planned this weekend?  A spontaneous adventure?  Visit from the Easter Bunny?  Whatever you do, I hope it's wonderful.  See you Monday!

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  1. Very cool! I loooove road trips, too. There's a lot of great history around where you were! Would love to explore Mississippi, etc. more!

  2. What an awesome trip! You've inspired me! :)

  3. Great pictures. Sounds like you had a great time! We're doing an adventure through Bloomington and hitting up everything we haven't visited yet. Gonna find me some quarries! :)

  4. melissa, glad you rediscovered that part of your road tripping soul again! very lovely images. i'd say singing heavy metal songs at the top of your lungs is a very cleansing, & a great cure for boredom. ;)

  5. It looks like it was a wonderful trip! What a great way to reconnect with your hubs after so much time apart. Thank you so much for sharing with us :) (I hope to convince my new fiance to do this with me soon! We usually operate on totally different sleep schedules so a mini road trip would be just the ticket to bond!)

  6. THIS is my kind of road trip!! What a fabulous adventure...hooray for spontaneity!!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Oh, I'm bookmarking this itinerary!
    We recently moved to Chicago from NY, got a car, and have been looking forward to beautiful little escapades like this one (in fact, Galena came up at some point in conversation...)
    Glorious vistas, Melissa! :)

  8. These photographs are so beautiful!!! What a fabulous idea, I need a journey like this!! It's inspiring to get this reminder that you can find beauty without traveling really far! :-)

  9. This inspires me to do a local road trip. Such a creative way to explore places close to home and appreciate things we normally don't!

  10. These photos are gorgeous! My mister and I will definitely be taking more local roadtrips when we go off to college later this year! :)
    xo Heather

  11. So lovely! Both your pictures and your words.
    I would love to take more spontaneous adventures. Especially in California near the coast, there could be lots to see. I do like to do a bit of driving though. One of my favorites is up El Camino, which really only takes me through cities, but it's fun to pass through a whole bunch of different towns and cities that you'd normally only see signs for on the freeway. : ]

  12. It sounds like you had a really good time! This other couple we hang out with went to Galena last summer and can't say enough great things about it, either. In fact, they want to go back again this year. Maybe we should check it out too!

  13. Wow, lovely photos.
    Defiantly looks and sounds like you've had a brilliant time!

  14. Looks and sounds like an amazing roadtrip. I love Galena. Such a cute little town. My husband and I lived in DUbuque for a couple years while he attended college and we made a few trips across the river to Galena. Thanks for sharing your photos, it brought back some memories:))

  15. Looks amazing really! Wish I had such amazing surroundings sadly enough I live in a very boring part of Belgium and there really is nothing much to do over here, this weekend though I went to a cabin in the woods with my family, a 2 hour drive from where I live and it was wonderful! We had such a blast! And it looks like you did too! :D

  16. Turns out, we're escaping to Galena tomorrow! This post was definitely an influence.
    Would you mind if I grab one of your images for a blog post about Galena? I will, of course, credit you.



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