Our first outing was to the Racine Zoo on New Year's Day, which we chose because we expected to have it all to ourselves. Lincoln Park Zoo or Brookfield would've been a nightmare to visit due to traffic, and Milwaukee is just too far, so we compromised on a smaller zoo with no competition for space. It was a wise choice, despite how bitter cold it was so close to Lake Michigan.
The emus were quite friendly and followed us around their enclosure, but they would not hold still for a picture. This vulture, on the other hand, hardly moved a muscle.
A sweet little fennec fox dozed in the warm sunlight, looking so cute I wanted to squeeze it.
The tamarin monkeys were boisterous, running all over their cages, oblivious to us gawking at them.
The barbary sheep were docile and slightly interested in us being interested in them.
Easily, the most fascinating encounter was with a shy giraffe. We could not help but laugh hysterically at her as she attempted to play coy or hide from us. When we first approached her enclosure, she was wandering about boldly, completely unmoved by the people watching her. However, when BE and I moved closer to her, she stared at us briefly and then walked across her enclosure to hide behind a column.
At first we weren't sure if she was hiding from us. It just made for a funny picture. Then she began peeking around the side of it to check if we were still there.
She eventually came out from behind the column, walked slowly toward us, then abruptly turned her back, giving us little more than a butt shot, as she hid her head around the corner, occasionally peeking over the wall.
I'm not sure if she was shy or if she was trying to seduce us. This was the look we kept receiving. You tell me: is that shyness or flirting? Perhaps our laughter made her uncomfortable, because she walked around behind the wall and didn't reemerge. We still laugh about the giraffe who hid from us behind the column.
BE made a friend at the Racine Zoo. While I was running around trying to get pictures of the orangutans and lions, BE was teaching this little guy about hats, why humans wear them, and how to put them on. The monkey seemed curious, but that could be because he was half-blind and bored.
Overall the animals at the Racine Zoo were very friendly and I was impressed with how interactive they were with us. I'd go back sometime when the wind wasn't whipping us to tears coming off the lake. Perhaps in the spring I'll return to visit our friends.
We did a few short local trips to forest preserves, where we were greeted with spring-like weather, robins, dandelions, and some of the most brilliant cardinals we've ever seen. At nearly 50º in January, Illinois was starting to come alive with spring-like life. It was both fascinating and frightening.
On January 4, we left for Galena, Ilinois, which is a gorgeous, historic town full of museums, galleries, gift shops, and beautiful landscapes. The region was left untouched by the glaciers during the Ice Age, and is therefore called the driftless region. The hills are steep and dramatic, with this pretty little town built on the side of a huge hill, descending down to the Galena River. It's prettiest in the winter when it's covered in snow, but even without the weather we hoped for, it was still nice.
Our first full day was spent in Dubuque, Iowa. I had to see the Mississippi River, of course, and this is the bridge we crossed to get into Iowa.
They don't call it the Muddy Mississippi for nothing. You cannot see into the water -- not an inch!
The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is a favorite destination for us, with lots of animals and history to study.
The turtles were posing. Seriously. They were the supermodels of the aquarium and changed their poses every single time I clicked a picture. What a bunch of hams.
My two favorites to visit are the stingrays and the otters. How can you not love these guys?
When I exited to the outdoor displays, where the otters played, I spotted an eagle soaring over the river. No matter how many times I see an eagle, the thrill just never fades. There's something so incredible about these birds of prey.
There are three eagles perched in this picture, and if you click to see it larger, you can make them out, plainly.
Periodically, they took turns launching into the air, gliding all around the area surrounding the aquarium and casino, and then would land again in the tree across from us.Despite the cold, we couldn't tear ourselves away from the three eagles. Finally we did and spoke with a curator at the museum to find out that three eagles in a tree around the aquarium is a slow day. There were nine in the tree earlier, and when the water freezes in early winter, there are sometimes hundreds. I didn't believe it, but I later hear similar stories about the area. What a treasure for them! I can't even imagine being surrounded by hundreds of eagles!
On the way out, the turtles started posing again. I wonder if the other animals scoff at them for being such attention seekers. They could take a lesson from the giraffe in Racine.
Saturday was our Galena shopping day, but as luck would have it, just as we started pulling into the town, a loud siren blared from somewhere nearby. Given that it was a weekend, I knew it wasn't a sirent test but I had no idea what was going on. We soon found out.
The very first store I planned to visit was the Galena River Wine and Cheese store. Unfortunately, that's what the siren was regarding. As soon as we parked, a fire truck came down the main street, blocking traffic from going in and out, and the firemen descended upon the Galena River Wine and Cheese store. Rumor has it, someone burned their lunch in the staff microwave and the event was very minor. We were even able to patronize the store after the firemen cleared out. YAY CHEESE!
There are hundreds of stores, museums, restaurants and galleries to visit in downtown Galena, but you can't forget to look around at the architecture. It's really a reminder of a bygone era and lifestyle.
This view is from atop the hill, looking down on the rest of the town, the river, and the residential area on the other side of the river. Oh, and miles and miles of hills in the distance.
Obviously, a stop at the Galena Library is necessary. What a gorgeous building!
This is the Belvedere Mansion, the largest mansion in Galena. It functions as a B&B with tours to the public available. Many of these mansions are B&Bs, some with age old tales of being haunted and you can kind of see how their design might encourage such stories.
From across the river in Grant Park (named after Ulysses S. Grant, the town hero), the downtown streets are even more scenic. The stores on Main Street are two or three stories tall, and their highest story opens on the ground level on Bench Street behind it, leaving half the building underground. The stairs going from the lowest point to the highest point were too daunting to attempt and I can appreciate the journey just as well from afar.
After three wonderful nights, we checked out Sunday morning and began our journey home. The quaint farm and tourist towns along Highway 20 are equally surreal, with dilapidated old barns and modern craft shops. This barn is in the town Elizabeth, off the highway, still used by the family who work the land, and the cows who live there.
At the urging of my boss, we made a side trip to Apple River Canyon State Park just before sunset and were pleased with the beauty that greeted us. The towering limestone cliffs were wading in the Apple River, which meanders around the county before finally joining the Mississippi River.
Though it's a very long story, I will summarize by saying that as we left the State Park, my car died. It died a noisy death at the foot of the driveway of a wonderful couple who took us in, fed us, let us use their cottage, and shared their professional photography with us, in addition to driving us to a rental car agency the following day, and arranging for a tow truck to take my car to a garage to have it assessed. We couldn't have been more fortunate to have found these people! Thanks again to Larry and Nancy Backe, our angels!
While on the property, we were invited to take a spin around a wilderness trail in a golf cart (quite fun!) and I snapped this picture of an old truck abandoned in the woods. This is what my car would've looked like (with our skeletons inside) if we had not found the Backe Family.
After a few canceled flights, shopping for a new car, returning my rental car, and BE's mystery sinus infection that kept him bed-ridden for the last few days he was around, I had to stand back and appreciate how very fortunate we were that each and every distraction took place, because it opened new doors and really made the trip worthwhile. Now that I have a new car (which I ADORE!), I can't wait for the next road trip. Hopefully I won't have to wait long!