A Weekend Outing

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One of the benefits of living in a new place is the opportunity to explore. Where every encounter becomes a first. Yesterday morning GH and I headed off to our neighboring state of Illinois. The one hour drive took us over bridges and through small towns as we paralleled the Mighty Mississippi and eventually met up with the Illinois river, reaching Pere Marquette State Park just as the Visitor Center was opening. 
A little history about the park from their website: 

When Europeans began to explore the Illinois country, most of the Native Americans they met were members of the Illini tribe. The first of these explorers, in 1673, was a group led by Louis Joliet, a cartographer, and Pere (Father) Jacques Marquette, a french Jesuit missionary. Marquette and Joliet, accompanied by French voyageurs, paddled down the Mississippi River in search of a passage to the Pacific Ocean. On the Mississippi Bluffs, they encountered something which has become a local legend: "we saw . . two painted monsters which at first made us afraid and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes." They learned that the creature was part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer, a long black tail. The creature was called Piasa. A representation of the Piasa Bird is still maintained in paint on the bluffs about twenty miles from the park. 

Learning from the Native Americans that the Mississippi River emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, Marquette and Joliet turned back, returning by way of the Illinois River and stopping near what is now Pere Marquette State Park. A large stone cross east of the park entrance commemorates their historic landing here. 

Generations later, local civic groups sought to preserve this land by the river as a state park. They raised money and were successful in persuading the state to match their funds for the purchase of the land in 1931. The newly created state park was to be called Piasa Bluffs. By popular demand, it was soon renamed Pere Marquette State Park in honor of the adventurous French missionary.

After hiking and soaking in the colors of the rich autumn canopy we made an executive decision, declaring Pere Marquette our new favorite spot. A place we'd be returning to often. 

But wait, it gets better! On the drive back through Grafton, population 672 and home to winter nesting bald eagles, I saw a gathering of teepees and smoke, which meant we had to stop! To my delight we'd discovered a bona fide Rendezvous. Never experienced a Rendezvous before? It's basically a lot of people dressed in period clothing (think pre-1840, mountain men, and lots of animal skins), outdoor cooking, and trading posts (where one can find anything from canvas to marbles to skillets). Immediately I was taken back to my Festival of the American West days. Where, growing up, my parents entered annual dutch oven contests and later, in college, I wore period clothing and volunteered as a historical interpreter one summer. 

 And that's what I call a perfect weekend outing. 

All images by me. 


  1. Love these photos! And love that you are already off exploring and finding new favorite places! You are my adventure hero!


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