Tennessee, 10/17/21: 1st Daze

Crossing Lock 21 on the Hennepin Canal.

The first “daze” of a trip are always weird and a touch disorienting. There is that wonderful anticipation as you pull out from the driveway. But comfortable routines change. You wonder if all the planning will pan out. There’s a tension as you start to remember all the things that you forgot to pack. And then there are the questions about the house. Did we shut all the windows? Is the stove off? Yikes, it brings back memories of when I was a kid going up north to our cottage. It never failed - 20 miles out mom would announce that she might have left the iron on, or the stove on. That would send dad into a frenzy. The rest I’ll leave up to your imagination.

Today is the first day of a six-week trip that will take us to the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois, the Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky, the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and a whole mess of Civil War battlefields from Shiloh to Lookout Mountain. Mammoth Cave, Nashville, and Chattanooga are also on the agenda and meticulously planned out. Did I pack my socks?

Our first stop was just an interim layover on our way to southern Illinois. We found a small campground along the old abandoned Hennepin Canal near Peru, Illinois. The Canal, completed in 1907, was an engineering marvel at the time. It was designed to carry hundreds of barges filled with goods, across central Illinois. It took 18 years to construct and was immediately obsolete as the railroads quickly expanded their reach. The remnants have been preserved by the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park consisting of a strip of land along the waterway. There are several campgrounds where locks used to be. We camped at Lock 21 Campground. At $8 per night, it is a steal. Since there wasn’t a fee station, nor did anyone show up to collect the fee, it turned out to be free - a nice omen.

The original tow path, used for pulling the barges along the canal, has been turned into a terrific recreational trail for walking, biking, and horse riding. We walked 4 1/4 miles of the path on a glorious 70º sunny day.

A great camp site along the Hennepin Canal.

The Canal and the tow path.

We looked up these organic tennis balls and discovered that they are called Osage Oranges. Of course, they are not oranges at all. The seeds are supposed to be edible but to get at them required several sticks of dynamite. No animal eats them. We let them be.

All that is left of the abandoned locks.

Lock 21 Campground has an equestrian campground on the other side of the canal.

The nearest town, Princeton, turned out to be a surprisingly cute community with two distinct downtowns separated by a mile-long residential area. Both downtowns sported some fine looking turn-of-the-century buildings. The art deco Apollo Movie Theater, in downtown #1, not only looked terrific but was actually an operating movie theater. The new James Bond movie was showing.

Downtown #2 featured Myrtle’s Pies, a shop devoted strickly to pies. At $3.89 for a healthy-sized slice fruit or cream pie, we felt compelled to sample a couple of slices. The $64,000 question we asked ourselves was, how does Myrtle’s compare to Crystal Cafe, in Iola, Wisconsin, home of “pies-2-die-4”? The verdict? Pretty darn well.

On our drive around the backroads, we noticed scores of beautifully restored antique cars aimlessly cruising around. We figured there was a car show somewhere in the vacinity. Sure enough, at a city park on the far end of Princeton’s downtown #1, a big antique car rally was taking place. I was especially impressed with the chromed-up hot rods. We got a grilled hotdog and brat, which we figured to be the last of the season, while we oohed and awed our way through the showing.

Princeton is an Amtrak town.

These Black Lives Matter signs in the small farming towns in central Illinois surprised.

All-in-all, it was good little 1-day stopover. Had we wanted to stay in the area longer, we would have camped at Starved Rock State Park just 30 miles to the east. Starved Rock features lots of canyons, gorges, and waterfalls. What? In the flatlands of central Illinois where the state tree is corn? Who’d a thunked it, eh? Next time.

Glossary of terms used for newcomers: 1) V-Jer. The name of our camper. 2) Saturn. The name of our Van. 3) Duende. Our mischievous gremlin that breaks things. 4) Tata. The good gremlin that helps us fix Duende’s dirty work. 5) The Black Hole. This is what we call Walmart because every time we go in for just a couple of items, we come out spending way more than we figured. 6) QT. Quaint Town. 7) Little Buddy. This is what we call our Dyson cordless stick vacuum.

Dave and Wanda

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