After talking about it for several weeks, we finally had the perfect day to venture down to the Dickson Mounds Museum outside Lewistown. Of course, we wanted to take a long, and somewhat out of the way, route there. And, since our big trip around Lake Michigan was coming up soon, a whole day on the bike would be the perfect practice — or test.
We headed out of town on IL 8 West, continuing on the road after it merges with IL 78 South at Elmwood. It being rather early on a Sunday morning when we left the house, traffic was non-existent and the weather was warm but not yet hot. Driving through the various small towns along the route once again reminded me of home and the drives I’d take with my dad. It’s no wonder I feel closer to him on the bike than any other time.
Thoroughly wrapped up in the joy of the ride, we made our way through Farmington to Canton where we headed west on County Road 5 to Cuba, which is lined with a network of ponds. My head pivoted from side to side, watching for wildlife and soaking in the scene. Thinking back now, I realize I must’ve looked like a lawn sprinkler with my rhythmic head movements and wonder if I was subconsciously keeping time with the music.
We took IL 97 West south out of Cuba into Lewistown, where we stopped to stretch our legs and check out the Fulton County Courthouse. Located right along N Main Street, the historic courthouse is quite intriguing architecturally. Since there is a park across the street, I was able to get far enough away to snap a pic of almost the entire building, and I have to say, Lewistown does a great job landscaping and keeping their town beautiful.
After we saw all there was to see around the courthouse, it was kickstand up and out. To make our way east toward the river, we took US 24 out of town and broke off at IL 78 South to make the final run to the museum. As we entered the Emiquon Preserve, cresting the final hill into the Illinois River valley, we were speechless. The landscape was just breathtaking. Unprepared for such a Kodak moment, the camera was packed away, and we didn’t see a convenient place to pull over anywhere. Darn! Well, lesson learned: We’ll be prepared with a bit more than an iPhone next time we find ourselves going that way.
Not too far down the road was the turn to Dickson Mounds Museum. We made our way up the small county road to the museum. It was an impressive building, with sharp corners and a geometric look. Its dark color seemed to give off a serious vibe, almost emanating the respect one should feel for the history contained there.
Dickson Mounds, technically, was a Native American settlement and burial mound network before the museum was built on the site. The museum has several permanent exhibits highlighting the Native Americans who lived along the Illinois River as well as one touching on the valley’s creation and erosion. What we both liked best, however, was the viewing platform that had maps indicating where to look to see some “mound” formations. The maps used modern day landmarks to help you gain your bearings, which was most helpful when trying to identify the ancient sites.
Once we had seen all we could from the deck, it wasn’t too long until we had explored all we wanted inside and were ready to roll.
We made our way back to the highway and continued our way south through the preserve. My eyes glued to the marshy water, I saw all kinds of birds I know nothing about. There were small, quick birds and extremely tall birds. Colorful birds and all white birds. Proof the preserve was working exactly as designed!
At the south end of the preserve, we followed 78 across the Illinois River into Havana. It was there that we intended to stop for lunch. At that point, all I can really remember thinking was that the ride was glorious, and the museum was quite interesting; however, I was starving, and we had no idea where we were going to eat.
There were a few possibilities in Havana, but none of them really appealed to us. Opting more for a good lunch than a quick one, we kept looking. And looking. In fact, we never did find anywhere in town and hoped we’d find some great little hidden place along the way.
We ended up leaving town on E Manito Road, hugging the river until we spotted an “Illinois River Road” sign indicating we should take a left onto County Road 1680 East. What a fantastic little road wiggling through the countryside along the water. We didn’t know where it would lead us (and didn’t care), although we did have a vague idea of where we were in relation to Manito — even as it became County Road 1730 East, then County Road 1950 North and so on for several miles.
When we spotted the nondescript white building housing the Hialeah Club in Goofy Ridge (well, technically 22987 N Cr 2150e, Havana), we decided to give it a shot.
After picking a spot at the large bar, we ordered a couple drinks and started checking out the menu.
I quickly noticed the full page dedicated to breakfast (open at 5:00 a.m.). While I wasn’t in the mood right then, it will be a nice option for those early morning rides. That’s when Wally pointed out a sign promoting their Sunday Fish Fry, featuring catfish fillets, walleye, frog legs, shrimp and clam strips. Tempting, but I had already made up my mind — the Mushroom & Swiss Burger.
Entirely covered in Swiss and mushrooms (no skimping on toppings here), the burger was served on a lightly buttered ciabatta bun, which did a great job of keeping the toppings where they belonged. Although the menu said all sandwiches come with fries, I gave into the temptation that is breaded cauliflower. (Hey, it’s a vegetable.) My meal cost under $6, a standard for most sandwiches at the Hialeah Club.
Wally went for a pricier sandwich option: Our Famous. Let me tell you, that pork tenderloin looked amazing! The breading was crisp but not greasy, and the pork was hearty, definitely more substantial than the paper-thin version you typically see. It also was served on ciabatta bread, a perfect complement to the ample tenderloin. He stayed with the fries, which are of the crinkle cut variety and a personal favorite. Needless to say, I “tested” a few.
By the time we finished our food, the afternoon was slipping away, and it was time to check on the dogs. As we walked out, I noticed the fish fry sign again and noted that we had to return — probably more than once. I’m already thinking about that catfish … and that tasty-looking breakfast menu. (Steak and eggs, anyone?)
The plan was to take a pretty direct route home, so we left on County Road 15 toward Manito, switching to County Road 16 North after a quick jog on County Road 13 through town. Now, there are more direct routes, but we weren’t in so much of a hurry that we couldn’t enjoy a scenic ride on new-to-us roads. It was especially interesting to see the Powerton Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area from the east side of the river. I mean, I’ve seen it hundreds of times from the west, but I really didn’t have a feel for its true size until then.
About then, we were rolling into Pekin. A short hop, skip and a jump across the river and onto I 474 West and we were back in the garage in minutes, and boy, were the dogs happy to see us. With another successful day on the bike complete, we grabbed a couple beers, walked out to the patio and picked up a frisbee.