Return to Pere Marquette

View from the Twin Mounds overlook

View from the Twin Mounds overlook


Last year, Fox wanted to spend her birthday with me doing something special.  I had gotten her a picnic basket, so she wanted to have a picnic at Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois.  After the picnic, we hiked a trail which loops through much of the park.  We enjoyed that day so much we got married there the following spring.

This year, we have been working hard at our jobs both at work and in the evenings.  We  wanted to take a break and wanted to get back to the park where we were married.  After running an errand in St. Charles in the morning, we made our way over to Pere Marquette via ferry for an afternoon of hiking.

Fox tying her shoes during a break

Fox tying her shoes during a break

We took the same loop around the park as last year.  The road used to get to the lodge and visitor center also continues into the park itself.  To the right of this road, just beyond the turn-off to go to the lodge, a hiking trail begins.  This is a relatively easy trail but with some noticeable elevation changes.  It proceeds from west to east along the south side of the hills of the park.  In the fall, the sun is low in the sky but this trail stays well lit until sunset.

Due to our choice to hike in early November, we were able to experience a backdrop of mostly yellow and orange leaves in the trees during our hike.  If we had waited another weekend for the leaves to turn shades of red, we (1) would not be able to go due to work obligations and (2) would be hiking in freezing temperatures and falling snow this weekend and the trees would be mostly fallen and dead.

Autumn leaves along trail at Pere Marquette

Autumn leaves along trail at Pere Marquette

During the hike, I was so obsessed with the vivid colors of the leaves that I repeatedly stopped and took hundreds of photos using various focal lengths along any point of the trail with a good view of the colorful tree canopy.  I took close-ups, wide shots, mixed different colors, and filled photos with a single color while Fox continued walking (probably giving up on me ever finishing the hike).

Close-up of Pere Marquette's leaves

Close-up of Pere Marquette’s leaves

Eventually we did make it to the eastern end of the trail.  After a gradual climb, the trail splits into two.  Straight ahead winds to the north and crosses the road.  Another path to the right goes down the hill and further to the east.  According to the map, the trail continues for a quarter of a mile to a lookout point called “Lover’s Leap.”  But the dense bed of fallen leaves obscured the trail after a few hundred yards.  All around us we could see tall, dark trunks penetrating about six inches of red and brown leaves that seemed like burnt, crunchy snow.  “Lover’s Leap” will have to wait for another day.

Thick bed of leaves cover trail on the way to Lover's Leap

Thick bed of leaves cover trail on the way to Lover’s Leap

When the trail turns north on the east side of the park, it crosses a road along the tops of the hills before turning back to the west.  This part of the trail is on the far side of the hills from the sun and is therefore darker and cooler.  It also has more variation in elevation and the trail surface itself is rougher and rockier.  It’s more fun for people who like hiking up and down hills.

With the sun falling behind the ridge to the south, we crunched through leaves as the trail started uphill.  We had already climbed and descended a few hills (and were not necessarily in the best shape anyway) so this hill quickly got our hearts beating in our ears and our chests puffing trying to get oxygen.  After a tight u-turn, we spotted a wooden wall at the top of the hill.  I remembered that wall from last year’s hike and knew the toughest part of the hike was nearly over.

Wooden wall at the top of long trail climb

Wooden wall at the top of long trail climb

Turning a corner at the wooden wall had us walking along a pathway partially covered by tree canopy.  The slight decline of the path allowed us to catch our breath.  Then we could see a bright light shining through an opening at the end of the trail.  We got closer and I pulled out my camera in an attempt to capture the sunlight shining on some railroad ties which led out to a clearing.

Thick wooden beams line the trail up to an overlook

Thick wooden beams line the trail up to an overlook

Walking out into the clearing, we were greeted by the fantastic view offered by the Twin Mounds overlook.  The overlook is hundreds of feet above the valley below.  We could see a field of prairie grass, multicolored autumn forests, the boat docks across the street from the park, the Illinois River, and miles of grassland and forest in Missouri.

Red-leafed plant stands out at the top of the overlook with a river barge in the background

Red-leafed plant stands out at the top of the overlook with a river barge in the background

We probably spent ten or fifteen minutes taking in the view before taking a series of steps down another short trail to a second overlook.  This one features a small roofed structure with a wooden staircase out to a vantage point.  As we walked up to the structure, I noticed two people sitting on the roof filming with a small camera.  I silently made my way out from under the roof and captured this second overlook’s in my camera’s memory.

Trail opens out to roofed structure at Pere Marquette overlook

Trail opens out to roofed structure at Pere Marquette overlook

Fox was resting against one of the structure’s support pillars, so I turned my camera on her.  Another couple walked up as well and had the same idea.  They offered to take photos of us against the scenic background if we took some of them.  The guy reviewed the photos I took with his phone and seemed quite pleased with the results.  I always feel good when I can make someone happy with my photos.

Fox and Griff at a Pere Marquette trail overlook

Fox and Griff at a Pere Marquette trail overlook

We left the couple to enjoy the view and we made our way back beyond the first overlook.  The trail splits in several directions at one point and we took the quickest way back down to the Visitor Center.  We were tired and wanted to get some photos of the lodge while the sun was still above the horizon.

As we walked back to the car, our legs were tired and the air was getting cold.  We got in the car and were thankful for heated leather seats and protection from the cold.  Fox and I pulled out of the parking lot and headed back down the Great River Road as we made future plans for a return trip.  Along with being the site of our wedding, Pere Marquette is a beautiful park with fun and challenging hiking trails and we intend to return year after year.

10 activities to enjoy this winter

With the first snow of the season falling this week, we have begun to make a list of winter outdoor fun.

Pumpkin in snow

First signs that fall is over and winter is here – pumpkin in snow.

It is difficult to get motivated to be outside when the weather is cold. However, sitting at a desk all day every day stirs a great desire in us to spend any amount of time outside. Here is our list of activities to do outside this winter:

1. Ice skate at an outdoor rink. – Last year we did a lot of indoor ice skating until I fell and injured my spine. This year we will try to skate outdoors and be injury free.

2. Build a snowman. – Last year our neighbor told us that we built the world’s ugliest snowman. Perhaps this year we can build an even uglier snowman.

Build a snowman and other winter activities.

The world’s ugliest snowman.

3. Take a walk in a local park to take pictures of the beauty of nature during the coldest months of the year.

4. Go snow tubing. – Neither of us has done this. It looks like fun.

5. Watch the bald eagles along the Mississippi River.

6. Visit the zoo to see how its residents play in the snow.

7. Decorate our house with outdoor lights.

8. Take a carriage ride with a warm blanket and hot cocoa.

9. Go sledding.

10. Find an outdoor winter festival to enjoy.

Campfire Tea Kettle

As cooler weather approached us, I began to lust after campfire tea kettles. I would linger by them in outdoor and sporting goods stores. My web browser somehow found its way to pages with tea kettles for sale or reviews on this particular camp cookware. Griff probably was tired of hearing me talk about them.


The tea kettle we chose

On a trip through Wall, SD, I found exactly the one that I wanted, but we did not have room to take it with us on that trip.  I wanted a tea kettle that was big enough to make several cups of hot drinks and something that looked nice. When we returned, I read thoroughly about it and decided that there really was not much that was going to change my mind. So, Griff and I placed an order and it was shipped to us a few days later. We are now the proud owners of a GSI Outdoor enamelware tea kettle.


Tea kettle over fire

Our GSI Outdoor enamelware tea kettle over the fire.

Using the tea kettle

We have only been able to use the tea kettle on one campout to date. On that cold camping weekend, hot tea and hot chocolate helped keep our spirits high and brought us much needed warmth. Griff and I happily added tea bags, cocoa mix and travel coffee mugs to our packing list for that trip. We had hot drinks even as we left the campground and headed on our 6.5 hour journey home.

The main issue that we had is that I realized too late that the lid had a groove at one end to keep the lid in place and I accidentally broke that groove off when I placed the lid on it the first time. We never tried to grab the handle without a pot holder or towel, but we assume that it was probably too hot to touch otherwise. The water did not take an exceptionally long time to boil and it poured out of the spout easily.

At the end of the camping trip, the pretty green tea kettle appeared to be thoroughly burnt. The tea kettle had been left on the fire when there was little water left in it which eventually left a residue on the metal that made it appear burnt. I sighed as I thought about how nice it was at the beginning of the trip but I supposed that all things rugged must look rugged. When I got home, I soaked the tea kettle in soapy water and then washed it with the dishes. Believe it or not, the tea kettle looks almost as good as new. It made me love the tea kettle that much more for being easy to clean.


The future of the tea kettle

We had considered camping this weekend, but it did not work out for us. Today, we discussed how nice the tea kettle will be on cold weekends like this. We also discussed how having a tea kettle opens up so many more possibilities for us while camping. We can now make oatmeal for breakfast, continue to have hot drinks and many more meal options. We also now have the option of hot water for washing dishes. We are making big plans for future camping trips with this tea kettle.

Prairie Days at the Shaw Nature Reserve

Shaw Nature Reserve Prairie Land

Shaw Nature Reserve Prairie Land

“Boys on the right, girls on the left. Sir, please move to the right.”

The woman leading the reenactment of prairie life in a teepee let all visitors know the rules as soon as they entered through the short canvas doorway. She told stories of what life was like on the prairie such as setting up the teepee, cooking inside a teepee, how to use two buffalo skin to make a bed, etc. At the end of her presentation, she gave the attentive kids a wooden nickel.

We meandered through the Prairie Days attractions, learning at some stops and entertained at others. It was a beautiful fall day at the Shaw Nature Reserve to take a walk. We learned about living in a sod house, what to cook over a campfire, dutch oven cooking, setting up camp with a horse, blacksmithing and much more about natural life on the prairie. At each of the stations, children collected wooden nickels that they would later get to spend at the trading post.


Blacksmith demonstration at the Shaw Nature Reserve Prairie Days

Blacksmith demonstration at the Shaw Nature Reserve Prairie Days

This event was family-friendly as the kids became involved with having their own currency and ability to purchase goods if they stopped to listen or participate in the attractions. The adults enjoyed activities such as the tomahawk throw, receiving free milkweed plants and history lessons.

Overall, we enjoyed the event and would recommend it to someone (especially families) looking for a fall event. We saw only a small portion of the Shaw Nature Reserve and plan to return for future events or just for a walk in nature. It is a hidden gem in eastern Missouri.


“My wife…. She is as wild as they come. She is up on those rocks and I just can’t get her down.”

Griff, Fox and Fox’s family looked up at Courthouse and Jail rocks to see a woman easily navigate the rocks while occasionally stopping to take in the view. Looking back at the man, Fox’s brother and sister-in-law smiled and walked on toward the trailhead. Fox’s dad, the social one of the group, stopped to listen to the man’s story. Eventually, Griff and Fox walked on while the man continued to talk about his 86-year-old wife, Wilma.

Along the trail, we met Wilma and had an ever-so-brief conversation with her about what we could expect on the rocks. She was wearing the same shirt that just the day before I had bought in Sydney, NE. She looked comfortable and in-place with the surroundings so I knew that it was a smart purchase.

Hiking now will help us stay young at heart and hopefully keep our hearts healthy. This elderly woman is enjoying a moderate hike at Courthouse and Jail Rocks in NE.

This elderly woman is enjoying a moderate hike in Nebraska. We hope that hiking now will help us stay young at heart and have healthy hearts for a long life.

Over lunch, my dad told us about this couple’s age, how much they travel and their enjoyment of outdoor activities. With awe in my voice, I told my family that I aspire to be just like Wilma at the age of 86.

The next morning, in the hotel’s breakfast room, we were planning our day when Wilma and her husband walked in to eat. We were many miles from Courthouse and Jail rocks and surprised to see them, but my dad took the opportunity to converse further with this inspiring couple. Before they walked away, Wilma told my mom that they would see each other soon. Well, they did, when we all checked out at the same time. However, I really liked her attitude toward life and truly hope that our paths do cross again.

Wilma, if you are reading this, thank you for being such an inspiration. Your enthusiasm for life and the outdoors is everything I strive to be now, at 86 and beyond.