Each year our family takes a road trip to a different part of the United States, takes photos, and provides a travelogue for friends. In the past, my procedure has been to spend months assembling the stories in my head; actually write it once the right set of mental circumstances fall neatly into place (usually about the same time my wife starts asking me, “How much longer?” every other day); and refuse to share a single word of it with any other soul until the entire piece was a complete work from start to finish. The process was arduous and drawn out, but often fun and usually worth it.
Note how the careful use of adverbs in the previous sentence belies my reasons for trying a fresh approach this year. This year, with laptop in hand I wrote on the go, spending the last few hours of every evening capturing our day’s journey in print as thoroughly as I could, then posting them here on a nightly basis for nine consecutive entries. It meant sleeping a lot less than I normally do on vacation and temporarily relinquishing the entertainment/news aspect of my brain that sparks my writing impetus more often than not, but I enjoyed the immediacy of the experience and appreciated the support of those readers who graciously followed along.
In several non-consecutive entries, I’ll be sharing the photos of our experiences from our nine-day semi-adventure, which took us from Indiana, via Illinois and Missouri, to Kansas and our primary destination of Colorado. The trip had its ups and downs just as any road trip does. Even in the worst of times, we thought some of the pics were keen.
The photos will largely be presented in chronological order, but not slavishly so. Front-loading this with all the shots of breathtaking mountain scenery is tempting, to be sure. We’ll get there.
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Day One was a nine-hour marathon from home to Topeka, with only one certified sightseeing stop in the small town of Vandalia, Illinois. My wife had one particular item on her agenda: their Madonna of the Trail statue.
The Madonnas of the Trail are a series of a dozen statues positioned nationwide in various small towns as a salute to American pioneer women and all that they did to keep the pioneer men from dying within minutes of stepping foot into new frontiers.
For comparison’s sake, below is a pic of our home state’s own Madonna, located in the eastern Indiana town of Richmond, which we caught in 2011 on our way home from Manhattan.
Vandalia’s Madonna is located on the grounds of the Old State Capitol, center of government during the town’s stint from 1819 to 1839 as capital of Illinois. Tourists can visit inside if they don’t arrive too early in the morning like we did.
Vandalia assumed the responsibility from the original capital of Kalkaska, then found itself usurped by the more favorably located Springfield. Today it resembles any other small town, including a bit of a rundown main street whose halcyon days are somewhere in the past.
But that doesn’t stop them from celebrating the former presence of one Abraham Lincoln.
Vandalia is proud of the formative years that young Lincoln spent as a new congressman in their hallowed halls. Across the street from the Old State Capitol is the grassy oasis of Lincoln Park, ostensibly a place for townspeople and tourists to rest, contemplate, and commemorate the time Lincoln legislated here.
The flowers were in bloom, the trees and bushes persevered even in this summer’s nasty drought, and the gazebo looked quaint.
If you look too far to the right in that photo, you can see slight evidence of the dilapidation in the surrounding buildings. Lincoln Park occupies a sliver of property between storefronts, at least one of which is for sale. Around the corner is their defunct movie theater, which reminded me of the Massac Theater we encountered in Metropolis back in June. The Massac, however, had the advantage of a fundraising effort with an eye toward restoration and return to glory.
Full disclosure: we actually stopped in Vandalia twice — once on Day One for the Madonna of the Trail, and again on Day Nine. We had noticed Lincoln Park off to the side when we left town on Day 1 and kept driving, but the image of that wee park nestled into its hidey-hole stuck in my wife’s head and prompted an encore on the way home.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]