One last state. One last stop. One last attraction. One last park. One last forest. One last cliff. One last statue. All the plurals throughout this series come down to these.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…
DAY TEN: Sunday, July 4th.
Yep, that July 4th. Our family hasn’t done much on Independence Day in years, so it was no big deal spending half our day on the road, driving toward home instead of away from it like most folks traveling for the holiday. Detouring for one large piece of Americana seemed an acceptable alternative to mark the occasion.
After checking out from our final hotel and spending one last unremarkable morning on errands…
TOTAL ROAD TRIP MILEAGE AS OF GAS STOP #13: 3,247.7
…we left Rockford and headed southwest toward our next stop. The route was mostly ordinary Illinois forests and farmland, the usual greenery. One particular westbound backdrop of amber waives of grain was punctuated with the incongruous sight of a pair of nuclear towers jutting from the horizon five miles to the north. Anne tried to take a photo as we drove, but all those darn ingredients, tall and growing and destined one day to be turned into our grub, photobombed every attempt. I could’ve pulled over so she could better focus, but that would’ve meant arriving home even later.
Thus we have no visuals, only our fading memories with which to mark the occasion we laid eyes upon Byron Nuclear Generating Station, which fired up its first tower in 1985, has caused environmental concerns for locals multiple times over the years, and as of 2010 had over 25,000 people living within ten miles of it. I suppose we could’ve dropped in for a tour and splurged on some nuclear souvenirs or cheap secrets, but I couldn’t figure out which country road would’ve led us directly there for a closer view. I blame their marketing department for not providing the common courtesy of a highway sign labeled “TURN HERE FOR BYRON NUCLEAR FUN ZONE! NOT GREAT, NOT TERRIBLE! JUST LIKE ON ‘THE SIMPSONS’! FREE CARBON RODS FOR KIDS!”
Instead we settled for a brief interlude at a park. Once an art colony getaway in a former life, Lowden State Park is named after a former governor who probably meant something to Illinoisans way back when. It’s mostly a campground, probably the smallest one we drove through on this vacation. We’d hoped for a bit more but didn’t really require it. Their grounds held one (1) item we were curious to see.
On the park’s west edge stands the sizable work officially named The Eternal Indian. Completed in 1910 by sculptor Lorado Taft and artist/engineer John G. Prasuhn as a tribute to all Native Americans in general, the more popularly labeled Black Hawk Statue — named after a Sauk leader whom it reportedly doesn’t much resemble — stands 48 feet tall, looms 125 feet above the Rock River, and was made from concrete and two tons of granite chips with a wooden tower in the center.
Getting a head-on view of him from within the park was impossible without a jet pack. We exited the park, returned to the highway and crossed the Rock River into the small town of Oregon. Turning north on River Road takes you through their equivalent of a Main Street and on toward a riverside parking lot with a clear if distant view of Black Hawk across the way.
…and that’s really all we came to see, just enough to enjoy a glimpse of some great big majesty, and just enough to say our final day of vacation wasn’t simply a boring sprint home. On the return trip, the nuclear plant was even harder to seem but we’ll also never forget that. Except that one time when I had forgotten it over the months since then, and Anne had to remind me before I wrote this chapter. So now I’ll never forget it.
To be continued!
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