Ottawa, Illinois: Population = 18,562, elevation = 482 feet, Average January low temp = 17.0º, Average July high temp = 85.6º, annual precipitation = 36.49”, annual snowfall = 24.6” (weather readings are from Peoria, which lies 73 miles to the Southwest.)
We probably turned North too soon. Back in Memphis, when we woke to find snow on the ground, we should have turned tail and headed back to Texas. Instead, we continued on Northward into Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. Fine and beautiful states all, but this year Spring came to them cold and rainy and windy, with lots of storms to liven things up. Our week in Ottawa started with a weekend rain total of over 5 inches. The little home we rented had a sump pump that kept gallantly bailing the entire week we were there.
Ottawa is an interesting little town. It is kind of touristy in that it is flanked by some beautiful parks and rivers and is close enough to Chicago to make it a prime weekend getaway. There seems to be a lot more nice restaurants than there would normally be in a town of this size. The downtown is built of stolid, stately old brick buildings from the mid 1800s.
There are murals scattered throughout the downtown. One depicts the first Lincoln-Douglas debates, held here in 1858, where Stephen Douglas accused Lincoln of being an Abolitionist. Another shows the Union Army marching off to war. Still another is a folky bit of nostalgia for the 50s.
So what’s to do in a small town when it is pouring rain and the parks are flooded? We did some shopping, took in a movie (“The Circle” was disappointing), tried some restaurants, and sampled the local wines and beers. It may seem like we spend a lot of our time drinking, and maybe so, but we are also socializing. The proprietors of wineries and breweries are generally nice people, fun to talk to, and full of local knowledge about what to see, do, and eat in the neighborhood. Many thanks to the good people at Clarks Run Creek for their hospitality and their tip about what is probably some of the best fried chicken in the country.
The skies finally cleared up for a day so we could go out and explore the park. Starved Rock park is a huge attraction in this area. The park is located on top of a tall rocky bluff, cut by deep canyons and rushing waterfalls. Scenic hiking trails wind throughout the park. There are cabins to stay in, a big resort with restaurants, campsites, horses, and boats and fishing, as well as the whole gamut of winter sports in their season. There are also chainsaw carvings all over the grounds. We were delighted to find the twin brother to the carving of Chief Paduke we saw in Paducah, Kentucky.
Ottawa was a nice place to visit, even with the soggy week we had. Spring is the slow season so it was pretty easy to get around, get a table, find a parking spot. From all reports, summertime is a lot more crowded with tourists. Make your reservations early.
Next up: Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin