At the start of the second day, we looked at the map of the trails around Lowden State Park. To the surprise of nobody, we’d hiked most of the trails that led somewhere worth seeing on the first day. So we decided to use our second day and explore the booming metropolis a few miles from the campsite called Oregon, Illinois.
Small Town Feel
As someone who lives in Chicago, I like to joke about how the rest of the state hates us. The remainder of the state of Illinois outside the greater Chicago area feels a lot like Iowa: small towns, proud displays of the American flag, and domestic pickup trucks. In a way, it felt like home.
We parked in the town square and began our foot search for unique shops and attractions in Oregon, Illinois. As I alluded to in my last post, I’m from a small town not unlike this one. And whenever I visit places like this, I’m reminded of just how far I’ve come since my adolescent days in rural Iowa. Some of the most jarring examples:
- When we first parked, I pulled out my phone and did a Yelp search for things to do in the area, and—surprise, surprise—found almost nothing. Even googling things was a lost cause. The only way to explore this town was to actually explore.
- Free parking. I forgot this was a thing, and I retroactively missed it for the past ten years.
- Casual conversations with passers-by. When we walked into stores, people asked how we were doing, and at first we just did the big city thing—smile, nod, move past. But instead of going back to reading their books or playing on their phone (as I’m used to shopkeepers doing), they would come out and talk to us. Like… really talk to us. And at first, I felt guarded but eventually I opened up. “Hey man. This is some crazy weather, huh?”
After rummaging through some antique shops that had nothing of note in them, we looped back to the Farmers Market in the City Center.
Oregon, Illinois City Center
Unfortunately, the market was closing up for the day so there were only a few vendors selling old Louis Lamour books and things of that sort. We’d missed the morning vendors that had fresh produce.
But sitting on the town square was the Ogle County Court House. In towns like Oregon, Illinois, buildings like this are relics of a bygone era in architecture called Romanesque Revival. And I’m not the only one who thinks this building is beautiful; the courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Scattered around the grounds are several memorials to residents who have fallen serving their country.
In my experience, this is something else unique to small towns as one person’s death in a small town effects the community as a whole. That’s not to say that Chicago doesn’t have memorials to fallen soldiers (or a football stadium literally called “Soldier Field“), but they’re not this personal. They don’t list the names of the fallen. That level of personalization and remembrance makes sites like this somber in a unique way.
Our last stop was to see the Rock River Dam. All in all, it was a pretty basic riverfront but the summer heat meant that there were families playing on the shore.
Camping at Night
The night before, we couldn’t get our fire started. because the kindling was wet from a passing afternoon shower. But it didn’t rain all day on the second day, so we tried again. I used far too much lighter fluid, used an ungodly amount of newspaper that we bought in town, and almost lost an eyebrow in the process. But after 20 minutes, I danced around the fire and thumped my chest in a comically macho manner.
I was the God of Fire, if only for one night.
And then we made S’mores.
Here’s the thing: Sarah, while I love her dearly, isn’t always the most graceful woman in the world. Doubly so while eating gooey marshmallow treats. So I took some rapid-fire pictures of her:
The Last Morning
The next morning we planned on getting up and leaving around 10, but we woke to the sound of rain around 7 am. Hard rain, too. The fire that I’d worked so hard for last night was a distant memory, and no amount of my overenthusiastic machismo would bring it back.
As we waited in the tent for the rain to relent, the rain also dampened our the hopes of cooking the eggs and bacon we had brought with us by campfire. We had no other way to cook food, no place out of the rain to do it, and our phones told us the rain wouldn’t stop for a few hours. Eventually, we admitted defeat.
When there was a break in the downpour at about 7:30 am, we hastily crumpled the tent along with the cooler and our otherwise inadequate camping supplies into the back of the Accord and hit McDonald’s on the way out of town. It rained the whole drive back.
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