Tag Archives: Illinois

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 5)

(Continued from Part 4)

The view of woods to our east.

So, waking up at Fort Massac was nice, but warm and humid.  We spent the morning setting up and leveling the bus a bit with some pressure treated lumber under the back wheels.  But the site that we had was awesome.  We were on the edge of woods that spanned some 2 miles behind us, and at the end of a loop, so we had a grassy area next to our site on the south side, with a neighbor to the north.

An old park map showing the loops and historic fort sites.

We were at Site 36, which is on the farther loop from the river, but it ended up being more secluded and quiet, as the end of the first loop had a bike/hiking trail running right behind it.  Just at the end of our loop was a road that went to the old group camping area (no longer used) where we could get right on the bike trails.  (More about those later.)

The bus happily resting at Site 36 in Fort Massac State Park.

So, just on the edge of our site was the firepit, which is probably the most elaborate pit I’ve encountered so far.  Growing up in the Adirondacks, I was used to mortared stone firepits (almost fireplaces) with inset, hinged iron gratings.  Going to the Sprague Brook and Evangola parks, I got used to minimal steel rings with either a hinged steel grating, or one that had four different settings of heights, but never truly left the fire area.  The  firepit that we had at Allegany State Park was the most rustic, with just a ring of stones and no grating (And as such, we picked up a cheap grating at the camp store, which when it dies, we’ll replace with a more durable one – they’re good to have!).

The firepit for our site at Fort Massac.

But the firepit here was impressive.  The grill not only had a really nice handle, but was mounted on a post that allowed the grill to swing around to the back of the firepit, and then continue around to be back over the fire. The mechanism of it also allowed one (who was wearing gloves, so as not to get one’s hands all covered with rust, soot, and grease) to tilt the whole rotating arm so that the grill could be raised or lowered to the desired height above the fire for cooking.  This last was an important item, as I love to cook over the fire. The only downside what just how tall that steel ring was!  You’d have to be right on top of the fire to enjoy it.

Our site in the shade!

But when we arrived, keeping warm was the least of our worries. Temperatures were in the 80’s and 90’s with really high humidity.  Luckily, our site was one of the few with larger trees, so we had shade for most of the day, and with the grassy area nearby, when there was a breeze, we got that too.

When we got in the night before, we had stopped at the Welcome Center/Museum to check in, but it was closed.  After unloading the bikes, I rode over to the Welcome Center (which had AC!), and found out that for this park, we merely had to check in with the Camp Captain.  This was an easy thing, as we had reserved with ReserveAmerica and I had pre-registered and printed that sheet out, so all the data that was needed was right there. We also found out that the last fall, several trees had come down and the maintenance crew had cut and split them, and we could take 10 pieces of wood for free, which made the fire thing a whole lot easier.

Stone bifaces, points, and hand hoes from all across Illinois.

So, after setting everything up, we spent a little time checking out the park.  It was only about half a mile to the Welcome Center/Museum, and we spent a couple of hours looking at the collections. There were rows and rows of stone tools behind glass, and drawers and drawers of them as well.  The collection was from Quentin Richey, who drilled wells for many years, collected the artifacts starting in childhood and continuing over all over the places he worked, especially in Southeastern Illinois.  After his death, his family donated the collection (which had been on display in a local restaurant) to the state, so that more people could enjoy and learn from them.  It is a really impressive collection.

Yep, we found historic lead dice on display.

There were also artifacts from the historic forts that were built on the riverbank, as well as reproduction uniforms, and other items to replicate what everyday and household items from the time would have looked like.

Pioneer household items (actual artifacts and replicas) on display.

 

 

 

The Forts at Fort Massac.

The Fort of Fort Massac is actually two Forts, as mentioned in Part 1 of this adventure.

Southwestern blockhouse, large structure, and northwestern blockhouse, seen across the ditch that would have been between the double palisade walls.

The original French Fort is now merely earthworks, and the historic recreation of the American Fort that was built in 2002 had lost its palisade walls during the intervening years.  But the three blockhouses, two large structures (barracks and storehouses) and one smaller structure were standing, though locked and closed the whole time we were there.

The Eastern view from Fort Massac.

But with the view that one could get over the river, it was easy to see why this location was called ‘The Gibraltar of the Ohio’.  The rise on this side of the bank was easily 30 feet above the river level, and if guns were mounted in the blockhouses, they would have a significant range advantage over any guns mounted on watercraft.   Obviously a good location for maintaining control of who went past on the Ohio.

We also spent a little time biking our way over to the nearby McDonald’s.  This is way off our usual track for camping, but the McDonald’s was the closest source of wifi we could get (even as limited as it was).  We needed that as our son is learning Esperanto from Duolingo, and was on a streak of continuous days that he didn’t want to break.  As such, we went and bought an item from the dollar menu and got a cup of ice each day, while he used his tablet to do his work.  If the wifi was feeling agreeable, I was able to get a weather report, otherwise, I just got frustrated.

But our first day ended well.  We were settled, leveled, provisioned with wood, Duolingoed, and where we needed to be for the Eclipse in a couple of days. It was still hot and humid when we got to bed, but it cooled down overnight.

(Continued in Part 6)

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 1)

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first one that we would be able to get to and view.  Buffalo had an annular  eclipse (the moon is farther from the Earth, producing a ‘Ring of Fire’) in 1994, but it was too overcast to see, and the previous visible total eclipse was in 1925!   So we had planned for this for a couple of years to get the right place to be to see it well.

LOOK BACK: Walter Cronkite covers the 1979 eclipse

I had scoped out the Dixon Springs State Park in Illinois as a nearly perfect place to stay.  It was about midway between the point of maximum coverage and maximum duration.  I emailed back and forth with one of the park officials who identified the best sites to fit our bus, and let me know that the site reservation window would open on January 1, 2017 for the August reservations.

However, when I logged into ReserveAmerica to grab one of the sites, I found them ALL booked.  It turns out that the state of Illinois had decided to capitalize on the eclipse for tourism, and had rolled their reservation window back to November and promoted their state sites!  Scrambling a bit, I found the Fort Massac State Park, adjacent to Metropolis, Illinois.

French Fort De L’Ascension/Massac on the left and reconstructed American Fort Massac on the right.

Fort Massac was originally founded by the French in 1757 as Fort De L’Ascension, and was rebuilt and renamed Massac during the end of the French and Indian War.  While the British nominally owned the territory afterward, the fort itself was burned by the local Cherokee by the time the British got there.

Reconstructed American Fort Massac (minus the log palisades).

The Americans got into the act when General George Washington ordered the fort reconstructed in 1794, and for the next 20 years it served as a military post, sometimes called the ‘Gibraltar of the Ohio’ due to it’s elevation and view of the river. Notable figures of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark camped at Fort Massac in 1803 as they made preparations for their Corps of Discovery expedition to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The sign says it all …

Metropolis was laid out as a formal town in 1839, and it was hoped that it would be a transportation and commerce hub. It is now a city of about 6000 people, and is best known as the home of Superman (this is official, both from DC Comics and the Illinois State Legislature!).

 

A tiny fraction of the stone tool collection at Fort Massac.

As we were to find out, the Fort Massac Visitor Center there is mostly museum! They have a great collection of native american stone artifacts (from all over Illinois), and French and American artifacts recovered from the forts.

But most important for me was the fact that Fort Massac was still within the band of totality for the eclipse, and was only about 16 miles from Dixon Springs, so we wouldn’t lose much (about 10 seconds of totality) from being dead-center along the eclipse line. Within a few minutes, I had a site chosen and booked.  We had a place to camp for the eclipse!

Then we had to get there.  The longest trip that we’d taken the bus on was from Buffalo to Ohiopyle, PA (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and back which was a measly 600 miles or so.  This was going to be some 1600 miles, so it would be our biggest foray to date.

Our (rather grainy) route map for the Eclipse Trip

We had limited time to make the trip, and decided on a few key places to stop on our trip.  We had some friends in Cincinnati, OH who we could stop and see, the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Headquarters were in Louisville, KY, as was the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery tour (at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery), all on the way to Fort Massac.  On the way back, we could stop at Mammoth Caves and Big Bone Lick (where we could camp for the night).

With all this planned out, the next thing was packing and provisioning the bus. And then, of course, setting out on the journey …

(Continued in Part 2)