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Home Adventure Travel Ideas Activities Modes of Travel US Hwy 20 - Illinois to Wyoming

US Hwy 20 - Illinois to Wyoming

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US Hwy 20 - Illinois to Wyoming
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US Highway 20 - Part I -
From Rockford, Illinois to Casper, Wyoming

“I’ve always wanted to see the frontier before it’s gone.”
--- Dances with Wolves ---

    Sometime in the late 1940s my parents decided to visit my grandparents in California. The only part of the trip from Wisconsin I remember was being pulled over by a police officer in Cody, Wyoming. I think we drove through Yellowstone National Park. But like many trips in those days it was goal oriented – get there as fast as possible. Now, with interstate highways, motoring from here to there is even faster. But I think we miss much of the history, ecology, people, and places that make our country special. So here’s the plan – gather the kids and/or grandkids, adopt a different mind set, and take time to mine U.S. Highway 20 for its many hidden gems.

Day One

      If you begin the trip in Rockford, Illinois you can use the Highway 20 by-pass to avoid a long ride down State Street (Business 20) into the city proper. Rather, exit the bypass at Highway 2 north which takes you directly into Rockford and to many of the attractions. Check the helpful web site at www.go rockford.com to plan your visit. For the kids a must-see is the Burpee Museum of Natural History (www. burpee.org). Need I say more than dinosaurs?
This trolley station in Rockford, Illinois has a working trolley.    Next to the museum is Riverfront Museum Park and Discovery Center and the Rockford Art Museum. There is a trolley station with a functioning trolley across the river. The unique Anderson Japanese Garden (www.andersongardens.org) and the Tinker Swiss Cottage (www. tinkercottage.com) are a bit farther away but worth a visit. The Swiss Cottage is actually a mansion built by industrialist Robert Tinker in 1865. It contains handsome furniture and artifacts from the Gilded Age.

Day Two
      After leaving Rockford and passing through Freeport and Elroy, look for the sign on the right for the Stage Coach Trail leading to Lena. Here, the magnet for kids of all ages is the C.W. & Lena Railroad. The G-gauge model railroad swings through a miniature town, countryside, and flower garden. When you come into Lena turn left onto Schuyler Street, cross the railroad tracks and stop at the Tourist Information Center and gift shop. The model railroad is located next door.
      Lena also boasts an opera house built in 1878, an historical museum, a cheese factory, the circa 1848 Stagecoach Inn, a State Park for camping, a golf course, and a bed & breakfast inn.
      After following the Stage Coach Trail through Nora, we headed back to Highway 20 on SR 78 finding another kid-friendly attraction in the town of Elizabeth, the Apple River Fort. Entering from the east, look for the museum parking lot on the right at Myrtle Street. The museum is a gem of historical information about the Black Hawk War including a video reenactment of the war that is sensitive to the Indians’ harsh treatment. The city was named for the three women, all named Elizabeth, who helped defend the fort during the Indian attack.
    Across from the museum find another child magnet in the old railroad depot, The Chicago Great All ages enjoy the C.W. & Lena G-gauge model railroad in Lena, ILWestern Museum (open May-Oct.on weekends from 1-4). If you’re interested in hiking go south on Myrtle Street, which becomes Pleasant Hill Road, and follow the signs 3 miles to Schurmier Teaching Forest. The trails are well marked using the map and guide provided at the entrance.
    After a half day in Rockford and also visiting Lena and Elizabeth, plan for a day’s stay in Galena. Browse Galena’s web site (www. galena.org), request the Visitor’s Guide, and call ahead to book motel or hotel accommodations. Entering Galena look for Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub, stop here and ask when the four young girls dance. You and the kids will enjoy the Irish dancing reminiscent of the Riverdance group. After checking out the pub, stop at the home of Ulysses S. Grant where the kids can see how meals were made on wood-burning cook stoves of the time. Some nine Civil War generals grew up in the Galena area one of which was Eli S. Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He was on Grant’s staff.
    Stop at the Galena Railroad Depot Visitor Center for additional information and maps of the area. Located in the bottom of a bowl of hills transected by the Galena River, the quaint stores along S Main Street in Galena are protected from flooding by a levee and a huge gate that closes the street. Before the wagon road and stage coaches to Chicago, lead ore was carried down the Galena River to the Mississippi River. You and the kids can visit a number of sites including the Washburne House State Historic Site (where Grant learned that he was elected President), the
old custom house now the Galena Post Office, and an old blacksmith shop, a market house, and a stockade.
    The Desoto House Hotel and Courtyard Restaurant (www. desotohouse.com) is well worth visiting and located in a circa 1858 mansion. The Galena/Jo Davis County Historical Society and Museum is well worth the tour for local history and landform model of the town’s unique
location. Visitors find several golf courses and ski areas nearby as well as a winery with tasting room and a variety of eateries.

Day Three

    On your way motoring west from Galena you could take a short side trip up SR 64 to the Vinegar Hill Lead Mine and Museum but check with the visitor center (www.galena.org) to make sure the museum is open.
    Crossing over the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa you and the kids will often see small boats cruising the waters.
The Dyersville Basilica of St. Francis Xavier.  You’ll find the riverfront full of visitors for the river festival and annual bass fishing championship in May, over the Memorial Day weekend.
     The twin spires of the Dyersville Basilica of St. Francis Xavier can be seen from Highway 20 and these spires lead travelers to the town of Dyersville located up Highway 136. Just three miles east of town is the Field of Dreams Movie Site (www.fodmoviesite. com). To get there, once in Dyersville cross the railr
oad tracks, turn right on Third Street, left on 12th Street to Dyersville East Road, then to Lancing Road.
   From here U.S. Highway 20 is a divided four lane highway all the way to Fort Dodge, Iowa. If time allows, however, you can parallel Highway 20 on the more scenic blue highway. For example, we had lunch at the Princess Sweet Shop in Iowa Falls, an authentic Art Deco soda fountain &     Just off Business 20 in Fort Dodge the Fort Museum and Frontier Village offers fun activities for children. One adult could visit the Blanden Art Museum while the youngsters are busy discovering life in the 1800s – poking into the general store, the drug store, the jail, and the livery before entering the fort and its rooms. General Lewis A. Armistead was quartermaster at Fort Dodge in 1850 (www.fortmuseum.com).


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