The Midwest is known for its front-porch folksiness and down-to-earth pleasures. But take a world-view of the region, and you find that some of its attractions are as exotic and unique as anything on Earth. This, for instance, is the land of Serpent Mound, Jesse James' hideout cave and Sears Tower. Just try finding those anywhere else. And because we live here, we can savor these treasures easily and often.
We asked travel writers Robert Cross (R.C.), Toni Stroud (T.S.) and Alan Solomon (A.S.) where they'd go on a two- or three-day weekend in each of eight Midwestern states. Here are their backyard picks:
Even if your own neighborhood is within commuting distance, Chicago still has plenty of exotic enclaves worth exploration. The city displays its perennial tourist favorites, of course: Michigan Avenue, museums, etc. That's the beginner's tour. Branch out and take a look at Pilsen for a touch of Mexico. Venture into artsy Bucktown/Wicker Park. Or try Little Italy and Chinatown. Both offer glimpses of old cultures and food that's out of this world. --R.C.
Pack a fishing pole, some hiking shoes and a hearty appetite to head for what was once Black Hawk country. Near Oregon, on a bluff above the Rock River, visit the 50-foot-tall American Indian statue--most people think it's Chief Black Hawk--in Lowden State Park. At White Pines Forest State Park, also near Oregon, sleep in a log cabin and rise for the Paul Bunyan Breakfast at the park's restaurant. Work it off on the 13 miles of cliff-top and canyon trails at Starved Rock State Park, near Utica. --T.S.
Don't know if it's the beauty of the place or the revelation that it's here at all. It's safe to say Shawnee National Forest and its wonders--Garden of the Gods and Giant City, to name two--are mysteries to most of Chicago, but here they are, at the Foot of Illinois, waiting to be discovered by you. These are big rock formations, the kind that don't belong in the flatlands, amid deep forests whose insides feel forever untrampled. And--surprise--they're right down the road. --A.S.
Quite a nifty metropolis they have going down there in mid-state. Indianapolis has more big-league credentials than most capitals, starting with NFL and NBA teams. Its downtown comes complete with a large park, a first-class art museum and a children's museum so big it has a wing just for dinosaurs. Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians sheds light on indigenous cultures. And Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a museum too. Any way you look at it, the word for Nap Town is varroomm.
There's more to South Bend than Notre Dame, but that's the place to start. Its statue-topped dome is covered in 23-karat gold leaf. Then, test your sports prowess in interactive exhibits at the College Football Hall of Fame or trace the history of American transportation--including a Conestoga wagon--at the Studebaker National Museum. Sit down to heartland cuisine at the historic Studebaker mansion, now Tippecanoe Place restaurant. Dessert? Tour South Bend Chocolate Factory.
Railroads and highways sank the riverboat traffic, and the floods did the rest, all but finishing most of the small Indiana Ohio River towns. The plus-side for us is today, below the bluffs, we have a string of time-capsule villages, most struggling but all fascinating in their way, each--if you ask--with a story to tell. Special among them, a survivor: Madison. The entire town center is a National Historic Landmark District, and it should be. Come see . . .
People heading west often pause for a spell in Galena, where Illinois rolls toward the Mississippi. A good stop for antiques and charm, Galena is, but just about 15 miles west and across the bridge, there's another don't-miss town, Dubuque. It has the fine National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and other riverfront attractions. A short steep-incline railway takes people to the blufftops. And still more views can be had from overlooks in Eagle Point Park. You might even see Galena.