The state tourism folks asked and I have the answers. I’m not sure I’m following their rules exactly but here are my nominations for the Seven Wonders of Illinois in no particular order:
1. Galena – Tucked away in the far northwest part of the state in Jo Davies (pronounced locally as Joe Davis) County, Galena is a pretty popular destination for those living in the Chicago area – two hours to the west but a million miles from home. The area has beautiful and hilly terrain while Galena itself is full of old buildings housing restaurants and shops (lots of antiques). Also there’s the Ulysses S. Grant home.
2. Downtown Chicago – What can I say, there’s almost nothing you can’t do in Chicago. Theater, food, nightlife, museums, the lake, shopping and on and on and on. The three years I lived there I was never bored. Ever. Well, maybe at work.
3. The wilderness and parks of deep Southern Illinois – As a student at SIU Carbondale I fell in love with the natural beauty of the southern tip of the start. I’ve traveled to Giant City State Park just south of Carbondale every year now for several years. It’s a place I can return to again and again to touch nature and just relax. There’s also the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods, Little Grand Canyon, Cave-in-Rock and a host of other natural wonders.
4. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – This is an amazing destination for anyone interested in Illinois’ most famous son (sorry Kentucky, he’s ours). High tech, entertaining and informative, the ALPLM is revitalizing downtown Springfield. The adjacent Union Station project is just one example of the ALPLM’s infectious ability to bring history alive. It also serves as a good anchor for all the Springfield Lincoln sites.
5. The State Universities – No matter where you are in the state, you're neverfar from a university. Universities serve as great centers for learning, culture and entertainment (and they’re a good place to dump your kids for a few years before they’re ready to start life all on their own). Sometimes they bring their benefits to areas that would be otherwise very far away from similar opportunities (think Charleston, Macomb and Carbondale for starters).
6. The Great River Road – I’ve not traveled the entire length of this scenic collection of highways running the length of the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, but I have seen parts of it. Specifically, I’ve been on the southern section below St. Louis and on to the state’s first capital of Kaskaskia and Chester, Illinois. It’s a beautiful drive as is the northern portion I’ve been on in the northern part of the state near Mississippi Palisades State Park. Someday I’d like to travel the entire length.
7. New Salem – A little hometown bias may be coming into play here, but I really think the New Salem village is pretty amazing. I’ve been going there almost al long as I’ve been able to walk. It made a huge impression on me as a kid. Remember when the main road running through New Salem was just dirt (or mud)? The smells, the sites, the Talisman back when it was running on the Sangamon River. And if you’ve never experienced the Candlelight Tour in the fall, you really need to.