(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2005)
NORTHWEST ILLINOIS The rich tapestry of forests the great Sauk Chief Blackhawk called home still thrives in Illinois' rugged northwest corner. Offering quiet towns and state parks ringed by trees, this journey is perfect for people looking for new places to walk in the woods and admire blazing fall color.
The drive begins at the sleepy, tree-shaded town of Grand Detour, where John Deere's home and a replica of his blacksmith shop pay tribute to the inventor of the steel plow. Head north, where State-2 follows the Rock River's gentle turns. Maples, sycamores and oaks bend toward the water.
The road leads to Oregon and three state parks just outside town. From a wooded bluff in Lowden State Park, a 50-foot-tall statue of a Native American created by Illinois sculptor Lorado Taft in 1910 honors the region's first residents. The public named the statue Blackhawk, who fought for his Illinois homeland in the 1832 Blackhawk War.
Southwest of town, visitors climb 200 steps to Castle Rock, a sandstone cliff in the park with the same name. West of Oregon, bluffs thick with oaks and maples soar in White Pines Forest State Park, where visitors spend the night in refurbished cabins.
Open fields and forests slip by on the drive west to the Mississippi. Reaching the river, you pass the soaring wall of rock that defines Mississippi Palisades State Park. Guide your car up the steep roads into this wooded enclave for vistas from the top of limestone cliffs.
From the park, State-84/US-20 leads to historic Galena, a former mining and riverboat boomtown. Victorian mansions overlook the town and serve as inns. Along Main Street, brick-fronted stores more than a century old sell art, antiques, crafts and handdipped candies. The home of Ulysses S. Grant also is open for tours. Route distance: 90 miles.
EASTERN IOWA The spirit of an 1855 communal society lives on in the Amana Colonies, a cluster of seven villages that loll amid fall color in the rolling countryside of east-central Iowa (20 miles west of Iowa City). Travel between tiny burgs established by German and Swiss immigrants fleeing religious persecution. Today they feature specialty shops, crafters demonstrating old-time skills, wineries, museums and German restaurants that serve hearty food family-style. The villages are Iowa's most-visited attraction.
The "Inspirationalists" who founded the colonies are often thought to be Amish. That's not so, but Amish residents do thrive to the southeast in nearby Kalona without cars, electricity and other modern amenities. If you have time after a stop there, head north to Iowa City, where the University of Iowa sprawls across hills above the Iowa River.
Then, drive east to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. It features displays and memorabilia chronicling the life of the only Iowa-born U.S. president. Route distance: 83 miles.