Friday, May 20, 2016

Our amble home

After leaving Farmington earlier this month, we took our time getting home. The weather was decent so we took a slightly more circuitous route than usual: up into Illinois, then northwest to Iowa and southern Wisconsin. I wanted to visit Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa and do so some other touristy things in the general area of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

We had noticed before that all roads in Illinois seem to lead to Peoria (at least if you're on I-39 or I-55) and that's where we wound up for one night, Peoria. Or, more precisely,  Jubilee College State Park, which is spitting distance from Peoria. We were, in fact, so close to the city that we experienced something relatively unusual for Adventures with the Guppy: over-the-air television. We cranked the antenna up and discovered we had a choice of multiple channels. I know a person isn't supposed to be thinking about television when one is camping, but, hey, it was Wednesday and it was nice to be able to watch "Survivor" when it aired instead of having to stream it multiple days after the fact.

Anyway, Jubilee College State Park struck me as being a nice park that's suffering from Illinois's budget woes. It's been neglected and it shows. The campground loops were nicely designed but maintenance has been sparse. The campground host told us that for a couple seasons the park had only one employee, a maintenance technician, who had to try to do everything alone. Staff has apparently increased since then -- there's now a superintendent in addition to the maintenance guy -- but not enough to keep up with everything. We got a discount on the normal camping fee because the showerhouse was closed, probably indefinitely. One of the camping loops is also closed. On the plus side, the areas that are open were clean, as were the vault toilets. They may be short-staffed, but whoever is working is working hard.

Despite the drawbacks, the host told us the campground is quite popular and does fill on the weekends in the summer. It also gets a fair number of campers from outside Illinois almost any day of the week because it's easily accessible from I-80. People who are doing longer trips, like from the East Coast out to Yellowstone or farther, find it convenient for a one-night stop. Heck, that's what we were doing -- stopping for one night while on our way to someplace else. It is far enough from the Interstate that the campground is quiet but not so far that you feel like it's going to take you forever to get back to the highway in the morning.

The only quibble I'd actually have about staying at Jubilee College SP again is that it could be tricky finding a good spot to park a motorhome if the park is busy. We got lucky -- it was the middle of the week so there were only a handful of other campers there -- and were able to snag a site so level we didn't have to worry about jacks or other levelers. However, a fair number of sites had a definite slope and could have proved interesting. In addition, the majority of the sites were not graveled, i.e., they were just plain turf -- you get to guess where the "pad" is by the location of the electrical post and faint ruts in the grass -- and several were definitely muddy. The online description of the park says the sites are graveled, so maybe they all were at one time, but the gravel hasn't been renewed in  a long, lone time. The site we snagged did have real gravel on it so we had no fears of getting bogged down; that wasn't true of a number of others we looked at and rejected. If you're driving a leviathan or have a humongous fifth wheel trailer, it could be tricky getting your landing gear down without them sinking clear out of sight.
The closed showerhouse is visible in the distance. There's a large, open area near the playground. This has to be a great park for families -- lots of room for the little barracudas to run around, start spontaneous soccer or baseball games, and generally burn off pent up energy.

The State of Illinois park system does have an online reservation system for its campgrounds; it's through a private contractor (ReserveAmerica) and I was not impressed. It will show you a map of the campground, but individual site descriptions were basically nonexistent as were photos. Given that a number of states have really nice websites that include information like whether or not a site slopes, has any shade, and even have photographs of the specific sites, I'd say ReserveAmerica has a ways to go in bringing its database into the 21st century. We did not make a reservation; we decided that it was early enough in the camping season that we shouldn't have a problem finding a site. We were right.

Factoid: Jubilee College State Park is named after Jubilee College, a historic college founded in the 19th century. Jubilee College State Historic Site is adjacent to the park.

From Peoria we continued to amble west and north. Crossed the Mississippi at the Quad Cities, then took US-61 north to Dubuque, Iowa, where it crosses into Wisconsin. Eventually we found Wisconsin Highway 35 and followed the Great River Road to a few miles north of DeSoto to a Corps of Engineers site, Blackhawk Park, adjacent to the Mississippi. According to the online reviews, Blackhawk is popular. I believe it. It was early enough in the season that the reservation system hadn't kicked in yet -- all the sites were first come, first serve -- but I'd be willing to be that once it gets to be summer without a reservation you'd be out of luck on the weekends. There are a number of sites in the newer RV loop that are right next to the water so it's possible to beach your boat within a few feet of your trailer or motorhome. It doesn't get much better than that for people who like to fish. 

There are two camping loops for RVs and trailers as well as a plethora of basic sites for tent camping. I did notice about half a dozen tent campers; they were fairly widely dispersed. Of course, it was easy to avoid being right next to anyone else when the campground is really large and it's early in the season. As has been true of other Corps campgrounds we've patronized, the sites were large -- lots of space so you don't feel crowded -- and so close to level that we didn't bother worrying about the slight tilt to one side. If we had planned to be there for more than 2 nights, the S.O. would have gone through the hassle of putting planks under the wheels on the downhill side, but when the tilt was barely noticeable it wasn't worth the hassle. The RV sites all have electricity; the big difference between the newer loop and the older section is the older section has large shade trees. The new loop will have shade eventually, but the trees are still fairly small. 
About the only quibble I'd have about this particular campground was the fact the showers in the shower house required tokens. One token got you 5 minutes worth of water. Allow me to say that 5 minutes isn't very long if you're the first person into the shower house in the morning and it takes what seems like forever for the hot water to arrive. Maybe if it had been July an ice cold shower first thing in the morning would have been attractive, but not in early May. . . In any case, I had managed to talk the fee collectors into giving me a total of 4 tokens the night before -- 2 for me, 2 for the S.O. -- because we were going to be there for 2 nights. Each camper is allowed one token per day. I was glad I had more tokens with me than I theoretically needed -- the first 5 minutes ran out right about the same time that the water got hot enough for me to get the shampoo into the hair and the body wash on to the body. I would have been extremely unhappy to find myself covered with soap and token-less.

The campground is not on the main channel of the river. It's upstream of Lock & Dam No. 9 in a section where there are numerous islands. There are a couple of islands between the shipping channel and the section of campground where we were. The shipping channel is visible from the day use area, though, and it was kind of neat to see a tug pushing several barges go gliding by.

Factoid: Blackhawk Park gets its name from the fact it's near the site of the last battle of the Black Hawk Wars, the Bad Axe Massacre. I kind of wonder what the terrain was like back in 1832 because obviously there was a lot less land under water, but it still must have been a lousy choice as a place to fight a battle. The bluffs on either side of the river are practically vertical, and the land within the flood plain had to have been thoroughly laced with marshes and sloughs. In any case, the Native Americans lost, and lost spectacularly, hence the reference to a massacre.

We may find ourselves back at Blackhawk Park one of these years. We had planned on only 2 nights there and it turned out that wasn't enough time to do everything I would have liked to. We did get to Effigy Mounds, but never made it to Villa Louis, a Wisconsin State Historic Site, and some other places in that general area. I was really tempted to extend our stay, but for various reasons we had to get home. Oh well. Live and learn. I should know by now to always allow the double the time I think something is going to take. Doesn't matter if it's a do-it-yourself project or just playing tourist, everything always takes longer than you had planned for it.


  1. I guess when you amble along in a motorhome for a month or two it is like living at home so it makes sense to watch some tv. As you travel do you keep the fridge running?

  2. The fridge is off when the Guppy's in motion. It's AC or propane. We have discovered that it's pretty well insulated, though, so if it's thoroughly cold when we take off the food stays cold for many hours. We had ice packs tucked into the refrigerator to help keep things cold and those ice packs were still frozen solid after a full day on the road. Of course, it was early May and not super hot weather. It might not work as well in July -- or in Texas.

  3. nice pics
    the Ol'Buzzard


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