Having titled the blog post from our May trip “Fun, Fun, Fun in Florida,” I thought it was only fitting to follow up with a title for our June trip that emphasized all the rain, rain, rain it included — because if any word deserved that much repetition this time around, “rain” was definitely it.
And while no one wants a rainy vacation, we still had a lot of fun and an extra dose of adventure that can only come from inclement weather … like when your arrival in Chicago is announced by tornado sirens! Also high on our list of adventures this trip was officially crossing the one-third mark in our National Parks quest, with Indiana Dunes being No. 21 (of 63 total) that we’ve visited together in the past three years.
Along with the pictures below, I’ve peppered in some pointers for making the most of a rainy vacation that will probably be obvious — but sometimes stating the obvious saves someone from getting stuck in a downpour without a rain jacket, so here you go:
– feature film –
See the occasion come alive in these video highlights!
day 1 • 06.24.21
Our Day 1 destination was a hotel on the east side of the Chicago metro that’s about halfway between Chicago and Indiana Dunes — positioning us pretty conveniently for those two stops on our itinerary. As an added bonus, the hotel sat beside a pond with a walking trail, which was good for stretching our legs after eight hours in the car!
But even after that long day of driving, Seth still looked like a model in this fancy light-framed mirror. (And when you find your hotel stay includes a mirror like this, the only acceptable reaction is a long moment of self-admiration.)
day 2 • 06.25.21
Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes is one of the newer National Parks, having attained that status in 2019 (after being named a National Lakeshore in 1966, since it hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan). It was definitely one of the more surprising parks we’ve visited, as you don’t expect to see sand dunes standing almost 200 feet tall in the Midwest (not to mention right outside a major city). And after hiking more than 7 miles this day, we’d definitely walked through way more sand even than in Florida the month before!
Also unique about Indiana Dunes National Park is that Indiana Dunes State Park is within its boundaries. Some of the best hikes are in the State Park, so we headed there for our first trek to the shore of Lake Michigan.
Rainy Vacay Tip 1: If the weather radar shows any chance of rain, carry a rain jacket and/or umbrella even if you aren’t sure you’ll need it. And if you’re lucky, your kind spouse will tote yours around when you aren’t using it (See Kind Spouse Seth above, holding not one but two jackets).
Also in the State Park, we did the Three-Dune Challenge, which takes hikers to the summits of Mount Tom, Mount Holden and Mount Jackson.
Please don’t ask what Seth’s hair is doing; I can’t say. But I’m sure it speaks to how hard we were exerting ourselves, and it is beside the Mount Tom marker, so it made the cut for publication.
In addition to questionable hair, we also encountered a fox during the Three-Dune Challenge.
In case having a State Park within its boundaries isn’t random enough, Indiana Dunes National Park also includes an area with several homes that were in the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair. The event was also called the Century of Progress International Exposition, and these houses featured modern architectural design, experimental materials and new technologies like dishwashers and central air conditioning. They were later transported by barge across Lake Michigan to the resort community of Beverly Shores, where they sit today.
My favorite was the Florida Tropical House (above). The others (from left to right and top to bottom below) are the Cypress Log Cabin, the Armco-Ferro House, the House of Tomorrow (currently undergoing restoration) and the Wieboldt-Rostone House.
We passed the above marsh on our way to our next destination: Mount Baldy (at below right). It’s one of Indiana Dunes’ most famous dunes, but its summit trail is closed other than for ranger-led hikes due to dangers like potentially falling into the dune (It moves 5 to 10 feet each year, so isn’t super stable). Thus we just viewed it from the parking area and then set off for the beach!
Fun fact: I realized at some point this day that we’d visited Great Sand Dunes National Park exactly nine months to the day before our visit to Indiana Dunes National Park (on 9/25/20 and 6/25/21). Which I can only assume means we need to plan some other sand dunes trip for 3/25/22!
Our last set of hikes as evening arrived were at the National Park’s West Beach unit. Prickly pear cacti were in bloom along the West Beach Trail, which travels through a flat expanse that was once covered by dunes. These dunes were mined for sand in the early 1900s, which went to various industrial and building projects throughout the Midwest.
Last up was the Dune Succession Trail, which travels first through “grandparent dunes” covered in mature oak and hickory forest. The closer the trail gets to the beach, the younger the dunes. And the plant life also changes, shifting from oaks to pines, then sand cherries, and finally dune grasses and cottonwood trees on the beach. The trail also gave us our first view this trip of the Chicago skyline:
That cold water felt really good on my feet after a full day of walking through deep, soft sand!
And finally at the end of a cloudy, rainy day, we got a glimpse of sun and blue sky.
day 3 • 06.26.21
This was our second time in the Second City (See what I did there? 😁), so we’d already done some of the traditional touristy things like Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). Thus we thought a boat tour on the Chicago River would be a fun way to see some sights this time around.
The forecast early in the day had shown a clear window for early afternoon, but by the time we arrived in Chicago, that promising forecast had been replaced by heavy rain … as well as a tornado warning. If I look pensive in the above picture, it may have been because tornado sirens had been blaring!
Fortunately, this part of Chicago is stunning even in inclement weather. And the downpour did subside for a good portion of our 90-minute boat ride, so that was also nice.
The green Nuveen Building in two of the above photos is famous both for how its glassy surface reflects the city’s skyline and for being featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
A tour guide shared a lot of interesting tidbits throughout the trip, and some I found most interesting were about the symbolism of the Chicago flag.
The blue and white portions represent the city’s geography, with the three white stripes symbolizing the north, west and south sides of the city; the top blue stripe symbolizing Lake Michigan and the north branch of the Chicago River; and the bottom blue stripe symbolizing the south branch of the Chicago River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
The four stars represent significant events in the city’s history: Fort Dearborn (the U.S. Army’s westernmost outpost in the early 19th century and the first major investment in this region, which led to the arrival of Europeans and European Americans in what would become Chicago), the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933-1934.
Above is the reflection of our boat! And below, a squinty Seth shows that somehow, it can be very bright even while overcast.
At 1,454 feet tall, Willis Tower (above) was the tallest building in the world for more than 20 years after its completion in 1974 (and was as tall as allowed at that time by the Federal Aviation Administration). It’s now in 12th place worldwide but is still second tallest in North America and the Western Hemisphere.
On a clear day, it’s possible to see four states from its Skydeck on the 103rd floor. We felt fortunate we did have a clear day when we visited the Skydeck in 2012, because this 2021 trip definitely would not have offered that!
Above right: This office building at 300 S. Wacker Dr. has a mural map more than 400 feet tall, showing the river, the street grid and the building’s location on them (marked with that red rectangle). Of all the stories behind all these buildings, this one may not have been the most notable — but I love map art, so it definitely gets a mention from me.
I also liked the dark green Art Deco-style Carbide and Carbon Building, with its genuine 24-karat-gold cap. Also notable nearby (second from right in the above left and bottom photos) is the Jewelers Building. Legend has it that Al Copone ran a speakeasy from the Stratosphere Lounge, which was located in the building’s dome.
Above is the Wrigley Building, one of the defining structures of Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. And below is the St. Regis Chicago, which is the world’s tallest building designed by a woman (architect Jeanne Gang).
The neo-Gothic building centered above is Tribune Tower, home to the Chicago Tribune. Embedded in its street-level facade are fragments from more than 120 famous places, including Yellowstone National Park, the Great Wall of China and the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The earliest fragments were delivered to Chicago by Tribune correspondents, and I think it’s so cool the actual structure of the building contains these “souvenirs” from around the world!
Trump International Hotel & Tower contains three setbacks pointing to architecturally significant neighbors, including the Wrigley Building. It’s also where our boat tour began and ended, so at this point we set out to see more of the city on foot and soon came across the statue below, which was a very appropriate representation of this day and this trip!
The corncob-shaped towers at the right side of the above shot are Marina City, which were designed with an intent to show no right angles. The midcentury-modern concrete marvels house apartments, entertainment venues and a parking garage.
Since Lake Michigan was a big part of our day at Indiana Dunes, we had to make sure to visit it from the Chicago side, as well. Plus, I wanted to see the nearby Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain at a time it was actually operating — since our previous Chicago trip had been in late October, when the fountain was off.
The only photo of me and Seth together from that trip was in front of Buckingham Fountain, and I’ve often thought upon seeing that photo that I wish the water had been on — so this seemed like a perfect chance to replicate that shot under more ideal circumstances (although perhaps less ideal in terms of the torrential downpour that essentially made the entire city a fountain! 😂).
Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park has been designated a Chicago Landmark and is one of the largest fountains in the world. It’s also considered one of the finest ornamental fountains in America and is mentioned as a contributing feature on Grant Park’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the first 20 minutes of each hour it’s in operation, the fountain’s center jet shoots water 150 feet in the air (shown at above right and below).
Above and below: Our new-and-improved portraits with Buckingham Fountain … which I think were worth the (almost) nine-year wait!
We hadn’t planned to visit Millennium Park since we’d been there before — but it turned out to be on our walk back to our car, so we had to stop by for another look at the iconic Cloud Gate (aka The Bean).
Rainy Vacay Tip 2: Rain boots aren’t only for show. This occurred to me at an intersection along the Magnificent Mile, where I saw a woman wearing rain boots while I was about to enter my sixth hour of soaked feet in sandals. Seth wasn’t faring any better, even in tennis shoes. So, while I’ve kind of always thought of rain boots as more of a sometimes-cute accessory than frequently practical footwear, we definitely could have used some this day!
After taking a few more shots of Chicago sights, we were off to Fox River Resort in Sheridan, Illinois — about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago. The rain tapered off as we left the city, and a while into our drive, I spotted a little polka-dot of rainbow in the clouds (below).
Then by the time we arrived at the resort, we had sun and blue skies — which I told Seth made it look pretty heavenly after the weather we’d left behind! We had a deal for a free four-day, three-night stay at Fox River, which was off to a (literally) bright start.
day 4 • 06.27.21
Starved Rock State Park & Fox River Resort
We started the day by finding these fawns outside our room before heading to Starved Rock State Park, about half an hour away. This park has seasonal waterfalls that are active in the spring and/or after heavy rains, so we were definitely expecting to see some!
The first leg of our hike was to the top of Starved Rock, the highest point in the park. From there we had views of the Illinois River and a number of American white pelicans (which I may have identified by Googling “big white river birds”).
Our next stop was French Canyon, which seems like a good point to share …
Rainy Vacay Tip 3: Pack extra socks. Because even on a day without substantial rain, you might end up with wet feet yet again from hiking through a waterfall.
… Which is exactly what led us to our third consecutive day of hanging socks to dry upon returning to our hotel. But the wet feet were worth it for this view:
Our last hiking destination was Wildcat Canyon, which also had a waterfall on display.
Back at the resort that evening, we played putt-putt and basketball, then flew our drone by the boat dock. (Seth would like everyone to know he won all the games.)
day 5 • 06.28.21
Fox River Resort
Out for a nature-trail walk at the resort, before another downpour. Even the vulture (below) seemed to know it was time to look for cover.
I wasn’t kidding about all the sock-drying stations we established in our room. And after getting drenched on that walk, this was our fourth consecutive day taking such measures (Seth had also figured out by now that hair dryers work pretty well on shoes).
After the rain let up, we went out for more resort activities that afternoon. Seth won everything again, except for the competition over whose hair most closely resembled a 1970s-era man-perm … which I won handily, thanks to the humidity.
Rainy Vacay Tip 4: Hitting the pool around dinnertime and as another round of rain arrives is a great way to get it all to yourself.
day 6 • 06.29.21
World’s Largest Truckstop
The World’s Largest Truckstop was not so much a destination as a lunch spot and photo op on the way home. But destination or not: As with Chicago, we can now say we’ve been there twice!
… And of course, it was raining.
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