Hiking around “Garden of the Gods” in Shawnee National Forest – Illinois

Over 300 million years ago, water began to form a carved out section in the earth forming one of the most unique geological rock formations in the Mid-Western states of America – now standing as the Shawnee National Forest “Garden of the Gods”.



We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the entire Shawnee Forest, but there is certainly enough to do around the 290,000-acre forest, and with enough miles of trails, and spots for camping to keep families busy all summer! The best part? It’s rural and remote enough in some parts to remain socially distant in activities. It’s nature at its finest! It looks like a scene taken closer to the Rockies, but the land is wedged between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers – and the remaining results of millions of years of erosion have left its mark.

You can find the Garden of the Gods near the eastern part of the forest and a few hours east of St. Louis and northeast of Paducah, Kentucky. It’s a hidden gem.


Finding Fun Road-Side Attractions Along Your Way!



There is plenty to do in Shawnee Forest – but a side note – there is this fun little website called (www.roadsideamerica.com) that lists fun little uniquely odd tourist attractions along your trip! You can check it out and look for things by state and area. Well…two of the uniquely odd tourist attractions happened to be right on our route to Shawnee.

Big John – we found by accident stopping for gas in Eldorado, Illinois. Right before getting to the entrance of the forest we stopped at “Hucks” and I noticed this huge giant statue holding groceries outside this store “Big Johns” and I looked it up on the website and SURE ENOUGH!! Boom! Roadside America Tourist Attraction! The thing about this statue is that apparently, they’re rare! So, if you find one, get a pic!

The next one – BIGFOOT – was found right across the road from a trading post settled next to the entrance/exit to the Garden of the Gods. We stopped to get ice cream and rootbeer floats, and a local asked if I was going to get my picture with Sassy the sasquatch across the road? When you are asked such a normal question, you must abide! So I followed the painted bigfoot prints on the road and took my picture with the sasquatch statue! Another one on roadsideamerica’s list!

These are all fun things that you can do as a family, but the highlight of the stop was certainly…

The Garden of the Gods


This is where we met the short trail to a large rock formation known as “Camel Rock” and hiked part of the trail and climbed rocks. It’s mostly paved stones for a path. HOWEVER, it would be difficult for those in a wheelchair or cane. The paths are uneven with lots of different cracks and exposed roots. It would be easy to trip and fall, so be careful while hiking the trail. Also (even though I saw several strollers on the trail with children, just be aware that it would be work along the rough part of the path.

It’s a climbing exploring kind of adventure!






More to come with a video of this amazing place to be posted later…..stay tuned!

Winter in the Subtropics

Ahhh Australia, how I long to visit you! Here is a blog post about my blogging friend who lives in Brisbane, Queensland -where it’s currently Winter. It’s about 8 degrees Celsius/about 46 degrees Fahrenheit here in Iowa – Which would put us in a mild Winter or cooler Fall. =) I think if it would hit about 10-20 degrees warmer it would be PERFECT weather! But…for Winter in the Mid-West – we’d take close to 50 degrees any day! I love this bloggers posts about literature and other things – Go check out Gretchen’s Blog!

Thoughts Become Words

IMG_20200601_173006Cold and frosty morning 2020 © Gretchen Bernet-Ward

In the depths of a July winter here in Brisbane, Queensland, I am sitting with a cold nose and knees, contemplating warmer weather.  Our winters probably seems mild to those countries with ice and snow.  We have misty mornings then clear blue skies and by lunchtime some clothing layers can be removed for a couple of hours before the cold creeps in again.

The issue is home heating.  Of course, I am not talking about the hermetically sealed grey boxes of the millennium.  This older house is built like thousands of others—for the heat.  We don’t have a fireplace, we don’t have insulation, we don’t have ducted heating, but we do have reverse cycle air-conditioning.  Problem is the unit swirls the air around at the edges so it never feels warm enough.

Brrr!  This is where an old three-bar radiator…

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Music & Wine – Along the Glacial Trail

I was excited to head back to the “Glacial Trail” Scenic Byway and play a music gig with my friend Jill at a little rural winery called Innspiration Winery – outside Linn Grove, Iowa. It’s a great scenic trail to explore in NW Iowa, and the winery offers a place to stay AND fun activities from canoeing, fishing, camping, exploring the vineyard, and of course wine tasting!




We had some practice time before heading down that night, and had a great crowd! Here are a few shots of our promo photoshoot and the night of wine and music!

The winery is easy to find…just off the main highway heading out of Linn Grove on 170th or Weaver Street. Hang a right (Northbound) or left (Southbound) on 510th Street…and head about a mile East to 1790 510th St., Linn Grove, Iowa. (Home of Innspiration Winery).

Come check out the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway – stay the night at the winery- and check out a map because it’s close to a lot of fun places in the mid-west if you are traveling. It’s about  2 hours from Sioux Falls and Sioux City and about an hour from the Iowa Great Lakes “Okoboji” so come check them out!


Picking Strawberries in O’Brien County, Iowa – Traveling or Staycation Idea!


Another Country Pilgrim Adventure! This time it leads us further into O’Brien County, Iowa – to Getting’s Garden, where we had the opportunity to pick strawberries! It was a great experience and if you are looking for a staycation idea in your travels…here is one for you.

Staycation Idea – Pick Strawberries and make Jam

So, outside of the town of Sanborn, Iowa is this beautiful berry farm and it was packed with different families that were out social distancing and picking berries – separating each other by every other row. It was perfect! The weather was great, the strawberries were ripe, and the company was even better! Family! If you are traveling around the area in NW Iowa, SW Minnesota, SE South Dakota, or Eastern Nebraska, go on a little road trip up to Sanborn and Getting’s Garden and pick some fresh strawberries! You won’t regret the time or the fresh berry taste!

Check below to see our “Strawberry Adventure”!!


We filled the strawberries by flat and worked our own row until the flat was full. It was a yummy time! Naturally, we had to sample them as we picked! =)\

The finished product brought us back home where we put the strawberries together with rhubarb for some fresh strawberry-rhubarb jam!




For your next traveling trip…try stopping at a fruit farm or orchard! Especially with summer upon us! It’s a wonderful time and gives you a great activity while on vacation or road-tripping across America! Even if you are staycationing it…it’s a perfect staycation activity to do with the kids! Just search up some great jam or pie recipes online and have a blast!

The Alamo and Riverwalk of San Antonio

I was fortunate to get down to San Antonio beforeCOVID-19 hit, and wanted to share some more pics from that adventure before this summer vacation out east takes off full swing! I was able to post a new video with “Vlog About A Blog” on my youtube channel (country pilgrim).

The thing about San Antonio that really grabbed my heart (not bad for a city…) is the amount of history and beauty in and around the downtown area. The Alamo naturally takes center stage with the history, but the riverwalk is NOT to be missed if you are visiting!



If you walk across the street you can see more of what was the fort “Alamo” and the Southwest wall remains are still there (where the Mexican Army broke through during the final battle). If you walk east down Alamo Plaza and across Houston and along the Hotel Gibb’s, at the corner is a marker that marks what would have been the SE corner of the Alamo. You can gain a perspective of HOW BIG the Alamo was by turning around and looking back where the mission stands from the SE corner.


And with famous names of the Texas Revolution like – Colonel Travis, James Bowie, Davey Crockett, … the Alamo lives in history as a mark of Texas Indepance. Below are a few more pics of the Alamo. It’s worth a visit if you are in San Antonio.


Steps away from the Alamo —

“The Riverwalk”

San Antonio has the largest urban ecosystems in the nation with the Riverwalk — running approximately 15 miles, it’s an excellent way to visit the downtown area, either taking a riverboat barge cruise or walking along and shopping the many different shops or take in a bite to eat at many dining options!



Taking in everything that San Antonio has to offer can far exceed just the Alamo and Riverwalk, but if you had a short week, this would be a fantastic option! Taking in the architecture along with the beauty of the San Antonio river and history of the Alamo would give you plenty to do!



San Antonio is a great place to visit, just remember WHEN you are visiting that Summer heats get well over 100 degrees! If you are traveling through the Summer months come prepared, otherwise in the Fall and Winter its dips into the 80s and cooler.

If you’ve been, or plan on going in the future – hit me up in the comments. It would be fun to compare notes of lovely San Antonio!

Dan – The Country Pilgrim