Friday, June 10, 2016

Little Caboose on the Prairie

Last Saturday in between hosting an "Epic" 6 party to celebrate Noah's 13th birthday with a dozen of his closest school friends, Steve and I worked in tandem gathering camp gear, coolers and filling duffle bags with clothing and toiletries. While he and I had been planning our family getaway for nearly six months, we decided to keep it as a surprise for the kids. Though as our trip grew closer we barely concealed our efforts. The kids were completely oblivious as we rattled off packing lists and last minute shopping requests. Our living room floor a maze of cooking supplies, back packs and fishing poles.

All the while not a peep from our little peeps.

Sunday morning as the kids and I munched on bagels and Steve made umpteen trips to the car, Nat inquired, "Do we have plans today?"

Yes! Yes, we do!

Our plans involved staying at Wildlife Prairie Park located in Hanna, Illinois (about 10 miles outside Peoria) for a couple of days in one of their converted cabooses.

Yep, a caboose! ...but with all the amenities including a flushing toilet, shower, refrigerator and microwave. We stayed in caboose #3 which we later learned is the only caboose to offer the added feature of making it rock as though you are truly riding the rails.

During our stay Steve cooked all of our meals either over charcoal or with the help of his CampChef grill. We had several locals join us during our mealtimes including Bambi and his mom and a friendly racoon we called Bandit. While the kids explored our campsite finding toads and an array of creepy crawlies, Steve and I surveyed their play sitting inside our air conditioned train car sipping Pinot in paper cups and playing Zahtzee.  After showers we all crammed into one of the beds to watch an episode of Little House on the Prairie on our 7-inch, portable DVD player. We mostly had the park to ourselves. Never seeing more than a dozen people at any one time. We enjoyed 70 degree temps and took our time exploring every inch of the park. A unique and memorable time for all of us.

We closed out our mini-vacay with lunch at the Jubilee Cafe. The locals said they had homemade pie...PIE!

Needless to say we made a bee-line for the business that has been serving up pie and home-style food for more than 50 years.  The friendly staffed served us the best fried chicken and mashed potatoes I've ever eaten. Noah was partial to their burgers served with homemade cheese sauce for his fries.  We each tried a different pie and I can tell you they were ALL good...cherry, coconut cream and Reese Peanut Butter Cup. MMMM...3 hours is not too far to stop in again. And, it's cheap! Less than $7 for a a 2-piece dinner complete with two sides and a roll served with honey butter.

Wildlife Prairie Park Fun Facts:
* sits on 2,000 acres and is open 363 days a year.
* as a 501c3, it relies almost completely on the tireless efforts of more than 400 volunteers.
* 150 species of rescued native or once native animals (except the longhorns) live in spacious, natural settings throughout the park.
* over 20 miles of well-maintained mountain biking, hiking, trail-running, XC skiing and snow-shoeing trails
* several playgrounds - including one with a 58 foot slide
* several passenger trains (ride all day for $5)
* five fishing lakes
* air conditioned recreation room complete with ping pong, fooseball, books, video game and more
* reptile house
* hands-on conservation center
* an alternative high school
* train museum
* a cafe to enjoy a burger and fries and watch the buffalo roam
* private tours via their Adventure Trek shuttle bus and opportunity to feed the elk and bison.
* a historic cabin and one-room school house with docents to answer questions
* butterfly sanctuary
* keeper talks/animal encounters and so much more!


We all took turns feeding "big Mike". A rescued bison that comes when you call him and is more of a pet than wild animal.
Watching the buffalo roam


Having a mid-afternoon snack inside our cozy caboose.
Steve having fun in the pioneer village.

Lots of play opportunities in the rec room.
Duckweed and moss was a plenty in the lake near our caboose. Better fishing near the Hump Pump track.
Conservation center housed inside the Visitor's Center

playing corncob checkers in a historic cabin
checking out the bees in the butterfly sanctuary
School may be out but the kids learned to appreciate their modern day education


One of my favorite places in the park - Hazel's hillside of wildflowers. Each post contained wise words from a dozen or more Native Americans.


Lots of housing options - stables converted into motel rooms.
Converted grain bins become cozy air-conditioned cottages.
We saw several black snakes and a few skins.
If you look close you can see Bandit in the background.
  
S'mores every evening.

We had the place to ourselves!
58 feet!
Animal encounters offered twice a day.
One of the many naturalistic animal enclosures throughout the park.

Goat feeding with hand-sanitizer stations a-plenty.
Train museum

An alternative high school located next to the bison and elk.
Riding the rails

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