Rend Lake Ramblings

IMG_20191027_090843285_HDROur last camping trip of 2019 landed us at the Rend Lake area, about 2 1/2 hours south of St. Louis.  While there are 2 Corps of Engineers campgrounds at Rend Lake, we chose the South Marcum campground.  We stayed at site 82 on the Covey Point loop, right on the lake.  Even with there being 147 sites, the sites were spacious and scenic, even those not on the lake.  The fall colors near their peak, along with the tall trees, many of which were pines, provided the elements which make fall camping so appealing.

Also, appealing to us was the $12 rate we got because we have the National Park Senior Lifetime pass.  And that was for full hook ups!  The campground had a number of selling points, including being about 10 minutes away from the larger town of Benton.  There is a Rend Lake Visitor Center, and there is a bike trail which is over 20 miles long.  With the weather being cooler and us being babies, we did not bring our bikes this trip.  We did enjoy walking on this trail a number of days, and we plan to visit again in the summer with our bikes.  The other COE campground offers a beach area, and campers at both campgrounds, along with those who pay a day use fee, can enjoy this feature.  The whole Rend Lake area is just lovely.

Even though Rend Lake is close to home, it was the first time I had ever visited the area.  However, in my teenage years, I had heard George Harrison’s sister lived in Benton, Illinois.  I remembered this when I realized our campground was in Benton, and I put in on our agenda to find out what I could about Lou Harrison. And boy, did I!

I wanted to see the house where George slept.  It was easy as pie to find as there was a plaque near the town square commemorating George’s visit to his sister and even providing the address.  It was about 8 minutes away.  Let’s go!

Can you believe it?  Right in our own backyard!!
George Harrison slept here!
Along with this easy detective work, I also joined the “Talk Benton” Facebook group and asked if anybody knew anything about Lou Harrison and George’s visit.  I got a ton of info, including a book, a radio interview, a documentary, some news articles and a few personal stories.  Even the Chamber of Commerce got involved.  The house may have been one of those ordered from the Sears Catalog.  These “house kits” arrived by railroad, and the house sits right near the tracks.  In addition, the house was originally built by a descendant of Meriwether Lewis.  Meriwether Lewis – you know, of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition!!  Okay, just one more.  One woman messaged me on Facebook and told of a time when she went along with a much braver friend and went up to the house and knocked on the door.  Lou Harrison let them in and gave them a tour of the house.  There’s much more to tell, but I will leave it here with intentions to write another post centralizing and organizing all the links and info I learned this trip.  Let me know in the comments below if you’re interested, and I’ll make sure you know when it’s posted.  Also, let me know if you have related info you’d like to share – Beatles fans unite!

Like George, we also took some day trips while visiting Benton.  We spent one beautiful fall day at Giant City State Park.  The park ranger at the Visitor Center recommended a couple of hikes along with a mention of the very small town of Makanda, right outside the park.  The hiking was gorgeous.  Perfect weather and beautiful fall colors.  We hiked 2 trails, with a snack and a Scrabble game in between.  The second trail, Stone Fort Nature Trail (not for children!) went straight up and then circled a stone wall, originally built by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago.  This stone wall was rebuilt in the 1930s by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp).  This park had a lodge with a restaurant with excellent reviews; however, we were not quite ready to eat.  We did stop in at the boardwalk in Makanda which offered some shops, a unique garden area in the back, and an ice cream shop.

Giant City Nature Trail
Stone Fort Nature Trail
Makanda boardwalk

There were 2 other state parks within a day trip of Benton – Cave in the Rock and Garden of the Gods.  We decided to save these for another day trip when we return.  Based on conversations with fellow campers, we believe we can visit and hike both of these in one day.

We did make one other day trip though – to Cedarhurst Center for the Arts located in Mt. Vernon.  This was an absolutely gorgeous day, and we hiked all around the Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park.  The sculpture park at Cedarhurst covers 90 acres.  In addition, there are indoor art galleries.  However, the day was just so beautiful, we didn’t want to be inside, so we skipped this part.  There is a small fee to view one of the galleries; however, the rest of Cedarhurst is free to enjoy.

Not only did the sculptures impress me, but so did Dan.  Here is a guy who normally would not be categorized as a Renaissance man.  He likes the sports – the baseball, the hockey, the golf, the football, the March Madness.  You get the idea.  But his enthusiasm for life and (most of) my ideas is one of the reasons why I love him so.  With the map guide in hand, he navigated the garden and looked for each work of art either guessing or confirming by name.

Martha Enzmann, 1994

With such nice camping, so close to home, so much to do, Rend Lake may become one of our regular favorites.  However, our time for this trip was up, and so we left Rend Lake on a Tuesday morning.   From there, we headed straight to Middleton RV to get our travel trailer winterized as the camping season was ending for us.  The next day freezing temps were predicted, so, like so many other times, our plans worked out just right.  I always say a prayer of thanks as I know we are blessed from above.

God willing, we’ll be going again in 2020.  Trips are on the board, and reservations are already made.  I have a few ideas for some related posts in the meantime, so keep a lookout if you are so inclined.  (or subscribe!)

Until then, enjoy the beauty wherever you are.

Fall 2019
South Marcum COE campground
Rend Lake, Illinois


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