Adventure #8 – Garden of the Phoenix & Promontory Point

On Monday, our first stop was the Garden of the Phoenix (formerly known as the Osaka Garden – #40 on the list of 50 Ideas for Summer Fun) in Jackson Park. Getting to the Garden was an adventure by itself. My go to entrance (located behind the Museum of Science and Industry) was closed. So, we walked a little and soon realized that we would have to get back into the car and find another entrance. The Garden is on an island and there are only two pedestrian bridges. The first one, we found out is not accessible. We hoped back onto Lake Shore Drive and headed south, turning on the next street, Hayes Drive. As we made our way to the parking lot (located on the north side of the street), we passed The Republic. I promised Morgan we would stop and take a picture our way back.


We walked the path that was lined with a variety of trees and wild flowers. In a few minutes we came to the Garden of the Phoenix. This was the original location of the Japanese Garden and Ho-o Den. Both were built for the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. Soon after the outbreak of World War II, the buildings were destroyed by a fire and the garden was abandoned. In 1981 a new garden was built.



As soon as you walk through the entrance, you have walked into one of Chicago’s hidden gems.


The kids were so excited to walk on the rock steps in front of the waterfall and cross the bridge, that I had to remind them that we were in a tranquil place and our level of excitement needed to be less vocal.



Everywhere I looked, there was another photo opportunity. I kept the kids very busy, promising with each picture, that it would be the last one. It ended up being a foolish promise to make.



Before we left the Garden of the Phoenix, I grabbed one more shot and took a short video. I was hoping to capture the beauty and magic that this place holds, but it is definitely something you have to see with your own eyes.


Just outside of the Garden is a sculpture created by Yoko Ono, titled Skylanding. I loved how Morgan was illuminated when standing in the center. The sun bouncing off the petals provided nice lighting.


We departed Wooded Island and made our stop at The Statue of the Republic. Even though, we had visited the statue a few years ago, Morgan was super excited, having just learned about The Republic and her role at the World Columbian Exposition.


The Chicago Park District’s description of The Statue of the Republic:

Installed in 1918, the Statue of the Republic commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park and the centennial of statehood for Illinois. The twenty-four-foot-tall gilded bronze sculpture is a much smaller and slightly modified version of Daniel Chester French’s original sixty-five-foot-tall Statue of the Republic, one of the most iconic features of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. (On its base, the original sculpture rose to a total height of one hundred feet.) Composed of gilded plaster, the original monumental female figure stood with outstretched arms at the eastern end of the fair’s Court of Honor.

Shortly after the fair, a fire destroyed the original Statue of the Republic. In 1918, the B.F. Ferguson Fund and the Woman’s World Fair Fund commissioned Daniel Chester French to create the commemorative version. The existing gilded bronze twenty-four foot tall statue stands on a ten-foot-high base by architect Henry Bacon. The total project budget of $56,000 included $47,000 that had remained in the treasury of the exposition. Installed on the site of the Fair’s Administration Building in Jackson Park, the monument was unveiled on May 11, 1918. Although World’s Fair visitors had nicknamed the original sculpture “Big Mary,” the smaller version is known best today as the “Golden Lady.” The commemorative sculpture was re-gilded and rededicated in 1993 in tribute to the centennial of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

We drove back to the parking lot located behind the Museum of Science and Industry, parked and walked over to Promontory Point (#42).


We found a shaded spot to have lunch and enjoyed the view of the skyline. As we ate lunch, I told the kids that George Lucas was married here. Sydney found that very cool.


Promontory Point is a man-made peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. It is located in Burnham Park. The Point was constructed from landfill in the late 1930s. It was opened to the public in 1937. Alfred Caldwell designed the landscaping, using native plants and stone. Caldwell’s design featured a raised “meadow” section in the center of the 12-acre peninsula and included hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs. Few of Caldwell’s original plantings remain today.



Our last stop was at the 57th Street Beach. The view of the beach from Promontory Point was amazing. Especially with the Museum of Science and Industry acting as a backdrop.



On the walk back to the car, as we were walking under Lake Shore Drive, we spotted a mosaic that perfectly summed up a day.





Adventure #7 – Emily Oaks Nature Center

On Sunday, I went on a solo adventure. With a couple kids at baseball games and another needing a ride to a birthday party, I took the opportunity to visit Emily Oaks Nature Center (4650 Brummel Street, Skokie). With the Nature Center only 5 minutes from the party, it was the perfect time to check it out.


At 13 acres, it’s on the small side, when it comes to nature centers. However, the trees do not disappoint. Even on this overly abundant sunny day, the trees made it rather difficult for the sun to penetrate the forest floor. The size of these trees was impressive and I found myself looking upward, quite frequently, during my walk.


Visiting on a warm July day, I was grabbing for the bug spray soon after my arrival. After the wet May and June we had, I can’t say I was surprised. After protecting myself against the mosquitoes, I continued on my walk. I spotted an Eastern Downy Woodpecker. Which was a nice find, considering all I thought I was going to see were Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds (which isn’t a bad thing, but I see them quite frequently).


I found plenty of wildflowers and interesting plant life, to keep my camera busy. As I followed the path around the nature center (paved and unpaved) I came upon a pond. Numerous dragonflies and mayflies were zipping around and I even spotted a Painted Turtle.


It was nice to have close to two hours to walk around. I enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and having the opportunity to photograph such a beautiful location.



Adventure #6 – Gompers Park & LaBagh Woods

We had my sister’s dog, Kasey, for a couple days and wanted to find some dog friendly locations.  So on Friday, we visited Gompers Park (#20 on the list of 50 Ideas for Summer Fun) and LaBagh Woods (#25). Gompers Park covers 39 acres and is located on the north and south sides of Foster Avenue, just west of Pulaski Road. We spent our time on the south side of the park, walking around the lagoon and alongside the rehabilitated wetland area.


While walking around the lagoon, I spotted a Caspian Tern, circling over head. We all really enjoyed watching the bird dive into the lagoon and fly away with a fish. We also spotted a family of Canadian Geese in the wetlands area.


Noah had just been to Gompers Park, a couple weeks prior to our visit, on a field trip with his 4th grade class. The students had the opportunity to fish. I lost count on how many fish were caught. Luckily, for the fish, they were released back into the lagoon. We did not fish, but saw so many people enjoying this popular pass time.

We traveled a little further west on Foster Avenue, until we reached the Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove. We parked the car and walked north, entering the woods on the paved path. The kids had brought along their scooters and enjoyed riding along the smooth path. I found the signage along the path to be very helpful.

After following the path for a good distance we turned around and headed back. Before leaving we found a dirt path and walked along the Chicago River (North Branch). The mosquitoes were relentless, so our walk was brief. We did see a bridge that once transported trains across the river. Today, it’s a gravel trail that eventually connects to the Sauganash Trail, to the north. We all decided that we would have to come back in the fall, when the leaves are changing color and there are less mosquitoes.


It was a two hour adventure that everyone enjoyed, kid and dog, alike.

Adventure #5 – Lighthouses on the Mag Mile

On Thursday we woke up early and headed downtown. We walked over to Michigan Avenue to see the Lighthouses (#26 on the list of 50 Ideas for Summer Fun).


From June 19th thru August 11th, the free public art will be displayed along Michigan Avenue and nearby neighborhoods. Chicago Lighthouse (a world-renowned social service organization serving the blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veteran communities) hopes this will be a call to action for access and inclusion for all people with disabilities. A total of 51 lighthouses were created by national and Chicago artists, many with disabilities.


I added a little extra fun to our outing by creating Lighthouse Bingo. The kids enjoyed finding the corresponding lighthouses on their bingo cards.

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We started in front of the Wrigley Building and headed north to Water Tower Place.


Once at the Water Tower Place, we went inside to cool off and find a snack. Unfortunately, it was too early and nothing was open. So, the next best thing was to get take advantage of some photo ops.


We checked out a few more lighthouses and finally found a morning treat, compliments of Stan’s Donuts (259 E. Erie Street).



As we said our goodbyes to the amazingly creative lighthouses, we stopped to take in the awesome views that Chicago has to offer.


Adventure #4 – Lincoln Park

On Tuesday, we packed in quite a few stops in about 4 hours. We went looking for some relics from the Great Chicago Fire. We went nature walking around the North Pond (#39 on the list of 50 Ideas for Summer Fun), Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (#2) and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo (#35). We finished off with a quick dip in the lake at North Avenue Beach (#36).

Our first stop was at the last remaining house that survived the Great Chicago Fire. I found this description of the house on

“Located at 2121 North Hudson Street, this is the home that Chicago policeman Richard Bellinger saved from destruction while virtually all other North Division buildings in the path of the fire area were burned down.  Although the late-1860s structure has been much renovated, it retains the charm of the original Italianate design by W. W. Boyington, who was also the architect of the Court House, the Water Tower, and many other pre-fire buildings.  According to the popular story, Officer Bellinger first used water to wet down the house, and, when that ran out, turned to his store of cider. Assisted by his brother-in-law, Bellinger also cleared the dry leaves that were on the property, tore up the nearby wooden sidewalk and fence, and snuffed what sparks he could as soon as they landed.”


We then went over to the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark Street). I had read about the melted remains of a hardware store, from the Great Chicago Fire, located in some hedges behind the museum. So, we went on a hunt. It was a little difficult to locate because the hedges were pretty tall, but we found it. Hard to believe that the chunk of melted metal was once a hardware store and weighs more than 24 tons.


While looking for the hardware store, we found the chains, that were once believed to be from the “Great Chain“. I read about their dubious history in the book, Chicago Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities and Other Offbeat Stuff.

“It seems that in the late 1880s, junk dealer John C. Abbey began selling iron links that he claimed had come from the Great Chain (In 1778, American forces stretched a chain across the Hudson River in efforts to stop the British from reaching the inland forts). Buyers, included Chicago sweets manufacturer Charles Frederick Gunther, who was putting together a museum on Wabash Avenue. For several decades the Chicago History Museum proudly displayed these links as a section of the original Great Chain. In the late 1960s, the links were proven to be a fraud. They now reside in a heap, unlabeled, behind the museum.”


After finding these treasures we grabbed a few pictures behind the Chicago History Museum. I never knew that the back of the museum was so awesome. I always went through the front door.


As we continued our adventures we made two unscheduled stops. We first came across a rather large statue of Abraham Lincoln (located in the garden behind the Chicago History Museum). The Man (also called the Standing Lincoln) is a 12 foot bronze statue of the 16th president of the United States. The statue was created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and has been described as the most important sculpture of Lincoln from the 19th century. Thousands of people attended the dedication ceremony on October 22, 1887, where Lincoln’s grandson, Abraham Lincoln II, unveiled the sculpture. Replicas of the statue stand at The Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois; Parque Lincoln in Mexico City; and Parliament Square in London.


The second unscheduled stop was at the Tomb of Ira Couch (south of LaSalle Street and north of the Chicago History Museum). Here’s a brief description of the tomb, found on the Chicago Park District website:

“The Couch Tomb is the last above-ground reminder of Lincoln Park’s earlier history as a public cemetery. Ira Couch (1806–1857) moved to Chicago from New York with his brother James Couch (1800–1892) in 1836. After operating a store together for a year, they leased the Tremont House at Lake and Dearborn Streets, and the two brothers became inn-keepers. Although the original building burned down, they ran several subsequent hotels that used the Tremont name.

Ira Couch hired John M. Van Osdel, the city’s first professional architect, to design a family mausoleum in the City Cemetery. Osdel, who had moved here from New York, was architect of Chicago’s first City Hall and the Couch’s 1850 Tremont House. Ira Couch and several other members of the Couch family were interred in the mausoleum.

After the cemetery land became part of Lincoln Park in 1869, families were expected to make arrangements to move the remains of their relatives. It is not entirely clear as to why the Couch Tomb was left behind. It seems likely; however, that surviving family members thought it too expensive to move the fifty-ton structure to another cemetery. By 1899, the Lincoln Park Commissioners asserted that “…it would be impossible to remove the vault, except at great expense, and the Commissioners preferred to allow it to remain as an interesting reminder of the Park’s origin.”


From there, we headed over to the North Pond (2610 N. Cannon Drive). We enjoyed a walk around the pond, spotting an usual looking goose (domesticated Greylag Goose), baby Wood Ducks and numerous Green Herons and turtles. The kids became very concerned for the turtle, not knowing if the Green Heron would eat it. Luckily, the Heron had no interest in the turtle and was only looking for some fish.


We also came across the Abandoned Shoreline of Lake Michigan plaque. I have passed this marker numerous times, not knowing it was there. My youngest daughter found it on this visit.


It was then on to the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (125 W. Fullerton Parkway). Known as Chicago’s Hidden Garden. It is a tranquil place that “resembles a river meandering through a great Midwestern prairie.”



Our adventures continued at the Nature Boardwalk of Lincoln Park Zoo (South Pond). Located just south of the Lincoln Park Zoo. The views from the Boardwalk are amazing. It’s where the city and nature meet and live harmoniously.




Our last stop of the day, brought us to North Avenue Beach (1600 N. Lake Shore Drive). Just a quick trip across the bridge and the kids were happy to finally eat lunch and have a quick swim in the lake.




It was definitely a whirlwind of a day, but everyone had a fun time and got to see some pretty cool things.

Adventure #3 – Firehouse & Garfield Park Conservatory

On Monday, we paid a visit to Engine 96 / Truck 29’s house on 441 N. Waller, on Chicago’s west side. We were excited to see Chris’ new firehouse. After floating around from house to house for a few years, it’s nice to have a place to call home.


We enjoyed taking a tour of the house and seeing the fire poles (there are a few). I found it very interesting to learn that the very first fire pole was invented in Chicago in 1878 at Engine 21. It was discovered by accident when a firefighter used a long, wooden pole to slide down from the hayloft when an alarm came in. We were not able to to go down the pole, but that didn’t stop us from taking a few pictures.


We were a little disappointed when we didn’t see the goats next door (yes, goats). The neighbors to the north are four-legged, grass eating, goats. Which, unfortunately, were not out. I’m sure we will be back again, if not for the goats, definitely to visit our favorite firefighter in all of Chicago. Actually, make that the world!


After leaving the firehouse, I talked the kids into a brief stop at the Garfield Park Conservatory (#19 on the list of 50 Ideas for Summer Fun). We were way to close, not to make a visit. We moved quickly through the Palm House. Stopping briefly to read about the biggest and oldest Palm Tree (the Scheelea Palm dates back to 1926) at the Conservatory and checking out the display made from the wishes of many visitors to the Conservatory.


We then walked through the Show House, Aroid House, and Desert House to get to the Children’s Garden. Even though they are getting bigger, they still enjoy a ride down the slide. After they got a few trips down, we headed back to the Desert House to exit the Conservatory and enter the outside gardens.


We walked directly to the water lily garden. In another month the pond will be covered in lily pads and flowers. An amazing site to see. We were fortunate to see many lilies and many active dragonflies during our visit.




Before we left, there was a quick walk through the maze. We then headed back inside, through the Sugar from the Sun room and then back to the Palm room, where we said our goodbyes. Until next time!


Adventure #2 – West Ridge Nature Preserve

Yesterday, we traveled on Chicago’s longest street (running 24 miles from Howard Street to the north, down to 119th to the south), Western Avenue. We only drove a couple miles north to the West Ridge Nature Preserve (#50 on the list of 50 Ideas for Summer Fun), located at 5801 N Western Avenue. Originally planned to be converted into a retail area, this 20 acres of woods (undeveloped for 100 years) was acquired from Rosehill Cemetery and transferred to the Chicago Park District in 2011. The Mayor’s Nature and Wildlife Advisory Committee declared “The site is important both for the conservation of biodiversity, in particular native birds, and also as a place for urban residents to experience nature.  The nature preserve is truly special for the feeling it gives of a sanctuary from the busyness of city life”.


We followed the winding path that surrounds the preserve, stopping to look at some artwork (created by children in the neighborhood) and of course to act goofy.


As we walked the path there were numerous overlooks that offer awesome views of the preserve.


As we enjoyed the scenery that surrounded us, we kept our eyes open for some Chicago wildlife. We were not disappointed. We spotted a Mallard Duck, numerous Monarch Butterflies, an Indigo Bunting and a baby Red-eared Slider, just to name a few.


West Ridge Nature Preserve is a great place to escape the city without leaving the city. It’s a peaceful oasis that offers you a great way to connect to nature.


It’s also a great place to let loose and just have a fun time.



We finished our afternoon with a stop further up Western. We visited Lickity Split (7000 N. Western) for the first time and had some frozen custard.


We really enjoyed the ambience and loved all the old time candy and treats. We’ll be visiting again!