On the south end of Oregon is a road named Pines Road, and we are going to take it for a day's visit at the White Pines State Park. Area locals often refer to it as "The Pines", rather than its full name. Our drive will take us about 15 to 20 minutes on a rather winding road through area farm lands. Often there are hills we will crest with spectacular views on both sides of the road. Many of the farms have cattle, but there are a few fields with a couple of beautiful horses grazing.
As we drive past the edge of town, we will see one of the two local grocery stores, a Dollar General store, Ace Hardware, Dan's Tire Service, the Illinois State Drivers Facility, and a variety of office buildings and other small stores. The stores aren't on a strip mall, but scattered on both sides of the road. One of the buildings on the right has a large picture window and I worked in that building the summer after I graduated from high school. I was the owner's secretary and the business was a banjo factory! It was part of the Fender Corporation, and our little factory which employed about five other people besides me, did the mother of pearl inlays in the necks of banjos. The owner was a family friend and he often needed some typing done and someone to answer the phone. My mom had been doing the needed typing for a week, when one evening he stopped to pick up the work and she suggested that he hire me for the summer. This nice man saved me from my other summer job which was trimming Christmas trees on the Sinnissippi Tree Farm. It was similar work to detasseling and it was killing me after only one week - the heat was draining me and the sun was burning me! I didn't do much work at the factory, but I sure had a good time. One day, while just sitting at my desk, I noticed a cement truck coming around the curve on the Pines Road. All of a sudden it looked like it "lost its balance" and over it went onto its side. The workers with the tow truck had to move fast to get it upright before the cement hardened, as it was full. I found out later that it was a friend of mine who was the driver - he is still driving cement trucks over 30 years later.
Another few miles down the road is another curve with the local Catholic Cemetery sitting on a small rise to the right. This is where my parents and younger brother are buried, as well as many others. It is a pretty cemetery with great views from several areas. It can be difficult to come out of the cemetery drives, due to the rise and the curve, but it can be done. When I was a kid, the curve was worse, but has been rerouted slightly.
Around the next big curve we will be going past the White Pines Ranch, often called Little's Dude Ranch. This place was started in the early 1960s and I went to high school with one of the boys whose parents' owned the ranch. This Ranch offers camping, horseback riding, swimming, hayrides - all sorts of ranch life. They have a variety of packages for anything from a weekend stay for a family to summer camps for groups. The ranch is spread over 200 acres of green fields, woods and hills. Just driving past it is a beautiful sight, but to actually go there, I am sure anyone would have a terrific time.
Another few miles down the road are a couple of cross roads to the left is the road to Hansen's Hideaway - a neat campground area and to the right is the road to Lake LaDonna - another camping area with cabins and swimming with a sand beach as well as regular campgrounds. Another mile or two and we see on the left the Go-Kart and Miniature Golf area, while just beyond that is the old drive-in movie screen rising above the trees. As we near this area, we slow down for we are at the entrance to the White Pines State Park. Before we go into the park, though, I want to tell you that another few yards down the road is the entrance to the Wedding Canyon. This is an area set up by the Pines staff for couples who want a unique outdoor wedding. It seems to be well received and couples from the Chicago area have even come there for their wedding.
For a little history of the Pines, I had to search my memory and also get a pamphlet from the town's information booth. My maternal great grandfather once farmed land on Pine Creek, which is the creek that runs through the park. My brother used to claim that part of the park was land donated by our great grandfather, but I am not sure of the accuracy of his story so I am just mentioning it here. The pamphets state that the park was established in 1927, and in trying to preserve the land, they found it cheaper to have the creek ford the roadway rather than to build bridges over the several areas where the creek and the road meet. They also built at least one stone foot bridge which stills stands and is usable today. Throughout the park are many limestone outcroppings which have been carved over time with the creek and the weather. I remember as a kid, it was great fun to ride in a car through the water, and there were four such fords. Today there are only the first two fords open to drive through, but they still are fun, even as an adult. The park covers 385 acres and the White Pines website claims that it is the oldest state park in Ogle County and the third oldest in the state of Illinois. The park contains white pines which are native to the area, although there are not that many pine forests left in the area. The park has been called a nature lover's paradise with the forest, the many hiking trails, many picnic areas, large camping grounds and fish in the creek. There is also a lodge with a restaurant and gift shop that were built in the 1930s and several cabins around the lodge. My husband and I had our wedding reception of a dinner after the wedding at the lodge restaurant and this year we will be meeting with two of his Army buddies from Viet Nam for a week's stay in the cabins.
Pine Creek is one that is greatly affected by heavy rains and often the park is closed due to high water if it is a rainy season. Areas that used to be open for camping have been deemed unsafe in recent years and are closed to further camping. My husband and I camped for a week in one of those areas, having my parents out for supper one night. We had pitched our tent on a small area that jutted into the creek so that the water was on two sides of us. I remember how great it sounded at night, and how worried my Mom was that it might rain. We did have a small shower, but it was not enough to make any changes in the creek level. Within five years, that area was closed to camping. One Easter when we came to visit my parents, we took a trip out to the Pines just to see the ice that was at the entrance to the park. That was really a sight! There were huge chunks of ice, some as tall as 4-5 feet, all across the roadway of the park. I think that was the year that they made several closings of former camping areas.
The following pictures are from the White Pines Pamphlet. The first picture is an ariel view of the footbridge built in the 1930s. The second picture is of one of the cabins at the Pines. The third picture is a combination of two pictures of the first ford, with the septia toned picture from around the 1940s and the other from later times.
The following are some pictures I have taken at the Pines. The first few I took the other day on a ride through the park, while the others were taken on Father's Day weekend 2005 when our youngest son Danny and his friend Mike (known as Ozzy) gave me a night off from taking care of their beloved Pop. Our dog Rook (aka Rookie) joined them that evening to have S'mores with them. We tried giving Rookie a regular marshmallow, but he only wanted the toasted ones!! He was no dummy!
These are some pictures of the campsite the guys had. Ozzy is the young man with the long hair and Danny is the one with the short dark hair. I think you can figure out who is Pop and who is Rookie.