With a name like Giant City Lodge, I expected grandeur and that is what I found when I pulled in front of this Southern Illinois landmark for the first time earlier this year.
This two-story lodge, built from native sandstone and white oak, sits on the highest point amid the forested hills and sandstone bluffs of Giant City State Park. After taking in this sight, my eyes opened even wider as I stepped into the lodge's great room. This room holds a massive stone fireplace, plus circular staircases that lead up to a wrap-around interior balcony.
While my wife, Beckie, checked our family in for an overnight stay, I scrambled up the stairs in pursuit of our two children -- Hannah, 8, and Owen, 3. The three of us explored the spacious balcony, where families were playing board games and reading on comfy furniture made from local white oak and maple.
The sturdy construction, homey amenities and scenic seclusion of old state park lodges always make me feel at ease, but I also felt pride as I looked around the grounds of Giant City Lodge.
Crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era federal program, built this lodge and many others as part of their work at state and national parks. My grandfather, Ruel Stroud from Southern Illinois, was in the CCC. The Giant City Lodge grounds are home to a "CCC Worker" bronze statue that honors these laborers.
I have set a goal of visiting and staying the night at all of the CCC-built lodges in Illinois, and Giant City had been next on my list.
We spent our night at Giant City in one of the Prairie Cabins, which offer a queen bed in the bedroom and a Murphy bed in the living room. Our cabin was along a paved path near the outdoor pool, where our children took a quick dip. We also took a short hike downhill to see the more spacious cabins on the bluffs near the lodge.
Our hike also led us by a giant sundial-like "Gyrator" sculpture and to a water tower, where Beckie and our children climbed 50 feet up a spiral staircase to the observation deck. I don't like heights, so I was happy to wait on the ground to see Beckie's aerial photos of the spectacular scenery.
During are stay, we also tried the famed all-you-can-eat family style chicken dinner at the Bald Knob Dining Room. The heaping helpings of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken dumplings, green beans, corn, and biscuits filled us up quickly.
I enjoyed my time at Giant City and am sorry, as someone with ties to Southern Illinois, that I had not visited sooner. I am always amazed to see the 1930s handiwork of the CCC workers that still stands strong to this day.
Camping at Carlyle Lake
My daughter and I met friends from the St. Louis area halfway again this fall for a return trip to Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area along Carlyle Lake. We were able to reserve our favorite tent campsite, which overlooks the lake. We cooked over the fire while watching boats of various sizes cruise across the water.
This camping trip did not get disrupted by rainfall like our previous visit to Eldon Hazlet, but racoons did manage to eat our tortilla chips and granola bars. The trip also included hikes over the Kaskaskia River suspension bridge south of the lake, and on the recreation trail that follows the river and goes over the lake's spillway.
After packing up the tent, I picked up lunch at Wheelan's Barbecue Shack in Carlyle. The smoked turkey sandwich and large slice of coconut cream pie fueled me up for the drive home.