Yesterday after church, my daughter, her boyfriend, and I headed to Alto Pass for the first, hopefully annual, Cinco de Mayo Festival.
When we got to the celebration, we were greeted by smiling faces and people enjoying the warm sun. A mix of music, Latin American blended with hit radio songs, filled the air. Bright, beautiful color was everywhere from the piñatas to food and items offered for sale. Two words could describe all of the authentic Mexican food for sale along the blocked off street: ¡Que rico!
There were seasoned mangos on sticks, elote, and agua frescas of tamarind and horchata. People were preparing fresh tacos of bisteq and carnitas and more. So good!
The Union County Sheriff car kicked off the parade. First responders, pageant queens, traditional dancers, and others followed. Horses brought up the end. It may not have been a long parade, but it was nice.
After leaving the Cinco de Mayo Festival, we headed on to Bald Knob Cross. Thankfully, the road up to the cross is much better these days than when I was a child. It does still twist and wind for a few miles upward. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to get materials to the building site.
A nice visitor’s center sits by the cross with restrooms, information, souvenirs, and an observation deck with a gorgeous view of the Shawnee National Forest.
At the base of the cross, there is a timeline as well as signs to tell you what you might be able to see in that direction if conditions were right. Each side has a name : Faith, Hope, Charity, and Love. There are benches for sitting and picnic tables for eating and enjoying the view.
Leaving the cross, we decided to head to Pomona to see the Natural Bridge. It was a short distance, but part of the drive into the part of the Shawnee National Forest that has the rock formation is still gravel…
There is a small picnic area by the parking lot for the trail to the Natural Bridge. The trail itself does require some mobility as it is fairly natural and not accessible.
We could hear the sounds of running water as we approached the bridge. A faint mint smell was in the air. All of the lush, green foliage was beautiful. It was the perfect way to cap off a wonderful afternoon in Southern Illinois.
Cinco de Mayo Festival at Alto Pass
Bald Knob Cross of Peace
Pomona Natural Bridge
Shawnee National Forest
Some of my earliest family memories of road trips and adventures involve picnics. My parents were great at them.
When my brother and I were really little, our parents had a Pacer.(For those who dont know the car, it’s what Garth and Wayne drove in “Wayne’s World.”) This was before the days of expensive booster seats. The back car seat would fold down, and we could look up at the stars as we traveled through the state or country. It was handy for picnics if it rained or other conditions were unfavorable.
I still remember one hot, muggy summer, that we went to Horseshoe Lake in the Shawnee National Forest. Unfortunately, millions of mosquitos also were vacationing there that day. We had our picnic in the Pacer. Although it may not have been ideal outside the vehicle, but it made for a great memory.
Recently, my brother and I were discussing mushroom hunting, something else we did with our parents at a very young age. We seem to remember a picnic on a field in the woods on one of our earliest family morel hunting adventures. Priceless family time together that means even more to us as we get older.
I can also remember picnics in Giant City State Park as a kid when my dad was doing some post-graduate work at SIU-Carbondale one summer. We would all get up early for the drive down to campus. Then my mom would drop my dad off for his class. She would take my brother and I on some type of adventure in Carbondale before we picked my dad up for lunch. That might be shopping at the mall or searching for frogurt on the north end of town. Sometimes she would bring a picnic. Dad was usually able to join us on lunch break to eat.
When my children were pretty young, I started having picnics with them. This was a way to have a family meal together once I picked them up from daycare and headed on to their soccer practice or VBS (Vacation Bible School.) Sometimes I was able to plan these ahead, and sometimes life intervened. That’s when we went with the impromptu picnic option.
An impromptu picnic can be pulled together from treats at a roadside stand, carry-out from your favorite restaurant, or fresh food from a farmer’s market or roadside stand. We are blessed to have these options in Southern Illinois. For the VBS version of the impromptu picnic, it often meant grabbing something on my lunch hour that I could refrigerate and then assemble after work, if needed, in time to grab the kids before practice or church. Sometimes it was a trip through a drive thru. We also also have some wonderful local delis and markets that can either make sandwiches or help you pick out some easy picnic treats. Oh, and don’t forget the wineries and breweries (if you are of age, of course.) Some of those may also have picnic goodies.
If you opt to pick up an adult beverage for your impromptu picnic, please be conscious of where alcohol is allowed and be safe. Not all picnic areas allow alcohol, and some only permit specific containers. You may need to hop online and do a bit of quick research to make sure you stay legal.
Another option is to fix something at the picnic site. In the picnic pictured, we had decided to grab some groceries to fix and head to the Natural Bridge at Pomona. There is a little picnic spot by the parking area. After hiking to see the bridge, Mijo fixed some tuna salad for our sandwiches. It made a nice family outing without a lot of planning and prepping involved.
Be creative this summer and enjoy time with your family and friends. Head to a favorite spot, or explore a part of Southern Illinois (or anywhere) you haven’t seen before. You might even grab some muffins, donuts, or fruit with juice or coffee and have an impromptu breakfast picnic. Watch the sunrise someplace beautiful. Now go, make some delicious memories!