The twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, IL, are home to the University of Illinois and Parkland College. There are several interesting things in the area to see. We decided to go there to visit the Staerkel Planetarium (2400 W. Bradley Ave. in Champaign; www.parkland.edu/planetarium ) on the Parkland College campus. The planetarium is open year round on Friday and Saturday evenings. It is the second largest planetarium in Illinois. One of the most popular programs, Prairie Skies, delivers a live tour of the wonders of the night sky, accompanied by some of the legendary stories of the ancient sky. Unfortunately, the planetarium was closed for this summer (2010), but there were some other things in the area that we wanted to see.
The Orpheum Childrens Science Museum (346 N. Neil St., Champaign; www.orpheum.science.museum or www.m-crossroads.org/orpheum ) is housed in the 1914 Orpheum Theater. It features more than twenty interactive science exhibits. I will have to admit that having visited other childrens science museums, there is more childrens than science in this one. The animalsturtles, bearded dragon lizards, snakes, a huge tarantula, and an aquarium of Madagascar hissing cockroachesare few but interesting, and our son Jeremy liked the display of Star Wars paraphernalia made out of Legos (including a life sized Darth Maul head), but basically it doesnt have much that would hold the attention of a child over seven. The outside courtyard has a Dino Dig area, and I noticed that the ages given on the dinosaur pictures include millions and millions of years, as is typical of public science museums.
The Champaign Prairie Farm (2202 W. Kirby Ave., Champaign; www.champaignparkdistrict.com ) is located in Centennial Park. This was not what we expected. There are traditional farm animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs, horses, cows, chickens, turkeys, and peafowl, along with a duck pond. The Central Illinois Travel Host magazine said, A replica of a turn-of-the-century farm complete with barns, farmhouse, pond, pasture, and flower garden. However, there is nothing historical here, and everything seems geared again toward small childrenwhich is all right, but there is not much here for older children.
The Spurlock Museum (600 S. Gregory, Urbana; www.spurlock.illinois.edu or www.spurlock.uiuc.edu ) is a different matter. Though this free museum is small, it is much on the order of the Oriental Institute in Chicago. There are separate displays devoted to American Indian cultures, Ancient Mediterranean cultures (Greek and Roman), Asian cultures, European cultures (mostly medieval), African cultures, and Middle Eastern cultures. The purpose is to explore the lives of people from six continents through the exploration of their food, clothing, shelter, communications, technology, conflict, art, religion, and ethics. There are suits of armor, a life sized tipi, and the 2,000 year old mummy of a Egyptian child. There are no hand-on exhibits, but you can do a scavenger hunt. My only complaints are the anatomically correct nude male statues and the politically correct B.C.E. and C.E. dates.
The University of Illinois Arboretum and Japan House(1700/2000 S. Lincoln Ave. and Florida Ave., Urbana; http://arboretum.illinois.edu and http://japanhouse.art.uiuc.ede ) is a living laboratory, including plant collections and facilities that support the teaching, research, and public service programs of several units of the University. The different gardens include All American Selection Trial Gardens, the Welcome Gardens, he Idea Garden, and the Japanese Tea and Dry Gardens. The Japan House offers the public an opportunity to learn about traditional Japanese culture through tours, tea ceremonies, and other special events. We did not get out and walk through the Arboretum because we did not have the time, but we did drive around it.
Allerton Park (515 Old Timber Rd., Monticello; www.allerton.illinois.edu ) is the former estate of Robert Allerton, who made his fortune in the late 1800s through farming, banking, and the Chicago stockyards. After building an English style manor house in 1900, he traveled the world buying outdoor sculptures for his gardens and woods, including The Centaur by Paris sculptor Bourdelle, and The Sun Singer by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. The century old manor house is not open to the public, but one can drive around the woods or walk the trails and see the sculptures and gardens.
Since we could stay only parts of two days, there were several other things that we did not get to seebut we are close enough to go back and catch them later. They include:
Champaign County Courthouse, 101 E. Main, Urbana (changing exhibits)
Champaign County Historical Museum at the Cattle Bank, 102 E. University Ave., Champaign
Early American Museum, IL Hwy. 47 N., Mahomet
John Philip Sousa Library and Museum, 1103 S. 6th St., Champaign
Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign
Chanute Air Museum, 1101 Pacesetter Dr., Rantoul
Parkland Art Gallery, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., Champaign
Anita Purves Nature Center, 1505 N. Broadway, Urbana
Hardys Reindeer Ranch, 1356 CR 2900 N, Rantoul
Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden, IL Hwy. 47 N., Mahomet
Wandell Sculpture Garden in Meadowbrook Park, Windsor Rd. and Race St., Urbana