It may be a lot colder now, but Fall is still going strong and we’re stuck with it for well over a month (until the winter solstice and the coming of Yule). What makes Fall so interesting is its inconsistency – the temperature is inconsistent, the degree and type of precipitation is inconsistent, and the feel and look of the natural environment is inconsistent. It’s a season of change and shift, as we move away from Summer and towards our, at times, tundra-like Winter. It’s this shift that tinges Fall with melancholy, something that undoubtedly has led to its widespread romanticization.
In celebration of this glorious season, I thought I’d put together a few of my own favorite things to do and see in the Champaign-Urbana area during Fall.
- Go to Allerton. This is something that’s great every season (Including the Winter – although few know it). If you don’t know what Allerton is, it’s a big park owned by the University of Illinois. It was built by Robert Allerton, a wealthy eccentric from Chicago who decided to build a paradise in Central Illinois, complete with Fu Dog statues, a sunken garden, and an admirable Peony collection. In the 40s, it was given to the University of Illinois, who’ve been taking care of it since. It’s 1,500 acres of beautiful wilderness. The real gem are its trails. I suggest you cross the bridge and check out some of the trails beyond the Sangamon river. (My favorite ones are the blue and the green.) It’s far more deserted and quiet, and the wildlife can be great – you always see a deer or two, one time I ended up beneath a flock of birds. If you’re ballsy, you can bike there without too much trouble. It’s around 60 miles, there and back, so if you can maintain a speed of 10 mph, you can make it there in three hours or so. If you do this, don’t take the main highways. They’re loud, boring, and you have to deal with traffic. There are small country roads covering Champaign and Piatt counties in a grid-line. Take it southwards and westwards and enjoy the quiet solitude of the space between Champaign and Monticello. If you need a good road bike, there’s always the option to rent it from us for a day.
- Go to Curtis Orchard. I’ve already written an entire post about this, so I won’t go into much more detail. They’re open ’til December 20th. Go there. Get some apples, cider, and doughnuts.
- Go to Busey Woods. If you can’t make it over to Allerton, then Busey Woods is a decent replacement. It’s a 59-acre nature reserve in northern Urbana. Located between Crystal Lake Park and the Anita Purves Nature Center, Busey Woods is a particularly nice place to bring kids. Although it’s located within Urbana, it’s loaded with trees and wildlife. I’ve seen groups of up to 8 deer here before.
- Go to Columbia Street Roastery. As I’ve mentioned before, Fall is that time of year when people tend to begin building their natural insulation through imbibing cup after cup of calorie-laden hot beverages: apple cider, hot chocolate, eggnog, etc. Coffee is a great option if you want something that’s not filled with sugar (or even if you do). Columbia Street Roastery is a business in downtown Champaign that roasts and blends their own coffee. They have coffee available from all over the world. It’s interesting how few people actually know that Columbia Street Roastery exists, though understandable given that much of their business is in selling larger quantitates of coffee to businesses and other organizations. Still, go in their shop and you’ll find all types of coffees, teas, and accessories available. They always have two or three coffees available for sample, too. If you’re interested in learning about coffee, go to one of their free Saturday morning cuppings (10 AM, call them or sign up at their shop). They’ll take you through the steps involved in harvesting and processing coffee and and show you how this can change the flavors, aromas, and mouthfeel of your brew. It ends with a coffee cupping where you can apply all you’ve learned and smell and taste tons of different coffees they roast.
Be sure and ask them about their unlisted blends – there are at least three I’ve tried: 411 Espresso (lighter), 311 Espresso (darker), and the Barista Blend (another lighter blend meant for espresso).
Blend suggestions: Light Roast – Out of Africa, Medium Roast – Tip of the Andes, Espresso – 411, Dark – Black Velvet (This last one is also available at Common Ground.) Most coffee generally runs about $11.75 a pound.
- Speaking of brews, grab some beer. The liquids you’re forcing down your gullet need not only be warm. Beer also helps. You won’t be any warmer, but you might feel that way. If you’re gonna get beer in town, there are really only two places: the Blind Pig Brewery and Triptych. Both are local breweries, crafting all-grain brews that often implement different local and seasonal ingredients. Both have beers that are ideal for the season.
Blind Pig Brewery’s Hey Porter! This is a great, well-hopped porter that’s unfortunately no longer on tap.
The Piglet has their Vlaanderen Blonde on tap, a Belgian-style ale with 8.0% ABV. It’s spicy and well-hopped, though not to the extent that only hopheads can enjoy. It’s also nicely sweet, though not syrupy like some high-alcohol Belgian ales.
Triptych has even more fall offerings available. They have two pumpkin beers on offer: the Punky Town Brown, a spiced pumpkin ale inspired by pumpkin pie, and the Pumpkin Weizen, a spiced dunkelweizen where the banana notes of wheat beer marry nicely with holiday spices. They also have a sour beer that I might need to try tonight.
Remember, it may be getting colder, but there are still loads of leaves left!
Let me know if you have any suggestions for what to do this Fall! What did I miss? What do I not yet know about? (I should add that I was not paid or bribed with beverages or comestibles by any of the companies listed.)