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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005 02:58 pm

Color your world

Taking time to fully savor the beauty of the season

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Like a first kiss or a loved one’s last touch or your child’s precious gap-toothed smile, autumn is one of those profoundly sweet experiences that tends to come and go before you’ve had chance to properly savor the moment. Don’t let that happen again this year. Go out and wallow in the fall.

There’s a variety of ways to immerse yourself in seasonal color. For a fresh angle on the fall, view the forest from the middle of the Mississippi River. Beginning Sept. 30, Celebration River Cruises offers four-hour foliage tours aboard a luxury nongaming excursion vessel based in Moline. The boat departs at 11 a.m. and returns at 3 p.m. The ticket price ($47 per adult, $37 per child) includes lunch. More information is available online at celebrationbelle.com or by phone at 800-297-0034.

For a total-immersion experience, try the “nature hayride” at Pumpkin Works in Paris. Ride an open-air wagon through a 100-acre forest as a naturalist answers all of your questions about what makes maples turn red and birches turn yellow. Details are available online at pumpkinworks.com, or call 217-275-3327.

For those who like a jangly soundtrack to the harvest season, there’s the Western Illinois Bluegrass Fall Festival, Sept. 17 and 18, with live music performed under a canopy of colorful foliage at the Old Lake Hillsboro campgrounds. Admission prices start at $9 for Friday or Saturday night and top out at $20 for the entire weekend. Call 217-532-6332 for more information.

Then, of course, there’s the legendary Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive, scheduled as it has been for the past 37 years for the first two full weekends in October. Each small community in Fulton County adds its own special touch to make this festival a calendar classic.

Grab a map online at spoonriverdrive.org and plot your journey. More than 100 miles of scenic roads connect almost three dozen historic and cultural attractions, such as the 300-year-old burr oak on Highway 9 in Fiatt, beautiful iron bridges in Bernadotte and Babylon, Victorian homes in Vermont, an Underground Railroad station in Farmington, art studios in Smithfield, and the state’s smallest operating library in Ellisville. In Lewiston, Oak Hill Cemetery hosts readings from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.

All along the way, an endless array of merchants offers tasty treats and keepsakes. You can watch apple butter being made at London Mills, try the famous Ellisville ham in Ellisville, and learn why the Farmington Odd Fellows are famous for their butterflied pork chops. At the fairgrounds in Lewiston, you will find a flea market, crafts, and a variety of food vendors.

Complete information is available on the Web site, or call 309-647-8980.

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