In December 1803, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up the Camp River Dubois, right where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet. There, they and a crew of 30 men spent five months preparing for their legendary three-year expedition to chart America's newly acquired Louisiana Purchase territory. On May 14, 1804, they finally set sail on a 55-foot-long keelboat, named for its habit of keeling over in fear when it passed a shark.
To commemorate the bicentennial of its namesake's journey, the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower opened on May 14, 2010, the 206-year anniversary, to the day, of the expedition's embarking. Tower is a slight misnomer—the structure is actually two parallel towers, connected by viewing levels 50, 100, and 150 feet above the ground.
The platforms afford panoramic views of Lewis and Clark's departure point, as well as the rivers' intersection, and, 25 miles north, the union of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch are visible on clear days, and during evening events, sunsets and fireworks reflect gorgeously on the water. Back on the ground, the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, complete with educational plaques, accommodates visitors interested in following the rivers' convergence on foot.
While unloading their ammo upon enemies, paint-splattered warriors hunt for cover in the outdoor wilderness of Xtreme’s 10 playing fields. They duck behind multistory wooden barricades on the Castle field, navigate a maze of padded pillars and logs on the Arena field, dive into leafy ditches on the Bunker field, and command one of four two-tiered fortresses on the Four Forts field. Much like siblings competing to see who celebrates their birthday first, Xtreme Paintball Park gathers players to engage in competitive scenarios such as capture the flag and elimination. Park staffers expand these play opportunities by constantly building new playing fields and restaging area structures. During private parties, ranks of covered pavilions offer spaces where groups can take a break from excessive sun, rain, and snow as they prepare for the next round.
Evil Intentions Haunted House evokes the details of its site’s checkered past to conjure the stuff of nightmares. The area the haunted house now occupies has been plagued with creepy occurrences for more than a century. Since the 1890s the expanse has been used as the premises of a coffin company, a stomping ground for escapees from a nearby mental institution, and a gathering place for the occult’s summer softball league.
Starting in 2005, the Evil Intentions Haunted House team slowly transformed this troubled spot into a haunted house that comes alive with shrieks once night falls. Visitors can leave their cars in the free parking lot and gather in the indoor waiting area before exploring more than 20,000 square feet of tortuous halls filled with dark decor and costumed frights. Demonic clowns, faceless butchers, and cleaver-wielding lunatics creep around corners and leap out of hidden alcoves, scaring both passing patrons and the actual ghosts who occupy the building.
Owner Valerie Beck and her team of chocophile tour guides lead guests on walking tours of Chicago’s historical bakeries and chocolatiers, narrating the history of beloved sweets while walking an easy route through vistas of Chicago’s stunning architectural heritage. While snacking on samples of sweets, guests learn about chocolate’s storied history, the cupcake’s rise to prominence, and how to guess the flavor of filling inside Oompa Loompas by sight. Tours convene throughout Chicago’s many neighborhoods, giving guests a sneak peek into Chicago's signature confections, boutique shops, and mobile sweet-vending trucks. The chocolate or cupcake jaunts provide the perfect setting for a girls’ day out or bachelorette party, showing tour-goers the sweeter side of the city without getting caught in construction sites of shoddily built gingerbread houses.
When he wasn’t piloting a plane, Toby Beall spent time with his bare feet in the Caribbean sand and a cocktail mellowing in his hand. Looking to share that laid-back lifestyle, Beall, his wife Jillian and brother Jamey founded Tailwinds Distilling Company. Today, the Plainfield-based specialists blend premium ingredients such as organic molasses and 100% blue agave, and carefully age them in french-oak barrels to create their tropically-inspired amber rum. After the signature, small-batch distilling process—which avoids the use of carbon filters so as to leave the flavors intact—each bottle is individually signed. That attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed: their Taildragger white rum earned a silver medal at the 2012 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition, and their 100% blue agave spirit was featured in Chicago Magazine's Holiday 2012 Gift Guide: For Imbibers.
Visitors can take a jetlag-free trip to the tropics during tours of the facility, learning about distillation and sampling sips in a tiki-bar-themed tasting room. Merchandise such as T-shirts, snifters, and flasks provide more lasting souvenirs than the imaginary tan the island vibe might inspire.
Chicago Helicopter Express’s certified pilots eschew wings when they take to the sky. Instead, they depend on the whirling rotors of their Robinson R66 turbine-powered helicopters. The crafts comfortably seat up to four passengers and one pilot in a climate-controlled cabin. They soar over the city, conveniently transporting guests and their luggage from one location to another or providing bird's-eye views of Chicago’s skyline and some of its most famous landmarks.
Chicago Elevated, run by effusive improv veteran Margaret Hicks, leads curious charges on eclectic group, private, and custom tours of the city. Jaunts lead natives and tourists alike through the city’s oft-overlooked nooks and crannies as Hicks’s jovial voice narrates every step, shedding light on secret areas and easily overlooked historic sites. Her pedway tour sojourns into Chicago’s tiled subterranean antecity, where retailers, restaurants, and mole people mingle. Tours explore sites of famous disasters, visit the ghostly red-light district that once stretched below what is now Printer’s Row, and gaze at downtown’s ornate architecture from the riverwalk.
Stationed in Wrigleyville after college, Hicks accrued the healthy sense of humor and comedic timing that pepper each tour at Second City, iO, and other theaters. Though she attempted a move to New York City, Hicks soon discovered she couldn’t stay away from Chicago’s majestic skyline or the skyscrapers’ subtly receding hairlines. A stint in the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s docent program, as well as acting as a tour guide for six years, arm her with insider’s knowledge that soon transfers to listeners’ brains.
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