Monday, September 5, 2011

Sightseeing in Chicago: Millennium Park

"Gigantic, willful, young,
Chicago sitteth at the northwest gates."
-- William Vaughn Moody, 1901

One of the highlights of our summer this year was visiting Chicago for a day. I'd never been there before, so we decided to see some of the main sights. Luckily for us, many of them are in one spot: Grant Park.

Founded in 1844, the 319-acre park lies on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan and encompasses gardens, museums, fountains, open spaces, woods and sculptures. It is the lovely centerpiece of the city. 

The northernmost portion of Grant Park comprises the new 24.5-acre Millennium Park, which opened in 2004 on the grounds of a formerly blighted industrial site. Inside Millennium Park is the five-acre Lurie Garden, home to a perennial garden with many native plants, including the Pale Coneflowers (Echinacea pallida) pictured at the top.

Among the beautiful flowers in Lurie Garden, we also saw these White Blazing Stars (Liatris spicata 'Alba'):

Also in Millennium Park is Crown Fountain, which consists of a shallow reflecting pool of black granite flanked by two 50-foot glass brick towers. Using LED technology, the towers display gigantic faces of 1,000 different Chicago residents intermittently spouting streams of water from their mouths. It really is a technological wonder and is interesting to watch. On the day we were there, the Midwest was in the grip of a heat wave, so the reflecting pool was filled with children (and a few adults) wading and splashing in the cool water.

One of the glass bricks was not working properly.

If I were a kid, I would have joined in the fun!

From the park's border, one can look past lush flowerbeds toward nearby shops in historic buildings.

One highlight of Millennium Park is Cloud Gate, a 110-ton elliptical sculpture coated in shiny stainless steel that reflects not only the sky and city skyline but also visitors who reach up to touch the sides and crowd underneath to look into the swirling images above. I think the sculpture looks a bit like a giant bike helmet, but many locals call it "The Bean."

Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean."

I'm the tiny pink dot standing in the very center and looking up.
Here is part of the city's skyline reflected in the side of "The Bean."

The last highlight of Millennium Park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a large band shell that hosts the Grant Park Music Festival, which is the nation's only remaining free outdoor classical music series.

The pavilion seats 11,000 people on the Great Lawn under a sweeping metal trellis, and its state-of-the-art sound system is designed to mimic an indoor performance hall. Its stage hosts all kinds of groups every year, from classical music to rock, opera, folk music and jazz.

For lovers of modern art, music, wildflowers and family fun, Millennium Park has much to offer. Consider stopping by the next time you're in Chicago!

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