Divers in the quarry at Mermet Springs
If the news of sharks off Cape Cod earlier this summer made you nostalgic for Jaws, head to southern Illinois this weekend. In the small, landlocked town of Vienna, you’ll find Bruce, a mechanical great white shark submerged in the spring-fed quarry at the Mermet Springs scuba diving facility. To explore that quarry, you’ll first need to suit up and strap on an oxygen tank. No worries if you’ve never tried scuba diving before: Mermet has classes and excursions for all levels of underwater adventurers. Those comfortable descending 15 to 50 feet can check out the fuselage of a Boeing 727 (the one in the movie U.S. Marshals) and make their way amid paddlefish, jellyfish, and bluegills to a sunken submarine, ambulance, and railroad coal car. If you want to stay closer to the quarry’s surface, swim to Bruce who is a mere eight feet below.
GO Mermet Springs in Vienna, Illinois. 618-527-3483, mermetsprings.com
Where to stay: Historic Bell Hill (333 E. Poplar St., Cobden; 618-697-0326, historicbellhill.com) is a 50-minute drive to Mermet Springs and within walking distance of the Shawnee National Forest. The inn also offers glorious, panoramic views of the forest from its front porch; rates range from $160 to 180 per night. The Davie School Inn (300 Freeman St., Anna, 618-833-2377, davieschoolinn.com) is indeed a former school, now housing luxury suites convenient to the scenic Tunnel Hill bike trail and Mermet Springs; rates range from $100 to $285 a night.
Where to eat: For breakfast, try Dolly’s Place (511 E. Vine St., Vienna), where the fare is simple and hearty. For dinner, the Brick House Grill (308 S. Main St., Anna, 618-833-5367, annabrickhousegrill.com) is within walking distance of the Davie School Inn and serves an eclectic array of entrees—from Thai-grilled salmon to half-pound burgers—in a casual setting.
Photograph: Courtesy of Mermet Springs