Seeing Route 66 by air in Illinois: Romeoville to Springfield-Decatur, part 2

Previously:  part 1 – Takeoff at O’Hare to Coal City

(Editor’s note:  As in part 1, for the convenience of readers unfamiliar with the route, I’ve added a few details here and there about precise locations and what else of interest to travelers is in the area that Keith visited; but this is Keith’s trip and his story, so we’ll let him finish his travelogue.  Here you go!)

From 8,000 feet up, the enormity of the Illinois prairie is really striking, with only occasional groves of trees scattered here and there amid the emptiness, which in summer will be covered with waving fields of wheat, corn and soybeans.  How startling to imagine that these empty fields will be different shades of green barely two months from now.  No wonder that the earliest settlers saw the enormous sea of grass that was the virgin Illinois prairie as the perfect place for farmland.  In fact, Decatur and Springfield lie in the center of Illinois’s agricultural heartland.  It’s no accident that Decatur is also home to a major outpost of agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, aka ADM.

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Seeing Route 66 by air in Illinois:  Romeoville to Springfield-Decatur, part 1

Route 66 is known around the world as the iconic American road trip – so why, you wonder, would anyone want to see it from the air?  The truth is an aerial viewpoint can give you a much better grasp and appreciation of the surrounding terrain, as well as a different perspective on our favorite road.

In northern Illinois, March is that dead space between the end of winter and the real start of spring, when the weather goes haywire and you never know what it’ll be like from day to day (never mind the calendar:  we locals know all too well that just because the thaw starts in March, that means nothing; we can get unexpected snowfall right up into May sometimes, even after the traditional April showers have brought out May flowers).

Nevertheless, it’s a better time to travel the route than you might think.  Even though March weather is highly changeable, March is, paradoxically, also when you might get a better view of the land itself (the same applies to early April; don’t let the rain stop you).  The fields and trees are barren, sure, but the lack of foliage lets you see the contours of the land and the rivers and streams more clearly, especially from the air.  Then there’s the fact that – let’s face it – flying low enough to see the layout of the ground beneath you in beautiful detail is just plain fun.  That is, assuming you don’t have a fear of flying (we do not).

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Route 66 events:  ‘Ghostbusters’ at Joliet’s Rialto Square Theatre

“I Ain’t Afraid a’ No Ghosts”
— Joseph D. Kubal *

What do ghosts and the Rialto Square Theatre have to do with Route 66?  Everything!  The famous Rialto Square at 102 N. Chicago St. in Joliet, IL is a well-known Route 66 ‘haunt’ and, supposedly, the building is haunted.  On Saturday, March 7, 2015, I set out to see if ghosts could really be found there.

You see, I have an open mind about such things and do believe that not everything can be proven with the science we currently have available.  Over the years, I have had several unexplained occurrences happen to me and my family.  it’s just the Eastern European gypsy blood in me, and I’m more susceptible to believing in the supernatural.  But ask around, and you may be surprised to learn that lots of folks have had unusual things happen to them over the years.  Often, people just don’t talk about those events openly, as they don’t want to be thought crazy, illogical, or as a “kook” by non-believers.

Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL - blog (MRTraska)

The Rialto, the jewel of Joliet  (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 update:  local St. Pat’s and St. Joseph’s festivities

Greetings, fellow travelers!  Have you thawed out yet?  Good!  Those of you who have been following this blog for a few years know that we usually remind you about the March holidays (no, we don’t mean March Madness, even though I am an NCAA hoops fan).  I refer, of course, to St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day celebrations in and around Chicago.  St. Casimir’s Day, also known as Casimir Pulaski Day and the 178th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Chicago, happened last week on March 4th.  But the big celebrations are really St. Pat’s and St. Joe’s.  Happy namesday in advance to all you Pats and Joes out there!

Most of you locals probably already know that Chicago’s main St. Patrick’s Day stuff will happen this coming Saturday, starting with 9 a.m. Mass at Old St. Pat’s Church on Desplaines and Adams Streets, followed by a traditional Irish breakfast in the church hall (individual tickets are $30 per person), for which reservations are required.  There will be Celtic music and dancing during the breakfast, if you really need that.

Old St. Patrick's Church (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Old St. Patrick’s Church (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 activities:  Winter bird watching on and off the route in Will County

Hello again, fellow roadies!  Are you enjoying your winter so far?  We know that most people simply assume there aren’t any activities worth noting along Route 66 this far north between November and May, but you’d be wrong.  Just as there are interesting winter festivals and things off the route, so there are fun winter activities on the route – even in the greater Chicago area.

My co-author and fellow blogger Joe Kubal is an avid birdwatcher.  Those of you who are into birding and/or nature walks know that many birdwatchers go out regardless of the season and, sometimes, regardless of the weather.  There’s much to see in Chicagoland where bird watching is concerned: try Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago; paths along the Des Plaines River and Salt Creek in suburban Lyons and Riverside; the forest preserves near the Chicago Portage National Historic Site in Forest View; or the trails in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve surrounding Argonne National Laboratory near Darien.  Beyond the Chicago parks and the forest preserves of Cook and DuPage counties, however, there are many opportunities for birding in Will County, too.  I’ll let Joe tell you about his most recent trip.  And before I forget, special thanks to Joe’s birding colleague Sid Padgaonkar for most of the photos here; unless otherwise noted, they’re Sid’s copyright 2015 (all rights reserved).  Take it away, Joe!

Hi there, readers!  When I’m not working with my co-authors on our upcoming Route 66 book, I participate in a lot of clubs and organizations – the Illinois Geographical Society (IGS), the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI), the Knights of Columbus, and the Route 66 Association of Illinois (of course), just to name a few.  Occasionally, the interests of one group overlap with that of another. In this case, my love of birding coincides with my love of all things Route 66.

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Romeo & Juliet on Route 66, or: Don’t blame the Bard


That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

Brush up your Shakespeare, and they’ll all kowtow. – Kiss Me Kate, Act II, by Cole Porter

Happy Shakespeare Week!  It was Will Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) 450th birthday on Wednesday, April 23rd (also known as the Feast of St. George or St. George’s Day, after the patron saint of England).  That birthday’s a biggie.  So now you’re wondering if there’s any connection between our favorite highway and the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon.  Oho, but there is!

As the playwright asked:  What’s in a name?  Almost everything, apparently – if you’re talking about a town.  Some names just don’t fit or encourage development as much as others.  Take Romeoville and Joliet, two municipalities on Route 66 that are not so far apart in metro Chicago.  One was favored with a better location than the other, even though their beginnings as settlements happened at about the same time, for the same reasons (they sprang up as canal towns from land surveyed for the canal commissioners of the Illinois & Michigan Canal); and yet, they developed so differently.  Moreover, both ended up changing their names before they saw any real progress.  Perhaps that was a cosmic hint.

Louis Jolliet statue, Joliet (IL) Public Library  (copyright 2014 by K. Yearman; all rights reserved)

Louis Jolliet statue, Joliet (IL) Public Library (copyright 2014 by K. Yearman; all rights reserved)

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