(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.
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).
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.
This sleek baby with the crystal-clear nose will be making stops across the country through mid-October and will be in Romeoville the weekend of Sept. 6-8. The plane’s visit is being sponsored locally (as usual) by EAA Warbird Squadron 4, a group of local aviation enthusiasts who meet at Lewis Airport. We wrote about this cool trip last autumn after my colleague Joe Kubal received a flight ticket from his mom as a delayed birthday present. Joe enjoyed it so much he couldn’t stop talking about it for days. What fun! Plenty of parking at the airfield. Besides, it’s an excuse to hit Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket or White Fence Farm afterward for dinner and eat a little history (See? We thought of everything).
You thought we were kidding about that clear B-17 nose, didn’t you? Nope! It comes complete with a Rita-Hayworth-style pinup. Photo copyright 2012 by J.D. Kubal; all rights reserved.