Happy weekend, fellow roadies! Summer’s here, and it’s time for car shows and cruisin’ down our favorite iconic American highway. Wow, it feels good to be shaking the dust of winter off your wheels, doesn’t it? Tear down that ragtop, tune up the vehicle, turn up the road music (we like classic Beach Boys, Springsteen, ZZ Top and Pat Metheny, but you may differ), and let’s take off! Rain or shine, you’ll be doing fine at these events in the [extended] metro area:
McLean County Historical Museum, Bloomington, IL (photo courtesy of Google street view)
(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.
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)
The Aluminum Overcast has three forward-looking compartments: a gunner’s roost at the top, the pilots’ deck just below that, and the clear nose cone in front, which gave excellent views to gunners on either side of the nose. Photo copyright 2012 by J.D. Kubal; all rights reserved.
We wrote about this event a few weeks ago, and it’s an annual affair. You can still catch EAA’s B-17 bomber at Lewis University Airport this weekend. Even if you can’t afford the pricy tariff for a ride, you can still get a tour on the ground for cheap. The airport is maybe a mile west of IL 53/Route 66 on Renwick Road. You’ll see the drive on the north side of Renwick. Just follow the crowds, and you can’t miss it. And for the armchair travelers, EAA has a page full of photos from the tour.