April 15, 2003
Last summer my brothers, sister-in-law, and I took a road trip out west: Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and Iowa. I love good road trip and this was the best one yet: great weather, great company, great adventures, and The New Roadside America (twelve new check marks in the index, including the world's only combined Catholic and Protestant church).
So I've been thinking about what I want to do this summer and whether or not I can come up with a good road trip plan. It might have to be a solo trip but I'm not afraid to give that a try. A little research yielded Roadsidepeek.com which whetted my appetite further, and looking into Route 66 revealed that it starts right here in Chicago. Sure, it's a shadow of its former self, but there are lots of pages by Route 66 explorers and I got the impression that there's still much to find.
I've often been inspired to take a day on the weekend to explore greater Chicagoland. There are lots of towns I've never been to, and I'm usually not disappointed when I take a new route to work. It was a simple choice to spend my Sunday driving as far as I could along Route 66..though I skipped the Chicago part and started around Joliet.
There's not much left of Route 66's former glory, but the 140 miles I drove are still very interesting. Lots of small towns, the Joliet prison, the Gemini Giant statue, two drive-in restaurants, and almost no fast food. Long portions of the road are stuck right between I-55 and and railroad tracks, but it's so satisfying to see the expressway disappear toward a big Amoco sign far outside of town while you are dumped right onto Main Street. It's facinating to contemplate what brought the railroad along this route (probably mines, forests, rivers or other natural resources), that the telegraph and telephone lines followed the railroad, the towns sprung up around the mines and the railroad, Route 66 connected them, and finally the interstate highway system just followed along the path that had already been blazed. For much of the distance Route 66 is two lanes but you can see where there used to be two more lanes just 40 feet over. I imagine that when I-55 was constructed, the roads that made up Route 66 were reduced back to two lanes to save maintainance costs.
For what it's worth, the historic route is marked very well and the road surface is in great shape (at least in Illinois). The only problem is that with no fast food restaurants, it's kind of hard to find a place to stop to use the bathroom.
Tree in a rock, along I-80
(though of course the railroad came first).