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Tuesday
Sep272011

Route 66: Chicago to L.A. - Day 2

Springfield, IL to St. Louis, MO

After a three-month sabbatical I finally got myself motivated to continue with updates on our Route 66 adventure.  My thanks to everyone for hanging in there and not nagging me too much in the interim.

Our day one overnight was at the fabulous State House Inn in Springfield, IL.

The State House Inn in Springfield, IL (click image to expand)

The State House Inn is located along a pre-1930 alignment of Route 66.  The hotel featured beautiful and very comfortable rooms, as well as much-needed laundry facilities (many of us were on our sixth night since leaving home, those of you with Miatas will understand the limited trunk space available).

Lincoln's Home and Tomb

While I thoroughly enjoyed each and every day of our 14-day Route 66 adventure, day two was particularly special for me because we visited President Lincoln's Home, a National Park Service Historic Site and a real highlight of the trip.

President Lincoln's Home in Springfield, IL (click image to expand)

Lincoln lived in the home from 1844 until 1861 when he and his family moved into the White House.  His home and the four blocks adjacent to his home have all been restored to their 1860's appearance.  It is literally like stepping back in time.

 Lincoln's Neighborhood (click image to expand)After visiting Lincoln's home, Cathy and I drove over to Oak Ridge Cemetary to pay our respects at Lincoln's Tomb.

Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, IL (click image to expand)

Follow the Red Brick Road

Continuing on the pre-1930 alignment of Route 66 out of Springfield led us to the famous 1.5 mile Red Brick section of Route 66 north of Auburn, IL.  Easily, one of the most scenic and all-together-too-short sections of Route 66.  It's a must-see on every Route 66 itinerary.

Red Brick Route 66 (click image to expand)

A Slight Detour for Lunch

One disadvantage of following the pre-1930 alignment of Route 66 out of Springfield is that it passes west of the town of Litchfield, IL.  Litchfield is home to the famous Ariston Cafe, located on the post-1930 alignment of Route 66.  The Ariston is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the longest-operating restaurant along the entire stretch of Route 66.  A detour east to Litchfield was deemed a must-do by everyone in our group.

The Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, IL (click image to expand)

Enjoying the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, IL (click image to expand)

We were very glad we drove that 10 miles east to Litchfield!  Our lunch at the Ariston Cafe was fabulous!  Owners Nick and Demi Adam treated us like family.  The Ariston is another must-stop for every Route 66 traveler regardless of which alignment you are following.

It's Rabbit Season

After lunch we headed back west to the town of Gillespie to rejoin the pre-1930 alignment.  That brought us to the town of Staunton, IL, which is where the pre-1930 and post-1930 alignments converge.  Staunton is also where you'll find Henry's Rabbit Ranch.  The Rabbit Ranch is owned by Rich and Linda Henry and is home to rabbits of many shapes and kinds.  Most famous of which is their whimsical tribute to the famous Cadillac Ranch (more about the Cadillac Ranch in a future update).

Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL (click image to expand)I somehow failed to take any photos of the mammalian rabbits at the Rabbit Ranch but I did manage to capture this humorous sign.

Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL (click image to expand)

The Henry's humorous nature is also evident in this yard sculpture tribute to the movie 'Cars'.

Tribute to the Movie 'Cars' (click image to expand)

Turn 22 Degrees to the Right (wish we could have)

From Staunton it was only 34 miles to the Mississippi River and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Chain of Rocks Bridge (photo from Wikipedia - click image to expand)

The Chain or Rocks Bridge was built in 1929 and became part of Route 66 in 1936.  The bridge is famous for its 22-degree turn in the middle.  The Chain of Rocks Bridge was closed and abandoned in 1968 but a refurishment project in 1997 eventually reopened the bridge to pedestrians and bicycles.

Chain of Rocks Bridge - Missouri Side (click image to expand)

Our group visited both sides of the bridge and while we didn't venture very far onto the bridge (it was getting late, rain was threatening, and we had one more stop to make before our hotel), we did take the time to grab a few photos with our Miatas included.  A nice couple from the Netherlands shot this one for us.

Chain of Rocks Bridge - Illinois Side (click image to expand)

Meet Me in St. Louis

From the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge we followed the "City 66" alignment of Route 66 toward downtown St. Louis.  Per the recommendation found in the fabulous EZ66 Guide we left the old city route and briefly joined I-70 southbound to bypass the downtown area.  Shortly after hopping onto I-70 we were treated to our first view of the beautiful Gateway Arch.

Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO (click image to expand) 

A few miles after I snapped that photo of the Gateway Arch it began to rain.  Hard.  All of the Miatas were top-down but we reminded each other (over the CB) that if we kept moving we'd be O.K.  That's about the same time traffic on I-70 started to build and we had to slow down.  Fortunately, the rain stopped just as quickly as it started and we exited I-70 and made our way to the south side of St. Louis and eventually onto Chippewa Street—the continuation of The Mother Road—still relatively dry and cozy.

Frozen Deliciousness

Route 66 traveler or not, no self-respecting visitor to St. Louis should leave the city without stopping at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.  Ted Drewes is located right on The Mother Road and it's a very popular spot.  The place was hopping on this Friday night with a large crowd at the order windows as we pulled into the parking lot.  Our little caravan of Miatas was greeted with friendly hoots and hollers from the many people scattered about enjoying their cups of frozen custard heaven.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis, MO (click image to expand)

The frozen custard was tastier than I imagined and I'm glad I don't live in St. Louis or I'd probably be at least ten pounds heavier!  Looks like Jill might have had a bit too much.

Sun Sets on Day Two

Following our delicious treat at Ted Drewes we continued west on Route 66 before eventually breaking away to drop south to our hotel for the night.  We'd traveled approximately 120 miles and it had taken eight hours, an average of about 15 miles per hour.  So much to see and do along Route 66!

Blog and Photo Site for the Full Story

Many additional day two photos can be found on my photo site, The Photo Booth.

Click >>>HERE<<< for the start of day two photos!


 

Saturday
Jun042011

Route 66: Bob's Gasoline Alley

First, My Apologies

Our Route 66 road trip was truly the trip of a lifetime.  We experienced about a year's worth of fun and excitement, all crammed into a couple of weeks.  Most of the days were about ten to twelve hours long, even when we only traveled about 100 miles.  We still didn't have the time to see and do everything.  Happily, that gives us an excuse to visit The Mother Road again.  And we will.

Our nights were busy too.  Once our group of Route 66 adventurers arrived at our stop for the night, more often than not we'd find ourselves sitting together on the "stoop" enjoying a beer or other beverage and reminiscing about the day.  Before we knew it, it was time to get some sleep for the next day's adventures. 

Unfortunately, our busy days and nights also meant that I simply didn't have the time to post blog updates and photos as I had planned.  It didn't help that we didn't have decent WiFi in some of the motels.  Before I knew it, I was hopelessly behind.  Rather than stress over trying to catch up, I decided to wait until we got home.

Please accept my apologies for the delay.  I am hoping that I'll be able to make up for the wait by having the time to do a better job of sharing the stories and experiences from the trip.  As a way of thanking everyone for their patience, I'm going to start with one of the coolest things we experienced during the trip.

Bob's Gasoline Alley

On our third day on Route 66 we stopped in Cuba, Missouri for the night.  Cuba is famous for their many murals to be found around the city.

Amelia Earhart Mural in Cuba, MO (click image to expand)While out photographing the murals, a man and woman in an SUV approached our group of Miatas and struck up a conversation with me and Cathy.  They had noticed our custom San Diego Miata Club Route 66 magnetics and asked if we were enjoying our trip on Route 66 and our stay in Cuba.  We answered affirmatively to both questions.  They introduced themselves (Bob and Darlene Mullen) and made a recommendation for a mural a few streets over.  We thanked them for their friendly suggestion and our group headed to the mural they had recommended.

While at the mural a few streets over, Bob and Darlene approached our group of Miatas again.  Now, I will admit that I was starting to feel (just a bit) like we were being stalked.  But that didn't prevent me from walking over to their SUV to continue the conversation.  That's when Bob mentioned that they had a collection of automotive and roadside memorabilia.  They asked if we'd be interested in driving out to take a look.  I told them I'd have to check with the group.  Bob said he understood.  If the group wanted to do it, we were more than welcome.  He explained they lived about three miles south on Route 66 and told me he'd put out his sign for 'Bob's Gasoline Alley'.   He instructed me to turn right at the sign and drive until we came upon their place.  He said we wouldn't have any trouble finding the place.

When Bob and Darlene drove off, I used the CB radio to explain what had just transpired.  Everyone was game for a visit so, after a few more pictures, we were heading south on Route 66.  Along the way, the jokes were flying over the CB about hightailing it out of there if we spotted a barber pole or heard certain banjo music.  :)  (I mean no offense to Bob and Darlene.  They were nothing but gracious and friendly and did nothing to give us an uneasy feeling.  The situation was, well, just a little "weird".  In fact, even Bob later mentioned that we were probably wondering what we were getting ourselves into as we drove toward their home.)

A Collection Far Beyond All Expectations

Just as Bob promised, we came upon a portable folding sign with 'Bob's Gasoline Alley' on it.  We turned right and followed the road for a bit.  I kept wondering how we'd know when we found the place.  We passed several homes and I was busy looking for Bob and Darlene's SUV parked in a driveway.  It never occurred to me to look for the memorabilia collection outside of their house.  I think it is fair to say that nobody in our group was expecting to see what we saw when we cleared the rise and got our first glimpse of their collection.  Multiple full-size gas station signs—mounted to their original poles—all in pristine condition.

Just a few of the gas station signs at Bob's Gasoline Alley (click image to expand)

To put it mildly, those gas station signs were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Bob and Darlene aren't just casual automotive memorabilia collectors, they are very serious about it.

Bob's Gasoline Alley (click image to expand)

Bob and Darlene welcomed us to their home and treated us like we were family.  They proceeded to show us multiple barns that were filled to the brim with every sort of motoring or roadside memorabilia.  All of it nicely displayed and in pristine condition.  There was so much to see it was overwhelming.   You could spend a couple of hours in each room and still not see every individual piece.  I walked around in stunned disbelief muttering 'This is absolutely incredible!" to myself.

A small sample of the interior at Bob's Gasoline Alley (click image to expand)

Thank You Bob and Darlene!

This is one of those times where being in the right place at the right time really paid off.  Although Bob and Darlene host car clubs and Route 66 association meetings at Bob's Gasoline Alley, their collection is not open to the public.  Visits are by invitation only.  How amazingly lucky we were to have Bob and Darlene approach us in downtown Cuba!  I'm convinced it was our custom San Diego Miata Club Route 66 magnetics that caught Bob and Darlene's eye and caused them to take the time to strike up a conversation.  As a token of our appreciation, we presented Bob and Darlene with one of the logo magnetics.

Bob and Darlene Mullen (click image to expand)

Night had fallen so Bob and Darlene invited us to come back the next morning so we could take additional photos.  When we got there we found our custom logo magnetic in a prominent spot on the refrigerator in Darlene's Diner.

SDMC Route 66 magnetic on display in Darlene's Diner (click image to expand)

My heartfelt thanks to Bob and Darlene for thoughtfully inviting us to visit their wonderful collection!  It was a real pleasure to get to know them, even if for just a little bit.  They were the epitome of the warmhearted friendliness we experienced throughout our adventure along The Mother Road.

More Photos at The Photo Booth

The story isn't complete until you view the rest of the photos!  Be prepared to be blown away!  I've created a separate gallery just for photos of Bob and Darlene's amazing collection.  Here's the link:

Bob's Gasoline Alley Photo Gallery

Friday
May202011

Route 66: Chicago to L.A. - Day 1

Chicago, IL to Springfield, IL

After more than a year of planning, Cathy and I and a group of our friends are living a dream by driving Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.  We left San Diego on May 14 and drove to Chicago over four days.  We spent two nights in Chicago where we enjoyed fabulous deep-dish pizza and a genuine Chicago dog. Then, on May 19, 2011, we began our adventure back to California.

Our first day on The Mother Road was an outstanding one.  To beat the crazy Chicago traffic we left town at 5:30 a.m.  It was amazing just how many other vehicles were already on the road at that early hour.  And, as it turned out, we needed the extra time because, as we pulled into Springfield, it was already dinnertime.

While there were a lot of great sights to see, the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the friendliness of the people we encountered along the Route.  Everyone seemed genuinely interested in sharing their experiences and listening to ours.  Vernette at the Wilmington House Family Restaurant and Betty and Alice at the Atlanta Museum made particularly strong impressions.  I hope this trend continues over the coming two weeks.

Starting at the Beginning

Westbound Route 66 starts at Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Boulevard, right next to Lake Michigan.  However, for whatever reason, the "Begin" Route 66 sign is located on Adams Avenue a couple of blocks from the actual start point.

The Westbound Start of Route 66 in Downtown Chicago (click image to expand)

Blog and Photo Site for the Full Story

I originally planned to post all of my Route 66 road trip photos here in my blog.  But it's very time consuming to insert the photos one at a time and write a story about each one.  Instead, I am going to use a mix of my blog and my photo site.  That will allow me to share more photos and do it in a more time-efficient manner.

Click >>HERE<< for the Day 1 Photos!

Sunday
May082011

The Bucket List

We all dream of things we'd like to do before we exit this world.  Contrary to what some people think, the term bucket list existed long before the movie of the same name (2007's The Bucket Lista good movie by the way).  I remember my parents talking about their bucket list.  For the most part, I think they lived their dreams.  They were realistic and didn't dream too big.  But that didn't make their dreams any less significant.  They liked to travel, so—in their retirement years—they sold their house and purchased a motor home.  They joined a couple of camping associations which gave them dozens of places around the country where they could hook up their motor home to enjoy its creature comforts yet still be parked next to a lake or other scenic spot.  They traveled the length and breadth of the USA and made new friends along the way.  They were having fun!

Having fun is one of the most important things you can do in life.  Having fun is better for your heart and soul than any health food or vitamin pill.  If you don't believe me, just Google it.

Fun is not an option, it is important!

Although you may have priorities in life, it is essential that you make room for at least some of the activities that you enjoy.

Fun is essential.  In our complicated lives, finding the right balance can be challenging.  But we simply must strive for that balance.  Fun and a bucket list go hand-in-hand.  It is fun to dream but it is even more fun to live those dreams.

Route 66 is More than the Road

As I mentioned in my review of the EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Cathy and I "discovered" Route 66 in 2007.  Before the end of that May 2007 trip, the dream of traveling the entire length of Route 66 was on our bucket list. To start in Chicago and take at least a couple of weeks to get to Los Angeles.  Stay at old motor court motels wherever possible.  Eat at restaurants that have been visited by Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives).  Drive top-down in the Miata through the dozens of small towns that are missed if you are on the super slab.  Meet the people and wave hello to fellow Route 66 travelers going in the other direction.  Maybe be joined by some Miata friends that have the same dream.  It all sounded like a lot of fun to us.

We've flirted with Route 66 a few more times since 2007, but the dream remains unfulfilled.  That's about to change.  In less than two weeks we will begin our ultimate road trip adventure.  Chicago to L.A in the company of like-minded friends.  I predict there will be an immeasurable amount of fun and laughter.  Our friendships and our love and appreciation for each other—as well as for our beautiful country—will grow stronger.  Our hearts and our souls will be nourished.

And a check mark will be added to our bucket list.

The Mother Road Awaits

Friday
Apr222011

EZ66 Guide For Travelers

Discovering Route 66

In May of 2007, Cathy and I were driving home in our Miata following a road trip to the midwest to visit family.  One of our overnight stops was a hotel in the little town of Grants, New Mexico.  That evening, tired of fast food on the road, we decided to look for a nice restaurant.   We headed away from the interstate and into the heart of Grants.  That put us on Santa Fe Avenue, which parallels I-40.  As we drove along, we noticed business after business that was either closed or looking like they were barely in business.  That's when we noticed our first Route 66 sign.  Having seen the movie Cars the year before, we suddenly realized we were driving through the center of the real-world equivalent of Radiator Springs.

Route 66 in Grants, NM (click image to expand)

At the west end of town, we found a Mexican restaurant (one of the few non-fast food businesses open) and sat down to eat.  But our minds weren't on the food.  All we talked about was that we were sitting in a business that had probably been dozens of different businesses over the years, and that it was located on Route 66.

Bitten by the Route 66 Bug

Back at the hotel, I used my trusty MacBook to search the web for more information about Route 66 in and around the area of Grants.  I found several Route 66 sites that featured turn-by-turn directions and explained how to drive as much of the original Route 66 as possible.  I looked at dozens of photos and read numerous stories about getting your kicks on Route 66.  I was at it for hours.  By the time I turned the MacBook off to get some sleep, I was hooked!  For the remainder of our drive back to Southern California, Cathy and I explored as much of the original Mother Road as we could, given our time constraints and lack of proper printed directions (if only the Apple iPhone had been released a couple of months earlier).  By the time we got home, we knew we'd be visiting Route 66 again, and soon.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers

Since May 2007, we've driven hundreds of miles of Route 66 between Oklahoma and California.  In a few weeks, we'll be joining with friends to drive every paved mile of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Navigating our way along those many miles of original Mother Road will be relatively easy, thanks to Jerry McClanahan's EZ66 Guide For Travelers.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, 2nd Edition

McClanahan's book is considered the "bible" for Route 66 travel and exploration.  He really put a lot of thought into the design of this guide.  His love for The Mother Road is evident on every page.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers is spiral bound for easy reference while on the road.  Obviously, it's best to have a navigator to read the directions as you drive along.  But even a solo driver could manage to follow the route with some careful stopping to refer to the route directions as needed (though, things could get tricky in some cities where one turn quickly follows another).

Logical Layout

The first part of EZ66 Guide For Travelers features an introduction from McClanahan.  He then goes on to explain how to use the book, including explanations of the various terms and abbreviations used in the guide.  Finally we get to the meat of the book, the actual route directions, which are broken down into chapters by state, starting with Illinois.  (Route 66 passes through eight states in all, including the full widths of Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, plus the Texas panhandle and just 13 miles through the southeast corner of Kansas.)  Each state chapter is numbered independently in the book.  IL. page-10, MO. page-25, and so on.  Within each state chapter, there are numbered Section Maps that precede that section's driving directions and give you an overview of how you'll get from one city to the next.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Section Map (click image to expand)

On the maps, the boldest line represents the Official Tour Route.  This Official Tour Route is by no means the only route possible.  Route 66 had dozens of different alignments over the years.  McClanahan is simply recommending this Official Tour Route as the basic foundation on how to best drive The Mother Road from Chicago to L.A. (or vice versa).  In fact, McClanahan includes numerous optional routes throughout the book.  These optional routes are also marked on the maps with a slightly thinner line.  Each Section Map also includes a box showing city names relevant to that map, and the mileages between some of the cities.

Clever Formatting

McClanahan used clever formatting on the actual driving directions pages.  At the top of each directions page there is a box containing the westbound (WB) directions covered by that particular page.  The directions are easy to understand and follow.  Reading them in your easy chair at home may feel somewhat confusing, but once you actually start driving the route, or following along using a Google map of the area in question, the directions become abundantly clear.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Driving Directions (click image to expand)

At the bottom of each directions page there is a box containing the eastbound (EB) directions covered by that particular page.  This clever design allows the EZ66 Guide For Travelers to be used regardless of which direction you are traveling on Route 66.  The book is arranged from front to back starting with Chicago.  After all, as the song goes, "From Chicago to L.A."  If you're traveling eastbound, you simply start at the back of the book and follow the EB directions as you flip pages forward.

More Detail in the Middle

Between the westbound and eastbound direction on each page, McClanahan provides frequent Detail Maps that show a closer view of the appropriate route through cities.  Also included in this middle area of each directions page are details about points of interest, optional routes (different alignments), side trips, and other useful information.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Detail Map (click image to expand)

Website Updates

To his credit, McClanahan provides regular updates on his website, McJerry66.com.  This is an important plus for users of EZ66 Guide For Travelers because things like longterm road construction and bridge closures occur along the route.  McClanahan's thoughtful updates really help to ensure a smooth and enjoyable Route 66 adventure.

Map Series

I should also mention the Here it is! - Route 66 Map Series from Ghost Town Press.  Jerry McClanahan was co-author of the map set along with Jim Ross.  The Route 66 Map Series is an eight map set (one per state) and also includes turn-by-turn directions.  Each map folds out to approximately 22" x 17" in traditional map fashion.  They can be used alone to navigate The Mother Road (we've done it), but I feel the map set best serves as a companion to EZ66 Guide For Travelers.  If I were only buying one, I'd go with the book first, but it's not a bad idea to have both.

Where to Buy

Whether you've been thinking about exploring small sections of Route 66, or jumping head-first into driving the entire route, I highly recommend EZ66 Guide For Travelers.  It truly is the "bible" for Route 66 aficionados and, in my opinion, pretty much a must-have for the best Route 66 driving experience.  The book is available at your favorite bookstore, or at numerous online retailers such as Amazon.com.  If you found this review helpful, please consider showing your support for Mark's Hangout by clicking the link below to purchase the guide through Amazon.com.  Thank you!