Route 66 is arguably, the most famous road in America, even if it was officially removed from the US Highway System in 1985. Tourists come from all over the world to drive the ultimate American road trip. I have been meaning to drive the Illinois section since we moved to Chicago, so after years of postponing, I finally organized the trip! Brad decided to sit this one out, so I was joined by my good friend SE and her friend from out of town. Both of them are from big cities in the UK, so I was a little worried about giving them a false impression of small town life in America. Honestly, I needn’t have worried. Sure the drive is an absolute indulgence in American kitsch, but the towns and the people are genuine and really friendly. Every one we spoke to wanted to chat and ensure that we saw everything their town had to offer.
The next “big attraction” on the map was the ‘Rich & Creamy’ ice-cream shop in Joliet. The building itself was nondescript, but it was topped with a giant Rt 66 sign and replicas of the Blues Brothers, Ellwood and “Joliet” Jake. It was neat, but the far better attraction was across the road. “Dick’s Towing” is exactly that, a towing service. The classic cars dotted around and on, yes on, the building are a brilliant marketing tactic. We were surprised when the owner came out to talk to us after taking a few photos. He told us a little about his business then allowed us to take photos inside the cars. We stayed longer than we had planned, but it’s not every day that we’re allowed to play in police cars!
I have to admit, I thought the Gemini Giant would be bigger. It's located next the Launching Pad diner, which was closed. I guess they didn't know that we had our hearts set on milkshakes. While taking pictures of the giant, a large group (pack? Convoy?) of bikers drove by. There must have been hundreds of them. All waving and smiling like they were in a grand parade. A big slice of cheesy America! Speaking of cheesy, if you are into giant statues, have a look at this Muffler Men map created by RoadsideAmerica.com. My list of National Lampoon-ish destinations is growing at a steady rate!
Devil's Lake's name caught my attention while scanning the map for a place to stretch my legs on the drive back back to Chicago. The shock value may have been exactly what the founders were going for. While some posit that it was a mis-translation of the indigenous word, Minnewaukan, meaning spirit water*, many more believe that the name was chosen in order to lure more curious tourists to the region. Indeed, I cannot say if I would have stopped for something as benevolent as "spirit water."
The name aside, it is an incredible park! I couldn't believe how stunning it was. What was intended to be a "quick walk" turned out to be an all afternoon exploration. The accessible trails vary in length and difficulty. We chose the one called Potholes because it was the shortest trail with views. It may have been the shortest, but it was certainly not the easiest. The trail started out as a narrow path and then turned into a rock based staircase. The views along the way were breathtaking and well worth the never ending ascent! As you can see in the photos, the leaves had started to take on their beautiful autumn colours. It was also unseasonably warm, which made the hike all that much more enjoyable. There were many places to stop for a breather and to snap some photos on the way up. We saw several groups having picnics just off the trail. I wish we had thought to pack a lunch!
For those interested in geology, there were many features to explore. I highly recommend a book called Geology of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to help you identify geological features anywhere along the Ice Age Scenic Trail. I bought this book as a gift for Brad when he expressed an interest in Geology, however, I find myself flipping through the pages as well. It's just fascinating to learn how these intriguing features were formed. I was curious about the round holes you can see in the photo above. I forgot to take the book with me, so I snapped a few photos with the intention of looking it up when I got home. It turns out, these are the potholes that the trail is named after. According to the book, potholes are formed when gravel or rocks spin in a whirlpool at the bottom of a fast moving river. Over time the rocks leave a circular hole in the solid rock of the river bottom. In this case, the river rock bed was quartizite. I was surprised to learn that this was the same rock as the large red rocks that resemble medium-rare steak slabs. The color and texture was so different.
I was disappointed that I didn't have more time to explore the other trails. Brad was pretty envious when he saw the pictures of the trail I did take, so it is safe to say that I will be heading back that way again next spring.
*The link is for a town in North Dakota by the same name.
Distance from Chicago: 190 miles. Roughly 3.5 hours
Distance from Chicago: 136 miles (2.5 hours.)
Tip: click "avoid tolls" on Google maps. It's only slightly longer and it's more scenic.
Recommended Reading: I don't have a suggestion for this location. Do you know of any good books about Amish culture? Let us know in the comments.
Distance from Chicago: 150 miles (2.5-3 hours drive)
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