Gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in 11 years — and that means the number of people taking road trips is on the rise. If you, like millions of Americans this past Labor Day weekend, are planning a road trip in the near future, why not make it historic — and travel Route 66?
Illinois’ Route 66
This past summer, I rode a section of Route 66 on the Great Illinois Road Trip with Ben. I was surprised to learn that many people don’t know this section of the route as well as the areas through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, but this historic road does, in fact, start in Chicago. You might even want to spend a couple days in the Windy City before you head off on your trek!
It travels southwest through places like Bloomington and Springfield before crossing the Mississippi River into St. Louis. Illinoisans are proud of their road and have gone to great lengths to preserve it. Signage along the route designates it a scenic byway and preserves the quirky attractions and iconic sites that make the road so memorable.
Restaurants, like the Cozy Dog in Springfield, preserve the fun of the golden era of road trips. The throwback diner serves the same “cozy dogs,” a world-famous corn dog, as when they first opened on June 16, 1946. The restaurant has a Happy Days feel, suitable for this roadway known for fast cars and casual dining. As to the cozy dogs, I understand why they haven’t changed the recipe. The sweet corn coating is a nice contrast to the salty dog. Perfect with mustard and a soda!
By the way, the Cozy Dog makes the top ten list of “must see” attractions along Route 66!
Museums along Illinois’ portion of Route 66 tell the story of Route 66 and preserve American history too. Stops to consider include:
- Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac
- Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Colllinsville
- Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center in Litchfield
- Berwyn Route 66 Museum in Berwyn
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield
The Lincoln Presidential Library celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2015, on the 150th anniversary year of Lincoln’s death. The museum is thoughtfully designed to help visitors understand the real Abraham Lincoln, not just the hero we’ve built up in our minds. From left to right around a central rotunda, visitors step into the various times of Lincoln’s life starting with the childhood cabin in Kentucky. Guests are encouraged to consider how difficult it must have been to share such a small space with a family. The White House Years, depicted on the opposite side draw guests into the politics of the time. We were surprised to discover that Lincoln was very unpopular throughout his years in office. Personal tragedies weighed as heavily as the nation’s internal strife. I gained new respect for Lincoln, the man, from visiting here.
Of course, a road worthy of a Disney feature film deserves festivals and celebrations in its honor. The Illinois State Fair in August, Berwyn Car Show in early September and International Route 66 Mother Road Festival in Springfield in late September draw people from around the country to celebrate this road, its history and its impact on the region.
This year’s International Route 66 Mother Road Festival runs from September 25-27. More than 1,100 cool, classic cars and close to 100,000 visitors will enjoy live music, free entertainment and food. Beyond the hot rods, this family friendly festival has bounce houses and activities for the kids. The festival is free and open to the public.
Route 66 is an iconic piece of Americana, celebrating the road trip! Why not take advantage of those low gas prices this year and enjoy it yourself?
To learn more about Route 66 or plan your visit to the Springfield area, go to the Visit Springfield vacation planning site.