We departed Chicago this morning and began our journey west. The scenery today changed from skyscrapers and busy streets to endless cornfields and open roads.
We're not alone on Route 66. In the small town of Joliet, Illinois, we met the William Tell bikers, a group of 30 motorcyclists from Switzerland and Germany. They were taking a break and eating ice cream at Rich and Creamy, a roadside ice cream stand. The group arrived Monday in Chicago, rented Harley Davidson motorcycles, and began their 3,900-kilometer journey to Los Angeles. The friendly bikers told us they were drawn to the Mother Road, “because it’s just something you hear about and want to do!”
A few kilometers south of Joliet is Wilmington, Illinois. The most famous (and visible!) attraction in this small town is the big Gemini Giant statue.
The Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois
For decades, the 9-meter statue advertised a restaurant called the Launching Pad, which served Route 66 travelers starting in the 1960s. The statue is named after NASA’s Gemini space program. (He is holding a rocket ship in his hands.) The Gemini is one of many giant fiberglass statues along Route 66. They were very popular advertising tools in the 1960s.
We ate lunch in Wilmington at Nelly’s Diner. In recent years, it has become a favorite lunch spot for international visitors along Route 66. In fact, flags from tourists around the world hang in the cozy restaurant. Diners write their names and messages on the walls. We decided to leave our mark and sign the wall, too!
The fields of Central Illinois
As we continued south, cornfields lined the Mother Road. The blue sky and the golden hue of the cornfields made for a beautiful afternoon drive. We took a few minutes to enjoy the sound of the corn stalks blowing in the wind.
The next town we visited was Atlanta, Illinois. It, too, is famed for a giant fiberglass statue. But this statue was a little more recognizable: Paul Bunyan. He is a very tall lumberjack from American folk tales. You might have even read about Paul Bunyan in one of VOA Learning English’s American Stories. The Paul Bunyan statue in Atlanta is holding a large hot dog. It was an advertising tool for a restaurant in a nearby town.
We drove another hour down to Springfield, the capital city of Illinois. A famous landmark there is Abraham Lincoln’s home. America’s 16th president lived in this home for 17 years, before he was elected president.
A town called Lincoln is just north of Springfield. Route 66 travelers cannot miss the town's huge covered wagon statue, which features Abe Lincoln himself as the driver! It is no surprise that the Illinois state motto (expression) is the "Land of Lincoln!"
Finally, after the sun had gone down, we arrived in St. Louis, Missouri -- the Gateway to the West! The Land of Lincoln is behind us, and Missouri, the "Show-Me State," lies ahead.