Rt 66 - graphicRoute 66 is the most famous road in the United States. Stretching nearly 4,000 kilometers from Chicago to Los Angeles, this historic highway is often called the “Main Street of America.”

Route 66 marks its 90th anniversary in 2016. To celebrate, VOA reporters Caty Weaver, Ashley Thompson and Adam Brock are taking a road trip across America along Route 66, traveling through the rolling fields of the Midwest and across the deserts of the Southwest to reach the Pacific Ocean in California.

Route 66-begin sign

Route 66 sign in downtown Chicago

Their adventure began in Chicago, Illinois, where a road sign marks the starting point of the iconic highway that leads to the West. This is the first in their series of reports from the road.

Hello from the Windy City!

Chicago is the largest city in the Midwestern United States and the official starting point of our Route 66 adventure.

We flew to Chicago from Washington and wandered around the city a bit, looking for the “official” Route 66 sign. It turned out to be just two blocks away from our hotel.

After a quick lunch at Miller’s Pub, we enjoyed a walk in Millennium Park, a 10-hectare outdoor public space surrounded by many of the city’s most historic and beautiful buildings.

The park is also home to the Chicago Bean.

The round, shiny metal sculpture provides a mirror image of visitors and the Chicago skyline in the background. It has become a very popular “selfie” spot.

We also took in a free performance at Jazz Showcase, a music club that opened in 1947. Some of the greatest names in jazz and blues have played there.

Chicago's famous Bean sculpture in Millennium Park

Chicago’s famous Bean sculpture in Millennium Park

We departed Chicago and began our journey west. The scenery 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.

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.

VOA reporters Caty Weaver (left) and Ashley Thompson (right) with the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois

VOA reporters Caty Weaver (left) and Ashley Thompson (right) with the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois

We ate lunch at Nelly’s Diner in Wilmington. 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.

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, this one of Paul Bunyan, a very tall lumberjack from American folk tales. 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 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.

The fields of central Illinois

The fields of central Illinois