Into Illinois and eastern Iowa

Mileage wall Illinois 2 July 2016-1

By the time we reached this mileage wall in Franklin Grove Illinois, we had clocked up almost 1000 miles. Today did not get off to a great start as the folks in the room next to ours decided to party until after midnight last night. Down at breakfast, the cook had failed to show up for work and so there was no hot food. As we left the hotel I saw a rather unhappy fellow in chef’s attire having a cigarette outside the kitchen. Eventually we were on our way, rejoining R30 near Valparaiso and getting back on main street America. James found some country music and classic rock on the radio so he was happy and we were back alongside the railway for much of the day. Joliet and Plainfield Illinois are familiar places from Route 66 which we drove in 2013. There is a brief section where the two roads coincide.
R66 LH sign Plainefield IL 2 July 2016-1
We crossed the bridge over the Des Plaines River in the opposite direction to the last time and this is the photograph I took then.
Bridge over Des Plaines River at Joliet
After Plainfield the road switches to R31 in Aurora and then R28 in Geneva. As road travel increased in the early 1920s, a shortage of hotels developed so camping sites were set up along the highway and Aurora has one of the shelters that were built and which have been restored. We were soon back in the cornfields with a few Trump posters and the odd Bernie one. Some extremely long freight trains passed us in several places or were parked up. Many of the small towns we passed through have murals and other historical sites.
Illinois Mural 2 July 2016-1
The Lincoln Highway Association’s HQ is in Franklin Grove and has a gift shop. The woman inside thought we were southerners at first. As I signed the visitors’ book I noticed that there had been none for a couple of days and she was very keen to fill us in on all the history she could. We eventually escaped and had our lunch in a park at Dixon which was holding various sporting events and a petunia show. Saturday seems to be the day when everyone mows the grass alongside the road. In other places, wildflowers are left to grow alongside fields and roads. In the UK some of the nature organisations are trying to persuade landowners and councils to delay mowing grass verges until wildflowers have set seed so that they are not wiped out.
Through the cornfields Iowa 2 July 2016-1
We crossed the Mississippi River at Clinton and entered Iowa back on Route 30 alongside factories spewing pungent fumes into the atmosphere. The last time I was in Iowa was around 20 years ago attending the biennial international conference of a small scientific society I belonged to. Our president at the time was based at the University of Iowa and the conference was held there. At immigration at Chicago O’Hare, I was asked why I was visiting the USA and when I told the officer the reason he replied ‘I ain’t never heard of a conference in Iowa City’. Soon we were back in flat farmland until nearer to Cedar Rapids where small hills appeared. After crossing the Cedar River, we found our roadside hotel for the night.

The End of the Road

Not quite – we don’t fly home until Saturday but we have made it to the end of Route 66. This morning we visited the pier to have the obligatory photo taken by a passerby. It was quite cool so we did a bit of shopping downtown and had a leisurely coffee watching the world go by. Santa Monica has lots of ‘Shop Local’ signs up and I did find a silver jewellery stall which had one of the biggest displays of charms that I have seen. I have a silver charm bracelet given to me by my grandmother when I was ten. It was made from my great grandmother’s silver watch chain and has some of the silver sixpences and threepences she had on her watch chain.  Other charms added over the years are very mixed and James suggested I should have the lighthouse one so that will be added when I get home. We then headed to the beach. I had to dip my toes into the Pacific but that was all as it was so cold – only two guys were brave enough to actually swim in it. Flocks of brown pelicans flew overhead and we had one brave gull who sat and watched us (even before we got the picnic out), ever hopeful that we might feed him. As I don’t feed wildlife other than the birds in my own garden, he was out of luck unless we left any crumbs afterwards. After lunch, the onshore winds increased and got much colder so we moved back into town. I popped into Barnes and Noble and had to limit myself to one book as I don’t want the embarrassment of having to turn out my case at check in again (I bought so many books on a previous trip to the Pacific NW my case was too heavy). We returned to the hotel to relax before dinner at a local Indian restaurant. This was a welcome change from American Diner and Mexican food.

End of the road Santa Monica PierEnd of the road 3 Santa Monica PierThe PacificOur friend the patient gull

From Arizona to Nevada

We woke on Monday to a clear blue sky and the first frost of the season. After breakfast we packed up and set off down R64 to connect with Route 66 again in Williams. We saw the deer crossing the road just before we left the National Park and it felt just like Scotland as we were still in the pine forest. There are a few photo opportunities in Williams, Seligman and other towns along R66. Seligman is a real tourist magnet for some reason but we enjoyed the drive away from the interstate all the way to Kingman. We left R66 there and headed north along the Colorado River for our next diversion: Las Vegas. Not really my kind of town but the approach through the mountains was spectacular and we also got a look at the Hoover Dam. Also weird were the signs advertising machine gun shooting. I still can’t get over being able to buy a gun in Walmart but not a bottle of wine and being asked for ID in one store when I was buying wine. I did enjoy getting an ‘over 50’ discount in one outlet store we visited in Las Vegas. James was keen to see the strip at night so we had a wander but other than some shopping we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool.

Arizona 2James at coffee stop SeligmanNevada 1Las Vegas 6

Canyon de Chelly

On Saturday we were up before it was light and had breakfast as soon as it opened. Then a 6 mile drive to the White House Trailhead. We were the first people there and so had the trail on the way down all to ourselves and some crows. The windblown sandstone rocks were amazing and it did not take us long to get to the canyon floor. There were a few Navajo homes as they farm there and some people were arriving to set up stalls in the hope of customers. Despite the recent heavy rainfall there was some mud but no water in the river. We crossed to look at the ruined White House which was built by the Pueblo people who left the area 700 years ago. Then, as we had a fairly long drive ahead of us, we climbed back up the 1.5 mile canyon wall via the switchbacks and headed off towards the Grand Canyon. This was a drive through the Painted Desert and some spectacular landscapes. We entered the canyon via the East exit which leads to Desert View Drive after a stop off at the Little Colorado Canyon viewing are run by the locals.Canyon de Chelly 8Canyon de Chelly 6

Canyon de Chelly 9Canyon de Chelly 17Canyon de Chelly 14

Goodbye New Mexico, hello Arizona

Today began by driving the six miles of R66 which takes you from the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to the junction of the interstate where it switches to the frontage road. This, along with R124, takes you most of the way to Gallup. We passed the Continental Divide – everything ahead of us drains into the Pacific and everything behind into the Atlantic. After a coffee stop in Gallup we left R66 for a detour to the canyons. The road climbs up to Fort Defiance plateau where we drove through a coniferous forest. At Window Rock just past the Arizona border we stopped for lunch and to look at the hole in the rock. We are now in the Navaho Reservation and there are strict rules about photography so I snapped the rock and no people or homes. The road then descended onto the Arizona desert and we had quite a few miles of this before we reached Chinle. The sunflowers, our roadside companions since Illinois were getting fewer in western New Mexico and I thought we had seen the last of them but there are still a few stragglers if there is a roadside ditch. We’ve just had dinner in the hotel and as we are in the reservation – no alcohol can be bought or sold. Fortunately I have my supplies with me. Early night planned tonight so we can fit in a 2 hour walk into the Canyon de Chelly tomorrow morning before heading off to the Grand Canyon. At least I am hoping for an early night as I have to keep giving James tutorials on his iPhone update and switching my PC over to him.

Leaving New Mexico 2Window Rock ArizonaRailrod and rocks NMDead man's bend R66 NM


We drove back into town on old Route 66 and our first stop was at the botanic gardens. There is a wonderful butterfly pavilion, several different gardens and glasshouses including a Japanese garden and a 1920-1940s working farm. The trees provided welcome shade on another hot day. We had yet another storm last night and several places in the state are now flooded. The rest of the morning was spent in the old town around the plaza. There was a guy playing a three-string guitar made from a cigar box and an elderly gentleman pushing his dog around in a pushchair. There were several galleries to browse in and I can’t wait to retire and get back to doing some more painting and other art stuff myself. We visited the Rattlesnake museum and saw a huge collection of snakes, a few other reptiles and spiders. The guy uses the money he makes from the museum and shop to fund conservation and rescuing abandoned snakes. The afternoon was spent back at the hotel lazing by the pool as tomorrow is another driving day.  We are over the Rio Grande and will soon reach the Continental Divide and a new state: Arizona.

Dragonfly at Botanic Garden AlbuquerquePyrgus oileus Tropical Checkered  SkipperOld Town Albuquerque 2Guy playing cigar case guitar Plaza Albuquerque_edited-1

The mountains

Last night I was hoping to get out to photograph the numerous neon signs around town but we had a huge thunderstorm just after we got back from dinner. It poured for several hours but had stopped by the morning. Breakfast was at Kix on 66 which is popular with locals as well as tourists judging by the pickups in the car park and stetsons inside. The porridge was great and the pancakes huge. When we set off from Hotel Safari and got back on the road it was not long before we had to divert from old R66 on the frontage road due to flooding and get on the interstate. Not for too long and we were soon back on the old road as it headed north into the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Glorieta Mesa was on our left but on the way we diverted into the Pecos National Historical Site. This has the remains of an old pueblo dating from 1200 and the Spanish mission. There was a short walk around it which was very welcome in the cooler mountain air and after so many hours on the road. We had left our boots in the car so that we could stick them on when needed but when James put his on, the soles fell off. Mine are leather and composite soles so were fine but I had not realised that as the temperature was in triple figures, his rubber soles had perished. After passing over the Glorieta Pass (2,286m so a bit more than Shap or Beattock) and getting into Santa Fe, the priority was new boots so that they could be broken in before the Canyons. Managed to find some and they were even in the sale!  Now having a bit of culture shock after cowboy country, we are in a town with museums, galleries, restaurants and staying at the Hilton. James enjoyed having something other than beef or chicken this evening. Will explore Santa Fe tomorrow – it has at least 3 or 4 bookshops that I have spotted alreadyCamels advert TucumariFlower in nat parkPecos Nat Historical AreaRattlesnake sign

Into cowboy country

Exiting Oklahoma City this morning we very quickly left the Expressway and crossed the restored Lake Overholser Bridge and drove along the lakeside. Back on the four lane R66 and out of the city the landscape is getting more prairie-like. R66 runs back and forth on north and south frontage roads alongside I44 and into the small towns along the way. We crossed the South Canadian River on a long bridge which has a beach underneath and judging by the graffiti and litter, is well-used. Elk City has the National Route 66 museum which is pretty good. The small sample of various types of barbed wire therein is enough – you only need to visit the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean devoted to this topic if you have Aspergers. We soon crossed into the Texas panhandle and are now very clearly in cowboy land. Groom has a huge cross billed as the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere towering over it. On the outskirts of Amarillo I saw some of the longest goods trains I have ever seen.  We had a great evening catching up with Seah Lim, meeting Mandy and two of their children and enjoying their hospitality at the Big Texan and their home. Hope we can reciprocate soon.

.Prairie near WeatherfordRoadside SunflowersBig Texan in AmarilloBig steak place Amarillo


St Louis, Missouri

Route 66 has taken various routes through the city over the years but it used to cross the Mississippi on the Chain of Rocks Bridge for a 5 cents toll. The bridge has not been used for motor traffic for several years but is now open to foot traffic and cyclists. We walked part of the way over and you can also take the Riverside Trail back into town but we are still in the midst of a heatwave so we wimped out and drove. This road was part of R66 at one point. Downtown we visited the Jefferson Memorial Gateway Arch and rode the tram to the top. The windows are very small and scratched so not ideal for photography. Took some photos outside as it is a fantasticshape. Inside is the Museum of Western Expansion which makes a token attempt to get the Native American viewpoint on this; given that their land, animals that fed, clothed and housed them and much of their culture was taken from them.

We then took a river cruise as having crossed the Mississippi by train and road, it was time to get on it. I am now trying to remember the names of all the bridges. Relaxing in our hotel this evening as we have over 200 miles to do tomorrow.

Chain of Rocks BridgeGateway Arch 1IMG_0007Gateway Arch 2

Last day in Illinois

Cornfield ILHenry's Rabbit Ranch 4Another hot day with temperatures int the 90s. Explored the centre of Springfield this morning – the Old Capitol Building and other historic landmarks; a large second hand bookshop (had to limit myself to one book because of the baggage allowance) and a vintage store with lots of musical stuff. Left town on the interstate for 5 miles and were then back on Old Route 66 through the corn and soya fields (the latter grown for biofuels). Not much else is grown around here. Had to get James’s sunglasses fixed and spotted a Walmart that had an optician inside who did the job for nothing. Resisted the temptation to add guns to the shopping trolley. On through various small communities and had lunch in the shade at park in Mount Olive. In Staunton we had to stop at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch – another eccentric along the road. He rescues abandoned rabbits, sells other R66 memorabilia and has his version of the Cadillac Ranch except his is old VW Golfs which were called rabbits in the US.  Passed the most extensive scrap yard and car graveyard I have ever seen. Mid afternoon we crossed the Mississippi on the 1926 McKinley Bridge and found our hotel. I was looking forward to cooling off in the pool but it is shut because it is September despite the heat. The Illinois State map has now been put away and tomorrow we will explore St Louis.