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Liz Hartley

4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

You Know You’re in Illinois when…

… you find yourself sleeping and canoodling with Lincoln.

It’s called the Land of Lincoln for a reason. There isn’t a town that doesn’t claim some connection with Abraham Lincoln as a youth, a circuit rider, a candidate or as president. (Even Oregonians can, apparently, claim him. The guide at Lincoln’s tomb told us that Lincoln had worked on soon-to-be-president Zachary Taylor ‘s campaign so diligently, that he offered Lincoln the governorship of the Oregon territory.) As a result, images of Lincoln and stories about Lincoln are just about everywhere. From places you’d expect them, like his tomb in Springfield, to places you wouldn’t, like, well, just about everywhere else.

A small sample…

You should be able to swipe the images above to see what comes next, or find a small arrow in the right and left margins of the picture above to see others. This is only a fraction of the plaques, pictures, bronzes, and associated Lincolniana that we’ve seen. You could spend a week seeing it all.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

Oh. My. Goodness. This is an impressive facility with a remarkable use of technology to enchant and teach. The combined use of audio and visual techniques to present the turbulent years of Lincoln’s presidency are used to breathtaking effectiveness.

There is a room with one wall covered with images of people who played a part in the Civil War. Using a touch screen, you can learn who they are and what role they had. Another section is set up as the cabinet room during the discussion of when to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln is surrounded by his cabinet and the life-sized figures, in active poses around the table, the cluttered room, make you feel like you’ve walked into a tense and turbulent conversation.

A series of rooms lined with pretty vicious political cartoons, in in ever more distorted frames, creates the feeling of the kinds of nasty distortions of fact, and the personal assaults on politicians and their families that have become so much a part of political life. Voices surround you with more nasty comments.

But it’s the jaw-dropping presentation by a “historian,” who explains the importance and value of a presidential archive such as this, that will leave you mesmerized. The museum has pulled out all the technological stops on this one. It was the fitting cap to our stop in Springfield.


P.S. For newsletter subscribers, a reminder that Chapter 7 of The Illinois Caper, first book in the Route 66 Steal series, is now online.

5 In Liz Travels: Route 66

We Have Seen the Elephant… (edited)

And it is in Lexington, Illinois

Sharp-eyed Dash spotted this glorious piece of community-built folk art as we rolled by it in the rain. So cool we made a U-turn down the road about a half mile, came back, and took pics in the rain. There was no information on why it was there, or how it was built, but if you enlarge the images, you’ll see names and messages written on the individual pieces of recycled metal.

And look at the sheer number of pieces of scrap metal in this creature. Chains, hubcaps, pipes, and other bits of unidentifiable plumbing. I could have spent a half hour looking at this, but it was very wet, and we had an appointment down the road.

Please enjoy.


Correction: When I first posted this, I assumed, from the comments written on the elephant and the names, that this was a community project. I’ve since had a moment to do some research, and I was wrong. This was made by metal scrap hauler Kasey Wells, from Lexington, to promote his write-in campaign for president. You can see the story here at the Chicago Tribune. Obviously the elephant is outliving his ill-fated campaign. Thanks, Kasey! This elephant is literally a traffic stopper for travelers on Route 66.

7 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Fast Food Monday

Eating on the Road

We didn’t plan it this way. Really. But one of the things travelers on Route 66 think about is, well, the food. There are a number of quick bite options that the road is famous for. I think we hit most of them today.


First, was Henry’s Drive In in Cicero (Al Capone’s old town.) know for it’s hot dogs and fries–“It’s a meal in itself.” The lady behind the counter knew immediately that we were taste-testing Route 66, probably because we split one dog at 10:30 in the morning. But we had to try it, right? There’s a reason it’s lasted so long. Good dog, with onion, pickle, and mustard. Great, fresh, hot fries.


Not long after, we hit the White Castle, in Berwyn, once famous for it’s silver dollar-sized (when the US still used silver dollars) hamburgers. Essentially, they were making sliders before the world had discovered sliders. So of course, White Castle now calls it’s burgers sliders. We had the 1921 slider. It was great to stop at the first White Castle, one of the first if not the first chain fast food restaurants. But if you have to chose between Henry’s and White Castle, choose Henry’s.

Fried Chicken…

We absolutely had to stop at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in for fried chicken. There is a darn good reason that this restaurant has survived, despite being passed over by the freeway, and darn hard to get to. This is fine fried chicken. And the fries (yes, more fries) were excellent. By now, we were waddling. But we had to try…

Soft-Serve Ice Cream…

In Joliet, Rich & Creamy soft-serve ice cream is what’s on offer under a roof graced by the Blues Brothers. And do these people know their transient audience. In addition to a long list of confections, they offer “baby” cones: $.80 cents for a few bites so you can say you tried it. They must know that you’ve already eaten at every eatery on the Route.

Any one for dinner?

You have got to be kidding. An early night, a cup of tea, and we are done for the day.


12 In Liz Travels: Route 66

It Has Begun!

Begin at the beginning…

Today Dash and I actually took the first steps on Route 66. And we started, as of course we must, with breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, a classic diner on Jackson. It was packed and with good reason: Great food. And we got free donut holes. I haven’t had donut holes in…well, a really, really long time. They were scrumptious. I would have been happy to have just a box of those for breakfast.

You can’t drive Route 66 and not stop at the “begin” sign. So we drove down to Michigan Blvd, parked only slightly illegally, dashed to the sign, got a kind Chicagoan to take out picture, and dashed back to the car before we were ticketed. As you can see from the picture, some people can’t help but leave a “sign” of their own that they have been on the Route.

The next destination, for two admirers of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, was the Wright home and studio in Oak Park. But of course, we first had to get lost.

Lost under the CTA

You see it in every movie filmed in Chicago, practically: the car chase under the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) “el”–the elevated train. We got ourselves trapped under the “el” on Lake Street. If you’ve seen those movies, I’m here to tell you the rattling and banging of the “el” overhead is actually louder, and the space under the “el” is narrower. Thank goodness we weren’t being chased. And thank goodness we weren’t driving the 1956 Buick convertible that stars in The Route 66 Steal.

By time we got out from under the track we were utterly confused, but somehow mostly on the right track. With only a few more wrong turns–and only a few expletives for the dispassionate electronic phone voice that wouldn’t talk to us when we needed her, we got there in time to take a walk around the neighborhood and see a bunch of Wright-designed houses. I’ve only included one here–no need to torture you.


I haven’t spent a lot of time in Chicago before, so have been awed and delighted by the vast variety of neighborhoods, and the dramatic way the city can change from block to block. I visited Chicago Costume, in the Lincoln Park area, as research for The Illinois Caper, and passed through a tunnel of old trees in front of old shoulder-to-shoulder homes of stone and brick, some of which were almost gothic. Then, cross a street, and it was all slick brick-fronted and boring buildings.

When planning this trip, Dash found us an Air B&B in the Pilsen neighborhood, an area once populated by my genetic “peeps”–Bohemians. (Those from Bohemia, not those who like to live a madcap lifestyle, though I guess I fall into both categories.) Over time, it shifted to a more diverse, though largely Latino population. The walls are covered with murals, and there are a bunch of restaurants within walking distance. We tried La Luna, and had great fish tacos. Pilsen is a neighborhood that has seen some hard days, but is now filling with carefully updated and cared for homes.

Returning downtown from Oak park, we avoided the “el” by taking Chicago Ave. A great choice, because it introduced us to a a variety of other neighborhoods, leaving us wishing we could stay in Chicago longer so we could move from one to the other and get to know each.

Fighting our way to Navy Pier

We had a great drive until we got close–we thought– to our destination of the Navy Pier. On a Sunday. A beautiful, sunny Sunday when apparently everyone in Chicago had the same idea. (We will not even discuss the cost of the parking…) We got stuck in horrific traffic, and then it was all worthwhile when Dash spotted the bunnies on the bikes–and managed to get a picture of them!

Having gotten to the pier, we took a ride around the harbor of the enormous and gloriously beautiful Lake Michigan. I was raised around the Great Lakes so this was coming home. I’m afraid I only heard part of the description of the city skyline of Chicago. I was steeped in amazement that we all travel thousands of miles to see inland seas like the Mediterranean, when we have these unparalleled bodies of fresh water snugged in between the US and Canada. I have promised myself I will come back and spend more time on the lakes.

We followed our google map-lady (once again speaking to us) out of the Navy Pier area, which was fortunate because the path out, as native Chicagoans well know, flows under the city through a maze of subterranean versions of the streets above. It was, for those of us used to Oregon, a bit of a scary experience. Just very glad I don’t do it every day.

It was a full day. And I’m sure we could spend many others here, but the road beckons, and we are off to Joliet in the morning.


P.S. For subscribers following the adventures of Kat and Tish (definitely NOT modeled on Dash and I), another chapter of The Illinois Caper has been posted at The Route 66 Steal site.

5 In Liz Travels: Route 66

The Long and … Longer … Road

Drive or Rent?

One of the first decisions my traveling companion, Dash, and I made when we discussed driving Route 66 was take a car or rent one in Chicago. Taking a car won. But that meant ferrying the car across 2000+ miles from Oregon to Chicago. Dash was committed elsewhere, so that meant a long drive with me talking to myself. (Books on tape are too distracting especially in Montana mountains during a downpour.)

Along the way there was incredible scenery…

But there were consolations. One large one being…Montana.

Yes, I was assured by residents that I was seeing Montana at its best–freshly watered and green. But jiminy. Mile after mile of gorgeous mountains, valleys, rivers and that famous “big sky” was almost more than I could absorb. And who would have thought that any state could harbor a bird as exotic looking as the black-billed magpie with its extraordinary long tail. (The photo at the Lyric Bird Food website is superb.)

And massive sculptures…

North Dakota can’t help but know that, for those of us driving in from the west, Montana is a tough act to follow. So sculptor Gary Greff came up with the Enchanted Highway–thirty two miles of gigantic welded metal sculptures. Worth the detour.

After 1500 miles of easy but very looong driving, I took a welcome break in Fargo (yes, Fargo) where the tendency to giant sculptures continues with a large wooden chair just crying out for a selfie. I resisted.

Then time to move on to the source of the Nile, so to speak, the head of Route 66, and time to get this show, as they say, on the road.


And P.S. for newsletter subscribers…

For those newsletter subscribers following the adventures of Kat and Tish, the second chapter of The Illinois Caper, in The Route 66 Steal series, has been posted today.

1 In Liz Travels: Route 66/ Liz Writes

A Gift For Newsletter Subscribers

Today is the day!

Newsletter subscribers get a sneak peek at The Illinois Caper, the first book in my Route 66 Steal series. I’ll post a new chapter each day I’m on the Route researching the series.

Want to read the book but not a subscriber?

It’s easy! When you see the pop up when you come to my website, simply fill in the form. (This is different from subscribing to my blog, which you’ve already done in the sidebar to the right.) When your subscription is confirmed, you will get a password. Then go to the website You’ll be asked for the password the first time you click on a post.

Remember you can unsubscribe to the blog and the newsletter any time you wish.

Enjoy, and see you on the Road! The Mother Road, that is.


8 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Route 66 Trip Countdown

Hard to resist the call of the open road.

Where has the time gone?

I just realized I have less than a month before I head to Chicago to meet Dash and head out on Route 66. And so much yet to do! We’ve been actively researching since spring of 2021, yet suddenly, time is short, and there is a rush to finish the planning stage and start the traveling stage. How does this always happen?

We have all of our hotel reservations made, special events along the way ticketed, lunches with friends scheduled. We’ve made lists of hoped-for stops, consulted maps and websites, and planned roadside cemetery searches. We’ve included history, architecture, iconic Route 66 motels, diners, and kitsch.

I also have a list of locations to scout out as research for a series of novels: The Route 66 Steal. More on that this month as I get the website for it set up. We had hoped to leave room for serendipity, and although I’m sure Route 66 will force serendipity upon us, it may have to stand in line because we have a jam-packed itinerary.

I’ll be keeping everyone posted here. So follow my blog if you want to follow Dash and I on our adventure on the Route! Pack your bags! I’ll be packing mine soon.

2 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Dreaming of the Mother Road

Route 66 shield on the highway. Gabriel Millos. It’s almost un-American not to feel the pull of the open road.

No doubt eighteen months of lockdown and cautious venturing out have left its mark on all of us. One of the marks it’s left on a friend and me is, as John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, the “urge to be someplace else.” And so, we have begun, a good year in advance, to plan a road trip. Not only a road trip, but a Mother Road trip, a journey down the “Main Street of America”: Route 66.

Technically, Route 66 doesn’t exist any more. It was decommissioned as a highway in the 1970s, and large sections of it are missing, paved over, or derelict. But the sections that are left still exert the call of the Sirens to some of us.

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0 In Liz Writes

Newsletter Away!

I’m very happy to announce that my first quarterly newsletter went out in August.

If you’d like to be put on my mailing list, you can subscribe at my website ( and about every three months, I’ll send you a sneak peak from an Eden Beach novel, let you know what I’ve been reading, and what else I’m up to. You can, of course, unsubscribe any time you wish, but I’ll try to keep your inbox clutter free!

Thanks for subscribing. And as always, thank you for your support!


0 In Liz Writes

If Steinbeck had trouble…

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.”

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, 1961