Where is the Heritage Corridor?
The Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) encompasses the communities and counties along the historic 97-mile Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. The Heritage Corridor spans from the Chicago Portage Area just southwest of Chicago to LaSalle-Peru including the counties of Will, Grundy, LaSalle and Putnam. The region conveniently located along I-55 from Chicago to Joliet along I-80 west to LaSalle-Peru.

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Morris Area | Starved Rock Area | Putnam County

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Pit Stops

Pull off Route 66 just south of Joliet, Illinois, and find wisdom at the bottom of a milkshake

by Jennifer Billock

Joliet Kicks Gas PumpIn 1926, signs announcing a new highway, Route 66, began popping up across Illinois. Stretching southwest from Chicago, through Springfield, and into St. Louis, Illinois portion is the oldest section of the road. It began its life as Illinois State Route 4, a pre-existing road that stood where the Pontiac Trail of 1915 (the shortest route between Chicago and St. Louis) traversed. And it carried a lot of firsts along with it. It was the first section to be paved, and able to brag about its mud-free, slab all the way benefits. It was the first section to be surrounded by urban growth along its busy path. And it was the first section to, eventually, be replaced by the mega-highways crossing the country now. Historically, Route 66 begins and ends in Chicagoand it represents a dream of freedom that persists for people across the country.

More: Fun Surprises Along Route 66

I recall one of my first trips along the Mother Road. We began our trek in downtown Chicago, itching to get out on the open road and feel the wind rush against our faces. Our destination? St. Louis, to watch our beloved Cubs play the Cardinals. Because, really, what better reason is there to drive along Americas lifeline than to indulge in Americas favorite pastime?

So we headed out, me and three friends, ready to experience a slice of Americana. Our parents had all given us suggestions about where to eat and stop along the drive. While the Dixie Truck Stop, Bill Sheas Gas Station Museum and the Gemini Giant topped most of their lists of iconic roadside attractions, I had my sights set elsewhereon a polka-dotted school bus.

Pit stops off Route 66The Polk-a-Dot Drive In had rather unorthodox beginnings. You might even say its an ancestor of the modern-day food truck craze. Back in 1956, the owners of a rainbow polka-dotted school bus began serving lunch out of a miniature kitchen within. From there it grew to be a favorite Route 66 attraction along the I&M Canal Heritage Corridor, complete with carhops and a diner. The bus is long gone by now, and the carports no longer have their hops, but the drive-in diner still stands in all its kitschy glory.

My friends and I were immediately enamored with the drive-in. The burgers, shakes and hot dogs would have been enough, but add in life-size fiberglass statues of the Blues Brothers, Elvis and Betty Boop? We all grinned from ear to ear. And of course, we took pictures wearing black sunglasses in between the Brothers. How could we not?

More: Experience scenic waterfalls at Starved Rock

Polk-a-Dots interior pulled us back into the 1950s along Route 66. Whether its records hanging on the walls, tabletop jukeboxes, cars parked at the ports outside or black booths trimmed with chrome, the heart of a bygone era pulsed all around us. We were all smitten and did the only logical thingwe fully embraced the blast from the past, ordered cheeseburgers and shakes (mine was chocolate) at the counter, and sat down in a booth to enjoy the carefree lifestyle.

Pit stops off Route 66The funny thing is, as we sat there, I really felt history come alive. Suddenly I was feeling it, the joy and freedom of venturing west on Route 66, enjoying the camaraderie of life on the road. I looked around me and could see scenes from the past overlaid on the present. A family of four headed west sipping shakes. A couple of hippies headed out to California indulging in cheese fries. And I knew what everyone who drove on the Mother Road before us had come to know. Route 66 is truly the history, the lifeblood, of the symbolic American dream. One trip on this road, and you are destined for greatness.

Discover more fun surprises along Route 66 near Joliet, and order a visitors guide to plan your vacation to the I&M Canal Heritage Corridor in Illinois.