St. Louis to Chicago

On Christmas Day I made the drive, for approximately the 30th or 40th time, from St. Louis to Chicago. Since many of you who read what I write may not be familiar with the geography in this part of the country, I thought I'd document it for you.

I've only written about a road trip one other time (on 2013's summer RV vacation) and that trip was unique in every way for me. This trip is not. It is well known to my eyes, to the extent that it almost feels like a commute.


I'm ignoring completely both ends of the trip photographically, as it's not exactly safe to take photos in traffic while driving. (At least if you're trying to get decent shots I mean. Sure the roadside e-signs warn you not to text and drive, and that cell phones must be used hands-free in Illinois, but there's no warning against holding a camera to your face while driving. Maybe it's obviously something that you should never do, but we're a country of explicit warnings -- which is why radio controlled airplanes are specified on the "items you cannot use on commercial airlines" lists. But I digress...)

Traffic was quite light on the St. Louis end, and sort of a nightmare on the Chicago end -- both expected -- and since nobody is unfamiliar with traffic, I started taking photos about an hour out of St. Louis.

The route between the two cities follows I-55 for most of the distance, through farmland for the most part. Lots of corn fields, although there are probably some other crops in there too. They're difficult to identify in winter of course, but I actually prefer the winter view: the browns are much more interesting to me.

The primary adjective for the landscape would probably be flat, as Illinois was glacier-scraped and Missouri was not -- at least that's how I learned it. It's not perfectly flat, but flat enough.

I'd much rather drive on eastern Missouri's hills, but that won't get me to Chicago.

I keep an eye out for hawks perched on fence posts, or lighting masts, or the larger trees...

I did see a few red-tailed hawks (I believe), and a couple of American Kestrels hovering over the median, but capturing them in photos: impossible.

It's not all farmland (just mostly so), as there are some stretches of "woods"...

...and something that was not part of the drive the first 20 or 30 times I made it: wind turbines!

I believe I saw four different wind farms on the trip, although it could have been only three with the highway dividing the biggest. Pretty cool.

You will drive through around two "major" cities on this trip, the first being Springfield, home of Abraham Lincoln for 25 years or so:

The exhaust from this power plant is a reliable landmark on the trip, the billowing vapors being visible from many miles away. You can't get a good photo of Springfield's city center from the highway -- for that you should take the Amtrak instead of driving yourself.

(Bloomington is the other "big" city, but it isn't overly exciting visually. It does have some wind turbines on its outskirts now though.)

The road does seem to go on and on...

...but there are brief glimpses of towns and structures to entertain the eyes at times, although "entertain" may be too strong a word:

The trip is not unbearable, but it's also not the most stimulating drive. Maybe it's familiarity, and any drive -- no matter how impressive -- becomes tedious after the 10th or 15th pass.

This long, straight section of highway where the power lines cross overhead is near Dwight, Illinois, and is the first indication that the trip is coming to an end. There is still an hour or more to go, but soon you'll see the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station, then the refinery at Joliet -- an impressive sight in winter -- and then you'll be in "Chicagoland". No photos of any of this, as that would have been dangerous indeed.

Although a little excitement would be nice after 4 hours or so in the car.

So that's my look at central Illinois. Any questions?


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outlawgardener  – (January 6, 2015 at 9:26 AM)  

Four hours of flat land - minimalism at it's best. My niece had one of my grand nephews convinced that the exhaust chimneys at a power plant, like the one in your picture were actually cloud factories.

Kathy G  – (January 6, 2015 at 10:11 AM)  

Those electrical towers always remind me of huge aliens.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (January 6, 2015 at 10:54 AM)  

I actually enjoyed your photos a lot. I've only driven through that part of the country once, in 1986, and I only have the vaguest of memories. So the entire trip is about 5 hours?

danger garden  – (January 6, 2015 at 12:21 PM)  

Flat indeed, strange to these PNW born and raised eyes. How many times have you made the trip in snowy conditions?

Mark and Gaz  – (January 6, 2015 at 3:46 PM)  

Driving Home For Christmas - the song is now playing in my head Alan. Very flat scape but have found it charming in its own special way. I suppose driving through it so many times before is a different matter.

Lisa  – (January 6, 2015 at 9:24 PM)  

That's familiar territory to this "Chicago" girl - we don't actually live in Chicago, but all of our friends and relatives who live outside of Illinois believe we do, so we go along with it. I had one child go to school in Charleston and another in Bloomington, so we've done portions of that drive many times. Not the most scenic drive, but we love our flat state. And for the uninitiated, you pronounce "Dwight" as "Dee-wight".

Alan  – (January 7, 2015 at 8:53 AM)  

Peter: Nebraska was even more flatly minimalist if I remember correctly. Less billboards and gas stations.

Kathy: they're wonderful structures for sure, but I'm not sure that they use this design any more.

Gerhard: it's about 4.5 - 5.5 hours depending on how fast you drive and if you stop for food. The train is much more relaxing.

Loree: Not too many times with snow on the road... maybe 5 or so, but the snow is always spotty -- it's never snowy the whole way.

Mark/Gaz: yes, it's the repetition that makes it different. The first few times on a "new" highway is always interesting for me. This trip is no longer that interesting.

Lisa: I went to school in Bloomington, and the Chicago (suburbs) to Bloomington drive always seemed so long back then. Now it seems like nothing. :)

Thanks everybody for the comments!

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