Road Trips - 5, 4...

Coming in 5th and 4th on my Road Trip bucket list are:

5. The Great River Road - This route follows along the Big Muddy, Old Man River - the mighty Mississippi as it cuts through the American landscape. Growing up, I read all of Mark Twain’s books several times each and dreamed of floating down the Mississippi. On this trip, I’ll be the modern version of Huck Finn.

Created in 1938 from a network of federal, state, and local roads, the Great River Road, commonly abbreviated to “GRR” was created in 1938 from a network of federal, state, and local roads to form one route along the Mississippi from headwaters to mouth. The GRR is supposed to be very scenic with farms, meadows, forests, limestone cliffs, cypress swamps, parks and wildlife refuges lining the road.  There are places along the route that will be a bit grittier with older industrial areas, suburban sprawl, strip malls, casinos, and franchise food joints, but for the most part it’s a two-lane blacktop road through towns other roads have forgotten, crossing and re-crossing the river, far off the beaten path. Off the beaten path – now that’s my kind of road!

At its southernmost point in Louisiana, the land and river begin to merge and you will actually be about 5 feet below sea level in New Orleans. I just might have to spend a couple of days here in one of my favorite cities, toast her with a Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane while visiting Bourbon St. one night and fill up on coffee and beignets the next morning at CafĂ© Du Monde on Decatur St in the French Quarter.

Between the St. Francisville ferry and the Interstate bridge west of New Orleans, the GRR crosses the river four times, traveling along back roads past huge live oak trees almost covered in Spanish moss and antebellum plantation homes along Plantation Alley.  Heading north, it proceeds through Vicksburg, where thousands of Civil War soldiers dressed in both gray and blue are resting in eternal sleep and where my great-great grandfather died while living in a cave in the bluffs above the river trying to dodge Yankee canon shot and musket balls. Vicksburg is rumored to be one of the most haunted areas in the world, with witnesses seeing the soldiers still marching and the sounds of bugles, shots and screams coming in the dark hours. Perhaps my relative is one of them. Maybe he’s upset his surviving family left his body there and came to Texas. Maybe I won’t sleep there.
The route next travels through the “The Delta,” the 250- mile-long home of King Cotton, between Vicksburg and Memphis. In addition to the Delta’s historical significance is its legacy as the cradle of musical styles from gospel, blues, and jazz to country and rock ’n’ roll.  On through Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois, through sandy floodplain and fertile prairie, small towns like Hannibal, the home town of Mark Twain and other communities generally forgotten by the hurry, hurry hustle and bustle of “modern” life.
Finally the Great River Road makes its way into Minnesota; through St. Paul and Minneapolis, over a few unpaved roads, through forest, tree farms, and hayfields. The end of the journey will be in Lake Itasca State Park.

It may not be a river cruise on the Delta Queen, but it sounds like fun to me.

4. U.S. Route 20 – The Oregon Trail – Another east coast to west coast route, this is the longest road in the Unites States, covering 3,365 miles.  It is one long, continuous road except through Yellowstone National Park (park roads do not have signage for U.S. numbered highways). The route begins in Boston at Kenmore Square (I’ll start there to ensure I start at the start, but trust me, I’ll be getting out of there as quickly as possible. If I didn’t have to be in Boston, I wouldn’t be) and ends in Newport, Oregon at its intersection with U.S Route 101 within 1 mile of the Pacific. The western end was originally at the eastern entrance of Yellowstone Park, but it was extended from the western side of Yellowstone in 1940.

In Massachusetts, a section of Route 20 runs north–south and is known as Jacob’s Ladder as it crosses the Berkshire Hills between Lee in Berkshire County and Chester in Hampden County.  In parts of eastern Massachusetts, Route 20 passes by Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, the oldest continuously operated Inn in America. When Henry Ford purchased the Wayside Inn, he re-routed Route 20 to the south so that major traffic would bypass the inn.

On through New York, Pennsylvania, and into Ohio, my dear wife’s home state, Route 20 follows the southern shore of Lake Erie. Indiana and Illinois are 2 states I’m not really excited about going through because it switches from 2 lanes to 4 lanes and traverses rather large cities and industrialized areas. It is however, the main access road to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which might be worth a look-see. In Iowa, things start to get better as far as I’m concerned as the road reverts to 2-lane in Moorland and Iowa is not as crowded or as industrialized.

Route 20 crosses Nebraska across the northern half of the state. I’m looking forward to this segment because it passes through numerous small towns and the Department of Roads has noted it for its history and natural beauty.  I’ve driven through the southern part of Nebraska several times and natural scenic beauty is not something in my experience to associate with Nebraska – unless you feel rows and rows and miles and miles of corn, corn, corn are a natural beauty. Evidently the northern half of Nebraska is prettier than the southern half and if so, I’ll gladly revise my current thoughts about this bread-basket state.

I know I’m going to love Route 20 across Wyoming and Montana. My family and I had an absolutely wonderful vacation in Yellowstone N.P. a couple of years ago and spent 2 great days in Casper and guess where Route 20 goes through – yep, Casper and Yellowstone.  I’m excited to visit again. In Montana, the route is known as the Targhee Pass Highway. With the scenery I already know of in those states, a route called Targhee Pass Highway is something I’m looking forward to!

A few years ago, I spent almost a month working an assignment in Boise, Idaho. I liked Boise a lot. Really nice people, clean, and although the city itself isn’t tremendously pretty, just a few short miles out of town is some of the prettiest land I’ve ever seen. In Idaho, Route 20 travels through downtown Boise and goes to and through Rattlesnake Station, Anderson Ranch Dam Road, Cat Creek summit (5,527’), Sun Valley, Galena Summit, Picabo, Craters of the Moon, Big Lost River Valley, Atomic City, Blackfoot, and the Targhee Pass (7,072’).  Who could resist visiting towns and places with names like that?

Into the last state, Oregon, Route 20 continues going through beautiful country – the Oregon high desert, Bend, Santiam Pass, the Cascade Mountains, and finally terminates with at U.S. 101 in Newport.

This route and the east coast route are the only 2 on my list which I will seriously consider shortening and not travel the whole distance. From Arkansas or Texas, it’s a long, long drive up to the northeast and if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’m not fond of the northeastern cities. I may very well drive north and catch it when it enters Nebraska and head west.

Road Trips number 3 and 2 coming up in the next post.