EPIC US ROAD TRIP DAYS 18 - 22THE GREAT PLAINS - WYOMING, NEBRASKA, IOWA, MISSOURI, & ARKANSAS
Image || The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri.
Epic US Road Trip 2016 – The Great Plains
More so than the plains to the north, where there are actually mountains, the Black Hills of South Dakota being the obvious example, the endless southern plains of the American Heartland offer up the quintessential Great Plains snapshot of unimaginably long lines of freight train wagons hugging deserted highways, striking cloud formations overhead, lightning storms, and twisters spinning above endless rolling nothingness; welcome to the tornado belt, the so-called Tornado Alley of the US. Distances here, between nothing of note, are vast. Mile after mile after mile of nihility can seem boring at first, but the sight of abandonment & failed homesteads amid the hypnotic contours of waving fields of grain stretching to the seemingly limitless and endless horizon is both somewhat captivating & undeniably photogenic.
This vast, sparsely populated and under-appreciated region isn’t just somewhere to drive through to get elsewhere. From the southeastern corner of Cowboy Wyoming, through the very middle of corn-heavy Nebraska, to city hopping in Missouri, and with forays into both Iowa & Arkansas, we found 5 whole days worth of plains attractions. And it was awesome. Welcome to epic US road trip days 18 to 22.
Day 18 || September 14 2016
Route || Estes Park, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming (via Laramie, Como Bluff, Medicine Bow, & Buford, Wyoming)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 307 (494)
Posted From || Cheyenne, Wyoming
Today’s Highlight || The Buckhorn Bar, Laramie
A new car, a goodbye to the hills, another quick and dramatic change of scenery, & an afternoon of cowboy delights on the deserted & seemingly endless flat plains of southeastern Wyoming. Bullet holes at ‘The Buck’ in Laramie; abandoned dinosaurs at Como Bluff; meeting The Virginian in Medicine Bow; a pit stop in Buford, the country’s smallest town; & a lightening storm welcome to ‘Live the Legend’ Cheyenne. Just some of the (largely unexpected) highlights of epic road trip day 18, the first of 5 days of crossing the Great Plains.
Wyoming, Take III
We’ve already been to Wyoming on this road trip. Twice actually, visiting the northeastern corner of the state on day 7 and the northwestern corner on days 8 to 10. Now it was the turn of the southeastern corner. It was a largely spur-of-the-moment decision to embark on an out-of-the-way drive to the towns of Laramie & Medicine Bow, 50 miles and 110 miles respectively west of the state capital of Cheyenne, our intended destination for this day. Neither place gets many visitors but both places have reasons to visit, not only in the towns themselves but also along the 57-mile stretch of two-lane US Route 30 that separates them.
Founded as a tent city in the mid-1860s off the back of railroad construction, Laramie may be the of home of Wyoming’s only four-year university, the University of Wyoming, but, and make no mistake, this is primarily a cowboy town. Sitting on the windswept Wyoming prairie and a busy railroad junction, the town boasts the Downtown Laramie Historic District, a small (5 blocks) but historic downtown region of attractive two-storey redbrick buildings, murals, and pickup trucks.
On display in The Buckhorn Bar, Laramie. AmericanCowboy.com’s introduction to their list of ‘The Best Cowboy Bars in the West’.
Southeastern Wyoming & The First Transcontinental Railroad Project
It’s a 57-mile drive via US Route 30 from Laramie to Medicine Bow across the largely deserted high Laramie Plains. It struck me once again, and shortly after pulling out of Laramie, how quickly the scene can and does change around here, reminding me just how diverse the US really is. It had scarcely been 3 hours since we turned our backs on, and descended from, the Rocky Mountain peaks of Colorado and yet here we were driving across the Laramie Plains of southeastern Wyoming, empty rolling prairies with not a peak in sight. There were, however, no shortage of railway tracks. In fact the tracks, laid as part of the First Transcontinental Railroad project, are the reason there’s anything to see in this region at all.
Approaching Medicine Bow on US Route 30, one passes many an abandoned settlement, dilapidated and rusting remnants of previous times. One of the most famous, and certainly the most unique example of abandonment along this stretch of two-lane highway has to be the Fossil Cabin of the so-called Dinosaur Graveyard at Como Bluffs, once one of the greatest fossil beds of dinosaur remains in the world.
The whole town of Medicine Bow, a short drive west of Como Bluffs along US Route 30, feels abandoned. A tiny settlement of barely 300 people, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place dissected by US Route 30 and one clinging desperately to its rather lofty claim to fame, as the setting for the popular 1960’s American TV series The Virginian. A black-and-white memory from my Dad’s youth, The Virginian was the reason we found ourselves in this remote part of the country (frankly, why else would one find themselves in Medicine Bow?).
Bullet holes in a cowboy bar. A building made of dinosaur bones. Just when we thought this day couldn’t get any more bizarre, up pops Buford, the nation’s smallest town.
We didn’t have to wait too long to sample one of the impressive lightening storms synonymous with the Great Plains. Although the cloud cover was ominous, it wasn’t raining in Buford/PhinDeli. However, it was nicely wet by the time we rolled into Cheyenne, the Wyoming state capital, 28 miles east of Buford along Interstate 80. We’re hoping it’ll have dried up by the time we get around to exploring the the city in the morning, after which we’ll saddle up and continue on our merry way east through the centre of Nebraska, state number 12 on epic road trip day 19.
Day 19 || September 15 2016
Route || Cheyenne, Wyoming to Burwell, Nebraska (via Scotts Bluff National Monument & Carhenge, Nebraska)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 404 (650)
Posted From || Burwell, Nebraska
Today’s Highlight || Scotts Bluff National Monument
Day 19 already. Wow. We finally bid cheerio to Wyoming before embarking on a long drive through the railroad-hugging agricultural plains of central Nebraska. Vast, vast distances again and lots more nothingness, but plenty to see regardless, from a ‘True Western Town’ to a National Monument to a bizarre replica of an ancient megalithic monument.
Cheyenne – ‘Live The Legend’
The rain of the previous evening had abated, the sun was out, and early morning Cheyenne looked great, and deserted. It wasn’t that early. Where is everyone?
Yee-Haw! & Choo-Choo!
Unsurprisingly, it is all cowboys & trains in the Wyoming capital, named a ‘True Western Town’ by True West Magazine. This is somewhere to ‘Live The Legend’, both the city’s slogan and an invitation from the good folk at Cheyenne.org to ‘step back into the Old West’. The city is billed as both the nation’s railroad capital – it’s still home to the Union Pacific Steam Train Fleet, and Big Boy, the world’s largest steam engine – and also the nation’s rodeo capital; remember, Wyoming is the state that has registered the iconic silhouette image of a ‘Bucking Horse and Rider’, which appears on state licence plates, as a federal and state trademark. It should, therefore, come as no surprise to learn that Cheyenne is also the location for the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, the world-renowned Cheyenne Frontier Days festival. Maybe the state of Wyoming’s biggest event, it draws the hordes from far & wide for the last 10 days in July each year, when the city is at bursting point and when the ‘Daddy of ’em All’ provides 10 days of ‘honest-to-goodness excitement at its Western best.’ But for those who happen to ride into town outside of those 10 days in late July, there are still cowboys, albeit bronze ones, on hand in Depot Plaza to welcome you.
Cheyenne – History
Cheyenne was founded as a tent city in July 1867 by the Union Pacific Railroad, the company assigned with building the westward portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad to link the US West & East coasts. It was founded as a base, or division point, for the new railroad and named after the Cheyenne Indian tribe, ironically the very same people who were outraged at the encroachment of the Iron Horse through their traditional hunting grounds – Cheyenne means ‘aliens’ or ‘people of foreign language’ to the Indian tribe who roamed the open plains in the region. From the outset, the city was envisioned be to one of the most important railroad cities in the country with massive railroad shops and facilities built to maintain and support the new railroad. The first steam-powered locomotive reached the town in November 1867 & by 1868 Cheyenne’s population had swelled to over 3,000. Nicknamed ‘The Magic City of the Plains’ because of its rapid growth, it became the capital of the newly formed Wyoming Territory in 1868 and the capital of the State of Wyoming when it was granted statehood in July 1890. Given its founding & by being home to the Union Pacific Steam Train Fleet, Cheyenne might just have a valid claim to the title of Railroad Capital of the Nation.
A drive of a little over 90 miles northeast of Cheyenne, via a stop for breakfast at Deacons in Torrington, our very last stop in Wyoming, got us to the Wyoming/Nebraska state line where we bid our final goodbye to Wyoming. Not since day 15 of the road trip have we crossed over a state line and into a new state. Hello Nebraska.
State Nickname – Cornhusker State. State Motto – Equality Before The Law. Admitted To The Union – March 1867 (37th state). Population – 1.9 million (14th least populous state). Area – 77,400 sq miles (16th largest state). Capital – Lincoln. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 0/0. Famous For – Interstate 80; empty space; Lewis and Clarke; corn; fossils; beef, Arbor Day, a day designated for planting trees & which first occurred in the US in Nebraska City in 1872. State Highlight – The endless rolling plains. Nebraska Titbits – Nebraska is 1 of only 4 US states, and the only one we’ll visit, with no National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads; the state has two time zones; as of mid-2015, Nebraska’s unemployment rate was 2.5%, the lowest in the nation; it’s the only state in the US with a unicameral legislature.
It was a short 25-mile drive from the state line to Scotts Bluff National Monument. I didn’t know what to expect of the monument, did no pre-arrival research on it. Visible from afar – as a bluff, a high steep bank of rock, it’s something of an anomaly jutting from these flat plains – it turned out to be my highlight of road trip day 19.
Scotts Bluff National Monument – A Witness To History
A series of clay and sandstone bluffs, remnants of ancestral high plains that were hundreds of feet higher than today’s surrounding Great Plains, the natural landmark of Scotts Bluff, named after fur trader/trapper Hiram Scott, was a towering beacon on the Oregon & Mormon trails of Western migration in the mid-19th century. Between approximately 1841 and 1869, hundreds of thousands of men, women & children passed within sight of these bluffs, encountering them after a six to eight-week trek across monotonously flat grassland on the massive trek from the East in a bid to settle the West. A witness to history, apart from guiding the 1846–1868 Mormon migration to the Salt Lake Valley, Scotts Bluff also saw the so-called 49’ers, miners, mostly male, who flocked West after the discovery of gold in 1848 at Sutters Mill in California, starting the great California Gold Rush. And for a brief period in the early 1860s, the Bluff was used by Pony Express riders, a relay of horseback mail carriers ferrying mail between Missouri and California – short-lived, the first transcontinental telegraph lines, completed in late 1861, also crossed Scotts Bluff and doomed the Pony Express. Slowly disappearing due to the forces of nature, today Scotts Bluff is a National Monument that was established in 1919 to both commemorate and recall, primarily through informative exhibits in the monument’s Visitor Center, the courage and enterprise of the covered wagon emigrants who embarked on those mid-19th century Westward migrations in search of a better life.
– Encouragement on display in the Visitor Center of Scotts Bluff National Monument
It’s a 90-minute drive from Scotts Bluff National Monument to the town of Alliance, home to Carhenge, one of the quirkiest of all quirky US roadside attractions.
It’s Stonehenge made of cars. Kind of. OK, so it’s not ancient, it’s not a megalithic monument, it’s not located in southern England, & it’s most definitely not used for ritual purposes. But you get the idea, right? Alliance native Jim Reinders spent 7 years working in England, returning home with an idea – to create a replica of Stonehenge for his hometown in memory of his father. There are 38 now but initially 25 cars ably substituted for stone slabs to create “Stonehenge West,” first erected over a 6-day period and dedicated on June 21, 1987, the Summer Solstice. Surviving early efforts by the city of Alliance to demolish the monument, the site has since expanded and in the process has created a so-called ‘Car Art Preserve’ that presents efforts beyond the centrepiece ring of grey ‘standing stones’, sculptures made from cars and parts of cars & most of which were done firmly tongue-in-cheek – four partly-submerged Fords known as ‘The Fourd Seasons’ is a good example of the tomfoolery that goes on around here on the western Nebraska plains. Oh, and there’s even a couple of cars buried as time capsules… sorry, time carsules. Reinders donated the 10 acres of land where Carhenge is located to the Friends of Carhenge, who in turn gifted the site to the Citizens of Alliance. Due to celebrate its 30th birthday on June 21, 2017, Carhenge is promising a party, and of course everyone’s invited.
– Lonely Planet USA, 6th Edition, commenting on Nebraska
It was a long, long drive eastward from Carhenge. My guidebook claims that to get the most out of this ‘stoic stretch of country’ that one should take ‘little roads’. We did just that, taking Nebraska Highway 2 & shunning the quicker Interstate 80 further south. It took us through the dead centre of Nebraska. Dead is right. There wasn’t/isn’t much to see but what there is to see is kind of pretty.
We were hoping to make Spalding, 260 miles from Carhenge, but only made it as far as Burwell, 50 miles shy of Spalding, before the day closed in. We would have made it if not for the hour we lost en route crossing a time zone. But, and as is always the case, everything worked out for the better. Seemingly Spalding is short on accommodation, so said both the proprietor of Burwell’s cozy Rodeo Inn and the ladies in the town’s Sandstone Grill. Charming each and every one, and definitely ‘nice’. Burwell. A ‘nice’ little find.
Royals Vs. White Sox, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri.
Day 20 || September 16 2016
Route || Burwell, Nebraska to Kansas City, Missouri (via Spalding, Nebraska, SW Iowa, & Omaha, Nebraska)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 407 (655)
Posted From || Kansas City, Missouri
Today’s Highlight || Baseball in Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
Another long day covering long distances across the US Heartland. From starting the day in a sleepy Nebraska town to ending it in a raucous baseball stadium, epic road trip day 20 saw lots more corn, multiple crossings of three state lines, a few must-sees in a state capital, and a blurry night thanks to new-found friendships while sampling the national pastime.
It didn’t take long this morning to cover the 50 miles between Burwell & Spalding that we didn’t cover yesterday. And when we did roll into Spalding, a town of some 500, just after 9.00 a.m., it became obvious that choosing Burwell over Spalding for an overnight pit stop was a wise choice.
Almost 3 hours after leaving Spalding we finished our drive across the plains of central Nebraska. We had reached the state line with Iowa. Crossing the Missouri River, which we last saw further north in Forth Yates, North Dakota, on road trip day 05, brought us across the state line into Iowa, state number 13.
State Nickname – Hawkeye State. State Motto – Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain. Admitted To The Union – December 1846 (29th state). Population – 3.1 million (30th most populous state). Area – 56,200 sq miles (26th largest state). Capital – Des Moines. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/0. Famous For – The Iowa caucas, the opening of the US presidential election season; farms; pigs; being the birthplace of John Wayne. State Highlights – The covered bridges of Madison County. Iowa Titbits – Although manufacturing is officially the largest sector of the state’s economy, this is still farm country – over 90% of the state land is fertile; Iowa leads the country in the production of corn & pigs – there’s approximately 8 pigs for every person; Once part of French Louisiana, the state flag is patterned after the French tricolour; it is the only state in the country whose east and west borders are formed entirely by rivers.
After two days of rural two-lane highways, sleepy communities, & corn fields, the Nebraska capital of Omaha provided a welcome change of scenery, and pace. Home to, somewhat bizarrely, the world’s largest indoor desert & America’s largest indoor rain forest, both at the town’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha is otherwise know for its abundance of well-to-do locals – the city has the highest number of millionaires per capita in the nation. We spent a portion of the afternoon getting acquainted with the city, time split between exploring its Old Market and ‘Bobbing’ on the rather cool Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
On the river edge of downtown, Omaha’s Old Market is a revitalised & vibrant warehouse district full of cobblestone & brick paved streets lined with restaurants, funky shops and pubs. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as the Old Market Historic District, it’s a hip & bohemian place to hang out.
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
Opened in September 2008 and built at a cost of $22 million, Omaha’s Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, named after former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, runs for 3,000 feet (910 metres) & sits 52 feet (16 metres) above the surface of the Missouri River that it crosses. The snaking structure has a lot of cables strung from its twin 210 feet (64 metre) towers and offers pedestrian access to Iowa from Nebraska and vice versa.
We had a ballgame to catch in Kansas City, Missouri, 200 miles south of Omaha. It’s interstate the whole way but still, leaving Omaha mid-afternoon in a bid to catch the first pitch of the 7.05 p.m. game didn’t leave much time for dilly-dallying en route. That said, we did of course have to stop at the Iowa-Missouri state line for the (now) obligatory photograph.
State Nickname (unofficial) – The Show-Me State. State Motto – Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto (The health Of The People Should Be The Supreme Law). Admitted To The Union – August 1821 (24th state). Population – 6 million (18th most populous state). Area – 69,800 sq miles (21st largest state). Capital – Jefferson City. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/0. Famous For – Budweiser; The Gateway Arch; being the birthplace of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. State Highlight – Baseball in St Louis. Missouri Titbits – Present-day Missouri was once French territory; it’s bordered by 8 states, most in the US (tied with neighbouring Tennessee); Missouri is the only state in the Union to have two Federal Reserve Banks; this is a drinking state – Missouri never enacted statewide prohibition & present-day state law expressly prohibits any jurisdiction from going dry. Whose round is it?
Kansas City – Both Of Them
We never did make it to Kansas, Kansas the state. We’re in Kansas City alright, but we’re in KC Missouri, not KC Kansas. Divided by State Line Road, the two KCs are two very separate cities – each has its own mayor – in two very separate states with two very separate outlooks; the former open and inviting, the latter an urban sprawl of little interest to travellers, hence why we’re in KC Missouri. A city of distinct neighborhoods, KC Missouri is something of a jazz hotbed & BBQ heaven, the latter a consequence of the city’s past status as a bustling farm-distribution centre. Yes, KC was once a serious cow town.
We didn’t have time to do it all. For us KC was going to be all about its MLB baseball stadium, Kauffman Stadium, which isn’t in the city at all but rather on its outskirts. And we did arrive from Omaha in time for first pitch of the game which we saw, unlike the final pitch.
Beer & Baseball
The Twins were out of town when we were in Minneapolis some weeks ago now, the Cardinals are out of town this weekend when we’ll be in St. Louis, and the Cubs are out of town for the final weekend of the regular season when we’ll be in Chicago. So, and as things worked out, here in KC was to be the only option we’d get to sample that most American of experiences throughout the whole 5-week-long road trip, a baseball game. Beer & baseball. The American pastime doesn’t come any more American than that.
Day 21 || September 17 2016
Route || Kansas City to St. Louis, Missouri
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 286 (460)
Posted From || St. Louis, Missouri
Today’s Highlight || Sunset at The Gateway Arch, St. Louis
After almost three weeks of exploring the US West, today we reached that iconic symbol of Westward expansion, The Gateway Arch in St. Louis. We’ve so far only peered at it from ground level, but the sight of the world’s largest stainless steel structure bathed in the warm glow of a mid-September evening was the undoubted highlight of road trip day 21.
After the exploits of the previous evening, it was a slow start to proceedings on day 21, a Denny’s breakfast setting us on our way for the 3-hour, 250-mile drive east via Interstate 70 to St. Louis, not only the state of Missouri’s largest city but the largest city on the Great Plains. Not long thereafter and we were ticking our first St. Louis box by touring the world’s largest beer plant. A booze-filled evening the night before followed by a tour of a brewery. Missouri was more than living up to its reputation as a drinking state.
Bottoms Up! Drinking in Missouri
With a large German immigrant population and the development of a brewing industry, Missouri always has had among the most permissive alcohol laws in the US. Missouri never enacted statewide prohibition, state voters rejecting prohibition in three separate referenda in 1910, 1912, & 1918. Indeed, alcohol regulation did not begin in Missouri until 1934, and today alcohol laws are controlled by the state government with local jurisdictions prohibited from going beyond state laws. Missouri has no statewide open container law or prohibition on drinking in public; no alcohol-related blue laws; no local option; no precise locations for selling liquor by the package (allowing even drug stores and gas stations to sell any kind of liquor); no differentiation of laws based on alcohol percentage; and state law protects persons from arrest or criminal penalty for public intoxication. Also, Missouri law expressly prohibits any jurisdiction from going dry, & state law also expressly allows parents and guardians to serve alcohol to their children. Finally, The Power & Light District in Kansas City is one of the few places in the United States where a state law explicitly allows persons over the age of 21 to possess and consume open containers of alcohol in the street – as long as the beverage is in a plastic cup.
Anheuser-Busch Brewery – Clydesdales & Beer
Whether you admit to drinking it or not, a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, a.k.a. The Home of Bud, is a St. Louis must-do. The brewery, opened in 1852 by German immigrant Adolphus Busch & designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, offers free tours, a well-oiled, market-driven look behind the scenes of the world’s largest brewery, including a peek into the antique-esque carriage house housing the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, the historic, feathered-legged draft horse originally from Scotland that were used to pull wagons carrying beer in the early days of beer production. Samples are provided and of course there’s the requisite freebie at the end, both of which confirmed to me exactly what I had suspected from the outset – that Budweiser sampled from the source tastes as bad here as it does anywhere else in the world. It’s consistent alright, consistently bad.
After polishing off our Anheuser-Busch freebies, it was time to take a closer look at the iconic St. Louis Gateway Arch. And all we had to do was follow the pavement signs.
St. Louis & The Gateway Arch
Founded by French fur traders in 1764, St. Louis became a center of regional fur trade with Native American tribes. Fur trade dominated the regional economy for decades but the city cemented its status as the ‘Gateway to the West’ in the mid-17th century when, and thanks largely to its geographical location at the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the latter of which flows through the city en route to the Gulf of Mexico, it became a jump-off point for get-rich prospectors heading West as a result of the discovery of gold in California in 1848. Host to both the 1904 World’s Fair & the 1904 Summer Olympics, the first time they were held on US soil, today the forward-thinking city is the largest on the US Great Plains and one of the country’s 41 independent cities, only 3 of which – St. Louis, Missouri, Carson City, Nevada, and Baltimore, Maryland – are outside the state of Virginia. A baseball-mad city with a storied history that’s home to the world’s largest brewery, there’s plenty to see here, but for most it’s the iconic Gateway Arch, sitting pride of place on the west bank of the Mississippi River, that steals the St. Louis show.
– Robert W. Duffy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 2003
We were happy to view The Gateway Arch from ground level this evening, very happy – it was a gorgeous sight. We’ve plans to tour its interior tomorrow, road trip day 22 and our last day on the Great Plains, including a ride to the top. So we’ve at least one more high to look forward to on the flat plains of the US heartland.
Day 22 || September 18 2016
Route || St. Louis, Missouri to Memphis, Tennessee (via Dyess, Arkansas)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 322 (518)
Posted From || Memphis, Tennessee
Today’s Highlight || Dusk on Beale Street, Memphis
It was a beautiful ending to road trip day 22, sunset by the Mississippi River and dusk on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, vying for the highlight of the day; the latter won out. The day didn’t start as welcoming, the blue skies and sunshine of the previous evening hidden beyond a thick blanket of low-lying clouds on a sleepy Sunday St. Louis morning. Not that the clouds overhead really mattered all that much when peering down on St. Louis from on high.
We got to The Gateway Arch early. It was quiet enough, the queues short. Not so coming down. Best get there early, even on a Sunday.
– Text on display in the Visitor’s Center at the base of The Gateway Arch
– from the Official Gateway Arch pamphlet
Before hitting the road for Memphis, I had to have a quick snoop around the outside Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most celebrated teams in baseball.
It’s a 4-hour, 300-mile drive south from St. Louis to Memphis via Interstate 55, broadly following the course of the Mississippi River. The last 100 miles of the drive is via the state of Arkansas, epic US road trip state number 15.
State Nickname – The Natural State. State Motto – Regnat populus (The People Rule). Admitted To The Union – June 1835 (25th state). Population – 3 million (33rd most populous state). Area – 53,180 sq miles (29th largest state). Capital – Little Rock. National Parks – 1 (Hot Springs). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 3/0. Famous For – Bill Clinton; Wal-Mart (the world’s largest private employer was founded and is still headquartered in the state). State Highlights – The state’s abundant park and wilderness areas.
Dyess – Historic Pioneers & Johnny Cash
While we knew our route from St. Louis to Memphis would see us passing through a portion of Arkansas, we didn’t expect to find anything en route worthy of a stop or a detour. But then we passed a sign, and exit, on Interstate 55 inviting us to visit the boyhood home of one Johnny Cash on the fringes of the settlement of Dyess. That in and of itself was reason enough halt our charge towards Memphis, reason enough to see us turning around, leaving the Interstate, and finding ourselves navigating the empty back roads of rural Arkansas. However, we never banked on the pleasant surprise that the tiny & historic settlement of Dyess itself would be. I love stumbling upon hidden gems. It’s what road-trippin’ is all about.
A less-than-two-mile drive from Colony Circle in ‘downtown’ Dyess via the dirt road W Co Rd 924 eventually brought us to the barred gates of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home.
Shortly after departing Dyess we found ourselves by the banks of the Mississippi River once again, this time in Memphis, Tennessee, bringing an end to our 5-day, 1,726-mile drive through the US Great Plains. And what a beautiful evening it was, a beautiful start to our 3+ days of exploring the bluesy US South.
THE UPPER MIDWEST || Wisconsin & Minnesota
DAY 01 139 miles || Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Madison, Wisconsin
DAY 02 302 miles || Madison to Saint Paul, Minnesota (via Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area & Prescott, Wisconsin)
DAY 03 259 miles || Saint Paul to Bemidji, Minnesota (via St Cloud, Brainard & Walker, Minnesota)
THE DAKOTAS || North & South Dakota
DAY 04 458 miles || Bemidji to Bismarck, North Dakota (via Grand Forks, Lakota & Rugby, North Dakota)
DAY 05 459 miles || Bismarck to Deadwood, South Dakota (via Fort Yates, North Dakota & Badlands National Park, South Dakota)
DAY 06 167 miles || Deadwood & The Black Hills (Mount Rushmore National Memorial & Crazy Horse Memorial)
THE NORTHERN ROCKIES || Wyoming, Montana & Idaho
DAY 07 354 miles || Deadwood to Billings, Montana (via Devil’s Tower & Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monuments)
DAY 08 262 miles || Billings to West Yellowstone, Montana (via the Beartooth Highway & Yellowstone National Park)
DAY 09 227 miles || West Yellowstone to Jackson, Wyoming (via Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton National Park)
DAY 10 280 miles || Jackson to Salt Lake City, Utah (via Alpine, Wyoming; & Montpelier, Paris, & Bear Lake, Idaho)
THE SOUTHWEST || Utah, Arizona & New Mexico
DAY 11 330 miles || Salt Lake City to Panguitch, Utah (via Brian Head & Cedar Breaks National Monument)
DAY 12 273 miles || Panguitch to Page, Arizona (via Bryce Canyon National Park, & Zion National Park)
DAY 13 307 miles || Page (Horseshoe Bend) & Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim)
DAY 14 175 miles || Page to Kayenta, Arizona (via Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona & Monument Valley, Utah)
DAY 15 252 miles || Kayenta to Durango, Colorado (via Monument Valley, Utah, the Four Corners Monument, & New Mexico)
THE ROCKIES || Colorado
DAY 16 348 miles || Durango to Leadville, Colorado (via Wolf Creek Pass & Monarch Pass)
DAY 17 299 miles || Leadville to Estes Park, Colorado (via Independence Pass, Aspen, Berthoud Pass, & Rocky Mountain National Park)
THE GREAT PLAINS || Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri & Arkansas
DAY 18 307 miles || Estes Park to Cheyenne, Wyoming (via Laramie, Como Bluff, Medicine Bow, & Buford, Wyoming)
DAY 19 404 miles || Cheyenne to Burwell, Nebraska (via Scotts Bluff National Monument & Carhenge, Nebraska)
DAY 20 407 miles || Burwell to Kansas City, Missouri (via Spalding, Nebraska; SW Iowa; & Omaha, Nebraska)
DAY 21 286 miles || Kansas City to St Louis, Missouri
DAY 22 322 miles || St Louis to Memphis, Tennessee (via Dyess, Arkansas)
THE SOUTH || Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama & Georgia
DAY 23 308 miles || Memphis to Vicksburg, Mississippi (via Clarksdale, Yazoo City & Bentonia, Mississippi)
DAY 24 336 miles || Vicksburg to Prattville, Alabama (via Selma, Alabama)
DAY 25 297 miles || Prattville to Cornelia, Georgia (via Montgomery, Alabama & Stone Mountain, Georgia)
THE APPALACHIANS || Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia & West Virginia
DAY 26 261 miles || Cornelia to Asheville, North Carolina (via Helen & Brasstown Bald, Georgia & Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina)
DAY 27 200 miles || Asheville to Galax, Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway)
DAY 28 004 miles || Galax, Virginia
DAY 29 354 miles || Galax to Lewisburg, West Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway & Shenandoah National Park)
KENTUCKY & THE GREAT LAKES || Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana & Illinois
DAY 30 404 miles || Lewisburg to Lexington, Kentucky (via Chesapeake, Ohio; Cordell, Kentucky; & Sandy Hook, Kentucky)
DAY 31 241 miles || Lexington to Beaver Dam, Kentucky (via Lincoln Homestead State Park & Mammoth Cave National Park)
DAY 32 190 miles || Beaver Dam to Bloomington, Indiana (via Rosine & Owensboro, Kentucky)
DAY 33 282 miles || Bloomington to Chicago, Illinois (via Indianapolis, Indiana)
DAYS 34-36 017 miles || Chicago, Illinois