After finishing an arduous 4-month contract with Microsoft (their Services Division) it was high time for another Freedom Voyage! These “Freedom Voyages” (h/t to Elizabeth Rosas Barber for the moniker) give me the chance to see the country — its landscapes, its small towns, its cities, and its courthouses. Along the way I take and share photos of what I see and what I eat — and whatever I’m thinking.
Back in 2017 — before the Trump economy kicked into gear and got me working again — I traveled US Route 50 from Pueblo, Colorado eastward as far as my free time would take me — Cincinnati, Ohio. For this trip, I’m taking US 50 westward all the way from Pueblo to the end of the route in Sacramento, California.
Want to live out a Freedom Voyage vicariously? Here’s a photo log of the eight days I spent on the road, starting in Colorado Springs, Colorado where I live, and traveling through Utah, Nevada, California, and back.
I enjoyed May sunshine on seven of those eight days. Nothing better than sunshine on a trip! Enjoy!
Saturday, May 8, 2021. Day 1: Colorado Springs to Grand Junction, Colorado
It’s Saturday. After doing the usual Saturday morning things I packed the car, connected the I-phone tunes, opened the moonroof, and drove south toward Pueblo where I picked up on Route 50 where I left off a few years ago. This time I’ll go West. Road Trip!
From Pueblo, Colorado, US 50 heads directly west through the town of Canon City and then into Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
That’s the Arkansas River coming down from its source near Leadville, Colorado. Notice the train tracks on the opposite side. My father told me that he crossed the country twice on troop trains during World War II; he probably rode on those very tracks.
Past Salida, Colorado, US 50 climbs up toward the continental divide at Monarch Pass, elevation 11,312 feet.
Now on the western slope of the Rockies, the first sizeable town you reach is Gunnison, Colorado. Main Street has a few popular drinking establishments to quench the thirst of skiers and hikers. Notice the clouds looming — a storm front passed by a few minutes afterward — a lot of wind but hardly any raindrops.
Beyond Gunnison, US 50 follows the course of the Gunnison River and its tributaries. Along the way I took this photo, part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area:
From there US 50 winds down the western slope along the Gunnison River, through the Colorado agricultural towns of Montrose and Delta until it reaches the Colorado River at Grand Junction, Colorado. Grand Junction was so named for the junction of the Grand River with the Gunnison River, but later the Grand River was renamed the Colorado River (as we know it today), yet they didn’t rename the town “Colorado Junction.”
“GJ” as it’s sometimes called is a convenient place to eat and lodge for the night.
I had dinner at a British pub in Grand Junction, Colorado called The Goat and Clover Tavern. The tavern walls were decorated with a variety of British things including pictures of The Beatles, kilts under glass, and Guinness beer posters. Although this seems all very ‘British’ to us Yanks, the scene would make no sense to an actual resident of any part of the British Isles since English, Scottish, and Irish pubs are each distinct places over there; the ethnicities are not mixed when it comes to pub life.
That night I saved some money and stayed at a Red Roof Inn. The Red Roof chain has been buying up old roadside motels and refurbishing them with new beds and clean wood-tile floors. It’s a good choice for a budget stay.
Sunday, May 9, 2021. Day 2: Grand Junction to Ely, Nevada
Sunday morning means church first, then travel, and so I patronized St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Grand Junction. Masks are somewhat optional. Coffee afterward.
Next stop along US 50: Utah!
Interstate 70 in eastern Utah is a lonely stretch from the Colorado line to the town of Green River (where the road crosses the Green River). Beyond Green River, the highway cuts through the San Rafael Swell, a 70 by 40-mile geologic upheaval which has been cut, shaped, and formed over thousands of years into a crazy assembly of sandstone buttresses, canyons, and plateaus.
(Apologies for the old photo from my archives. It’s an i-phone photo taken from behind the wheel some many, many i-phones ago.)
There are no services along this desert stretch of Interstate 70 for 50 to 100 miles or so. Finally, upon reaching the welcoming town of Salina, Utah, I was able to find Mom’s Cafe at the corner of Main Street for some lunch and refreshment. I’m pretty sure that Mom’s is family-owned and family-operated since I saw what looked like a mom, a dad, and teenage sons and daughters taking orders and serving food.
The pastry-like thing on the right — it comes as part of the $12.99 lunch but I don’t know what it’s called — is some sort of fried bread, and when covered with honey butter (the 2 brown packets next to it) is simply delicious!
US 50 breaks off from Interstate 70 in Salina, and weaves its way through some mountainous terrain, eventually crossing the north-south Interstate 15. West of I-15, US 50 crosses miles and miles of stark sagebrush desert with the only neighbors being various US military installations off in the distance.
My Rand McNally road map said that there was some military experimental firing range out there in the distance. I stopped on the highway (no cars for miles either way) and snapped the photo. Then I posted it to Facebook — why do I have cell phone connectivity way out here in the desert? That’s strange. Richard Thiele conjectured in a comment: “That oval-shaped, big, high cloud is hiding ‘the mother ship’ and you will soon see smaller flying disks streak out of that cloud.” I never saw any spaceships; they were probably there, just invisible.
50 miles later…
This is Nevada’s portion of US 50, America’s Loneliest Road: a long, lonely two-lane highway with little traffic, sagebrush desert on either side interspersed with a few abandoned mining camps, weaving through tree-less hills and rocky mountainsides for a few hundred miles. I traveled during daylight hours — I imagine the UFOs all come out at night.
The Loneliest Road in America has become a notable tourist draw. They have a good website here, and a time-appropriate motto: “Social Distancing Since 1862.”
Along US 50 in Nevada, there are only 3 significant towns between the eastern border with Utah and the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada, near the western end of the road. I stopped for the night at the first town, Ely. I lodged and ate the Prospector Hotel and Gambling Hall. The in-house restaurant is called “Margaritas” and features Mexican fare. When doing Mexican food carne asada is one of the best choices, and my steak dinner was at least twice as excellent as this excellent photo shows:
Grilled steak, grilled onions, warm tortillas, rice, beans, guacamole, and chips with two kinds of salsa (already consumed). One of the best meals I had during the entire trip!
Monday, May 10, 2021. Day 3: Ely to Stateline, Nevada
Ely (pronounced “EE-lee” by the locals) has a population of about 4,200. That’s big enough for a casino hotel and several smaller casinos along the town’s main drag.
Back in Hollywood’s heyday the stars used to use Ely as a stopping point on their way from Hollywood to points north. Hotel Nevada keeps a “Walk of Fame” on their front sidewalk to remember all their most famous visitors:
Traveling US 50 in Nevada is something like a roller coaster. Between Ely and Fallon, Nevada’s landscape consists of a series of north-to-south mountain ranges separated by deep desert valleys. So driving the Loneliest Road involves climbing a mountain range to its summit (mountain passes reach about 7,000 feet) and then descending down to a flat sagebrush valley. Then repeat. Sometimes the valleys have dry alkali lakebeds, sometimes they don’t. If you’re lucky you’ll see a herd of mustangs grazing the sagebrush (not this time though). The mountains always have a few spruce trees and sometimes they have snow-capped peaks.
Beyond that mountain range lies the town of Eureka, Nevada, population 400 or so. Gold was once mined here in abundance; some remnant mines remain. Here’s the 1879 courthouse still in use today.
This is the District Courtroom in Eureka, Nevada. Old and new: the woodstove is on one side of the courtroom while the flat-screen TV is on the other side.
The rifle on display on the courtroom wall was used by drivers to guard the stage line between Eureka and Ely, Nevada.
According to Philip Mayo: “That’s a double-barreled shotgun. Hence the term, ‘riding shotgun’ on the stagecoach. Most effective for close range. Just point and squeeze the trigger. Also, the barrels are short so the user could swing it quickly in all directions without hitting or getting caught on anything.”
…next stop Austin, Nevada, population about 150. Austin is another old mining town but it has a disproportionate number of churches for its size. Notice the Trump flag on the rectory next to one of the churches. I had coffee at the “International Café“ where the sign on the door said “no masks allowed inside” and “Maskless club members only.” I love it!
Beyond Austin, the Loneliest Road crosses a few more mountain ranges, a few more sagebrush valleys, and even a dry lakebed or two until it reaches the town of Fallon, Nevada. Fallon has a Naval Air Station installation where the US Navy trains its pilots to do bombing runs and the like. So Fallon is sort of a big city compared to Ely, Eureka, and Austin.
Beyond Fallon, US 50 makes its way back to civilization proper when it reaches Carson City, Nevada, the state capital. I’ve been to Carson City several times over the years, but now I’m seeing actual suburban housing developments outside of town. This is new.
Beyond Carson City, US 50 crosses into the Sierra Nevada mountains to reach the shores of Lake Tahoe and the California state line. Although US 50 continues on to West Sacramento, California, this feels like the end of the road right here.
Harrah’s is my casino of choice in Stateline, Nevada. The top floor of Harrah’s features Friday’s Station Steak & Seafood Grill. They have a classy bar with great bartenders — I asked for a gin martini with a pearl onion and it’s “no problem.”
I keep putting that ratty old Eureka College baseball cap in my pictures. Why? Here’s why: Eureka College (Illinois) is President Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and I bought this cap at their campus bookstore. I was originally planning to take this week as a ROADTRIP pilgrimage to purchase a replacement, but the weatherman predicted a cold and rainy Midwest for early May. So maybe I’ll make that pilgrimage later this summer.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Day 4: Stateline, Nevada to Auburn, California
I stayed at the MontBlue Resort in Stateline instead of Harrah’s, just to be different this time. Meh.
Today would be the final day of following US 50 to its terminus, but I couldn’t abandon Nevada for California before seeking an old-fashioned breakfast diner on the Nevada side. I found it: the Red Hut Cafe in Stateline. They serve rosti: a Swiss dish that’s mostly hash browns but with cheese, bacon, ham, and sour cream added on the side.
With a full and satisfied stomach, I got in the car, got back on US 50, and crossed the state line into California. But then I called an audible — I’m here in Lake Tahoe so why don’t I do a circuit around the lake? The transit took about 2 hours out of my day, but it was worth it for all the photos. Here you go:
This next photo was my favorite. I think my I-phone captured the green hues of the shallow water very well.
This next one is my second favorite because of the mountains on the other side. Some commenters suggested that the drought was evident from the meager snowcap.
One more before returning to my US 50 agenda:
US 50 is a very scenic drive beyond South Lake Tahoe, California. First, the highway climbs a high pass overlooking the lake. Then after cresting the Sierra Nevada range US 50 follows riverbeds and canyons all the way down the slopes of the Sierra past old gold towns like Placerville and then to Sacramento. Speeds of 55 to 65 mph are maintained throughout. At West Sacramento, California, US 50 terminates at the junction with Interstate 80. Before the interstate system was built, route 50 traversed the remaining miles to its natural terminus in San Francisco by way of Altamont Pass and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
For me today, however, West Sacramento was the end of the line. I can say I’ve driven most of the parts of this transcontinental route — covering the road from Sacramento to Cincinnati in 2 pieces. I’ll finish the final piece — Cincinnati to Ocean City, Maryland — someday.
The Gold Rush town of Auburn, California is about 45 minutes east of Sacramento on Interstate 80. This is my next stop. This is Placer County, California, which might be considered the ‘ground zero’ of the California Gold Rush of the 1840s and 1850s. The first gold discovery was in this county near Sutter’s mill. The county seat is Auburn, however, and the county has preserved their stately old courthouse.
Lunchtime in California in May means outdoor dining and something light. Here’s a turkey-avocado croissant with a Greek salad and olives on the side (because I won’t allow olives in my mouth) at the Old Town Grill — in old town Auburn.
I found my hotel room and took a nap before dinner. I chose a bed and breakfast this time by booking a room at the Powers Mansion Inn in Auburn. Coming up the walk I was greeted with a sniff of my bags by a white German shepherd. Gentle, friendly, and harmless. I didn’t meet the human innkeeper until the next day.
After a nap, I chose a little Italian dining place (tre Pazzi trattoria) for some carbonara & chianti. I lived in Southern California some 30 years ago. In the time that’s passed, I’ve forgotten how extremely pleasant evenings are in these California towns – while it’s hot all day the air cools down at dusk without getting cold — and there are no flying bugs to disturb you.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Day 5: Auburn to Susanville, California
The Powers Mansion Inn in Auburn doesn’t serve breakfast until 9:30, but one might say it’s worth the wait:
After Auburn, my next Gold Rush town was the little burg of Nevada City, the county seat of Nevada County, California. The population here is about 3,000 and most of them seemed to be running shops in the town’s 19th Century buildings.
Some of the best examples of architecture seem to be old churches and fire stations.
One merchant let us know he hasn’t forgotten:
Following the winding roads north of Nevada City, it took me an hour to reach Downieville, the county seat of Sierra County. I took a lot of photos here; there wasn’t a way to take a bad one. “Now you’re Touring…it’s Gorgeous all along CA 49 in the Mother Lode country…” said Tom Matthews.
Downieville lies at the junction of the Downie and North Yuba Rivers, but the rivers’ names have changed over the years. As I explained to Philip Jordan, that’s the Downie River on the left meeting the North Yuba River on the right. It used to be that the whole system was considered the North Fork of the Yuba River and the confluence in the picture would be the North Fork of the North Fork of the Yuba meeting the South Fork of the North Fork of the Yuba River. But that just confused everyone so they re-named one of the tributaries the Downie River, and the North Fork of the Yuba River became just the North Yuba River.
Downieville has a great founding story as told on one of the historical markers in town. In the fall of 1849, Major William Downie (1820-1893) led an expedition of nine miners (seven of them African American men) up the North Fork of the Yuba River to this spot where the river forked and called the place “The Forks.” Gold was abundant in the stream and sand bars of the rivers here. Gold was so abundant in fact that Major Downie could afford to offer to “throw a hat-full of gold dust in the street” if the other miners would immortalize the town with his name. And so it was.
I came here at exactly the right time of year. Many of the trees along the riverbanks were in bloom, and the perfume from their flowering leaves was simply overwhelming. I’m sorry the pictures can only hint at the aroma of a gorgeous spring mountain day in the Sierras.
Although this is an idyllic place (and how!), justice had to be swift and certain back in the Gold Rush days.
I was asked by Philip Jordan if the rivers in Downieville were trout streams, but I’m not a fisherman myself so I couldn’t tell for sure. There are some lodging places in town along the river banks, so with a bit of research, I’m sure these innkeepers can provide the information.
As I drove away upstream I saw some more riverside cabins — not so many as to make the area crowded, but not so few as to make it exclusive. Near the crest of the Sierra I took this photograph:
North of Downieville the landscape changes slightly as the Sierra Nevada mountain range gives way to the southern end of the Cascade Mountains. The Cascades are volcanic mountains and there are fewer steep canyons and flatter ground. The county in this region is Plumas County and its seat is the town of Quincy.
The town of Quincy was named for the Illinois farm of one of its early settlers, James Bradley, which in turn was named for our sixth president John Quincy Adams. Unlike the Gold Rush memories of Auburn, Nevada City, and Downieville, Quincy lies on flat ground and thus exhibits more of a ‘Main Street USA’ look and feel: houses, yards, picket fences, and (giant sequoia) trees:
Note the American flag displayed upside-down by the owner of this magnificent tree, denoting that the country is in distress. The sequoia lives longer than we do, thriving through both good times and bad. I hope we can one day say the same.
Today was a long day but a great touring day, a day that if I had to do over again I would split into two days.
Thursday, May 13, 2021. Day 6: Susanville, California to Winnemucca, Nevada
Today was a pretty long driving day. Susanville, California is actually east of the mountains and closer to Reno, Nevada than to any California city. It’s a nice town though, a nice place to stop with plenty of places to stay and to eat. Lumber is a big industry here, as is ranching.
This is a photo of the old Lassen County Courthouse which has since been replaced with a much larger and more secure structure at the edge of town. Many old California courthouses once looked like this one.
I’m off from Susanville to the town of Alturas in Modoc County, California, the county in the far northeastern corner of the state, and probably the most remote of any of California’s counties.
Alturas is a town of 2,800 souls. The town and county resisted the state governor’s orders to lock down due to Covid-19. They succeeded only to an extent. Here is the Modoc County Courthouse, built in 1913 and looking great.
I ate lunch in the park with a pizza from the remarkable Antonio’s Cucina Italiana on Main Street in Alturas. After I had walked in at noon and sat down, the owner told me that he wasn’t open for dine-in services. Sad. So I ordered a take-out pizza and a drink, and he didn’t mind me sipping my drink at the table while I waited. I had my pizza in the park instead:
Now it’s time to turn for home. I’ll spend the night in Winnemucca, Nevada, some four hours drive from Alturas. The fastest route would take me briefly into Oregon, where I saw that Goose Lake looked nearly dry. Apparently, the western drought is real. On my way to Winnemucca, in a deserted stretch of Nevada Highway 140 (in fact all stretches of Nevada 140 are deserted), I found this labor of love:
Will Hawkins and Jacob O’Malley, rest in peace. “Battle Born” is the motto of the state of Nevada.
Finally to Winnemucca, Nevada, where Basque sheepherders immigrated during the last century. I found a Basque restaurant and being new to Basque cooking I had to try it. Here is the chicken esparragossa (chicken with asparagus) at Bakarra Basque Bistro. Lots of seafood dishes were also available and are probably the house specialty, but I don’t eat sea creatures.
Friday, May 14, 2021. Day 7: Winnemucca, Nevada to Midvale, Utah
I spent most of today driving east along Interstate 80 through northern Nevada and then into Utah. It was a bit cloudy and so not too warm. Before leaving Winnemucca though, I found this gem:
The Griddle. Any breakfast place that includes crepes on its menu is a great breakfast place. You can quote me on that.
I had the raspberry crepes but I could have had the peach crepes instead or even the PECAN CREPES WITH BACON CARAMEL SAUCE! Are you kidding me? Life is good!
During this long day, I stopped a bit for a play on the video poker machines at West Wendover, Nevada. I hit a four-of-a-kind on the first or second roll then walked away with my $40 winnings. Take the money and run when you’re up against the machines. Then I drove 100 miles or so through the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah. These haven’t changed — still flat, white, and salty. I found a nice Holiday Inn Express in a nice Salt Lake City suburb and had a nice suburban dinner at a picnic table along the banks of the nice Little Cottonwood Creek in Midvale:
Saturday, May 15, 2021. Day 8: Midvale, Utah to Colorado Springs
Today was another long day of driving from Salt Lake City back to Colorado Springs. I took the southern route through Provo, Utah, across the Utah desert through Price, Utah, and then meeting Interstate 70 at Green River, Utah.
While yesterday was about breakfast, today was about lunch. Interstate 70 passes through the town of Rifle, Colorado, which is home territory for freshman Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO). Before running for Congress in 2020, Boebert was best known for running a restaurant in Rifle called Shooters Grill, a western-themed place where the wait staff is encouraged to wear pistols on their belts.
Lunch at Shooter’s Grill in Rifle:
I had the brisket sandwich with sweet potato fries. Shooters is a fine establishment and their food is satisfying. In fact, it actually seems kind of normal.
It’s 2020, and what do I have to be thankful for? Well for one, the opportunities I’ve had to take to America’s open roads every once and a while. These “Freedom Voyages” (h/t to Elizabeth Rosas Barber for the moniker) give me the chance to see the country — its landscapes, its small towns, its cities, and its courthouses. Along the way I take and share photos of what I see and what I eat.
Want to live out a Freedom voyage vicariously? Here’s a photo log of the nine days I spent on the road last September, starting in Colorado Springs, Colorado where I live, and traveling through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois to reach destinations in western Kentucky and southwestern Indiana.
I enjoyed Fall sunshine on eight of these nine days. Nothing better than sunshine on a trip! Enjoy!
Friday, September 18, 2020. Day 1: Colorado Springs to Seneca, Kansas
I left home on a Friday morning at 5:30, before dawn, and drove eastward to see the sunrise. I have plans and reservations for Friday and Saturday, but I’ll make decisions about the rest of the itinerary on Sunday morning. Across the Kansas state line, I officially enter the Midwest and get a chance to enjoy Casey’s General Stores, their breakfast pizza, and their new blueberry flips.
A slice of Casey’s breakfast pizza was consumed too quickly to make the photograph.
From Colby, I head northeast to reach U.S. Route 36 for the rest of the drive across Kansas. It turns out that this happens to be Treasure Hunt weekend all along Route 36, so each town has yard sales along the roadside.
I stopped at several sales that afternoon, mostly for the conversations rather than the merchandise.
After eight hours I arrive in Seneca, Kansas, a pleasant town of 2,000. I arrived early enough to take some photos in the evening light.
Saturday, September 19, 2020. Day 2: Seneca to Clarinda, Iowa
I had a lazy Saturday in store for me today as I planned a short ride into Nebraska, across the Missouri River into Missouri, and then on to one of my favorite towns — Clarinda, Iowa. The first stop is Brownville, Nebraska, a historic old Missouri River trading town established in 1854 as a river port. The coming of the railroads drove most of the river traffic away, so today Brownville is mostly a tourist town with the air of a museum.
Clarinda, Iowa has a population of about 5,000 and features several sites including the birthplace of Glenn Miller and the historic Page County Courthouse. First stop — the Robin’s Nest Cafe for lunch.
The town of Clarinda was laid out in classic Midwestern fashion with a central square surrounded by the town’s small businesses. The county courthouse occupies the middle of the square:
Sunday, September 20, 2020. Day 3: Clarinda to Paducah, Kentucky
Sunday morning was decision time. From Clarinda, I could head north into Minnesota, or Northeast into eastern Iowa and Illinois, or southeast to western Indiana and Kentucky.
I usually let the weather forecast make these decisions for me. Today, Indiana/Kentucky had the best forecast outlook for the week so off I went to the southeast. Sunday’s drive would take eight hours through St. Joseph, Missouri, across the state of Missouri on U.S. Route 36 to the Mississippi River, then southeast to St. Louis, across the Mississippi at that point into Illinois, then south to the Ohio River and across it into Kentucky.
But first, breakfast at the Robin’s Nest:
Monday, September 21, 2020. Day 4: Paducah to Owensboro, Kentucky
Breakfast at Burger King (my usual fully-loaded croissanwich), then a 2 1/2 hour drive to Boonville, Indiana, including a 1 1/2 hour stop at a Dairy Queen parking lot in Henderson, Kentucky to take part in a business call. It’s nice not having to be chained to an office, isn’t it?
In Boonville, I found a stately old courthouse…
…a piece of Americana inside the courthouse…
…a Lincoln-related historical marker…
…and some eclectic food choices from the bar in the town square:
Look at this business block. Couldn’t this be just about any Midwestern small town?
I had a footlong and a shake at a nearby Tastee Freeze.
Upon seeing these photos April Gregory asked if I had seen Jack and Diane outside the Tastee Freez? Why yes I did April, just like in the song!
The Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial is 20 miles east of Boonville in Spencer County, Indiana. Lincoln spent his childhood years on his father’s farm here before going off to Illinois as a young man to be on his own.
Off to Rockport, Indiana, the county seat of Spencer County, on the banks of the Ohio River. The town is situated on a bluff above the river, allowing for some million-dollar views on a sunny September day.
I next drove downriver to Owensboro, Kentucky, for a night at the Holiday Inn Riverfront. But first, dinner at Colby’s Fine Food & Spirits.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Day 5: Owensboro to Tell City, Indiana
First things first — find the town’s signature diner. That’s Dee’s Diner on East 4th Street in Owensboro.
No red gravy was available with their signature ham slice. Drats!
Owensboro is a sizeable river town with a population of over 55,000. It was settled in 1817 as “Yellow Banks”, and the downtown area boasts some fine 19th Century architecture.
Look closely at the inscription on this monument and who it honors. Such monuments have come under fire in 2020.
Modern Owensboro is known for its bourbon distilleries and for bluegrass music.
Heading out of town into the Kentucky countryside, I saw several celebrations of the Fall season:
…and just as many of these signs of the season:
Lunchtime at The Brak Restaurant and Meeting House, Hardinsville, Kentucky. This is a small diner in a small, remote town. The Brak has no web presence, but the food is good and so is the company.
Further on down the road:
I next crossed the Ohio River into Indiana and drove downriver a ways to the town of Tell City. Tell City, Indiana was settled in 1857 by a group of German-speaking Swiss immigrants looking for a new life in the new world. As a side note, all the settlers of Tell City were German-Swiss; a settlement of French-speaking Swiss in Vevay, Indiana, 100 miles upriver from Tell City, was founded in 1813.
Tell City was of course named for legendary Swiss liberator William Tell. City Hall boasts a sculpture of an apple near its front entrance. The apple lights up red at night.
I was looking for a biergarten for dinner at Tell City, but the best I could do was a brewpub/sports bar called the Tell City Pour Haus.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020. Day 6: Tell City to Vincennes, Indiana
For all the money people spend on “fine dining,” there’s actually nothing better than a great breakfast!
That’s a 3-egg omelet with bacon, sausage, ham, onion, peppers, tomatoes, and swiss cheese with a plate of cheesy hash browns on the side. No one needs to consult a Michelin guidebook to eat well.
The weatherman said that today would be dry but overcast, the only overcast day of my trip. My plan is to drive upstream along the Ohio River on the Indiana side for an hour or so, then turn north toward the towns of English and Paoli.
I stopped along the Ohio River in Rome, Indiana. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning. The waters are flat behind the Cannelton Dam just 10 or 20 miles downstream and the fish were biting like crazy! The overcast conditions come from some high clouds ahead of a tropical system coming ashore along the Gulf Coast.
My old high school friend Mark O’Donnell saw these photos on Facebook and gave me thumbs way up. I wonder if he was planning on a fishing trip excursion to come down here from his home in Pittsburgh. This is a great fishing spot — quiet, plenty of fish, dozens of river-side rental cabins.
After winding east along the Ohio River for an hour or so, I headed north through some hilly, wooded miles to the town of English, Indiana, perhaps the most remote county seat in the whole state.
On to the town of Paoli, the county seat of Orange County, Indiana. The courthouse here has been in use since 1850 and is still in use today. I went inside — all the basic offices were operating: county clerk, assessor, judge, etc.
This part of Indiana is rural country, and in fact very hilly. Some Hoosiers actually refer to this part of their state as “Kentucky.” Appropriately, on my way driving out of the area, I was able to stop at the hometown of “the hick from French Lick.”
I arrived in the city of Vincennes, Indiana around 6:00 pm, in time for dinner at Procopio’s Pizza and Pasta. I chose Procopio’s because it was highly rated on TripAdvisor, but going to Byron Bobe’s Pizza House as Stacy de Rose suggested would have been even better. Alas, I saw her Facebook comment too late.
Thursday, September 24, 2020. Day 7: Vincennes to Terre Haute, Indiana
It’s a bright sunny morning and I’m off early, driving north through the farms and fields of western Indiana. I was making good time until I saw a roadside establishment called “The Big Peach,” and couldn’t help but stop for some “supplies.”
Next stop, the town of Sullivan, Indiana, a beautiful Midwestern town basking in the shade of its tall trees.
The next county to the north is Vigo County, home of the city of Terre Haute and Indiana State University. “Terre Haute” is French for “high ground,” and there is a lot of French influence around town, starting with the courthouse.
The courthouse is a magnificent example of Second Empire-style structure.
“Designed by Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, the building was constructed by the Terre Haute Stone Company at a cost of $443,000. The courthouse is made from Indiana limestone gathered from Stinesville, Indiana quarries…Originally, the main floor consisted of offices, with two large, high-ceiling courtrooms on the second floor. Elegantly finished and furnished, the courthouse was heated with steam from a detached building to the south and featured a hydraulic elevator.”
Lunchtime in Terre Haute. Question: What’s the best part of ‘Frenchness’? Answer: GUMBO!
Terre Haute is sometimes referred to as the “Crossroads of America” since the intersection of 7th Street and Wabash Avenue was also the intersection of U.S. Routes 40 and 41 — both are cross-country routes. The roadsign will explain the details:
After toying with the idea of staying the afternoon at J. Gumbo’s, I decided instead to drive the old National Road east one county to the town of Brazil. Nice place. They have a Vietnam-era Air Force fighter jet parked on their courthouse lawn.
Now back to Terre Haute for some dinner and a night’s rest.
It turns out that Rick’s Smokehouse is a favorite stopping place for country music bands touring through Terre Haute. Poster’s tacked on the wall are signed by the artists (some now famous):
That evening I checked my Facebook traffic. Jim Street asked me, “what’s the occasion for your road trip, Tim?” I answered: —free time —a few bucks in the bank —summer warmth won’t last forever —life is short —my old car is still reliable enough for long trips. That won’t last forever —weather forecast said this whole week would be sunny and pleasant in the Midwest AND FINALLY:—a big election is coming up. I feel confident but if it goes sideways THIS COUNTRY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. I wanna see it now, at its best. Thanks for the question, Jim. It gives me a chance to put all things in perspective.
As if those reasons weren’t enough, I learned just 25 minutes later that my high school friend Mark O’Donnell had just passed away. He was 59. He had liked my Ohio River photos just two days before. Another old school friend, Drew Podnar, posted the news. Mark will be missed.
Friday, September 25, 2020. Day 8: Terre Haute to Seneca, Kansas
Time to go home. All good things must come to an end. I have two days driving to do from western Indiana through the farmlands of central Illinois, across the Mississippi River, through the farmlands of central Missouri, across the Missouri River, then on to Seneca, Kansas to spend the night.
First, breakfast at Denny’s in Terre Haute:
But that only fills the stomach for now — what about food for the road? That’s why God created donuts. And in Terre Haute, that means a place called Square Donuts.
After a few hours of driving, I crossed the Mississippi River into Hannibal, Missouri. That means lunch, and it also means one of my favorite duos of literature — Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
I posted this at the time: “Meet two of my heroes: Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Huck is a Rousseauian type, a noble savage who disdains civilization, while Tom is more of an Enlightenment boy genius. I try to take after one or the other of these two, depending upon the situation.”
Phil Costopoulos responded: “Tom was a management genius. I talk about him all the time in staff meetings.”
Lunch from Java Jive on Main Street in Hannibal. Now time to hit the road again.
After a few hours of driving, I crossed the Missouri River into Kansas. The town of Wathena, Kansas is a few miles beyond the river and a great place to stop for ice cream. Try the Dairy Barn for ice cream — or buy the place — the owner has put it up for sale.
I got into Seneca an hour or so later. Dinner tonight is at the Willows Restaurant and Bar. I have their fettuccine alfredo — with andouille sausage instead of chicken — and a side of sweet potato fries and tea.
Radio personality Todd Herman described the upcoming 2020 elections as a choice: “Chaos and Communism or Calm and Community.”
With a hat tip to Mr. Herman, I’ll borrow his phrase to describe what I saw on a little vacation road trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Nothing but Calm and Community up there. Here’s my road trip chronicle — including breakfast photos! To drum up business for the deserving, I’ll throw in some links to some local businesses I patronized.
Nine Days Total. Enjoy!
Friday, July 10, 2020, Day 1 6-hour drive from Colorado up to Lander in central Wyoming, just northwest of historic South Pass. Lander is a smallish town (population 7,487) oriented towards tourists seeking outdoor recreation. Main Street boasts a brewery with live music on summer weekends and two ice cream stands.
Saturday, July 11, 2020, Day 2 Up with the dawn (5 am) and out the door by 5:30 in time to catch McDonald’s opening hours for an Egg McMuffin breakfast to go.
Just outside Lander along US 287, I caught some mid-summer hay fields in the early morning light. Those are the Wind River Mountains in the background.
As the combined routes US 287 and US 26 head northwest towards the continental divide at Togwatee Pass, the human stories of this land become as dramatic and colorful as the scenery surrounding it. I pass Crowheart Butte — named for the grisly outcome of a long-ago battle over hunting grounds between the Shoshone and Crow tribes.
At a turnout a few miles up the road, the scenery gets even more colorful where Wind River breaks through a red rock canyon.
Highways 26/287 continue past the mountain town of Dubois, Wyoming, and on toward the Continental Divide. The road reaches the divide at Togwatee Pass.
On the western side of the pass, the peaks of the Grand Tetons come into view, getting larger in the windshield as the miles went by.
For the next 4 hours I drive west through Idaho farming country, stopping only for a Jack-in-the-Box burger in the industrious town of Rexburg, Idaho and at a gas station in Dell, Montana along Interstate 15.
Lemhi Pass, where Lewis & Clark crossed the Continental Divide on their way across the continent to the Pacific.
Looking west from the summit of Lemhi Pass. On August 12, 1805, Captain Meriwether Lewis finally reached the Continental Divide at this place. Lewis viewed the same aspect as in the attached photo — mountain ranges as far as the eye can see — and realized that there was no Northwest water passage along this route. Today, July 11, 2020, from the very spot where Meriwether Lewis stood in 1805, I dictate my words into an i-phone, take a photo with that same phone, and post both the words and the picture for the entire world to see — instantly.
Sunday, July 12, 2020, Day 3 Sunday was a day of rest, mostly, except for a drive along the rapids of the Salmon River.
After crossing the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Lewis and Clark figured they would make dugout canoes from the local timber and just float their way downstream until they reached the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Captain William Clark, a master boatsman, reconnoitered the Salmon River on horseback for some 20 miles below current day North Fork, Idaho. Seeing the river’s extreme rapids and rocky banks, it was near this exact point that Lewis and Clark gave up on the water route down the Salmon.
The Salmon River rollicks through these mountains for hundreds of miles and is, in fact, far too dangerous for travel by dugout canoes. These days, however, scientifically designed inflatable rafts take whitewater rafters downriver all the time — young and old, human and sometimes canine, with oars and usually beers in hand.
The dirt road along the banks of the Salmon ends just below the point where the Middle Fork of the Salmon joins the main branch. Beyond this lies the River of No Return Wilderness, perhaps the most remote area in the continental United States.
Monday, July 13, 2020, Day 4 Salmon, Idaho has beautiful mornings:
Breakfast at the Red Dog Diner on Main Street, which is actually part of a gas station. Aren’t all the best bbq places located in gas stations, like Joe’s in Kansas City? In this gas station, you get breakfast and can listen to the local old men talk politics.
Here’s a look around the calm community of Salmon, Idaho, population 3,112 and county seat of Lemhi County:
Back in the car by mid-morning. I’m heading north to Missoula, Montana the east to Helena.
Following Lewis & Clark’s route (for a while) north into Montana’s secret Bitterroot Valley. Huckleberries grow here and I had to include them in my lunch in Hamilton, Montana (population 4,348 and growing fast).
Tuesday, July 14, 2020, Day 5 Breakfast at Steve’s Cafe in Helena!
Link: Steve’s Cafe, open for breakfast and lunch among friends. Click the link — just looking at the photo will make you hungry.
Today I’m off across the Montana plains to see some small towns and courthouses. First stop, Townsend (population 1,878).
The practice of putting photos of graduating seniors on town light poles will become a theme among Montana towns I visit today.
On down the road, through some hills and ranches to White Sulphur Springs, Montana (population 939).
Next stop: Harlowton, Montana (population 997)
Late in the afternoon, I arrived in Billings, Montana (population 109,577). I took some photos from the ridge above the city.
I’ve enjoyed each of my many visits to Billings. Billings has a surprisingly vibrant downtown with a good choice of hotels, restaurants, steakhouses, brewpubs, and Montana casinos. A few short blocks away, old-town Billings has its own group of bars and restaurants clustered around the old train station.
Links: most convenient yet affordable lodging in downtown Billings: The Clocktower Fanciest restaurant in Billings ($30-50 per person): Walkers Grill. See and be seen at the bar, if you’re into that.
Breakfast is free with a night’s stay at the Clocktower. Opens early at 5:30. Dare yourself to walk out of this place without one of their giant cinnamon rolls.
Pompey’s Pillar National Historic site lies about an hour east of Billings along I-94. The rock formation along the Yellowstone River has been used as a landmark and register for travelers for centuries. Its most famous signatory carved his name into the rock in 1806:
William Clark and half of the Lewis and Clark expedition came this way on their return trip from the Pacific in the summer of 1806. Clark inscribed his name and named the edifice “Pompey’s Pillar” after Sacajawea’s infant son, who was nicknamed “Pomp” by the crew. Captain Lewis and the other half of the company were exploring the Marias River in northern Montana at the time. The two groups would rendezvous at the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers shortly thereafter.
Visitors can climb up to see the preserved markings:
The area has a calm, park-like setting.
I stopped in Baker, Montana (population 1,741), near the North Dakota line, to find another town honoring its graduating seniors with lamppost fame. Perhaps the town does this every year, but it’s a very nice gesture for the class of 2020 who didn’t have a formal graduation ceremony. I’ll do my part to make them famous.
Link: Corner Bar Saloon, Baker. Sandwiches for lunch for me. Sat at the bar without drinking. Stuck a $20 in one of the Montana video poker games and quit with $22.50. Pool tables were not being used during the lunch hour.
Into North Dakota. Wide fields of canola near the town of Bowman (population 1,650) in the extreme southwestern part of the state.
Amidon (population 20), Slope County, North Dakota once billed itself as America’s smallest county seat, but no longer. Wikipedia has the skinny (link):
Amidon was the smallest incorporated county seat in the 2000 census. When the 2010 census reported its population as 20, it became the second-smallest incorporated county seat after Brewster, Nebraska, with a population of 17. In 2000, Amidon had 26 people to Brewster’s 29.
I end the day with a long drive to Minot (population 40,888), North Dakota, past oil wells, fracking towers, and wide bright canola fields sprinkled with glacial ponds called ‘sloughs’ (more on those later).
Thursday, July 16, 2020, Day 7 Hotel breakfast. Mistake. Should have eaten at Denny’s down the road.
I was rewarded with an early morning view of the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Minot.
The town of Mohall (population 783), Renville County North Dakota. This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip — a city worker using a heavy forklift to carry a crate of water and a sprinkler attachment to water all the town’s flower pots.
Finally, this. Found in a basement meeting room of the county courthouse.
The town of Bottineau, North Dakota, with a population of 2,211.
In the background of the next photo, Main Street can be seen ascending into the heights north of town. These heights are a plateau known as Turtle Mountain. More on Turtle Mountain later.
Somehow I missed the highlight of Bottineau, the Pride Dairy. They are the last small town creamery in North Dakota, yet they supply their ice cream, cheeses, and syrups to locations as far away as Mount Rushmore. Hint: try their ice cream bars, called ‘Cow Pies.’ Larger and more delicious than the average ice cream bar.
Link: The International Peace Garden. Situated literally on the boundary line between North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba, this park was dedicated on July 14, 1932, to peace between the two large North American neighboring countries. This site in particular was chosen with a nod to its location near the geographical center of North America.
It was here in the Peace Garden gift shop that I first tried ice cream from the Pride Dairy in Bottineau — and was so sorry I hadn’t stopped at their ice cream parlor when I was in town. Their ice cream is fantastic!
One last photo of the Peace Garden shows an international boundary marker and the clearing marking the boundary extending in the far distance.
I took some back roads I had found on the map on my way back to Minot for the night. These little roads led along the crest of Turtle Mountain within five miles of the Canadian border. At one point I saw a highway road sign that simply said “Point of Interest” with an arrow pointing to a driveway off to right. No other explanation. Ok, I like mysteries, so I pulled up the driveway, around a bend, and found this:
It’s a small park called Mystical Horizons (link) and it’s not shown or advertised on any map — I don’t know why.
This one or two-acre park, unmanned, has a replica of Stonehenge-like astronomical clocks, a sundial, and a Polaris sighting tube (to be used in finding the North Star). The park sits atop Turtle Mountain with spectacular views of the North Dakota countryside below.
Friday, July 17, 2020, Day 8 Time to return to Colorado. It will be a 2-day drive. I left very early, before breakfast, heading south on US Highway 83.
For miles and miles, the landscape was simply covered with canola fields interspersed with bright blue glacial ponds. I stopped on the side of the highway to take photos. After a bit state highway patrol car pulled up behind me to see if I was taking pictures or “just having a bad day.” This was near 7:00 in the morning. The trooper and I talked a bit, saw a deer running through one of the canola fields. I asked her if people around here referred to the water as ‘lakes’ or ‘ponds’ and she said they called them “sloughs” instead.
After another hour of driving, breakfast!
Link: Rolling Hills Restaurant at the Flying J Travel Center in Mandan, North Dakota. Mandan (population 22,752) is across the Missouri River from Bismarck. There’s nothing like a cooked breakfast at an Interstate truck stop!
It was a long, 100-degree hot drive down to Hot Springs (population 3,711), South Dakota. I was detoured around the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation due to Covid-19 concerns. They’re having a hard time of it there and are restricting travel to locals and those with special permits.
That was a bit of a curveball after all the eggs and hashbrowns I’d been having this trip. Thank you to the Mornin’ Sunshine Coffee House (linked) for the excellent breakfast.
Hot Springs, South Dakota was once a very popular resort town back in the days when doctors prescribed “taking the waters” as a cure. Because it was built up at that early time the town’s buildings are mostly constructed of limestone blocks, giving the town an air of antiquity. It’s a great place and lies in a hilly country about 50 miles south of the Black Hills. I even saw a pair of newlyweds on their honeymoon.
The town’s claim to fame, of course, is its hot springs, shown here cascading down into the Fall River below.
One last photo on the way home. I passed by Pine Ridge near Crawford, Nebraska (population 997). I’ve stopped in this town before, usually for gas, and always for some Dairy Sweet as well.
Home to Colorado Springs by late afternoon.
A most epic trip! Hope you enjoyed it with me.
All photos were taken by the author in July 2020
A list of all Freedom Voyage posts in TimManBlog can be found here.
I travel as a hobby and not for a living (yet) — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs. Thanks, The TimMan