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