We all have our hobbies. Some people follow pro football, some run, some make lovely quilts, some fish, some solve the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. I like to explore abandoned roads. Yeah, that’s a great conversation starter at parties.
I’m not sure where this vigor comes from. All I know is that the first time I found a stretch of forgotten asphalt was the coolest thing I’d ever experienced. Here’s a photo from that day, of a bridge over White Lick Creek on former US 40 west of Plainfield, Indiana. (Here it is on Google Maps.) A new bridge was built when the highway was straightened and widened to four lanes in about the 1930s. The old bridge was bypassed, and it is well hidden by trees and brush today. For 70 years, vehicles have zoomed by on four divided lanes of US 40 a hundred feet away while nature has slowly reclaimed this space.
It’s also common for bridges to be removed when a road is abandoned. Here’s a shot of abandoned State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington. About five miles of the road were rerouted to bypass a little town, and this short segment was cut off. (Here it is on Google Maps.) In this photo, I’ve climbed down the creek bank, tried not to get wet as I picked my way across the creek, and climbed up the other side to see where the road starts again. Notice the thick concrete pad! Also notice the old couch sitting in the road ahead.
Sometimes, an abandoned road is plain to see. As you drive down US 40 in eastern Illinois, an old brick road runs alongside. It was US 40 until the 1950s. Illinois never bothered to tear it out! This photo is of a short segment not far west of the Indiana state line. (Here it is on Live Search Maps.)
I’ve learned a couple things while out on the abandoned pavement. First, it’s a good idea to explore with a friend. Many abandoned roadways are well hidden from view and make a great place for people to do things they don’t want the world, including you, to see. There’s greater safety in numbers. Second, look for “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs, and heed them. I didn’t notice one once, and got to experience being chased away by the police. Better a cop than an angry dog, I suppose, but either way I’m too old for that kind of excitement.
I’ve felt kind of lonely in my abandoned-road bliss. Hoping to find some kindred souls, I recently fired up Flickr and typed “abandoned road” in the Search box. To my delight, images by the hundreds of forgotten asphalt, cement, brick, and dirt filled my monitor. So I created a group and invited them all to join. Well, all those who have geotagged their photos, anyway, because someday I may wish to visit all those roads in person, and I’ll need to know exactly where they are!
If your twig is bent in this direction, too, I invite you to upload and geotag your abandoned-road photos and join us at the Flickr Abandoned Roads group!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!