Where cars no longer go

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 hot day in the summer of 2006, of a bridge over White Lick Creek on former US 40 west of Plainfield, Indiana.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

A new bridge was built when the highway was straightened and widened to four lanes about 80 years ago. 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. Here’s a photo I got of this bridge a few years ago in late winter, while the trees were still bare.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

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. 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.

Abandoned SR 37

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, and in some places you can still drive on it! This photo is of a short segment not far west of the Indiana state line.

Abandoned brick road

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 this sounds exciting to you, too, I invite you to add your geotagged abandoned-road photos to the Flickr Abandoned Roads group!

I first shared this post when the blog was very young. I’ve updated it with fresh photos today.

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10 responses to “Where cars no longer go”

  1. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    The US 40 bridge is very attractive. It is impressive how well concrete bridges will survive without maintenance, once you take the pounding traffic and road salt off.

    Mason MI has several like this but smaller that were built for an electric rail line. It was abandoned in 1929, and they survived, basically unused for 70-75 years, and are now part of a walking/biking trail.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I love rail trails. We have a really good one here in Indy. And yes, it’s amazing how long a bridge will last when it’s not used! Though the one pictured does have trees growing in the deck.

  2. John Avatar

    Nice selection of pictures! Love the brick road.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That brick road is amazing. Search for Illinois National Road on this blog for more pix.

  3. Maureen Sudlow Avatar

    They’ve always fascinated me – those old roads leading nowhere, and all the abandoned railway lines..

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you’ll explore some of them someday!

  4. Joshua Fast Avatar

    One of the coolest trips I’ve ever taken was in 2008 when i loaded up my car with camping gear and drove Rt66 from Miami OK to Santa Monica CA. I purchased a turn by turn guide that led you down each of the abandoned alignments and explored as many as i could. My favorite was in the middle of Arizona, close to the California line. It was a alignment that went straight for miles through the Mojave and I followed it as far as i could safely go with my Mazda3. It wasn’t a remarkable road by any means but there was a storm rolling in through the desert and i watched it roll in sitting on my hood. Simply awesome experience that i would like to repeat in the future.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I did the IL-MO-KS-OK leg of 66 back in 2013 — what a great trip it was. I’d love to finish the route one day.

  5. Jay Avatar

    Nice post. I’ve also been a fan of “the old roads” since childhood. Great photos.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! Except when time is of the essence, every trip I take is along the old roads. So much nicer.

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