Road Trips

Twisty highways in southern Indiana

Most of Indiana is flat. Flaaaaaaaaat. Ice-age glaciers covered the northern three-quarters of the state. Where the glaciers stopped, the terrain starts to get interesting. The closer to the Ohio River you get, the hillier Indiana gets.

A college friend introduced me to the pleasure of driving country roads, especially late at night. He and I used to go out after midnight and explore until we ran low on gas. He took me home with him one weekend, to his parents’ home in Crawford County. It’s one of Indiana’s southernmost counties, and it’s largely taken up by the Harrison-Crawford State Forest and the Hoosier National Forest. He took me out to see “the forestry,” as he called it, and we drove some delightful roads cut into the rock as the land sloped toward the Ohio River, dense forest surrounding us. The roads were full of curves and hills, including blind curves at the tops of hills and the bottoms of hollows. He navigated them all confidently, expertly, and at high speed, which regularly took my breath away. He told me he didn’t drive as aggressively as he normally did, because he didn’t want to frighten me! I vowed to return one day and drive them myself.

It took me nearly 20 years to keep that vow. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, I drove south from Indianapolis on a loop that included Crawford County and the state highways my friend showed me there.

I brought my camera, an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (review here), and one roll of Fujicolor 200. I should have brought five rolls! Recently I found the photos in my archive, freshened them all up in Photoshop, and am resharing this great solitary road trip with you here.

As I researched roads to include on this trip, I found a Web site for bikers that said that State Road 45 would “make a man out of you.” That was all I needed to hear; it was on my list. I drove its length. It is at its best in Brown and Monroe Counties — a wonderful curvy, hilly road for the 20 miles to Bloomington. Narrow and shoulderless, this road demands your full attention and is a handful in spots. These pictures are taken in Brown County west of Trevlac. This photo points eastbound.

IN SR 45 in Yellowwood State Forest

In Brown County, SR 45 passes between the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests, which makes the road seem secluded. Except for some bicyclists and a pickup truck, I had the road to myself. It was warm, and my windows were down. The sunshine broke through the trees and left its patterns on the asphalt. The breeze rustled through the trees and the birds sang. It was just me and my car, a little red Toyota Matrix, which you can see in the distance. It was a so-so handler; if I didn’t slow down for the curves the body leaned hard and the tires squealed. Its 5-speed transmission added a little fun, at least.

IN SR 45 in Yellowwood State Forest

In Monroe County, the woods disappear and civilization slowly returns as country homesteads line the road. The twists and hills remain, however, and are every bit as much fun. But as SR 45 meets Bloomington, the road loses all its charm. On the other side of Bloomington the road widens and thin shoulders appear. It meanders with the rolling terrain for about 25 miles. It’s a pleasant drive, but it won’t quicken your pulse. All pleasure disappears when SR 45 multiplexes with SR 58. The road is straight and flat the last nine miles or so to US 231. I took US 231 south to Loogootee, where it meets US 150.

US 150 near Shoals IN

From Loogootee to about Shoals, US 150 is multiplexed with US 50. It twists nicely in places, and is moderately hilly. Trees alternate with farms for a classic Indiana pastoral scene. The drive is pleasant, especially on a sunny day as my day was. It would make the perfect Sunday drive for two, chatting happily with each other as you glide along the curves.

US 150 near Shoals IN

After US 50 breaks away northeasterly from US 150 near Shoals, the Sunday drive is over. Wrap up your conversation with your companion, keep your hands on the wheel, and watch the road, because US 150 becomes gloriously twisty and hilly through a lovely wooded area. There aren’t many places to pull over on this segment, and so I got only one photo. Unfortunately, I bungled the shot and it’s too blurry to share.

US 150 leads straight to Paoli, which I’ve written about here. Its square is a big roundabout. I picked up SR 37 there, and followed it to SR 62, where I headed east toward Corydon, where I’d made arrangements to spend the night.

On the way I stopped in Leavenworth where, at the recommendation of a friend, I stopped for an excellent chicken dinner at The Overlook. They call it that because it overlooks the Ohio River. This photo is from a few steps east of the parking lot. I just love this photo.

Ohio River, from IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN

From there I also took a photograph of SR 62 eastbound as it curves and descends into Leavenworth.

IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN

My belly comfortably full, I drove on to Corydon. The first-rate curves and hills require full attention, which was tough to give because my system was wigging out over the massive sugar rush brought on by peach pie and ice cream after dinner.

Next morning, I drove back westward on SR 62, which is very curvy, hilly, and desolate all the way to just past Mariah Hill, some 50 miles away. I normally like to gape at the scenery as I drive and sing along with the radio, but to do either along this glorious road would inevitably have meant braking too late for a curve and finding my car mangled in the rock.

I stopped near the entrance to the Harrison-Crawford State Forest, 6 miles west of Corydon, to take a couple photos. The road through here was lovely, thickly wooded and cut deeply into the rock. The morning was chilly, the sky was mostly overcast, and a light mist filled the crisp air. The muted light that spilled through the trees and mist onto the roadway seemed to float ephemerally just above the asphalt.

IN SR 62 by Harrison-Crawford State Forest

SR 62 offers few places to pull over. I was glad that I could turn around and park in the pulloff area in front of somebody’s mailbox here. There were two houses by this pulloff. One was a pretty shaky looking frame house that was either unpainted or painted in that shade of gray that looks like weathered wood. But right next to it was quite a sight: a house that had caved in on itself.

Chateau Collapso

From Dale to Boonville, SR 62’s curves broaden and come less often, and the tight, enclosed feel of forest, rock, and guardrails departs for open farmland on either side. After Boonville, SR 62 straightens out entirely. Additional lanes were being laid all the way to Evansville.

I made my way down to SR 66 and headed back east. As SR 66 hugs the Ohio west of 231 and draws near to the Hoosier National Forest, the terrain becomes more rugged and the road rises and twists to meet it. This stretch of road is just as exciting as SR 62 from Corydon to Dale, with the extra excitement of hugging the Ohio River without guardrail much of the way. It’s, uh, refreshing to round a curve and see only water out the window. This photo of SR 66 near Cannelton gives a sense of just how close the water is.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

This photo is from the same spot, pointed westbound.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

Here’s another view of SR 66 near Cannelton.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

At Rocky Point, the Ohio River turns south as SR 66 goes more or less straight. About five miles later, the river swings back to the north and SR 66 hugs the river again. Up the road a bit, just past Derby, there’s nothing between you and a long drink, as this photo shows.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

When SR 66 intersected with SR 62, I turned back toward Corydon. My memory says that this photo is of SR 62 westbound, where it meets and then multiplexes SR 37. Anyway, this photo shows how heavily wooded this part of the state is, and how deeply some of these roads are cut into the rock.

IN SR 62 near Sulfur

East of Corydon, SR 62 has a few moments of brilliance but otherwise becomes a fairly standard two-lane state road. At a friend’s urging, I stopped for lunch at Polly’s Freeze, a last-of-its-breed ice cream stand near Edwardsville, where I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a terrific chocolate malt.

At this point, I’d run out of film. My trip continued, though: SR 145 to French Lick, where I picked up SR 56, which merged with US 150 and brought me back to Paoli. This stretch was just as much fun this time as it was when I drove it the day before.

At Paoli, I drove the southern portion of the town-square roundabout and kept heading east on SR 56. The road is pleasant with broad curves and some long rises through Hoosier farmland. The road is wide, but has no shoulder in many places. After about five miles, the curves end and the hills begin to roll. It’s a pleasant drive. Some of the road had been freshly oiled.

Where SR 56 met SR 39, I turned onto SR 39. It’s narrow along its 14 miles with mild to moderate twists and a few really sharp curves, including several 90-degree turns where the road flowed in line with county roads. It’s clear that SR 39 was cut from farm roads. I would have loved to take photographs at many places along this excellent road, but there were no places to pull off. In hindsight, I probably could have just stopped in the road, because I never encountered another car. It was just me and the seat of my pants cruising this forgotten gem.

SR 39 flowed into SR 250, which flowed into SR 135. As SR 135 edged into Brown County and the northernmost portion of the Hoosier National Forest, motorcycles were everywhere as it’s a popular biker destination. And no wonder — the late-afternoon sunshine spilled richly through the trees’ branches as the road dipped and swung and climbed for about 13 miles to the tiny town of Story. It made me wish I had a motorcycle. Boxed in by motorcycles with few places to pull over, again I could not take photographs of this lovely and challenging stretch of road. I’ll have to plan differently next time.

Beyond Story, the curves and hills become less intense, but the drive no less lovely, until SR 135 intersects with SR 46 near Nashville. It multiplexes with SR 46 for a few miles and then heads north again as it goes through Nashville. North of Nashville to Bean Blossom, SR 135 curves a little bit here and there, but north of Bean Blossom it’s just a simple country two-lane highway all the way to Greenwood, and then a city-grade highway into Indianapolis; the same stretch of highway on which I began my trip.

After making this trip, I learned that the first people to settle Indiana did so just north of the Ohio River among the very hills I drove that weekend. These people included young Abraham Lincoln and his family. What difficult country to tame!

I originally wrote this trip report here, on my old HTML site. Someday I’ll deprecate that site, as I publish only on this blog now. I didn’t want to lose this post, so I copied it over here and edited it for length.

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Photography

Revisiting the Canon PowerShot S80

At the encouragement of fellow blogger Dan James I got my Canon PowerShot S80 out and have been shooting it. This 2005 camera is positively ancient as digital cameras go, but it still works and delivers fine shapness and color in its eight-megapixel images. It’s been frightfully cold so I haven’t been out shooting much, but now that it’s March it should start warming up.

The S80 was a gift from a reader. (Lone Primate, are you still out there?) It became my chief road-trip camera, such as on a trip exploring all the old bridges of Putnam County, Indiana, in 2010. (Read about that trip here and here.)

Hibbs Ford Bridge
Hibbs Ford Bridge, Putnam County, Indiana.

I also used the S80 as I explored US 50 across Indiana in 2010. It’s a spectacular road.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana
View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana.

If you ever get a chance to drive Indiana’s US 50, do. It’s lined with charming little towns with plenty of great old architecture.

Hillforest
Hillforest, Aurora, Indiana.

This wooden bridge was on US 50’s original alignment in Jennings County, Indiana. It’s been demolished in a road realignment. Never delay taking a road trip — what’s here today might not be tomorrow!

Wooden bridge
Wooden bridge on Base Road, Jennings County, Indiana.

I made this quick shot in my hometown of South Bend while there on business one afternoon.

Ready to Strike
At South Bend’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

When each of my sons turned 13 I took them on the train to Chicago, just son and father, for a weekend of sightseeing. My older son and I explored Millennium Park one foggy morning.

The Bean
The Bean, Chicago.

The S80 whetted my appetite for a high-quality compact digital camera. Canon had recently released the S80’s successor, the S90, which they shortly updated as the S95. That’s the camera I went for in late 2010; my S80 days were brief in comparison to all the years I’ve used the S95. But when I charged the S80’s battery and inserted it, the camera fired right up. Let’s see what it can do.

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1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

You don’t expect to come upon a suspension bridge over a river in middle America. But nevertheless, here this one is.

It’s in Carlyle, Illinois, about 50 miles east of St. Louis. It’s a block north of US 50 on Carlyle’s east side. It carried vehicular traffic through sometime during the 1930s. I wouldn’t be surprised if this bridge was on US 50’s original alignment here.

Today, it’s a pedestrian bridge.

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: 1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

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Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Abandoned, never used bridge
Kodak Z730 Zoom
2009

Here’s my friend Michael standing on the railing of a bridge built to carry US 50 that was never used.

Three such bridges were built, actually. A new section of US 50 was built from Carlyle, Illinois, west for about 22 miles. It was intended to carry four lanes of traffic, divided, but only two lanes were built along most of this span. However, twin bridges were built everywhere US 50 crossed a stream. In each case, only the northern bridge of each pair has ever carried traffic. The southern bridge was simply left to molder.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned, never used bridge

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Where US 50 begins

3,073 miles. That’s how long US 50 is. And it begins — or is it ends? — right here, in Ocean City, Maryland.

Its other end is in West Sacramento, California, not in Sacramento as the sign promises. A sign in West Sacramento tells drivers that Ocean City is 3,073 miles away. It’s a famous sign pairing among us roadgeeks. It was even more famous during a time when the West Sacramento sign erroneously read 3,037 miles.

US 50 is one of the original US highways, designated in 1926. But where it has ended has changed several times. Originally, it stretched from Sacramento to Annapolis, MD. Its west end was moved to Hayward, CA, in 1932, and to San Francisco in 1935. Its east end moved to this location in Ocean City in 1948. Finally, in 1972 its west end moved to its present location in West Sacramento.

The route in between has changed many times over the years thanks to various upgrades and bypasses. The changes keep coming, such as one being built now around North Vernon, Indiana. It will add two miles to the route. It makes me wonder how these 3,073 miles are counted. When the new North Vernon alignment opens, will the signs be amended to 3,075 miles?

I’ve driven US 50, including its old alignments, across Indiana and most of Illinois; see everything I’ve written about this road here. I’d like to drive the rest of it someday, on one giant road trip.

If I set my trip odometer at one end and check mileage at the other, do you think the Departments of Transportation in California and Maryland will be interested to know?

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Road Trips

Where US 50 begins (or ends, depending on your perspective)

I wax a little too philosophical about US 50 and its ends. I got to see one of them: the eastern end, in Ocean City, MD.

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IMG_2097 proc

I am astonished that at my age I’ve remarried and am about to leave my longtime home to share a life with family I never knew I would have.

When I was younger, even through my late 30s, those who had lived a half century seemed so settled to me. Their lives, I was sure, had fallen into predictable grooves. I like predictability, and those I knew who had it wore it well. I looked forward to it in my own life.

On this day half my life ago

But who knew all of the adventures of the half-century mark? Of helping children step into their adult futures. Of having fully adult relationships with our parents. Of hitting our stride in our careers. And, given that so many divorce now, remarriage and new family.

Except that these things feel like adventures only when they’re going well. Some children stumble and fall, or even fail to launch. Our parents are aging — when is it time to stop driving? To find a retirement home? And on the job sometimes you watch someone younger than some of your children, with all the life experience that implies, move up fast and pass you by, and make mistakes you learned long ago not to make.

This stuff is incredibly hard! The blessing of this age is the resilience to handle these difficulties. If I had encountered them at half this age I would have needed a rubber room.

I turn 50 today. Joys and disappointments abound. Honestly, this year there have been more disappointments than joys. My wife and I have experienced some real difficulty with children, parents, and jobs. Point is, this age teaches that this is what life is. That youthful dreams of winning at life, of being a Master of the Universe, were never within reach. That all there is every day is enjoying the good while working through the bad. That God put people into our lives to love, and our best satisfaction in life comes from loving them with all our might.

I’m gathering my whole family at my home this afternoon. We’ll grill various bits of animal flesh, nosh on fresh veggies and sweets, drink gin and tonic, and just enjoy each other. My goodness, but do we like each other. I predict I’ll reach the end of this day satisfied.

I made this photograph when I was 42, and thought even as I made it that I ought to use it on this blog when I turned 50! It seemed so far off in the future that I wondered if I’d still be blogging then. Answer to my then-self: lol yup.

Personal

Half century

Who knew life at 50 could have so much going on? And some of it isn’t exactly pleasant. But one advantage of this age is the resilience to handle it.

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