American Countryside: A Virtual Road Trip

For the first time in 20 years, AAA is not issuing a Memorial Day travel forecast due to COVID-19. Anecdotal reports suggest a decline in travelers this year from the 43 million Americans who traveled during the holiday weekend in 2019. The last time AAA reported a decline in Memorial Day travelers was in 2009 during the recession.

Since travel by cars, planes and trains will be limited, take a virtual road trip with Andrew McCrea, host of American Countryside. For more than 20 years, McCrea has travelled the countryside visiting historic sites off-the-beaten-path and the individuals who keep that slice of history alive.

To navigate your virtual road trip, see the map above to zig and zag the countryside or read below. All of us at Farm Journal wish you and your family a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Stop 1: The First Pony Express Stable in St. Joseph, Mo.
Entrepreneurs William Hepburn Russell, Alexander Majors and William Bradford Waddell theorized a relay horse route across the central U.S. could garner up to a $1-million-per-year government mail contract. Thus, around 160 years ago, a grand relay race across half of the continent began. On the evening of April 3, 1860, a large crowd gathered outside the stables on Penn Street in St. Joseph, Mo., as Johnny Fry awaited the mail from an arriving train. He would be the first rider in Pony Express history. Read more.

Stop 2: From Corn Field to Vietnam Memorial Replica, Perryville, Mo.
The Eddlemans donated their 46-acre corn field to build a replica of the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington, D.C. Listen to Jim Eddleman discuss the memorial with Andrew McCrea on the “Farming the Countryside” podcast.

Stop 3: The Blue Owl’s Famous Levee-High Pie, Kimmswick, Mo.
Mary Hostetter’s “Levee-High Apple Pie” features 18 apples, weighs 9 lb. and is 12" tall. Each slice is placed by hand in a deep-dish bowl to create a web pattern. Her creation was inspired by a 500-year flood that came within a tenth of a foot from flooding the town. Read more.

Stop 4: Plattsburg, Mo., Where One Resident Became President for a Day
A statue outside the Clinton County, Mo., courthouse and a marker in the Plattsburg, Mo., cemetery honor David Rice Atchison’s one day as president. In 1882, Atchison was interviewed by the Plattsburg county paper about the events of that day. Atchison said: “... The judge waked me up at three o’clock in the morning and said jocularly that I was President of the United States and he wanted me to appoint him as secretary of state. I made no pretense to the office.” Read more.

Stop 5: A Tribute to Football Coaching Great Knute Rockne, Bazaar, Kan.
On March 31, 1931, Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne and seven other passengers were killed in a plane crash near the Heathman farmhouse. Four years after the crash, a memorial stone was erected at the site in the rolling pastures near Bazaar, Kan., to honor those who had perished. While his family didn’t own the land, over time, Easter Heathman became the caretaker of the memorial and visitor guide. Read more

Stop 6: Dr. Brewster Higley’s Cabin Near Smith Center, Kan.
Most folks have never heard of Dr. Brewster Higley. Yet everyone has heard of the home he built in north–central Kansas—a simple cabin on the banks of Beaver Creek. He was the author of a poem, "Home on the Range," which would later be set to music by a neighbor and become a famous cowboy song. Higley's cabin sits on the banks of Beaver Creek. Read more.

Stop 7: Mount Sunflower — The Highest Point in Kansas
Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas and one of the nation’s most popular high points, checks in at a mere 4,039' in altitude. “On a clear day, you can see all the way into Colorado, which is only a half a mile away,” laughs Ed Harold, whose grandparents homesteaded this ranch in 1906, sight unseen. They built a sod house, dug a well and began planting corn and raising cattle. Read more.

Stop 8: Judge Roy Bean Visitor’s Center in Langtry, Texas
Roy Bean is a name synonymous with the days of law and order in the Wild West. A long-time saloon keeper, he moved west from San Antonio with the rail camps as workers completed the southern transcontinental railroad. But in 1882, he was asked to assume another role along the Rio Grande River. 

Roy Bean had no formal training in the law, but that did not prevent him from ruling on issues. He named his court, “The Law West of the Pecos.” Read more.

Stop 9: A Lab That Studies the Earth’s Systems, Oracle, Ariz.
Operated by the University of Arizona and open to visitors, Biosphere 2 is a unique laboratory constructed to better understand Earth’s systems. Research on the Earth’s biomes can be conducted at an unprecedented scale due to Biosphere 2’s sheer size (three acres). The structure is so tightly built it loses less air than the international space station. Read more.

Stop 10: Enterprise, Ala. – Home of the Boll Weevil Monument
In the early 1900s, cotton was king around Enterprise, Ala., and much of the southern U.S. But a silent southern invasion was just beginning.

Local farmers knew the boll weevil was headed their way. The insect was moving about 75 miles per year, up from Mexico and Texas. Some thought the Mississippi River would provide a natural barrier. It did not.  Read more.

Stop 11: Pops, a Diner and Store on Route 66 in Oklahoma
Marty Doepke oversees the day-to-day operations at the diner and store on historic Route 66. Pops is a relative newcomer to the Mother Road, just over a decade into its existence. 

“We have literally 700-plus kinds of pop in the store at all times,” Doepke says. Some of the brands have roots to the early 20th century. Other pops, which come in a variety of flavors, are new to the scene.  Read more.

Stop 12: History While They Sleep, Arco, Ida.
As the residents of Arco, Idaho, slept on the night of July 17, 1955, the town was the first in the world to be electrified by a nuclear reactor. 

In the desert an hour west of Idaho Falls, the U.S. government established the Idaho National Laboratory, where the power was initially used to light the building housing the reactor, but world events gave rise to a bigger mission. Read more.

Stop 13: A Tune About the Battle of New Orleans
It was December of 1814 and the British were closing in on the city of New Orleans, forcing a battle with the young United States. Over a century later, in 1936, a teacher named Jimmy Driftwood wrote a song about the event to help his students learn more about it.  Johnny Horton later recorded it into a hit. Read more.

Stop 14: The Day the Music Died, Clear Lake, Iowa
The opening verse of “American Pie,” written by Don McLean, pays respect to Feb. 3, 1959—the day the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson went down. The crash site happens to be in the middle of one of Jeff Nicholas’ corn fields. 

There wasn’t a memorial until 20 years after the crash. Today, a stainless-steel monument adorned with flowers and mementoes marks the site. Read more.

Stop 15: A Canal Ahead of Its Time, Metamora, Ind.
Before highways crossed the nation, water often allowed the best and quickest way to move people and freight long distances. In the 1830s, Indiana began an ambitious project to create the Whitewater Canal. Watch the U.S. Farm Report here.

Stop 16: The Real-Life Hoosiers, Milan, Ind.
Milan, Ind., is anything but another small town in rural America. It’s home to one of the most storied basketball teams. Watch this special report about the real-life Hoosiers on U.S. Farm Report.

Stop 17: SS Edmund Fitzgerald Shipwreck near Sault Ste Marie, Mich.
More than 40 years ago, in November of 1975, rough waters on Lake Superior sunk a massive ship, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, and lost all 29 crew members on board. Watch the U.S. Farm Report here.

Stop 18: Remembering “The Gipper,” Laurium, Mich.
In the small town of Laurium, Mich., a simple memorial pays tribute to George Gipp, also known as the “The Gipper.” His football career rushing total of 2,341 yards stood as a Notre Dame record for more than 50 years. Gipp's season rushing average of 8.1 yards per carry on more than 100 rushes in 1918 is still a record. He died in 1920 at the age of 25. Read more.