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Route 66, part V:
Mississippi River to Virginia

The original planners of the famed Route 66 built the highway from southern California to Chicago.

Part I, part II, part III, and part IV, follow this route closely as far as southern Missouri.

Here in Part V, however, Dr. Voyageur extends the drive through beautiful and historic countryside all the way to New York City, giving readers a great transcontinental itinerary. As mentioned in Part I, the original Route 66 opening celebration extended all the way to New York City, so we are not straying from tradition.

We pass through Kentucky, including Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home, the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, the beaches of Delaware, and along the shoreline of New Jersey, including Atlantic City. Readers, too, Dr. Voyageur believes, will get a unusually fair overview of the War Between the States that ravished so much of this land in the 19th Century, a conflict where emotions still run high.

Everyone should read Route 66 part I, part II, part III, and part IV too, more the actual Route 66 route.

Below, from southeastern Missouri, where we left off in Part IV, let's start at the Mississippi River and head East.


Crossing into Kentucky

From Big Spring and Van Buren in Missouri, continue east along U.S. Highway 60 into Kentucky, crossing the Mississippi River and a tiny patch of Illinois where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers join at Cairo. The waters from these rivers are different colours, which do not immediately mix. You will be impressed by these rivers and their meeting.

The flat country south of this river junction is the gateway to the Delta country, one of the two major rice growing regions in the U.S (The other is the Sacramento River Valley in California). Watermelons also thrive on the moist soil here. Try some watermelon rind pickles, a treat.

Continue east on Highway 60 to Interstate 24.

Drive east on I-24 to the Grand Rivers/Land between the Lakes turn off.

Go south into the Land between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a project of the U.S. government sponsored Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought electricity, industry, employment, and lakeside parks to this region during the Great Depression.

The Land between the Lakes makes a nice spot to hike, to camp, and to relax along the lake without the crowds of some of the parks later on. Hundreds of miles of shoreline here assure a private spot for nearly everyone, especially if they rent a boat.

From the road through Land between the Lakes park, take U.S. Highway 68 eastbound.

Between Hopkinsville and Russellville, near Fairview, visit the monument to Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate States of America.

At Bowling Green, most famous for its Corvette automobile plant and museum, turn north on State Highway 105. This will avoid the tacky tourist area that adjoins the southern boundary of Mammoth Cave National Park.

At Roundhill, turn east onto State Highway 70.

Drive eastbound on Highway 70 to State Highway 259.

Turn north on Highway 259 to State Highway 728.

Go eastbound on Highway 728 until you see the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Try to arrive early, as the caves are spectacular, and the guided tours fill early. The above ground park, too, is very pretty and is nice for hiking and boating. Camping should be booked well in advance (See the Internet site), and you may be able to reserve tours in advance.

From the Mammoth Cave National Park area, go north on Interstate 65 to Sonora.

From Sonora, travel east on State Highway 84 to Howardstown.


Heading toward the mountains of West Virgina

From Highway 84 at White City, head east on the Bluegrass Parkway to U.S. Highway 60 near Lexington. By now, you have noticed that Kentucky has its own unique architecture, which is really quite handsome. Especially appreciated are the attempts to harmonize the style of new buildings to old. Prince Charles, who believes strongly that architecture nurtures the spirit, would be happy here.

Take Highway 60 east toward Lexington, a graceful southern city. If in a hurry, take the Highway 60 Bypass around the heart of Lexington. Otherwise, take business route 60 through the city, a really handsome one, where we find the University of Kentucky and lots of student-related small cafes, etc.

If on Bypass 60, take U.S. Highway 27 north to Interstate 64. Then take I-64 (which is also I-75 here) east.

If on Business Route 60, go east to Interstate 75. Then travel I-75 north a short distance (one interchange) to Interstate 64. Go east on I-64.

Everyone driving east on I-64 now? Good! This is far less confusing in reality than it may seem here.


West Virginia

Eastbound I-64 rises into the more rugged country of eastern Kentucky and then descends into the Ohio River Valley near the West Virginia border. You will note the smell of the large petrochemical companies in this area, including Ashland Oil. On several visits, Dr. Voyageur has sped past the little town of Nitro in the centre of the petrochemical area. The sound of that name deeply disturbs him.

West Virginia, a state that broke off from Virginia during the Civil War due to its opposition to slavery, remains a liberal place, most known for proving in its 1960 primary election that Catholic John Kennedy could win handsomely in a predominately working-class protestant environment. Kennedy's West Virginia win against the popular Hubert Humphrey brought him, many believe, the Democratic nomination for president.

In spite of some factories along the highway, the countryside becomes more pretty. The state capital, Charleston, may smell like the industrial centre it is, but Charleston is for the most part a pleasant place surrounded by mountains.

Dr. Voyageur's readers need not hold their noses much longer (and the smell seldom seems that bad), as we are coming to the raison d'etre of this section, the marked beauty of southeastern West Virginia and western Virginia.

From Charleston, drive south on I-64, which has become the West Virginia Turnpike, an inexpensive toll road.

Just south of Beckley, exit the turnpike, and head east on the now toll-free I-64.

This is great country with numerous state parks in the area. At the New River Bridge, be sure to pull off I-64 at the turnout for the great view.

This bridge is the mother of all bungie jumping spots, but the police are watching to prevent this activity. Below is the New River Gorge National River Park, the centrepiece of a very scenic area.

For legal reasons, Dr. Voyageur will not suggest companies that organize raft or kayak trips on the New River or its tributaries, as there is no absolute guarantee of safety in this very wild setting. The doctor dislikes lawsuits. This is not Disney World where a scary situation is actually totally benign due to superb engineering.

But, for those interested, numerous opportunities exist to experience the New River. If interested, pick a whitewater rafting and kayaking company that has been in business for a long time and try to reserve ahead of time, as these sports are very popular here.

Further down Interstate 64, be sure to pull off at White Sulphur Springs, home of the Greenbrier Resort. Take a peak at what many classify America's best resort hotel, the Greenbrier.

Wanting to isolate enemy embassy staffs from possible public retaliation, the U.S. State Department moved the German, Italian, and Japanese diplomats to the Greenbrier when America was trust into World War 2. The outbreak of war with the U.S. was a lucky break for them, as they now enjoyed the fine accommodations of the Greenbrier!

In spite of the lovely setting and fine facilities, the Axis staffs grew to dislike being isolated together away from the sophisticated Washington diplomatic circuit. In addition, they did not get along at all in close confinement, which bode ill had their countries won the war.

After World War 2, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union intensified, the U.S. government built heavily fortified rooms deep under the Greenbrier to serve as the evacuation point for the top leaders of the U.S. government, including the president, in case of an actual attack. Only recently has this information been made public. One presumes that these officials expected to go up to the fine Greenbrier golf courses when the radiation diminished.

Learn about the War Between the States, or go on to Part VII: Virginia to Washington, D.C..

Go to >> Route 66, part I: Introduction
Go to >> Part II: Santa Monica to Las Vegas
Go to >> Part III: Las Vegas to Albuquerque
Go to >> Part IV: Albuquerque to the Mississippi River
Go to >> Part V: Mississippi River to Virginia
Go to >> Part VI: Understanding the War Between the States
Go to >> Part VII: Virginia to Washington, D.C.
Go to >> Part VIII: Washington, D.C. to New York City
Go to >> Part IX: Planning your Route 66 trip


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