Exploring America…Old and New

Barges on the Ohio River

My friend Joyce and I set out on a road trip across the United States following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It would turn out to be a 7,000 mile journey across the heartland of the country, up into  Canada and returning to Louisville Kentucky, our starting point.

I was looking forward to exploring the backroads of America. After 4 years of living outside the US I wanted to get a feel for life in small towns after the economic bust and so called recovery.  What would Main Street USA look like or would it be there at all.  We piled our stuff into Joyce’s Kia…one of the most uncomfortable cars imaginable…and set off. I had the feeling that we had turned into Okies for this journey.  We packed an amazing amount of stuff that I knew we would never use….a tent, electric skillet, hiking poles, cooler, dishes, cutlery…on and on.  Every morning and evening we would turn into beast of burdens hauling stuff into the motel room and back out to the car the next day. I think perhaps we should have tied a rocking chair and chest of drawers to the roof of the car to solidify our image as modern day Okie’s  Look out Lewis and Clark…move over John Steinbeck…here we come.

Paducah Kentucky

Paducah Kentucky’s Downtown Historic District

When Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark to explore his newly acquired Louisiana Purchase he directed them, as part of their mission, to find a water route across the Continent. The mythical Northwest Passage did not exist as Lewis and Clark soon discovered. The route they followed went down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi River, up the Missouri River to its headwaters and then by horse over the Rocky Mountains to the Platt and Columbia Rivers on the other side of the mountains. After gathering men and supplies they left St. Louis in May of !804 and they returned September 1806 after a grueling 29 months of cold, hunger, illness and mosquitos.  We were going to do it in a little over 4 weeks with better food and softer beds.

Every type of town has its own look and feel….mill towns in the Northeast, mining towns in the west, farm towns in the Midwest and the river towns of the south and upper midwest.  I love the river towns along the Ohio and Mississippi all trying valiantly to remain relevant and stay alive.  Our first stop was Paducah, Kentucky.  Founded in 1821 it sits at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers and has a population of 25,000. Most of the downtown is on the Historic Register and consist of lovely old brick buildings being filled with restaurants, art galleries, and craft shops.

 National Quilt Museum

Paducah Kentucky National Quilt Museum

One of the big draws for tourist is the National Quilt Museum.  The building houses an astounding collection of contemporary and traditional quilts with traveling exhibits and quilting competitions.  It is well worth the drive to this exceptional little museum 

We were heading to Wood River, Illinois  the next day on the banks of the Mississippi. This was Camp Dubois one of the forts built by Lewis and Clark on this journey.  It is also the site of the Cohokia Mounds….the largest prehistoric indian site north of Mexico City.

The confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers

The confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers

On the way to Woods River we passed by Cairo, Ill. (pronounced Kay-row) and because it was a old river town that I had long heard about I want to stop and see how it had fared. Unfortunately Cairo is one of the forgotten towns along the river. Once a thriving town of 20,000 people today it is 2,000 and losing ground by the moment.  Blocks of boarded up homes, businesses and churches surround by blocks of vacant lots where buildings have burnt or been town down. We drove around the town for an hour and a half and in all that time we say one person.  It was a sad reminder that there are many towns in the United States struggling to survive.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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2 Responses to Exploring America…Old and New

  1. Paula says:

    Wonderful, entertaining, and very educational posting! Having been to some of the towns along the Mississippi, I could visualize some of what you saw. Can’t wait for your next post. Thanks, Larry!

  2. Cathy D says:

    Keep going, sounds like a lot of fun and enjoying experiencing through your camera!!!

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