Thursday, July 20, 2006

Unless you're one of those Elvis fans planning to converge on Memphis during the week leading up to August 16th (to celebrate, if that's the right the word, the 29th Anniversary of His death in 1977), August is the time for spending lazy "quality time" with family and friends, for slumping on a beach, or for boating on a lake. It's also the time for aimless summer drives through the back roads of the rural heartland, hoping to come across a County Fair, a small town festival, or even a farmstand selling fresh corn or peaches. All over the country--in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, in the Finger Lakes of New York, or in the bluesy Mississippi Delta--people come together in beautiful places to celebrate different aspects of what makes America what it is.

One of the many great summer festivals is held way up north on the shores of Lake Superior: Big Top Chautauqua has been drawing visitors to a giant tent south of Bayfield, Wisconsin, for over 20 years. A non-profit throwback to the traveling tent shows and chautauquas that used to bring culture to rural America, Big Top Chautauqua shows include big-name performers, musicals, lectures, concerts, and circuses. Best of all, the festival is located within a quick boat ride of the gorgeous Apostle Islands, one of many unexpected wonders of the upper Midwest. From Bayfield, the drive along two-lane US-2 heads west through scenic Duluth (birthplace of Bob Dylan), Grand Rapids (birthplace of Judy Garland), and on to the headwaters of the Mississippi River near Bemidji (birthplace of Paul Bunyan). Heading east from Bayfield, the road continues along the lakeshores across the rugged Upper Peninsula, through places like Mackinac Island, Marquette, and Escanaba, where the lively UP State Fair takes place on August 14-20th.

Other roads to drive:

Aficionados of classic American motor cars come together at the end of August for the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival in Auburn, Indiana, where many of these great cars were produced. Northern Indiana abounds with roadside Americana, and a drive along US-6, a section of the historic Lincoln Highway, brings you across rural farmlands, past Amish farm stands (popcorn is a prime local product), to the American Windmill Museum, and along numerous small towns and post-industrial cities like Elkhart (boyhood home of writer Ambrose Bierce) and South Bend. The Hoosier State's northern tier also has an unexpected chunk of natural splendor: the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where miles of tall sand dunes front onto Lake Michigan, less than an hour from Chicago.

Who loves the American road better than motorcyclists? One place you don't want to have that argument is in Sturgis, South Dakota, where around August 10th some 100,000 Harley riders and their friends come together for a giant rally. Before and after the big event, bikers can be seen riding all over the nearby Black Hills, enjoying the curving S-turns as the make their way to pay respects at such national landmarks as Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Wall Drug.

Have fun!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jamie,

I just came back from a road trip through states. 75000 miles in 18 days. Mt. Rushmore, Yellow Stones, Grand Teton, Glacier, Crater Lake, Bodega Bay California, San Francisco, Reno, Rocky Mountains, Denver... It was a great trip. I had your book with me and was reading it while driving, to get ideas what roads to take and what places to visit. It's an amazing book. Thanks for all the tips! Here are some pictures from my trip:
http://www.disarea.com/pictures/bigtripusa_jun2006/
Keep up the good work!

6:55 PM  
Blogger Jamie Jensen said...

Hey disrea --

Thanks for the nice note (and the weblink, and your pictures!). Glad you like the book, and that you had such a cool trip.

If you want, maybe you can write up a short story and enter our contest. Win a free GPS thingamabobby, not to mention the fame and glory...

5:45 AM  

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