The Road to Nowhere

Explore the empty expanse from North Dakota to Matamoros, Mexico
By Jamie Jensen
Carhenge, Nebraska
GHOSTS OF MOTORS PAST: Carhenge, Nebraska (Corbis)

Once the only entirely paved route from Canada to "Old Mexico" (as hard-to-find postcards along the route still say), US-83 is still likely the shortest—from Swan River, Manitoba, dead south to Brownsville, Texas, and beyond to Matamoros, Mexico, seemingly without turning once. Its grim moniker, "The Road to Nowhere," is alternately unfair and then not severe enough, for the route navigates some of the widest and most aesthetically challenged landscapes in the country: the yawn-inducing rolling grasslands of the northern Great Plains, the beefy expanses of western Nebraska and Kansas, and the mesmerizing heat of the Texas/Oklahoma Panhandle, before following the lower Rio Grande south to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet on US-83 you'll also take in some phenomenal country: verdant farmland dotted with truly small towns, endlessly shifting prairie grassland, winding Missouri River roadways, and plain, isolated, where-the-hell-am-I agricultural expanses.

Following roughly along the 100th Meridian, US-83 marks the historic divide between the "civilized" eastern United States and the arid western deserts. Physiography aside, this route's cultural landscape centers around small but self-sufficient farm or cattle communities that date back to the last days of the Wild West and that are far enough off the tourist trail to retain an unself-conscious, aw-shucks quaintness. For endless miles in every direction, telephone and power poles provide some of the only signs of life between the highway and the distant horizon, though the towns—where average speeds drop suddenly from 70 mph to radar-enforced 25 mph or slower—are spaced just often enough along the highway to serve your food-and-fuel needs.

Perhaps best of all, US-83 manages to transnavigate this broad, odd nation, albeit north-to-south, without once grazing a conventional tourist attraction. Here in the nation's heartland, conversations over a daybreak breakfast, afternoons spent cooling off by municipal swimming pools, and twilight American Legion baseball games provide the stuff of truly memorable road trip diversions, and for that reason alone, US-83 remains a must-do long-distance byway.

Article © Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.


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