Cross Country Road Trip 2017-Hippies, Bridges & Barns
Jul 15, 2017 | By: Chris Roth
Have you ever spent the night in a barn? Would you believe that I have?! Behind a cornfield in Rockville, Indiana, I found the coolest old barn with a converted bedroom downstairs. I can't wait to tell you about it.
But first, I had to get there. The initial leg of my road trip got me from Texas to Oklahoma. Next, I traveled into the beautiful mountains of Northwest Arkansas in search of Eureka Springs.
Continuing on county highways, the roads became more crooked and more hilly. I had to suppress the urge to cry "Weeee!" as I hugged the curves at speeds a tiny bit faster than I should have. The roads were trimmed with every color of wildflower I think I've ever seen. The mid-day sun streaked through the trees as if it was trying to spotlight the flowers just for me. All this amazing scenery made it difficult to stay focused on the winding road.
Soon, I arrived in the historic and artsy town of Eureka Springs. Founded in 1879, it became famous for its healing powers of the spring water. Today it's popular for its arts community, Victorian homes and funky downtown. I spent a couple of hours exploring the shops that lined the split level downtown area. To say there was a hippy vibe is a bit of an understatement. The shops were very unique with names like Hippie Biker Chick and tattoo parlors in Victorian era storefronts. But it's the laid back and free spirited locals who really give the town its flavor. One man said to me, "It's where the misfits have come together to fit in."
It's important to me to always contribute to a community I visit, even if it's only something small. I found a cute little handmade soap shop (made locally of course!) with a very sweet and helpful saleslady. Wanting something really unique, I chose Unicorn Farts soap for my daughter. Yep, I bought that. The rest of the day I spent exploring the countryside driving through the forests. At one point, the road brought me to an old bridge. I stopped and stared at it. Was I supposed to cross this thing? Was it still in use? Was it safe? It was an old one-lane wooden bridge and I couldn't see all the way to the other side. After seeing another car cross it, I shrugged my shoulders and got back in the car. I drove cautiously over White River hoping I wouldn't encounter another car coming from the other direction. It would not have been easy to drive backwards to where I started. Of course, everything went fine and I came out the other side to the picturesque town of Beaver.
Beaver is a quiet and nostalgic waterfront community and campground. The locals appear to be involved citizens, happy to share their slice of heaven with visitors. As I was setting up my camera gear on the banks of the river, I saw residents riding around on golf carts. Every so often, they would stop to pick up wayward trash and continue on with a smile and a wave.
The next day, I drove into Missouri towards Rolla in the Mark Twain National Forest. Most of my drive in the southern portion of the state was on county roads with lake or mountain views. Doing my best to avoid the crowded area of Branson, I enjoyed a day of gorgeous scenery. With just enough good sun left, I threw my bags down when I got to my Rolla Airbnb and drove to Maramec Spring Park in St. James (just north of Rolla). This beautiful oasis is home to one of the largest springs in Missouri with an average daily flow of 1 billion gallons of water. The spring provides a good environment for trout and for the local fly fisherman. I spent my time walking the property and enjoying the views.
Later, I took the historic drive through the back of the park learning about the Maramec Ironworks that was there in the 1800's. I read the stories about the men who worked there and their families. It was back-breaking and dangerous work, yet, they were grateful for their jobs. It was a subtle lesson in perspective and humility that I carried in the back of my mind for the rest of the trip. Bright and early the next day, I ventured on to Indiana. I really had little choice but to take the interstate as I drove east towards Illinois. The drive in and around St. Louis was so awful that I practically had to peel my fingers off the steering wheel when I finally got to Illinois. If I ever make that trip again, I will remain on county roads and I don't care how long it takes. It took most of the day to get to my final destination in Rockville, IN where my old red barn was waiting for me. I didn't mind the long drive a bit. Indiana had long stretches of pretty farmland with darling old towns every so often to break up the drive.
The closer I got to Rockville, the more I fell in love with Indiana. The communities I drove through were so peaceful and charming...and pristine. And the barns!! More red barns and silos than I could ever photograph in a lifetime!
Finally, I arrived to my home for the night, an old red barn built in 1938. It was located at the back of a large cornfield in a remote but beautiful area. The owner left it open for me, so I went inside to explore. When I opened the door, I saw a big staircase that went to the upper level. My bedroom was downstairs, to the right. It had a giant comfy bed, sitting area, mini-fridge and microwave. There was something that looked like a large cast iron stove in the middle of the room. I'm guessing it was used to heat the room in the snowy winters. There was no internet or cable but who cared? It was VERY rustic and basic, just like the old barn itself. I didn't mind at all. It's what I expected. And it's what I wanted. I was wiped out from the drive but that didn't stop me from spending the entire evening taking photos and exploring the property. There were so many cool old things to photograph my head was spinning. I tried to imagine what life was like for the people who built the barn 80 years ago.
An enormous black bunny showed up and followed me around all evening. When the owner came by later to check on me, he said it was a wild rabbit. I didn't know rabbits in the wild looked like that. When I sat outside and ate my dinner of cherry tomatoes and cheese sticks, the rabbit sat at my feet. I tried to feed it some of my tomatoes but he wasn't interested. I imagine he partakes in the all-you-can-eat buffet in the owner's vegetable garden. At sunset, a blanket of gold covered the fields and barn. It was gorgeous. I watched as the sky changed from blue to gold to pink and eventually to black.
When it got too dark to take photos anymore, I went inside to clean up for the night. Then, I remembered the owner said deer would come out after dark so I went back outside to see. Boy did I get a surprise! The fields were shrouded in darkness but just above them was a fireworks display of fireflies. We don't get them where I live in Texas so to see any at all was fun. But there were zillions of them all around me...everywhere! I started to laugh and clap my hands like a little kid. This place was awesome.
That's right about the time I heard the first coyote. Then another and another. The reality of my isolation finally sunk in. I immediately went inside, got in bed and pulled the covers over my head. Extreme exhaustion must have caused me to be overly anxious. I'm embarrassed to say what I did next. To drown out the sound of the coyotes, I popped in a DVD the owner had by the TV. The entire 4th season of The Big Bang Theory kept me company throughout the night (volume turned way up) so I could finally fall asleep. The next morning, I rolled my eyes at myself for acting like such a girl. Coyotes don't eat people. Right?? I drank my coffee outside looking for my long-eared friend. I never did see him again and tried not to connect dots back to the coyotes. The sun now on the opposite side of the property, I tried to take as many sunrise photos as I could. Everything was just as beautiful as the night before. With a long drive ahead of me up the Lake Michigan coastline, it was time to say goodbye to my awesome red barn. My heart was full.