by Michael Boyink /firstname.lastname@example.org
“There is no there there.”
American novelist Gertude Stein once that of Oakland, California.
We found it to also be true of Venice, Louisiana.
I wanted to drive the entire length of the Mississippi River. We we started at the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota.
The fall colors in Minnesota were stunning. The park was well-marked, with a designated place to rock-hop across the Mississippi at its source.
Driving south, we’d found adventure all the way down.
We learned to curl in St. Paul, MN. Watched river tows go through lock and dams in Moline, IN. Rode up into the Gateway Arch in St Louis. Almost ditched our truck and RV after a wrong turn in Kentucky. Visited Sun Studio in Memphis. Found the blues crossroads in Clarksdale, MS. Visited Kermit the Frog’s birthplace in Leland, MS. Heard live jazz in New Orleans.
Venice was supposed to be the triumphant end of the trip. We made camp in New Orleans, and bundled off in the truck to complete the last 77 miles of the 2000 mile journey, take the photo, and buy the bumper sticker.
South of New Orleans, the Mississippi River is not scenic. Hidden behind earthen levees and cement flood-control walls, the surface of the river is actually at a higher elevation than the road.
We passed a few citrus farms. We stopped at Fort Jackson – still rebuilding from being flooded during a hurricane.
And then, into Venice.
Venice was the song that ends with an unresolved chord. The novel that just stops without concluding the plot. The amusement park that’s closed for cleaning after you drive cross-country with your family to get there.
There was no “End of the Great River Road” sign. No dedicated turnaround. No scenic photo opportunity. No shop of Great River Road trinkets.
Venice was a collection of weedy fields surrounded by chain link fence, storage tanks, radio towers, electric lines, and shrimp boats.
Without a soul in sight.
And the River? We couldn’t tell where the actual Mississippi was. Or used to be. Or was supposed to be.
The shipping channel went on past where we could drive. It may have contained the river. Or not.
The satellite view of Venice shows the Mississippi fragmenting into what looks like the root system of a tree, with several outlets connecting into the ocean.
I really didn’t even know what to point the camera at.
The Venice city sign seemed as good as anything.
The Great River Road gets described in lofty terms: “America’s most important scenic byway.” “One of America’s National Treasures.” “America’s Greatest Drive.”
After the fizzle-out ending in Venice, we weren’t too sure about those descriptions.
In time we got over that. And were able to think about our experience of driving the Great River Road.
It may not be the greatest. Or the most scenic. Or the most important.
But the Great River Road slices through the heart of America. Physically and culturally.
And that makes it the most purely American road trip you can find.
“The Great River Road is a collection of state and local roads that follow the course of the Mississippi River through ten states of the United States.” Learn more at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_River_Road.