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Golden opportunity
Scenic drives unveil beautiful autumn colors

Fall colors reflect in the lake at Martin State Forest in southern Indiana (left). At Spring Mill State Park, visitors will see the grist mill and listen as interpreters share pioneer history./ Raymond Bial photo
By Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer
Published: Sep/Oct 2000

Warm, golden days that linger into early autumn are perfect for exploring the nearby countryside. Foliage pops, festivals entertain, and somehow, the coming preparation for winter seems less of a task.

While not the definitive list, here are four drives to help you take advantage of a beautiful Midwestern fall.

Grist mills and tall trees

A scenic fall drive of approximately 85 miles in the Bedford area of southern Indiana will take you through wooded, rolling hills to caves, a pioneer village and a covered bridge. Fall color usually peaks during the third and fourth weeks of October.

Bedford limestone built the Empire State Building and Washington National Cathedral. The "Land of Limestone" exhibit on the Bedford Campus of Oakland City University explains the history of limestone quarrying in Indiana Exhibit hours are from 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday.

Before leaving Bedford, see a memorial to local stone carver, Louis Baker, in the Green Hill Cemetery. The stone carver’s bench, tools, whisk broom and work apron look ready to welcome Baker to a day’s work.

Now drive southwest on scenic state Route 450, which winds through the Hoosier National Forest. Stop at Williams to see Indiana’s longest covered bridge (376 feet) that’s still open to traffic.

Continue southwest on Route 450, turn south on U.S. Highway 50/U.S. Highway 150, and then head back east on U.S. Highway 50 at Shoals. Stop to enjoy the reflections of the leaves in the lake in pretty Martin State Forest.

Take state Route 60 to Mitchell for antique shopping (annual Persimmon Festival Sept. 23–30), then continue on to Spring Mill State Park, a highlight of the drive. Visit the restored pioneer village with costumed interpreters. The park also features a lake, trails, two caves, a campground, horse trails and an attractive lodge and restaurant. Fall events include a candlelight tour of the village Sept. 23 and Haunted Village Weekend Oct. 21-22.

To continue your drive, turn north onto state Route 37. At U.S. Highway 50, turn southwest and follow signs to Bluespring Caverns for a boat ride into a pretty cave. Return to Bedford via Route 37.

For more information, call the Lawrence County Tourism Commission at 1-800-798-0769.

The Shawnee Hills

A drive of approximately 100 miles will take you through wooded hills in the tip of southern Illinois adjacent to the Ohio River. Several areas of the Shawnee National Forest are known for spectacular fall color, which usually peaks around the third weekend in October.

To begin your tour, leave Harrisburg on routes 45/34/145 south. Pick up information and maps at the Shawnee National Forest office on Route 34/145 just after it leaves Route 45.

Stay on Route 34, then turn east on winding Karbers Ridge Road to Garden of the Gods. Here, sculpted sandstone formations jut out into the valley, giving gorgeous views of the red and gold forest.

A few miles further along Karbers Ridge Road, the Rim Rock National Recreational Trail passes near a prehistoric stone wall, then leads down through narrow passageways in the cliffs to Ox-Lot Cave. Another trail circles the lake at Pounds Hollow. Both Garden of the Gods and Pounds Hollow recreation sites have picnicking and campgrounds.

Continue on to state Route 1, and then drive south to Cave-in-Rock State Park on the Ohio River, where outlaws ambushed river travelers from a cavern above the river. The park has many facilities, including a campground, a restaurant, and attractive duplex cabins overlooking the river.

Return on Route 1 to state Route 146 west, stopping to watch the river traffic at Tower Rock. Then turn northwest to Eddyville Road to Eddyville. For more fall color, take the trail to Lusk Creek Canyon (Indian Kitchen on some maps) just east of Eddyville or hike, picnic or camp at beautiful Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area. To reach Bell Smith Springs drive north on a gravel road from Eddyville, then turn west to the park. Return to Harrisburg on Route 145.

For more information, call Southern-most Illinois Tourism at 1-800-248-4373.

Blue springs and red leaves

A 70-mile roundtrip will take you over roller-coaster roads through rugged hills, mainly in Ozark National Scenic Riverways in the Ozark Heritage Region of southern Missouri. Fall color usually peaks about the third week in October.

The drive starts in Eminence, a small, laid-back Ozark town with a couple of restaurants and shops, a grocery store, canoe outfitters, facilities for trail rides and lodging.

To begin your drive, head west on state Route 106 to Alley Spring, a bubbling turquoise millpond by a picturesque red mill. Alley has a picnic ground and a large campground along the clear, rushing Jacks Fork River. The site is a photographer’s dream, especially when the leaves take on their vibrant burnt orange, deep scarlet and brilliant yellow hues.

Return to Eminence, now, and drive east on Route 106. Along this rolling, winding highway you’ll pass Two Rivers Campground, where the Jacks Fork joins the Current River. Further east is the Powder Mill Campground, where a 1.5-mile trail leads to Blue Spring. A steep gravel road several miles to the east also leads to this beautiful deep blue spring.

Retrace your route back over Route 106 to county road H and head south. Take county road NN northeast to Rocky Falls, where water flows down a step-like cliff into a lovely pool.

Return to H and continue on south to Winona. Turn north on winding, very scenic state Route 19 and follow it back to Eminence.

For more information, call 1-800-877-1234 or visit the Web site www.missouritourism.org. Or call the Ozark National Scenic Riverways at (573) 323-4236, or visit the Web site www.nps.gov/ozar.

The Garden of Eden and stone posts in Kansas

A tour of about 130 miles, starting in Salina, will take you through the Smoky Hills. In this area, known as Post Rock Country, stone fence posts filled in for scarce lumber. Many buildings are constructed of the same limestone. Fall color peaks in mid-October.

Before you leave Salina, visit the Smoky Hill Historical Museum, which focuses on the heritage of the area, or attend Santa Fe Days festival Sept. 23–24. You can sample Kansas wines at the Smoky Hill Vineyards & Winery just north of Salina on Interstate 135/U.S. highway 81. The winery will celebrate Oktoberfest from Oct. 6–8.

Continue north on I-135 to Minneapolis to visit the excellent George Washington Carver exhibit in the Ottawa County Museum or sample a dessert at the Blue Store Emporium.

Nearby Rock City will take you into a unique landscape: the world’s largest outcropping of sandstone concretions. About 200 mostly spherical or elliptical formations, ranging from 8 to 27 feet in diameter, were formed underground and exposed by erosion.

Now head south on state Route 106 and west on state Route 18. The Post Rock Capital of Kansas is at Lincoln, named for the president by an early settler who was Abraham Lincoln’s neighbor. The Lincoln courthouse is an architectural gem, built from native limestone. The beautiful landmark, which is 100 years old this year, will hold a centennial ceremony on Sept. 2.

Further west on Route 18, head north on state Route 181 for about six miles to have a post rock inscribed with your name or address at the Vonada Stone Quarry.

Return to Route 18 and continue on to Lucas to visit the Garden of Eden, a quirky menagerie of concrete statues–on the ground and perched in trees–built by a Civil War Veteran. By the time he was finished, S. P. Dinsmoor had used more than 113 tons of concrete.

A mile east of Lucas turn south onto the Post Rock Scenic Byway, an 18-mile stretch of state Route 232 through the Smoky Hills between Lucas and Wilson. Scenic turnouts offer great views of Wilson Lake.

Tour the Czech Opera House, buy a kolach, a Czech sweet roll, or shop for folk art and other Kansas-made articles at Kansas Originals Market in Wilson.

Head back to Salina over Interstate 70, leaving time to view rare and endangered species at the Rolling Hills Refuge and Wildlife Conservation Center at Hedville.

For more information about Post Rock country, call (785) 524-5133.

These are just a taste of scenic fall drives in the Midwest. Try one, or follow your own route. But remember that fall is fleeting. If you miss sampling one of these drives, you’ll be hungry for autumn color until next year.

Jinny Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.


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