What are your favorite rural areas of the United States?
July 19, 2007 10:46 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite, most inspirational rural areas of the United States? I'm thinking of places that would sync perfectly to U2's Heartland.

Despite growing up in the suburbs, I've always had a fascination with rural areas of the US. I love taking drives to familiar ones as well as discovering new ones. There's a certain indescribable something my favorite of these places have in common. The best I can say is that they would perfectly fit the mood of Heartland, always one of my favorite U2 songs. They're often rustic, sparsely populated and awe-inspiring in their simplicity as well as their beauty.

I'm not asking simply about scenic places, however, but rural areas that you find to be emotionally moving in some way. An easy answer might be to travel along Route 66, but I'm thinking more of destinations and less of travel routes.

I've found a few in my home state of Texas, in addition to some of my travels in Vermont. I have to imagine that there are many such areas in the Southwestern US, but I'd love to get some ideas from others.

Please, be as broad or specific as you'd like.
posted by dustinAFN to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I really loved driving through horse country in Kentucky. Take the back way from Louisville to Cincinnati, then carry on via a meandering route back down to Lexington. Big points for Red River Gorge.
posted by cior at 11:08 PM on July 19, 2007

Northern Mississippi

Most of Appalachia

"Boomtowns" that have gone bust

Coal mining towns
posted by Ynoxas at 11:19 PM on July 19, 2007

driving through the back roads of PA from Pittsburgh to the Delaware WaterGap during fall when the leaves turn colour, the hills are rolling, there are farms in some places and others just forest. that is some beautiful countryside Pennsylvania has.
posted by infini at 11:38 PM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm from back woods PA. Check out Northwestern Pennsylvania, and make sure to drive through Hooker (about an hour north of Pittsburgh).
posted by trim17 at 11:51 PM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

In rural Utah, I can recommend the Ephraim/Manti/Redmond area. Richfield, Utah, is one of two places I've ever had black licorice ice cream.

Further north in Utah, I've also enjoyed the very sparse rurality of the west desert near Vernon. But the quality of my experience there was tied to a couple of specific factors: There used to be a town there that was founded by one of my great-great grandfathers, and I was shown around by a friend of mine who happens to be an archaeologist specializing in that period and area. Absent these factors, well, it was still very sparse and rural and untouched.

Continuing north, you'll pass into Idaho, and then I'll recommend the really perfect territory of Montana at the north end of I-15. Then you can take I-90 across the Idaho panhandle and into northeastern Washington and some state or U.S. routes down to Pullman and through the Palouse country of southeastern Washington. Don't stop till you see the Colombia River.
posted by eritain at 12:34 AM on July 20, 2007

I really like that song too.

To me, 'Heartland' always feels like deep Autumn [late October - the corn brought in, cold nights with the hint of burning leaves, before the first snow] down near the Bourbon Trail.

In addition to 'Heartland' - maybe put in a little Iron & Wine on your playlist?
posted by LakesideOrion at 5:11 AM on July 20, 2007

My mother has a farm in west Tennessee, in a town called Adair that's so small - well Google Maps "doesn't have imagery at this zoom level for this region" until you're six levels up. It's on Route 88, locally known as "Old Route 20" or the "Old Bells Road", about midway between Jackson and Bells, which are small towns themselves, north of Rt. 40 about midway between Nashville and Memphis. There's no-one there who doesn't work the land or sell equipment for it, and damn few people under 50 years old, but it isn't bleak, it just isn't on the way anywhere.
posted by nicwolff at 5:39 AM on July 20, 2007

Deer Isle, Maine. At its southern end is Stonington, a tiny lobstering town. I love sitting on the granite boulders and watching the boats and the tides.

(I live in Pittsburgh and have never heard of the places mentioned above. Have to go for a Sunday drive.)
posted by booth at 6:38 AM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Missouri Breaks country in Montana. Highway 20 and then 12 in northern Nebraska and the Sandhills country of Nebraska (or any of the highways along the Niobrara and Loup Rivers). Highway 230 through the Snowy Mountains south from I-80 in Wyoming south through Encampment down to Walden, Colorado (and then beyond, to the Rockies) where you are surrounded by nothing but mountains and ranchers. The areas of New Mexico near the Gila Wilderness or near White Sands. The Ozarks and the Ouachitas. South Pass City and Atlantic City in the Wind River Mountains (old gold mining ghost towns). Any of the big basins in Wyoming - Bighorn, Wind River, Powder, Green: there are roads where you'll become nervous because you haven't seen anybody all day, if you're the type that gets nervous about that, except for a sheep rancher and his dog.

And what eritain said.
posted by barchan at 6:39 AM on July 20, 2007

Ohio between Columbus and Cleveland has some downright iconic farmland -- rolling hills and clean silos and white frame houses and all that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:42 AM on July 20, 2007

Nicwolff... I know that general vicinity because my mothers family is from Sardis, TN, population 445. Google says its 56 miles from Adair.

I've been visiting there every year for my entire life. One of the roads there is named after my family. It's intensely rural, and beautiful. But also sad, because these little towns are fading away. Young people leave, the old people die.

I grew up in rural East TN/Southwest Virginia, and it's alsostrikingly lovely. My feelings about the area complex. The people are generous and kind, but also intensely crazy-making in their political and religious views.
posted by kimdog at 6:54 AM on July 20, 2007

The drive through southern Wyoming and northern Utah inspired some feelings of awe and bleakness, but it's probably not the kind of heartland-y thing you're looking for. What's closer is part of central Kansas (between Russell and Oakley) where all you see are giant sunflower fields in full bloom and hydraulic water pumps with folksy bits of wisdom painted on them.
posted by deern the headlice at 7:43 AM on July 20, 2007

Visit either the North or South Dakota badlands (or stop at the Black Hills/Rapid City), but start on the east side of either state (Fargo, Sioux Falls respectively). You'll see plenty of farmland that starts out really flat and then eventually gains a few hills. Overall, it may be an acquired taste, but I still miss the skies.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:08 AM on July 20, 2007

The north and south of California -- specifically the outskirts of Eureka and the suburbs of San Diego. Humboldt County to the north, simply put, is God's country -- breathtaking spacious, open and green hills that seem to go on forever. I was so moved by this scenic beauty that I had a lump in my throat. Near these bucolic surroundings are forrests with massive redwoods that have been the focus of controversy with the logging industry. San Diego is a beautiful, compact city in itself, but you must get to the suburbs -- specifically Escondido, San Marcos, Santee and Poway. I remember never being so glad to get lost driving through Escondido, with rolling citrus groves, deep gulleys and awe-inspring elevations. Have fun.
posted by terrier319 at 8:13 AM on July 20, 2007

There's a section of Rte 91 southbound, just south of Greenfield in Western Mass., where the road curves just so, and the fields on either side are home to small tobacco barns. The river glints and oxbows, and hills are gentle. I haven't driven that stretch in years, but I can still feel the sense of homecoming I experienced when I did - and I only lived in Western Mass. for about 18 months. (I lived in other parts of New England for years.) I love California, and I am at home here, but there's something about the geography and geology of New England that will always mean home to me in a way that nowhere else can.
posted by rtha at 8:33 AM on July 20, 2007

Many thanks to everyone for all the great suggestions. This community never fails to impress.

LakesideOrion, you have the keys to my heart. I considered mentioning Iron and Wine as well, specifically The Creek Drank The Cradle. Also the U2 song 'Promenade.' Both are perfect accompaniment for this sort of rural emotion I'm describing.

kimdog: you are quite right - another characteristic of these places is that they're fast disappearing. And in the event that young people actually are staying, many of the areas get bulldozed and turned into McMansionville. At least that's the way it is in Texas. It's very sad indeed and it's makes seeing them now all the more urgent.
posted by dustinAFN at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Nebraska Sandhills (mentioned above) are amazing. 20,000 square miles of rolling sand dunes covered with prairie grass, cattle ranches, and small towns.

Small towns like Mullen (pop 550), smack in the middle of the Sandhills, which has one of the more enjoyable historical museums I've been to.

Small towns like Thedford (pop 182) whose museum contains a world-class collection of barbed-wire samples.

Small towns like Burwell (pop 1100), in the southeast corner of the Sandhills, home to Nebraska's Big Rodeo, one of the oldest outdoor rodeos in the country.

Larger towns like Alliance (pop. 9000) , in the Northwest corner of the Sandhills and home to Carhenge.

The best way to experience it is to drive Highway 2 from Grand Island to Alliance, but any way you experience it, it's exactly what you're talking about.
posted by dersins at 9:19 AM on July 20, 2007

The Driftless Area has a cool mixture of beauty and quirky small towns. For specific ones, I'm a big Black River Falls, WI fan. Or try Sparta, WI, it's a cool small town in the driftless area, and also has a giant fiberglass "creature" plant.
posted by drezdn at 9:30 AM on July 20, 2007

I'm in love with all of the New England countryside, but especially fond of the rolling hills and grazing lands you find in the Northern Berkshires and Green Mountains. There's just something about the way that the broad mountains rise up out of the fields, and the rivers twist and meander through the valleys that doesn't seem to exist anywhere else. It's like this for a big stretch from Western Mass. all the way up to Lake Champlain in Vermont, with little villages and mill towns, nothing but cows and corn in between. I spent a lot of time riding my bike on the roads in this area in college, and haven't been anywhere else that's quite as nice a place to cycle. (I love the White Mountains of New Hampshire, too, for their scenery and ruggedness, but in terms of an emotional tie, they're not quite the same.)

Also, my mom grew up in a tiny little town in Ohio, between Cleveland and Toledo, just a few miles south of Lake Erie. Outside of town there's nothing but cornfields and the some of the flattest land east of the Mississippi. But every time I drive out along I-80/90 in that region, I'm just overcome with nostalgia -- for long childhood car trips, the emptiness of the land, memories of how strange this rural existence seemed to me, a kid from the crowded Philly suburbs, and of trips to Cedar Point. So northern Ohio is definitely one of those places for me.
posted by dseaton at 10:09 AM on July 20, 2007

athens ohio?
posted by infini at 10:25 AM on July 20, 2007

Southern Louisiana ... St. Mary Parish. My favorite rural place. It is where my great great grandmother started her family and it's where much of my family still lives ... sugar cane fields for miles ... driving down to Cypremort Point ... walking down the narrow country lanes. Beautiful.
posted by SoulOnIce at 7:09 PM on July 20, 2007

Northern Maine, 11 north from 95 to Fort Kent. Very sparsely populated but with amazing views of miles of river/lakes and forests.
posted by sulaine at 6:58 AM on July 21, 2007

South and central South Dakota (my home state) are good as well - skip the Interstate, though, and take the back roads. The run-down reservation towns (Pine Ridge, Mission, Interior, Scenic, etc.) always inspire that same rural sadness me as "Heartland" does. Seconding the Badlands suggestion.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 2:28 PM on July 21, 2007

My friends and I listened to "Heartland" as we drove over the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, MS, and I'd say it was the perfect soundtrack, for obvious reasons. I imagine any trip over the Missisippi River (and surrounding areas) would be just the right fit.
posted by shannonm at 5:36 PM on July 24, 2007

Is there a spot to see sun flower fields and fly fish within the same general area? I was thinking Montana.

If you drive the backroads off of I-95 in Georgia and South Carolina around Thanksgiving you will see cotton lining the old country roads. Just flowing with the wind. With the white on the road and the leaves on trees in a beautiful collage of oranges, reds and browns, this is heartland to me. It reminds me of simpler, carefree times.
posted by ACAlgire at 8:53 AM on September 22, 2007

« Older Queer mexican kidnapper film?   |   How do I help my girlfriend know what she wants? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.