Family called, and we saddled up our van for a five hour trip up US Highway 54, which crosses Missouri but also coincidentally runs three blocks from my teenage home in El Paso, Texas and through the middle of the town where my father was raised, Hooker, in Oklahoma's panhandle.
We can catch Highway 54 north of Buffalo at Macks Creek, and follow it southwest to northeast across Missouri, through the Lake of the Ozarks (a rich man's playground as evidenced by lakefront condos and boats with six-figure price tags), the state capitol of Jefferson City (where any traveler should stop to enjoy the Thomas Hart Benton mural in the capitol building), then skirting the edge Mexico (the city where our Senator Bond's family made a fortune in the brick business).
East of Mexico, the land grows flat and the row crops grow prolific, mainly soybeans and corn. And between Mexico and Bowling Green, there seemed to be dozens of fields of specially-identified soybeans. "Specially identified" means set number of rows (or perhaps whole fields) are marked by seed companies to monitor growth. One quarter-section apparently was planted with more than a dozen different hybrids, and on the third day of October, they were in different stages of maturity.
The only harvesting we saw was corn picking. East of Bowling Green, the land begins to fall away toward the river city of Louisiana, Missouri, and there are fewer row crops. The old highway, US Highway 54, wasn't especially busy, but there were a number of pickups, some with trailers, some not; some with dog boxes; some with four wheelers. Those who know say waterfowl numbers are exceeding wetland capacity, and so I assume duck and goose season is open.
Louisiana, Missouri (home of the famous Stark Brothers Nurseries) appears less prosperous than some other Missouri cities, but the two-lane bridge that crosses the Mississippi carries travelers past a large marina filled with runabouts, cruisers, and even large houseboats and cabin crusiers. But there's no city big enough to attract corporate franchises until a person reaches Pittsfield, Illinois.
The sign appears at the edge of the highway in the one-stop town of Atlas, Illinois, between Louisiana and Pittsfield. In the near 800-mile round-trip, though, we saw no worms, multiple great blue herons migrating south, and only one Amish family buggy-traveling west between Louisiana and Bowling Green.
America is there, but it isn't on the Interstates.