This year was a strange “holiday” in the era of Corona virus.
I had to bring my oldest son to college, necessitating a two-week quarantine in the US, and another when I returned to Italy.
In the middle was a one-week period in which I could drive him out to his new campus, and we could explore areas along the way.
This was a nice opportunity for me, too, since I do not know America’s midwest very well.
Although I’ve taken plenty of US cross-country trips, the enthusiasm always seems to wane in this area. For anyone who has taken 4-week driving trips across America’s vast spaces, you’ll understand me that by the time you’ve looped around the country through thousands and thousands of miles and finally reached Iowa or Indiana, you just want to call it a day and hightail it back home.
So this time we decided to stop off to explore the midwest – enjoying the drive to Ohio from Washington, DC, with stop-offs in West Virginia, around Ohio, and in Michigan.
I’ll write more about these places in future posts, but here’s an overview about the places we visited.
Wheeling, West Virginia
The drive through the mountains of West Virginia to reach here was picturesque. In its heydey, Wheeling was an important stop on the train line carrying passengers out to Chicago, and an important route for coal transport.
We still enjoyed watching the huge barges carrying coal that maneuver down the river. We dined at a wonderful riverside restaurant while visiting this town, and saw the amazing art deco theatre that used to host vaudeville acts and now plays host to country stars.
But the town itself has seen better days, and we were happy to return to our hotel before it grew dark.
Buckeye Lake, Ohio
This was a nice stop off on the hot day we drove from Wheeling to Columbus. Buckeye Lake was just along the road, so we decided to take a welcome break from driving to stretch our legs, and enjoy a pleasant walk around its shores.
Buckeye Lake was packed with boaters, visitors and lake home owners all enjoying the lake on a hot summer day.
Will definitely have to make a return visit so we can make time to dive in.
This was a nice surprise. I’d never been to Ohio’s capital before, and we had a lot of fun visiting this up-and-coming city. We stayed in the center and had a great time exploring by foot. And we did it justice – packing in the miles during the hot days of our visit.
Granted, it would have been better to see without the whole city on a rather rigid COVID lockdown. This was more jarring because the rest of Ohio seemed pretty much open for business.
Bizarrely, downtown shops were largely shuttered, while the massive outlet and shopping mall in the suburbs were open for (brisk) business.
But there was a lot to see, from the Scioto River walkway, to Short North art district, the Arena sports district and its (mostly closed) bars and restaurants and German Village.
Look forward to seeing Columbus again in the future as the lively city it must normally be.
Amish Country, Ohio
I’ve already written about this interesting corner of central/northern Ohio. You can read more about it in my recent post.
This is an interesting area to explore, and one which merits more time on a future visit.
I had not realized the area was so extensive and the population so large (about the same size as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania’s Amish settlements), and we were lucky to have visited on a perfect, sunny summer day. This was a nice find – and I look forward to returning.
We loved little Granville, about a 30-minute drive out of Columbus. The town and the pretty Denison University campus were really fun to explore on perfect summer days.
We took lots of long walks around the area, and saw plenty of deer, beavers and raccoons – a little different from our “wildlife” (or lack thereof) in Rome.
There was a small, but pretty downtown stretch, with restaurants and shops open for business with social distancing.
It’s a great area for walking and biking. Unfortunately, we didn’t have bikes, but we did wear down our shoes with all the miles we walked each day.
Lake Erie, Ohio
America’s Great Lakes never fail to impress, but I had never been to Lake Erie, so when driving up to Michigan after dropping off my son, I couldn’t miss the chance to visit its shores.
I chose to go to Maumee Bay State Park in northwest Ohio, unfortunately on a spotty weather day.
It started out great – warm and sunny, with a biting wind. I joined all the people on the beach for a water body that seemed more like the sea than a lake.
After hours of driving, I was happy to strech out my legs, read a few pages of my book and enjoy the fresh air. Unfortunately, the rain set in rather quickly, and my plans to explore the pathways through the marshes were quickly thwarted.
Still, this state park is definiteley on my radar for future trips – and next time I dive into those (chilly) waves of Lake Erie.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
This is the only place I had visited before, albeit years (decades?) earlier. Needless to say, it was a treat to be back. My last visit had been in the autumn, with the lovely foliage around University of Michigan’s campus, so it was also enjoyable to be back on a hot summer day.
Besides seeing a great friend who grew up here and could give ne the full tour, I also enjoyed retracing long-ago steps on campus and checking out (at the behest of my sports-obsessed younger son) the incredible, new athletics campus for this sports powerhouse.
Sadly, the indoor track he wanted me to check out was closed. It will have to be for next time.
Loved my time on the University of Michigan campus and wandering quaint Ann Arbor. It was a really enjoyable visit.
Morgantown, West Virginia
This was a really pleasant surprise. I’d never even heard about Morgantown, and didn’t have my hopes up after Wheeling. But I’m so pleased I stopped by this adorable town.
Morgantown has impressive walkways along the river. What used to be railway tracks,have now been converted into an impressive network of ideal paths for walking, jogging or biking. Make plans to spend some time here to explore this extensive network.
I also wandered around the University of West Virginia’s picturesque campus. My younger son loves their football team, and put me to shame for not knowing the Mountaineers. Mea culpa.
A super nice discovery for me, as I had no idea it was so pretty, and was lucky to enjoy it on a perfect summer day.
Cooper’s Rock State Forest, West Virginia
This was another super find – West Virginia’s Cooper’s Rock State Forest – only a short trip from Morgantown.
I had a long drive back to DC and chose to stretch my legs first. So glad I did!
West Virginia has beautiful nature, and that was on display in Cooper’s Rock.
This park area was constructed during the Great Depression, by public works programs. Young, unmarried men were selceted from poor West Virginia families and brought to this location to construct what is now the park and its dramatic outlooks.
They lived there are sent the bulk of their earnings back to their families. We visitors enjoying this forest today can thank and appreciate them for their service in creating these impressive state parks we still enjoy today.
I had limited time in this state park, and spent my time exploring the spectacular overlooks where I watched hawks circle the lush forestland. It was so peaceful. I only scratched the surface – hiking a short distance on some of the well-marked trails.
This, too, merits a longer visit to spend more time here and to explore the trails on offer. It must be well worth it to enjoy “West Virginia, Mountain Mama” with more time – and yes, I could not get John Denver’s song out of my head the whole time I was taking in these spectacular views. So glad I pushed back my departure to familiarize myself with this great location – already eager to return.
Worth the trip
While many may disparage America’s midwest as “fly-over” country, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a great area to explore – and I plan on doing more of this on future trips to this region.