Driving the Road to Nowhere
Once the only entirely paved route from Canada to “Old Mexico” (as hard-to-find postcards along the route still say), US-83 or “The Road to Nowhere” is still likely the shortest path between the two. Beginning at Swan River, Manitoba, the Road to Nowhere heads dead south to Brownsville, Texas, and beyond to Matamoros, Mexico, seemingly without turning once.
The route’s grim moniker is alternately unfair and then not severe enough. This road trip navigates some of the widest and most aesthetically challenged landscapes in the country—the yawn-inducing rolling grasslands of the northern Great Plains, the beefy expanses of western Nebraska and Kansas, and the mesmerizing heat of the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle—before following the lower Rio Grande south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Yet on US-83 you’ll also take in some phenomenal country: verdant farmland dotted with truly small towns, endlessly shifting prairie grassland, winding Missouri River roadways, and plain, isolated, where-the-hell-am-I agricultural expanses.
Following roughly along the 100th meridian, US-83 marks the historic divide between the “civilized” eastern United States and the arid western deserts. Physiography aside, this route’s cultural landscape centers on small but self-sufficient farm or cattle communities that date back to the last days of the Wild West and that are far enough off the tourist trail to retain an unselfconscious, aw-shucks quaintness. For endless miles in every direction, telephone and power poles provide some of the few signs of life between the highway and the distant horizon, though the towns—where average speeds drop suddenly from 70 mph to radar-enforced 25 mph or slower—are spaced just often enough along the highway to serve your food-and-fuel needs.
Perhaps best of all, US-83 manages to transnavigate this broad, odd nation, albeit north-to-south, without once grazing a conventional tourist attraction. Here along the backbone of the nation, conversations over a daybreak breakfast, afternoons spent cooling off by municipal swimming pools, and twilight American Legion baseball games provide the stuff of truly memorable Road Trip diversions, and for that reason alone, US-83 remains a must-do long-distance byway.
Top Stops along the Road to Nowhere
For more insight into each stop along the route, our content is arranged by state. Here are some worthy stops along US-83 where travelers aiming to follow only a section of the full cross-country route may wish to use to plan their drive:
- Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota – The park protects the remains of dozens of terraced fields, fortifications, and earth lodges and is devoted to the preservation of the Plains nations’ cultures
- Sitting Bull Memorial, South Dakota – The final resting place of the great Sioux leader
- Wall Drug, South Dakota – America’s most famous roadside business
- North Platte, Nebraska – A key stop on both the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express, but most widely known as the home of Buffalo Bill Cody
- Liberal, Kansas – Home to a few annual festivals including OzFest, celebrating The Wizard of Oz
- San Antonio, Texas – Take a detour to remember the Alamo in San Antonio
- South Padre Island, Texas – Start or end your road trip at the resort town of South Padre Island, a strong contrast to the sleepy historic towns of the Rio Grande Valley