The Great River Road

Just under 50 miles south of Chester, 8 miles east of the GRR via Hwy-146, the small town of Jonesboro hosted the third of seven 1858 U.S. Senate campaign debates between challenger Abe Lincoln and incumbent Stephen Douglas, who tried to portray Lincoln as being out of touch with the people over the issue of slavery. Although Illinois was a designated free state, this area had strong sympathies with the South, something it maintains to this day. For proof, enjoy the down-home ambience and delicious smoked pork barbecue at Dixie Barbecue (205 W. Broad St., 618/833-6437). Broad Street, a.k.a. Hwy-146, roughly marks the route of the Trail of Tears, the 1838 winter death march of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland west to reservations in Oklahoma.

Back on Hwy-3, just north of I-57 and the town of Cairo, the GRR passes Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area, an example of what happens when the river shifts to a new channel and leaves an oxbow lake behind. Now prime winter habitat for over a million migrating geese and ducks, its tupelo gum trees, bald cypress, and swamp cottonwoods foreshadow the scenery found downstream among the bayous of the Mississippi Delta.