This is a little spot on the Web devoted to the peoples, cultures, history and natural history, news items and events found along the 1,885 miles of U.S. Route 83.
By way of introduction, Highway 83 passes from border to border through six states and one Native American nation — North Dakota, South Dakota, the Rosebud Reservation, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It intersects with every major east-to-west road and historic trail. It passes by beautiful river valleys, the Northern and Southern Great Plains, the Sand Hills of Nebraska, Texas Hill Country and the Rio Grande Valley. By my count, there are 122 towns and cities along the way, each with its own story to tell.
|Highway 83 in the Nebraska Sand Hills|
As for me, I’m the author of several books. My father grew up in a small town along the road: Stapleton, Nebraska, population 300. I spent many summers visiting my grandparents there. Whenever my cousin Devin and I would leave on our bikes to go to the South Loup River, my grandmother would yell out, “Be Careful! That road runs from Canada to Mexico!” I guess she believed that there were Canadian perverts trolling the highway for 12-year-old boys to kidnap and spirit away into Mexico!
So the fact that there was something special about Highway 83 was in the back of my mind from a young age.
In 2009, I had been thinking about my next book project for months. One night I snapped awake with the idea to write about Highway 83 and the history along the way. How this idea was dredged out of my subconscious, I don’t know. I couldn’t fall back asleep as I worked out the details for how I would manage to travel the entire length of the highway. That would not be an easy task since I do have a full-time job and I live in Arlington, Virginia.
Long story, short, I made two field research trips. I spent two weeks in the fall of 2009 traveling Highway 83 from the border just north of Westhope, N.D., to I-90 in Kansas, just north of Oakley. The following spring, I finished the trip, and made it to Brownsville, Texas. They were two of the best trips I have ever taken — and I’ve been around.
Since then, I began the U.S. Route 83 Travel Page to encourage tourism along the road, and to bring business to the small towns along the way. I started the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook, which now has more that 720 members, and continues to grow.
I thought it would take me a year to finish the manuscript. Not so. My wife and I welcomed our first child in 2011, and suddenly the extra time I had to write vanished. I got sidetracked in 2012 writing a piece of long-form journalism, Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding. And then, this year, we had a happy surprise with a second child. When will I ever finish this Highway 83 book, I asked myself?
The good news is that large chunks of the manuscript are finished.
The Wounded Knee work taught me that there is an appetite for short books. And so I decided to do something unusual — a serialized nonfiction book.
Later this year, I hope to publish the North Dakota section of the book. The other states will follow, along with some break-out stories such as the short nonfiction story I published last year. Murder on Route 83.
This isn’t a book, it is a life-long project I am calling The Highway 83 Chronicles. I hope I do publish the complete book someday. Yet I also hope to continue writing about and traveling 83 for the rest of my life. The Last American Highway is a book. The Highway 83 Chronicles is something even bigger.
This blog will be widely focused. The road itself is the least interesting part of this project. It is the stories and people found along the way that fascinate me and keeps me writing. History, book reviews, upcoming events, news items, some teasers from the upcoming series of books, will be the subjects of the semi-regular posts. Guest bloggers are welcome! Send me an email with your ideas.
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Next week, the Farm Security Administration Depression-era photographers and the pictures they took along Highway 83.
Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) yahoo.com) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon.com or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83.