Favorite Places on a US-33 Roadtrip
Continuing the US-numbered highways in order, today Roadtrip-'62 ™ should look at US-32. But there was no US-32 by 1962! It once existed and a bit of its story is at a page about several defunct highway numbers. We traveled most of that old route as Days 19-24 of our US-6 trip! Instead, let’s look at the next route, US-33. US-33 is one of those unusual routes that is numbered with and odd number, which should indicate a north-south direction, but which actually travels mostly east-west. It is even signed as east-west along its 709 miles from Elkhart, Indiana to Richmond, Virginia. It roughly follows an historic trail used by Native Americans from Chesapeake Bay to Lake Michigan. The northern end was at Coloma, north of St. Joseph, Michigan, in 1962, though it had ended in the latter town until 1959. Route US-33 was signed together with US-31 between that point and South Bend, Indiana. It was shortened to end in Niles, Michigan in 1986, in South Bend in 1999, and Elkhart by 2008. Our Roadtrip-'62 ™ travels have crossed US-33 in Columbus, Ohio while driving on US-23, and at Ligonier, Indiana on our US-6 trip.
Let’s look at some places we could have visited back in 1962! Five miles southwest of old US-33 at Berrien Center, Michigan is Bear Cave. This is Michigan’s only naturally formed cave. Many states have extensive cave systems, but as Michigan was covered in ice during the last glacial period, the state is mostly covered in the sand, clay, and gravel that settled out of the melting ice, so that no caves show at the surface except this one. The walls of the cave are tufa, a type of limestone formed when certain minerals precipitate out of water, such as in the braided channels found at the meltlines of glaciers. Bear Cave has multiple rooms, though the whole thing is only about 150 feet long. After heading down some stairs, you will see various formations and fossils throughout the passage and rooms. There is even a pool in one room. Another room was used to hide slaves fleeing north in the Underground Railroad system of the pre-Civil War days. There is also a small waterfall on the property, another geologic rarity in southern Michigan.
South Bend, Indiana was the home of the Studebaker Corporation. The last new car designed by Studebaker, the Avanti, was created in 1962, as the company was nearing the end of its life. It was not enough to save the company and they closed their South Bend plant in December of 1963. After closing, The Studebaker Corporation donated its collection of 37 vehicles and company archives to the City of South Bend in 1966. The collection was housed at a number of South Bend locations thereafter and now resides at the Studebaker Museum there. Studebaker was a wagon, buggy, carriage, and harness manufacturer based in South Bend. It was founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868. It entered the automotive business in 1902, building electric vehicles (yes, they are an old idea). Since 1916, it has kept a museum collection at its headquarters, which later became a full-fledged public museum. I’m sure we could have seen some company history and maybe even a couple of cars from 1962.
We already saw the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo at Fort Wayne, Indiana, when I traveled The Lincoln Highway, US-30. So what else can we see in Fort Wayne? Not The Old Fort, also known as Historic Fort Wayne, as this recreation was only constructed for the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. The original fort, constructed in 1815, deteriorated until it was finally torn down in 1852. Fort Wayne was a strategic location in the late 18th century because you could connect from Lake Erie to the Mississippi River with only a short canoe portage between the Maumee River and the Eel River. Instead, I’m in the mood for flowers today, but the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is also too new for our road trip. The Conservatory only opened in 1983. But Lakeside Park & Rose Garden opened in 1920! Before Parks Superintendent Adolf Jaenicke had the garden constructed, the depression of the lake had been used as a neighborhood dump. Besides the rose garden, his park design features sunken gardens, a lakeside walk, plus fountains and pavilions. The completed rose garden, elevated above a sunken garden with reflecting ponds, was finished in the early 1920’s and has brought many thousands of visitors to Lakeside Park. It displays over 1500 roses of 150 varieties, including climbing roses over the long pergola. By 2005, the original garden structures were showing their age, so the city rebuilt all the retaining walls, stairs, sidewalks and reflecting ponds. It has been a National Rose Garden since 1928.
Just inside Ohio, Grand Lake St. Marys is an artificial lake originally constructed as a feeder reservoir for the Miami & Erie Canal, between 1825 and 1847. It was dug by hand and was the world's largest man-made lake when constructed. It is still the largest inland lake in Ohio. The area was a wet prairie before lake construction and has an average depth of only 5–7 feet. Ohio’s canal system flourished for only about thirty years before it was replaced by the railroads as faster and less expensive transportation. Before the lake became a recreational destination, another attempt at making money from it was made. By 1891, oil was discovered in the area and oil derricks proliferated. Grand Lake became the first offshore oil drilling location in the world. The discovery of greater oil reserves in Texas put an end to Ohio’s first oil boom. A state park was established in 1949 and now Grand Lake St. Marys State Park offers 52 miles of shoreline for boating and fishing, as well as a family campground, swimming pool, and picnic areas. There are four public swimming beaches scattered around the lake. The park also has 3 miles of trails and a hiking connection to the canal feeder junction near the historic Miami and Erie Canal. This connects to the Miami-Erie Trail, Buckeye Trail, and North Country Scenic Trail. The park is a great location to see migratory waterfowl including geese, loons, ducks, grebes, and swans. American white pelicans have been seen here every year for almost a decade, with the first nests seen in 2019. These birds historically bred in the western United States and Canada, but appear to be expanding their range east. St. Marys Fish Hatchery is located on the lake's eastern shore and raises saugeye, walleye, channel catfish and bass for stocking in Ohio’s public fishing waters.
Continuing southeasterly, we cross US-23 at Columbus, Ohio. Beyond Columbus, we arrive at my favorite place along US-33, the Hocking Hills region in southeastern Ohio. While only one of the region’s natural sights is close to the highway, others are from 6 to 15 miles away. The scenic sight along the highway is the Rock Bridge, where a hike off the road will take you to the bottom lands along the Hocking River. Near the end of the trail, you cross the natural rock bridge that gives the site its name. A small stream is still carving away at the sandstone under the bridge. Other small streams are still carving such nearby features as Conkles Hollow, Ash Cave, Rock House, and Cedar Falls. Ash Cave is the most spectacular feature of the park and my favorite. After a pleasant hike upstream, you reach the largest recess cave in Ohio. If you are lucky enough to arrive when no one else is around, it seems a fairyland setting, standing under the overhang and waterfall, looking out at towering, moss covered trees and jumbled boulders covered with ferns. Old Man’s Cave has the most extensive trail system in a small area, encircling a canyon for overlooks and offering steps down to streamside trails within the canyon. The bridges and trails within the canyon have been flooded out and rebuilt many times over the years. Timing your visit is tricky, because sometimes high waters and flood damage close the area, but in midsummer the streams have only a trickle of water, so the waterfalls dry up. Cedar Falls is the largest waterfall in terms of volume, so even if you visit during low stream flows, you might see this falls.
We’ll end our journey at Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. However, US-33 continues on to Richmond, Virginia. Within the park, Skyline Drive forms an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway and Skyline Drive form one of the most beautiful roads in the country, running mostly on the ridges of the highest mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. It’s one of my favorite roads because of the frequent parking turnouts with wonderful views off the mountains. In addition to the beauty of the roadway itself and the surrounding mountains, you can find historic sites, waterfall hikes, dining, camping and more along the route. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of Shenandoah National Park, if you don’t stop for too many of the 70 overlook turnouts. Highway US-33 crosses the park near the middle, at Milepost 66, and also crosses the Appalachain Trail within the park. We cross about 14 miles south of the largest developed area in the park, Big Meadows. Here you’ll find a visitor center with exhibits, ranger programs, a bookstore, and access to activities and hikes. The park was established in 1935 after many years of property purchases and condemnation takings by the State of Virginia.
You know, as much as I enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway, I’ve never traveled the entire road. I’ve been on many bits and pieces, some many times. But since I’m near the north end, this would be a great opportunity to see it all. Maybe that’s where you’ll find Roadtrip-'62 ™ when we meet again!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.