From Santa Monica to Jacksonville, Interstate 10, officially “The Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway”, is the southernmost interstate highway in the United States of America.  It is a grand and imposing road, filled with scenic wonders and long lonely stretches as well as busy urban areas.  If your goal is to drive the nation seeing the best it has to offer, these towns along Interstate 10 (the fourth longest highway in America) are well worth your visiting.

Giant Geoglyphs in Blythe, CA

Blythe, California

Traveling eastward, after you leave the various suburban satellite cities of Los Angeles, there is a long stretch of desert before you arrive at Blythe, California.  Blythe sits on the west bank of the Colorado River, midway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, an historic town dating to 1915. What you see was built after that time, a long low slung California desert town with the homey values of corn tortillas cooking, swimming in the canals and river, dove hunting, backpacking, a celebrated annual bluegrass festival, simple, pleasant people and solitude that’s only a mile away.  Nearby one of the USA’s least known pre-Columbian wonders are the Blythe Intaglios, undiscovered until they were first observed from the air in 1932.  These are sets of geoglyphs that include several dozen human and animal figures as well as a ceremonial labyrinth.  They are thought to have been created circa 1000 BCE.  Limited, easy hiking (less than 1/4 mile) will get you to two of the site areas.  Open 24 hours a day in a remote area 16 miles out of town with no facilities, we suggest you consult the Bureau of Land Management for details on the Intaglios, and how to visit them.  Another area attraction is the Hauser Geode Beds, where you can find ancient wonders to delight any rock hound.  We suggest that you drive an SUV, truck or jeep and take a pick and shovel, and water.  The Sunset Grill, a true diner, or Townes Square Café, a good family style restaurant, are among the recommended place to eat in Blythe.

Covered Casa Grande House Ruins

Casa Grande, Arizona

Midway in that dry stretch between Phoenix and Tucson is a hidden jewel in the Sonoran Desert, named for the near-by, not-to-be missed Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.   Historic Casa Grande is a delight of architecturally significant buildings, from the old Sante Fe Railroad Station in an adobe-meets-Art Deco style, to the old mission-style St. Anthony’s Murphy Hall, to the museum of Casa Grande, the Woman’s Club, and the numerous other fine stone buildings that emulate the ancient prototype. Tour Historic Downtown to see boutiques, restaurants, the restored Paramount Theater and art galleries.  Tubing on the Salt River is a popular activity.  Stay in a beautiful southwestern adobe lodging, The Shadowcatcher B & B; BeDillon`s Restaurant & Cactus Garden is a must see dining choice.  Other amazing eats may be enjoyed at the Casa Grande Café.  Be sure to visit the Casa Grande itself, located in Casa Grande’s sister town of Coolidge.  An inspirational four-story building that was abandoned circa 1495, the Casa Grande is now covered by a protective roof.  The “Big House” is easily reached and offers regular tours.  These two towns are in the heart of Arizona cotton country; venture out to Caywood Cotton Farm to learn all about cultivating cotton.  Coolidge is named for the Coolidge Dam, which was named in honor of our 30th President. Take a beautiful,  winding side trip up through a section of the Tonto National Forest, Claypool and Globe to Peridot to view the Coolidge Dam, which is the Hoover Dam’s little sister, complete with snazzy Art Deco styling, and not nearly as busy as Hoover Dam – you will probably have the place to yourself.

Church in Mesilla, California

Mesilla, New Mexico

Drive south of I-10 to old Mesilla –  a town that grew under the protection of old Fort Fillmore – that once served as the Confederate Capitol of Arizona, for a true Old West experience.  See the Basilica of San Antonio, charming restaurants and restored adobe shops dotted around the plaza; and have a meal at Andele’s, La Posta or Josephina’s Old Gage Café. Mesilla served as the crossroads for the El Camino Real, from Chihuahua to Santa Fe and the Butterfield stage route, from San Antonio to San Diego (the precursor of I-10 in these parts).  The famous and infamous, such as Pancho Villa walked these streets; today, the authentic vintage adobe buildings continue to welcome and charm the visitor.  Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang here in Mesilla in 1881; you can locate the spot, at the jail and courthouse on the southeast corner of the plaza.  Thanks to foresighted zoning, Mesilla is the same size and scale that it was a hundred years ago.  Mesilla is a small town, while next door, newer Las Cruces has taken the lead to become New Mexico’s second largest city.  The Mesilla-Las Cruces area is nestled between the Organ Mountains and the Rio Grande, so great vistas await no matter where you look.  Las Cruces owes its booming origins to the coming of the Santa Fe Railroad (the folks in Mesilla wanted money to provide land, but those in Las Cruces provided land for free).  Visit the Dripping Springs Natural Area with marvelous views of the Organ Mountains, especially pretty in the spring when the desert is in bloom. Picturesque features include an abandoned sanitarium and camp buildings. No facilities, take water with you.  For a change of pace, try the White Sands Missile Museum, a collection of missiles in an open air setting.  It is a must see for adults, but not for younger children; proper ID required.  The whole family will enjoy the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum where wagons and art, Native American cultural displays, vintage ranch and farm equipment, live cattle, and a general store, make the Wild West come alive.

Downtown Fredericksburg, TX at Night

Fredericksburg, Texas 

Fredericksburg is a town founded in 1846 by high-minded German noblemen who wanted to establish a new Germany deep in the heart of Texas.  Named for Prince Frederick of Prussia –  locals still call it “Fritztown” – the town is the birthplace of Admiral Nimitz, as a result there are two world class museums to see, one is the National Museum of the Pacific War and the other is the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site.  Fredericksburg has a charming main street filled with eclectic boutiques, galleries and restaurants for bobbasheeling (leisurely moving along) while shopping.  Historic buildings are to be seen throughout the town, and their names, indicate the European influence  of its settlers.  St Mary’s Church is particularly impressive with its soaring arches.  Outside of town are natural areas for hiking and exploring including Enchanted Rock State Park and the Old State Tunnel Park, an abandoned railroad tunnel now home to thousands of bats; if you time it right you can watch while 800,00 bats emerge from the tunnel.  Nearby you can visit a wildflower seed farm. As you might expect, there’s plenty of good eating in Fredericksburg, some with a German slant, including The Nest in a gorgeous rock building, try the zucchini soup, The Farm Haus Bistro in a spectacular historic farm and garden setting,  The Cabernet Grill Texas Wine Country Restaurant, and Alamo Springs General Store and Café with great local décor and food for the budget conscious.  Stay at the top-rated truly unique Hangar Hotel in a 1940s style airplane hangar – with vintage planes parked on the tarmac outside, or at the Inn on Baron’s Creek.

I-10 Bridge Through Louisiana

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana 

Welcome to the “Crawfish Capital of the World”.  The town is named for the Acadian pioneer and founder Firmin Breaux who built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche (pronounced “tesh”) in 1799.  Stroll the downtown stretch of Bridge Street.  Breaux Bridge Antiques offers a great selection of the odd and interesting.  The town is very cute with vintage homes and historic bungalows dotted here and there.  Sample authentic Cajun culture and food like gateau syrup cakes, seafood gumbo, sweet dough pies, and of course, etoufée crawfish, in restaurants such as  Pont Breaux Cajun Restaurant, Chez Jacqueline, Café des Amis, and  Joie de Vivre, complete with live Cajun and  Zydeco music jam sessions. You can even kick up your heels at La Poussiere Cajun Dancehall.  Be sure to have a Boudin kolache, an only-in-Breaux Bridge breakfast appetizer, or Acadiana’s best king cake, at Meche’s Donut King.  Bed and Breakfast lodging suggestions include Cajun Country Cottages the Isabelle Inn, and Maison Madeleine.  In addition to the shops, restaurants and live music, you can explore the nearby swamps with Champagne Swamp Tours on Lake Martin or try kayaking on beautiful Bayou Teche.  This slice of southern Louisiana is such a friendly place that for as long as anyone can remember people are listed by their nicknames in the local phone directory.

Beach at Ocean Springs in Mississippi

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

This town is in the middle of the three-state portion of Intestate 10 that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.  Today, almost a decade later, many signs of the destruction are still readily visible in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  Ocean Springs was among the hardest hit having lost nearly 1000 historic buildings.  Rebuilding continues.  Ocean Springs is a cultural magnet, home to fabled Shearwater Pottery.   Shearwater Pottery was founded in 1928 by Peter Anderson with the support of his parents.  Peter Anderson’s four children, Peter Michael Anderson, Patricia Anderson Findeisen, Marjorie Anderson Ashley, and James Anderson, own Shearwater Pottery, and three of the children are still active in the ongoing production of Shearwater Pottery.  Shearwater is highly collectible and an only-in-Ocean Springs keepsake.  You should also visit the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, which showcases an outstanding collection of works of Walter Inglis

Anderson and his brothers Peter & James MacConnell, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and pottery.  Seven Ocean Springs  Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; one of them was completely restored by 2013.  The Charnley-Norwood House on East Beach Drive in Ocean Springs, constructed in 1890 and designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan with his protégé  draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the first horizontal plan houses in the world, and a preview of what Wright and many other architects would create in the 20th century.  For the outdoor lover there is much to experience including The Gulf Islands National Seashore. Oysters, pecans and citrus all form a part of Ocean Springs cuisine.  Restaurants to sample are market-driven Vestige, Doughboys Pizza & Poboys,  and Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant with  a great view of the Back Bay.  For a treat, try Quakes Ice Creamery for a “Mississippi Mud Quake”.  Lodging choices include the Front Beach Cottages, The Wilson House Inn (a 1923 log house), and the Golf Hills Hotel, where Elvis spent five summers in the 1950’s.

Boll Weevil Monument

Enterprise, Alabama

Most of the I-10 corridor in Alabama is either greater Mobile, and thus an urban area, or still very much recovering from Hurricane Katrina.  To find a best small town, one must be willing to drive a bit away from I-10.  Enterprise, an hour drive north of I-10, owes much of its growth and prosperity to the boll weevil, of all things.  It struck the surrounding cotton fields with a vengeance in 1915.  This meant that the populace had to deal with unexpected change, and they did so with notable success, planting peanuts instead.  By 1917, the region was prosperous and the largest producer of peanuts in the nation. To honor the cause of their change in crops, the happy townspeople erected an elaborate statue to the boll weevil in the center of town, where it stands to this day.   Enterprise is fairly young as Alabama history goes, begun in 1881 and incorporated in 1896. Recently named one of the top ten small towns in Alabama, Enterprise is a good choice for raising a family and putting down roots.  Features of distinction include the Southern Broadway Dinner Theatre.  The historic Rawls Bed & Breakfast and the Marley House offer lodging with a glimpse of days gone by.  Recently renovated and featuring an upscale restaurant, the Rawls Building also has several comfy and delightfully decorated suites for travelers wishing to spend a weekend in a National Historic Landmark.  Dining in Enterprise?  Choose Rawls for special occasion dining, Cuts for authentic southern cooking, and Annie’s for amazing everything, with BLTs, chicken alfredo and hearty hot dogs among their specialties.

Quincy, FL Courthouse

Quincy, Florida

Named for President John Quincy Adams — this just may be the perfect undiscovered southern town, with a 36 block historic district as designated on the National Historic Register.  Quincy is called the “The Coca-Cola Town” because of its early financing of the Coca-Cola Company by 67 residents who did quite well as a result of one man, Pat Munroe, urging his friends and neighbors to buy Coca-Cola stock during the Great Depression.  You can see just how well these “Coca-Cola Millionaires” did, as you take a walking tour of the beautiful homes and historic buildings of Quincy.  Standout attractions include the Gadsden Art Center, and the Quincy Music Theater.  One of the historic homes in Quincy is the Allison House Inn, now a charming B and B, where you can stay; it is said to be haunted by the home’s one-time owner, Florida’s Confederate Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison himself.  Who knows, it may be true; the man was mighty grumpy by all accounts.  Close by is Bainbridge, Georgia, the birthplace of classic film star Miriam Hopkins, another great small town with its “Back to the Future” looking Willis Park, an historic town square complete with gazebo.  Or visit the world-class Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee, featured in a previous article for “Drive the Nation”.  Good eating in Quincy includes The Whip Waterfront Pub N Grub, El Tamaulipeco, and the West End Grill.

Spring Pavilion in White Springs, FL

White Springs, Florida

You’ve heard of the last resort, well here is a switch, White Springs was Florida’s very first resort, drawing throngs of people from up north to the warm climate and soothing and healing water of White Springs, way down upon the Suwannee River.  In its heyday, White Springs was filled with famous and wealthy visitors, and grand hotels lined River Street.  Today one remaining vintage hotel, The Telford, is a quaint lodging and dining choice as well as a step back to the early 1900s. Some say they serve the best southern fried chicken you will find anywhere.  White Springs Bed and Breakfast in a white Victorian house, is another highly-favored place to stay.  Sites to see include the visitors center at the Springs, where gorgeous quilts are displayed, and the White Springs historic bath house, a somewhat eerie and somewhat impressive building that still evokes the splash and laugher of a century and more ago.  Right beside the Springs is Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, named for the Pittsburgh-born composer whose “Old Folks at Home” is Florida’s theme song to this day.  Visit the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum, lush formal gardens, crafts demonstrations, and hear the 97 bell carillon, honoring the author of the world-renowned songs “I Dream of Jeannie” and “My Old Kentucky Home”.  More than a faded page of history, White Springs is also a pleasant community of lovely historic homes and friendly people.  Just enough off the beaten track to be missed by the frantic intestate speed demons, White Springs will sooth your soul and spirit.  Visit Lacefield Farms, a sustainable farm north of town, for pick your own seasonal produce and tours.  For the outdoor lover, canoeing, diving, floating or fishing along the river banks are among the joys of White Springs.

There are many other fine small towns all along Interstate 10, as well as cities medium sized and large, for you to discover on your drive.  We think these towns are worth a lingering visit.  Who knows, maybe you will decide to stay!


Image Credits: Blythe, Casa Grande, Mesilla, Louisiana, Ocean Springs, Enterprise, Quincy, White Springs