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Traveling the back roads of Stoddard County

Posted Sunday, October 26, 2008, at 8:14 AM

This city limits sign marks a detour in this blogger's usual route from Advance to Sikeston, via the back roads of Stoddard County.
Well, folks, I hate to give up on Minnie, but it looks as if she's gone off to Dance with the Stars, so I suppose we need to move on. In my continuing program to avoid any mention of what's going on in politics, I shall press on with other riveting topics of vital interest to this region of the country and to the often illogical workings of my own mind...

As a true child of the Heartland, I rely a lot on the back roads in this area to cut down on travel time. I don't have a good sense of direction, so I use familiar routes. I have a good friend I visit quite often in Sikeston, so I'm headed south at least once a week.

If it's daytime, sunny, and not flooded, I cut across through the hilly gravel roads to 91, go through Bell City, turn on N to Shady Dell, and take Y to Sikeston, crossing the "bottoms" - that enormous, flat, nearly desolate area of rice fields. I can usually make it to Sikeston in 30 minutes - tops, whereas going through Dexter, though more pleasant, can take me twice that.

The roller coaster roads on N don't seem to bother the people who whiz pass me, but I do not like those deep drainage ditches on each side, and I've sworn off coming home that way in the dark, especially when it's raining and water pools up on the road. For night trips, I prefer the Morley route, which is still pretty darn dark. If I don't pay close attention, I miss my turn-off and end up in Benton. Not good. Benton is also dark at night. Heck, once you leave those fancy lights coming out of Sikeston, all Southeast Missouri is DARK until you get to Cape!

Wednesday's choice of highway was unfortunate, because I got almost to Sikeston, only to discover that MoDot was doing bridge work on Y, and I had to figure out how to get around - no convenient gravel roads to take me to Hiway 60 like last time. Choices: 1) Turn around and go west to Avert, turn south on 25 to Dexter and then east on 60 to Sikeston. 2) Retrace my tracks on Y and hope it eventually angled east to 61.

My daughter would be pleased with this experience. I can just hear her: "Mom, it's good for your brain when you drive different routes!"

Yeah? I don't LIKE change! I have two recurring nightmares that have plagued me throughout my life. One is that I'm substitute teaching, and I open the door to find out that it's a MATH class. The other one is that I'm in my Jeep, driving along an unfamiliar road. I go over a hill and discover that the road has disappeared, and the only thing lying in front of me is a grassy hillside!

Since today was sunny and warm, I was only mildly perturbed and admittedly curious about where Hiway Y North would take me. I headed out, and, sure enough the highway angled East, past farmers combining beans. Reassuring. I should end up at 61 in familiar territory, I thought.

The cotton fields on my left told me I was entering Scott County, even before I saw the sign marking the county line.

That's when I discovered Vanduser, a cute little town about half the size of Marquand or Bell City. I think the city limit sign reads "200-something." I had never been to Vanduser before, so my brain felt immensely enlarged with the experience. I do have a good friend who was once mayor of Vanduser and was even responsible for helping the town get a grant for a sewer system. That was the extent of my knowledge of Vanduser.

The town has no cross streets - only single streets branching off from what may have turned into highway Z. Not sure. You know how these roads intersect and run together for a ways and then leave each other to go off in opposite directions.

There appears to be an unusual Baptist Church there, and my Sikeston friend told me it was some sort of home for teens in crisis, I think. I marked it down in my mind to go back and do a story on it one day.

And, sure enough, a couple of miles on east brought me to Highway 61 and familiar territory. I drove only about 30-35 miles out of my way. Could have been worse.

Have you ever heard the saying, "You can't get there from here"? I think that applies to this region of the country.

However, now that I have filled in this geographical gap in my brain, I feel a little more confident in my ability to navigate the local terrain.

However, I still don't intend to try it at night. Things look totally different at night. Distances of a mile seem like 50. Time stretches out into eternity, and I feel as if I'm entering the Twilight Zone.

If I could afford On Star, I would certainly do it. There's something very reassuring about that television commercial in which someone is upside down in a ditch, and a calm, cultivated woman's voice says, "Mr. Jones, according to our system, you are experiencing some difficulties..." Ah....Help is on the way.

Unfortunately, such a Technological Wonder is beyond my reach, so I will just have to continue to navigate the back roads of Southeast Missouri, using my own flawed sense of direction, hoping that the roads aren't blocked by heavy equipment, water, wild herds of feral labs, mountain lions, or flocks of rabid flamingos.

Signing off from the brilliantly gold hills of North Stoddard County, this is your ever-roving rural reporter Madeline, glad to be home by the fire.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

When my husband looks longingly down a side road and says, "Honey, let's take that road home---it's a shortcut!" I know we'll be home about an hour later than usual! As a farmer, he loves to look at everybody's fields outside the flatlands of the Dexter area.

And, I know deep in my heart, that those side trips will turn out to be some of our favorite "car memories."

It always amazes me that people would rather take Sikeston/I-55 to get up to Cape from Dexter. The "old way" is actually shorter (ambulances always take the old way), and the views! So much prettier.

We always drive up the old way and then enjoy Bloomfield Road. It reminds me of when I was a kid and we'd make that rare trip to Cape. With no air-conditioning, it was such a treat to hit Bloomfield Road with the canopy of shady, cool trees.

Can't get that on I-55!

-- Posted by lovebooks on Sun, Oct 26, 2008, at 9:14 AM

I used to visit my granddaughter in Morley and coming from Dexter my late wife and I always took the 'road less traveled' and went through Vanduser many times. A quaint old interesting town. I recently made a trip to near St Louis from Dexter and took Hwy 25 and hwy 61 and such a beautiful memorable trip. Gas was $.20 cheaper through the old towns of St Marys and Ste Genevieve and no traffic, much better than I-55.

MD, buy yourself a Garmin GPS (about $175.00) and you'll never be lost, I love mine. It will show the roads from ('Podunk to Hicksville). Even will plot your way back to the Hills of Tillman.

-- Posted by changedname on Sun, Oct 26, 2008, at 11:13 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Haha! My daughter says that it would do no good for me to have a GPS unit, as I could never learn to use it!

I agree, lovebooks and dexterite! Highway 61 from Morley to Scott City was always beautiful, but everytime I use it, it looks better! And that highway through St. Marys is spectacular! Especially this time of year with all the autumn foliage! However, Bloomfield Road is the BEST! I love the way those trees canopy the road. I hope they never ruin that drive!

Yeah, we need some good autumn road trip pics on the blogs!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Oct 26, 2008, at 12:43 PM

Highway 25 from Dexter to Dutchtown & 74 to Cape - beautiful, but Highway 25 from Dexter to Kennett - Horrible! Try to make some time on that road if you can! Slowest traffic imaginable and no pretty scenery!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Oct 26, 2008, at 7:51 PM

gl, I made the trip from Dexter up Bloomfield road to Cape mall today. Nice drive, not much traffic. Trip from Dexter to Kennett is ugly and uneventful. You're right on.

-- Posted by changedname on Sun, Oct 26, 2008, at 8:56 PM

AAHH - The back roads of Stoddard County. How well do I know them? Not so well at this time, but back in 1937 I was traveling all these roads east of highway 25 on a monthly basis.

Back then there were no paved roads north of Bloomfield. Even 25 was a gravel road. None of the country roads had numbers and were identified by names of someone living on that road. Many of rhese side roads were just dirt roads, and when I dropped off Palmer hill into the flat land I was not sure that I would be able to get back up the hill. If I heard a clap of thunder I headed for high ground

-- Posted by paulcorbin on Mon, Oct 27, 2008, at 9:35 AM

Hey - I just happened to remember another peculiar item pertaining to the country roads of Stoddard County.

On a good straight gravel road from Hunterville to Parma there was a big Sycamore tree about three ft. in diameter standing in the middle of this road. I was told that, in the process of building this road the workers put several sticks of dynamite, with explosive caps attached, under this tree to remove it, but the charge failed, and the workers were afraid to try to remove it

-- Posted by paulcorbin on Mon, Oct 27, 2008, at 9:52 AM

There was also a tree like that on the road between Painton and Oran. They must have had the same problem with it!

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Oct 27, 2008, at 12:55 PM

It's actually hard for me to realize that there ever WERE trees in that swampy area of the flatlands between Crowley's Ridge and the Mississippi. I can't imagine the process it took for logging crews to come in and strip ALL the trees out to form that cropland.

Particularly difficult to imagine is that a significant number of ELM trees were harvested from the region. It was certainly enough to warrant a stave mill at Shady Dell.

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 6:35 AM

Vanduser was destroyed by a tornado in 1986.Glad to see homes rebuilt,because it's a lovely little town with some really nice people.

MD-you will be shocked by the simplicity of a GPS unit. It's a touch screen,just put the address in,or your own home address,and my Mr.Tom (I have the Tom-Tom brand)can get you there!

Oh,the places you will see... or avoid.

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 12:33 PM

I love my Tom-Tom! My sister-in-law and I go shopping in St. Louis or Memphis, type in the locations of all the TJ Maxx's and away we go! Knock 'em off one by one.

-- Posted by lovebooks on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 1:43 PM

Oooooooooooh!!! I want a Tom-Tom!!!! Where do you get them?

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 2:18 PM

tom-tom's or garmin at Wmart, about the same price. either one OK. You'll never be lost again. Even talks to you and tells you where to turn. Even announces your arrival destination.

-- Posted by changedname on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 6:28 PM

Uh, oh, dexterite, you mentioned the WORD! We don't mention that WORD on the blogs!!

Surely they'll have the Tom-Tom or Garmin at Target! (My husband's voice is in my head, saying, "No, they won't, and don't call me Shirley!")

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 6:38 PM

I'm so sorry gl, I am new here and please forgive my stupidity, It'll never happen again. I know you can get a good buy at Target or Best Buy.

-- Posted by changedname on Tue, Oct 28, 2008, at 8:55 PM

Hahaha! You are a good sport, dexterite! Thanks for the advice!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Oct 29, 2008, at 7:16 AM

During one decade, I worked for the Census Bureau. My father-in-law helped build some of the towns in Stoddard County and was very familiar with the roads and towns. I was working almost every gravel road, field row etc and one day came upon this town, seemingly out of nowhere. I thought to myself "I bet he doesn't know this town" only to realize that I had found Gray Ridge from the back roads! So the family all got a good laugh because it was too good to keep to myself. I've always thought that Stoddard County has some very pretty scenery, whether it's the flats or the ridges. Everything has a beauty all it's own!

-- Posted by ct on Wed, Oct 29, 2008, at 1:08 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Haha! I have a similar incident (only more humiliating!) I went to a meeting at a rural home near Advance, and when I pulled out of my friend's drive in the PITCH DARK, I made too sharp a right turn and went down an unfamiliar gravel road. I could tell it wasn't right (the dust wasn't thick enough), but I didn't have any idea which direction I was going (as usual). I drove and drove, thinking, "Surely I'll come across something familiar sooner or later!"

After what seemed a long time, I came to a paved road, but there were no signs, and I still couldn't tell where I was. I saw more lights to the left than to the right, so I turned that way & drove toward the lights, trying to figure out what town it might be.

The city limits sign came closer and closer...and you guessed it: Advance! I had completely circled around and come out on the other side of town.

What an idiot!!

Everything looked totally different in the dark.

Goat and MD,the Tom-Tom's will be on sale next month,especially near Thanksgiving sales,put the kids on alert you actually WANT something!

Moms are historically difficult to buy for,and all of us pitched in and bought one for our folks last year!

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Thu, Oct 30, 2008, at 10:25 AM

Gonna get one! Gonna get one!!! Hehehehehe! I will never be lost again!!!! Yeah, yeah, yeah!!

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Oct 30, 2008, at 12:38 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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