RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Highway 61 Revisited: 1,699 Miles from New Orleans to Pigeon River, by Tim Steil

Highway 61 Revisited
My first thought upon slipping Highway 61 Revisited: 1,699 Miles from New Orleans to Pigeon River out of its shipping carton was "Cool! Another coffee table book with amazing photos." The large format—11" by 12"—and the drop-dead gorgeous photos I discovered as I quickly leafed through the book seem to confirm my first impressions of this new opus by Tim Steil. But, just like many first impressions of places we pass through quickly on road trips, my first glance at Highway 61 Revisited was setting me up for a big surprise.

I was breezing through the introduction and a passage describing the beauty of the land and the noble character of the folks who live along the road when I noticed this passage: "…There are also places where you can stock up on crack cocaine and get your ass shot for running your mouth…" Whoa! I Thought. This is no Reader's Digest book! Maybe I should drop down from light speed and see what else the author has to say. A line or two later, the author writes, "If you pass through Clarksdale, Mississippi and choose not to stay at the Riverside Hotel, you are denying yourself one of the best experiences of your life…" Wait a minute again, I thought to myself. I've been through Clarksdale and I have never even heard of the Riverside Hotel. From that second forward, I was completely hooked. With Tim Steil as my personal guide, I was transported almost magically into a realm of roadside adventuring in a land I thought I already knew and understood.

Steil's down-to-earth prose engaged me with present-tense intensity, and I found myself devouring every word on every page, careful not to miss any nuance and detail. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so, I nearly forgot to look at the accompanying photos, which proves my initial impression was inaccurate. Although the photographs are excellent, this is no mere coffee table book. It is a deeply personal journey with an accomplished blues musician who just happens to also be a photojournalist of considerable skill and nerve.

Highway 61 originates in New Orleans and runs nearly 1700 miles to the Canadian border just north of Grand Portage, Minnesota. Reading Highway 61 Revisited, I felt I was sharing a limited time, all-access pass to people and places that I would not have been able to find on my own. Steil is a risk taker, and I can promise that his journey will be an eye-opener for you, too, as he drives the back roads of America headed for the Canadian border.

Notable among his peregrinations were a stop to feel the Cajun beat of the Hackberry Ramblers and a visit with Anne Butler whose family first settled in the St. Francisville area of Louisana in the 1790's. A tough hike up Cardiff Hill in Hannibal, Missouri, led to a vantage point where it's possible to see stretches of the Mississippi River that have changed little from the days of Mark Twain. Another standout is Steil's description of a somewhat harrowing trip on the "Julia Belle Swain," a steam-fired paddlewheel that just barely beat a dangerous thunderstorm back to its berth in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Jim Luning's stunning photographs serve to enhance the narrative. I especially liked his images of galloping kudzu vine—kudzu grows nearly two feet a day—and the tie selection at Bernard Lansky's, the one-time clothier to Elvis in Memphis, Tennessee.

This is a road trip book, a journey of discovery, and a guide to uncovering that essence of spirit that makes Americans what they are. It is a book that I believe you will enjoy and count among your favorites.

Mark Sedenquist

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