Welcome to the hamlet of Colo, Iowa, population 869.
Colo, about a 20-minute drive east on U.S. 30 from Ames -- itself about 25 minutes north of Des Moines -- isn't exactly a destination these days for most folks. The little Story County town isn't a real swingin' place, though you can get a mighty fine burger and perfect fries at Niland's Cafe.
But if you're a road geek (And doesn't everybody have a little road geek in him?), Colo, Iowa is something approaching a Holy Grail of geekdom. Turn off Highway 30, head north on U.S. 65 and soon enough you'll come to County Road E41. Turn left, and you find yourself at what once was the crossroads of America.
There you'll find the Colo Motel, the cafe and a filling station that hasn't filled anything up since the 1960s. Between 1913 and 1928, though, if you wanted to get from Times Square to San Francisco -- or from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba -- you'd eventually find yourself in Colo.
There's another name for County Road E41 -- the Lincoln Highway, the first cross-country road in the United States. Likewise, what now is U.S. 65 through Colo once was the Jefferson Highway, the first great north-south road in North America, starting in 1916.
Jefferson met Lincoln in little Colo, Iowa.
TODAY, if you want to get from the East Coast to the West, you take Interstate 80. If you want the scenic route, you take Highway 30, which now runs about a mile south of this stretch of the old Lincoln Highway.
If you're headed north to Winnipeg, you'll need to head over to I-29, a couple of hours west.
Once upon a time, however, Colo was the crossroads of North America.
Now, Niland's Cafe is, in addition to that of a home-cooked meal, the home of a small museum dedicated to the Jefferson and Lincoln Highways. And the old gas station has been left more or less untouched since pumping its last tankful, except for the addition of three restored vintage pumps out front and some general sprucing up.
Last week, after wandering around Ames on a roundabout journey back to Omaha from the Iowa State Fair, a stop at the crossroads was a must. I live less than a mile from the Lincoln Highway's old route through Omaha. In Baton Rouge, I once lived on Jefferson Highway. The Jefferson Highway, which in many places has kept its name after it lost its official status.
Given my journey in life, it was only fitting to pay homage to the Crossroads.