When Sunday drives were a novelty and highways had picturesque names instead of numbers, Highway US 80 took motorists all the way from Georgia to California. Today, Louisiana has dubbed a 105-mile stretch of the roadway in the northern part of the state the Historic US 80 Byway. Drivers along the route, which begins in the charming town of Ruston and ends at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line, can drink in vistas of verdant farms and forested landscapes. Swaths of open land give the area a feeling of remoteness, but the byway is also an important route for farmers and loggers.
Mention Ruston to a Louisiana resident, and watch his face light up at the thought of a juicy peach. If you visit Ruston in the spring or summer, you can taste these sweet beauties for yourself. During the off season, growers such as Mitcham Farms sell their delicious jams, jellies, fruit butters and cobblers. Ruston also has a well-restored 18-block historic district, ideal for those who like to shop in small, locally owned stores. Other good sites to visit include the Lincoln Parish Museum, housed in an 1886 mansion, and the Louisiana Military Museum, which displays weaponry and artifacts ranging from the Spanish-American War through modern times.
Traveling east, the twin cities of Monroe/West Monroe lie on the banks of the Ouachita River. One of Monroe’s most popular attractions is the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens. Joseph Biedenharn made his fortune bottling Coca-Cola, and the complex includes a Coke museum, a Bible museum, Biedenharn’s gracious 1913 mansion and a stunning walled English garden. Other local attractions include the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, which tells the story of how Delta Airlines began its life in Monroe as a crop-dusting operation, and more stories of Louisiana’s role in the military. Monroe is also a good place for dining and shopping, including antique-browsing. Ten minutes north of West Monroe is D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge, a protected habitat for alligators, bald eagles, bats and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. An observation tower offers great views of migratory wildfowl, and there are plenty of walking trails.
UNESCO World Heritage Site Poverty Point is located in Epps, just outside of Delhi. Older than the Egyotian pyramids, this is one of the world’s most significant archaeological sites. It contains some of the largest American earthworks of the prehistoric period. Archaeologists have carefully excavated some 400 acres here to study the inhabitants who built the unusual mounds several thousand years ago. A little farther east, stop in the town of Tallulah and visit the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge to find a vast variety of bird life. Or visit the Southern Heritage Air Foundation museum dedicated to preserving aviation and the stories of flight told by U.S. service members.