This summer, I became the opposite of an advice columnist. Instead of doling out guidance, I took it in. Lots of it. Way too much, in fact.
When I announced my "through the heartland" road trip, over 1,000 readers wrote in with tips in the comments section, on Facebook and Twitter and via e-mail.
I used as many of your recommendations as possible -- but hundreds of good ideas inevitably went unused. That has left me with a choice: share the best with you, or keep them to myself as a personal reserve of story ideas that could last me for years and make my job exceedingly easy.
A bit reluctantly, here are the tips that I most wish I could have followed. (Some have been edited for space and clarity.) Of course, I can't guarantee the quality of the advice, but I have at least confirmed that the places are real and have added links where possible.
The Nebraska Sandhills are a weird, other-worldly landscape, mostly covered in ocean-like waves of grass supporting cattle ranches, dotted with small lakes that support an incredible array of wildlife. Start with an excellent beer at Thunderhead Brewery in Kearney, and sleep it off at the nearby Midtown Western Inn. Then head north on Highway 10, northwest on Highway 2, then west on the remarkable Highway 92, a single 900-mile back road that goes absolutely nowhere all the way from Illinois into Wyoming. Stop in Tryon at the Iron Horse Steakhouse to talk to the locals over an excellent local steak. At Highway 97, turn north through the heart of the amazing Sandhills. You'll wind up in the town of Valentine, where it is Feb. 14 365 days a year. -- Roger Deschner
About 30 miles south of Council Grove, Kan., is Cottonwood Falls. On Friday nights, we like to eat chicken fried steak and gooseberry pie at the Emma Chase Cafe, then take our portable chairs out to the cobblestone street where local musicians perform. Sometimes we hear fiddlers, sometimes guitarists, and always a fun time on warm evenings. -- Kathryn Kurtz, New York City
(Note: I did actually make it to Cottonwood Falls, and even dined at the Emma Chase Cafe. But not on a Friday.)
Some of the most beautiful places I have been in North Dakota are along Highway 1804, which runs on the eastern side of the Missouri River. Or you can also go up the western side. Think "Dances with Wolves." But if you have never driven for an hour and not run into a town, village, hamlet, nothing, be prepared. Don't let your gas tank go below half, especially at night or on Sunday. Eat kuchen and fleischkuekle and knoepfle. Go to a small-town bar and have a beer with real cowboys. If it is Saturday, go to the cattle auction if one is on. Eat breakfast there if you can -- it will be good. Find out if there is a wedding or dance in the area and show up (again, Saturday is your best bet). If it is a wedding, they probably invited about 500 people and one more won't be noticed. Bring your bird book. Go to one of the parks -- you may have it to yourself. -- Carol, Minneapolis
My profession takes me to a lot of historic houses and sites around the nation, and the Marland Estate in Ponca City, Okla., is absolutely one of the best and nicest I have ever been to. Don't let the location in a humble, faded oil town fool you -- this is the home of the founder of the oil company that preceded Conoco. It was built in the 1920s, but has everything that any modern home does: air conditioning, central vacuum system, stainless steel kitchens. The Native American decoration in some of the rooms is incredible. The house and grounds are kept up beautifully. It is very much under the radar -- when I visited, I was the only one on the $5 tour. -- Loosh, Buffalo, N.Y.
Consider getting off the main highway with a trip to Wessington Springs, South Dakota. You'll find a beloved Shakespeare Garden and the Anne Hathaway House -- a great story of an academic couple, generations of students and friends, and a love of Shakespeare. We had a great tour, tea, and an afternoon in the garden. Enjoy! -- Lisa Caffee
When you get to Nebraska, there is a local chain called Runza that serves, well, runzas. Also called bierocks, runzas are sort of a cross between a burger and a meat pie, containing ground beef, cabbage, and other ingredients. They were brought to the area when settled by immigrants from the Volga/German region of Eastern Europe. Very tasty, and not hard to find since there are locations throughout the state (and a few in adjacent states). -- John Binkley, N.C.
Please stop in Brookings, S.D. We're a town of 22,000 (the 4th largest city in South Dakota!), and home to South Dakota State University. I would be hard-pressed to name a town more part of the heartland. This East Coast girl fell in love with its calm, green elm-lined streets, historic neighborhoods, and kind people. On the rare occasion when a valuable is stolen from an unlocked car, it makes the paper. Listen to KBRK-AM 1430. You must (must!) eat at Nick's Hamburgers (for the frugal since 1929). Don't ask for fries or a grilled cheese -- they only have hamburgers. Stop in the South Dakota State University Dairy Bar for an ice cream, made from cow to cone on the SDSU campus (which invented cookies-and-cream) [Note: Or so they say.] Go to the free McCrory Gardens off 22nd Avenue, and the free Agricultural Heritage Museum. And head to Main Ave for a vibrant main street with no empty storefronts and no chains in sight. Relax and leave your car unlocked. Because you are in Brookings. -- Kelley, South Dakota
I have road tripped from Northern Minnesota to New Orleans on Highway 61, and Highway 75 and it was a great way to see the middle of the U.S. No freeways! The real deal! For sure one stop you must make is breakfast at the Inadvertent Cafe in Clinton, Minn. Where else can you talk philosophy with a pig farmer who has published a number of books and makes the best home-made bread ever? -- Ann Hennessy
[This one came in from the "pig farmer" himself] One hundred and twenty miles straight south of Fargo you can get a breakfast for five bucks at the Inadvertent Cafe. We have homemade bread and yogurt, mainly local products and if you have the French toast you can use maple syrup that is bottled in our back room. Best cafe on Main Street in Clinton. Of course, there are only 432 people who live in Clinton and there is only one cafe on Main Street. -- Brett Olson, Ortonville, Minn.
The Minnesota State School Orphanage Museum, in Owatonna, Minn., depicts what life was like for 'wards of the state' in Minnesota's only state-operated orphanage and State School for developmentally disadvantaged children. -- Peter C., Minn.
About 5 years ago we drove from Miami, Okla., to Dallas, Tex. That route took us through the "Green Country" of eastern Oklahoma. I would highly recommend touring the Coleman Theatre in Miami, Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower in Bartlesville, and the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee. -- ehardwick, Washington, D.C.
Ragbrai -- the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa -- is July 21 to 28. A cultural landmark of its own, it's a rolling party across the state with about 25,000 of your best friends. Starting in Council Bluffs and going from the Missouri to the Mississippi (Rivers), come see what the riders see: the warmest welcome in the country. -- SmartMom, Los Angeles
And here was my absolute favorite, because it will work not just in the heartland, but on just about any road trip you ever take.
The first thing I would do is lose the GPS device. Getting lost while traveling the backroads is half the fun of traveling. Do invest in some good maps, state tourist boards are a great resource and the maps are free. If you see a state or county historical site, drop in and visit. The volunteers that operate these sites are glad to see you and in many cases will give you a personal tour. Offer to give a donation to help offset costs, as many of these sites operate on a shoestring budget. There are a lot of mom and pop grocery stores or general stores. Pop in and often you will get great information for places to eat and stay. Fill up the gas tank at half full, sometimes gas stations are few and far between. Most of all, have fun! -- Chuck W., San Antonio
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.