At one end are unrelenting miles of farmland. We're talking a never-ending Grant Wood painting. At the other, it's bleak, brown and dry with tumbleweeds occasionally blowing over the pavement. Here we have "Grapes of Wrath" country.
Tediously, you roll along a roadway that extends directly into the horizon like a ribbon before disappearing. One 72-mile stretch in Nebraska between Grand Island and Lincoln is so straight it does not vary from its course more than a few yards either way.
So you roll along, drink coffee, fiddle with radio settings to find decent stations, watch for highway patrol vehicles and listen to CDs after running out of things to chat about with any passengers.
Is that all there is for the 13 to 14 hours needed to cross these two states?
No, in fact, it is not. We've found 11 quirky sites just a few miles off the route where you can snap out of your road coma. With some planning and a good map, it's possible to make these stops more pleasant and interesting.
1. Iowa Welcome Center, LeClaire, Iowa, Exit 306
Rest stops are chancy, but they do not get better than this one. It offers a commanding, scenic view of the Mississippi River and I-80 bridge from atop a high bluff. More than 100,000 visitors stop here yearly. Just follow the signs north off I-80.
There is easy parking and grounds that include a children's play lot, prairie-grass nursery and a huge porch, with chairs and an observation telescope. Inside are local products for sale, plenty of free brochures, maps, a museum, craftwork, art gallery, clean restrooms, free coffee and a free wireless network. The center even has its own Apple Festival each October.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily September through mid-May, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. the rest of the year. www.iowawelcomecenter.com
2. I-80 Truck Stop, Walcott, Iowa, Exit 2843. Louis Sullivan Bank, Grinnell, Iowa, Exit 182
If it takes a village to make a truck stop, then this place is Gotham with its 5,000 daily visitors. Opened in 1964, it seems to add features every year. If you haven't stopped here recently, you may be surprised to learn there is a new truck museum in a separate plaza building. There also is a resident dentist and barber if you wish to phone ahead for an appointment.
The real attraction is the Super Truck Showroom, with 30,000 square feet of merchandise and accessories that make even hardened truckers marvel. It's so large that the two 12-wheel rigs on display almost get lost. This is a good place to freshen your audio book supply or CD collection, especially if you like country music.
Food's plentiful also. The buffet table at the main restaurant is the magnet for most. There also are several franchise options in the adjoining court.
Hours: 24/7 (some stores close at night). www.iowa80truckstop.com
When newspaperman Horace Greeley said "Go west, young man," he said it to J.B. Grinnell, and the result was Grinnell, Iowa. The community is known as the home of a top-notch school, Grinnell College, but it also has an interesting downtown that includes two bakeries, a coffee shop, an independent bookstore and an old train station remodeled into an excellent restaurant.
The real attraction, especially for architecture lovers, is the Jewel Box Bank, at 4th Avenue and Broad Street, which opened in 1914 as the Merchants National Bank. The building was designed by famed Chicago-based architect Louis Sullivan. It houses the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau.