Our 2017 Road Trip #2: The Madonna of West Virginia

Madonna of the Trail Wheeling!

She can’t sing or dance or reinvent herself, but she’s gotten pretty far across the country.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

But a few states separate Indiana and Maryland. And what more comfortable way to kick off this year’s road trip than to take a short detour toward a historic face we’ve seen before.

Escaping the 210-mile-wide Ohio didn’t mean we also escaped the inclement weather, but we found the occasional breaks from the downpours. Between Ohio and Pennsylvania lies a sliver of West Virginia jutting to the north of its body and overlapping several miles of I-70. Part of that stretch takes drivers through the Wheeling Tunnel, a quarter-mile stretch burrowed beneath the Appalachian Valley’s Wheeling Hill.

Wheeling Tunnel!

Whenever we race through tunnels like this, so many films come to mind — The Running Man, The Bourne Supremacy, Live Free or Die Hard

Within that West Virginia sliver stands a woman we’ve seen before: the Madonna of the Trail. Between 1928 and 1929 the Daughters of the American Revolution arranged for twelve identical statues to be placed along US 40, a.k.a. the National Road, from California to Bethesda, Maryland, in honor of the spirit of the pioneer woman and her contributions to frontier expansionism. Previously on MCC we’ve brought you pics of Madonnas of the Trail in Vandalia, IL; Richmond, IN; Springfield, OH; and faraway Lamar, CO. Wheeling’s own would be our fifth sighting of the twelve.

Madonna of the Trail!

Madonna placement can vary. Wheeling’s happened to be in a grassy turnoff a few blocks off I-70, across the street from an apartment complex.

National Pike!

Snippets of trivia about the eastern segment of the National Road. The stretch of US 40 that runs through Indianapolis is our very own Washington Street.

West Virginia birth!

More light reading along our path: the TL;DR version of the secret origin of West Virginia.

East of that sliver of West Virginia is Pennsylvania, which is even longer than interminable Ohio. It was the focus of our 2010 road trip, but for now we were merely cutting through its southwest corner.

Pennsylvania Welcomes You!

Home of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Erie,and more more more.

In comparing our 2010 results to our 2017 encore, it appears that section of I-70 will never not be under road construction. I’m guessing The Powers That Be have decided the rebuilding and the lane restrictions can never, ever stop until they have achieved true freeway perfection. And since that can’t happen at mortal hands, therefore we have construction in perpetuity. That’s just as well because beyond the orange cones and parked machinery, the only sight visible from the interstate is the endless “sylvania” in “Pennsylvania”.


Careful observers can catch tiny tracts vaguely resembling picturesque New Zealand, but they’re the Pennsylvania Easter eggs rather than the narrative.

Beyond the confines of Pennsylvania I-70 and the south turn down I-79 was, once again, our old friend West Virginia. Jagged geography is fun.

Welcome to West Virginia!

Among the 30-odd state welcome signs we’ve seen in our travels, West Virginia’s are among the largest and prettiest. It’s like they want visitors, unlike some states we could mention.

The storms kicked into high gear again as we wound our way over and around the mountains, making for nervous driving but no panicky slowdowns among the other drivers. It’s refreshing to join traffic in other states where the drivers have confidence and reflexes.

Thankfully the rains slowed to a drizzle as we pulled into our first night’s destination in Morgantown, home of West Virginia University. Our pit stop was an older hotel with elegant decor, no chain affiliation, friendly staff, and spacious accommodations in every room — no tourist-stacking broom closets here.

Chinese dragon-dog!

Special bonus: the Euro-Suites Hotel has a Chinese dragon-doggie in their lobby, we think.

After a quick supper run and another dose of precipitation, upon our return to the hotel we were greeted with a happy omen across the street above WVU’s Health Sciences Campus: a welcome rainbow! Such a nice way to cap off an overlong, stressful first day.


“Our state welcomes you!” signs are cool, but rainbows are cooler. Every frontier should have one.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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