Sumoflam’s Guide to Planning an Offbeat Road Trip




Learn How to Get there
Learn How to Get There

I love to travel the back roads of America. I also love to see Offbeat Attractions. Of course, I must drop by those strange named towns (see photo above). But, I also want to visit historical sites, National Parks, scenic locations, covered bridges and more that may be along the way. So, in this post I will lay out the “Sumoflam Guide” and the process I go about in planning almost all of my trips. Hopefully, you as the readers will be able to glean some helpful information in your plans and do as I do…..ENJOY THE RIDE!

WHERE DO WE WANT TO GO?

Where Are We Going? (This sign in Millersburg, Ohio)
Where Are We Going? (This is in Millersburg, Ohio)

For the purpose of this particular guide, I am going to create a sample trip from St. Louis to Kansas City and back. My approach to this trip will begin at the St. Louis Arch and end up back there with very little back tracking along the way. Further, for simplicity, I will plan this as a four day round trip.

THE PLANNING “TOOLS”

Know Your Directions (Florence, Oregon)
Know Your Directions (Florence, Oregon)

Before I ever take off on a trip, I first get out the “tools” of the trade and begin mapping out a course.

  • First and foremost I go to Google Maps. This helps me see the general course I will be taking. It will allow me to hone in on probable routes, preferably off of the Interstates and perhaps even on county roads, if time allows. Obviously, my goal is NOT to take the fastest or most direct route, but to take the one that provides me the greatest mix of places to visit, sites to see and photographs to take.
  • After determining probable routes, I then go to my handy-dandy OFFBEAT ATTRACTION site – Roadside America – for the ultimate guide to the best offbeat attractions in my route area. I will provide details on this later on below.
  • There are a number of other reference sites I may visit depending on the routes and locations. I will list a number of my favorites later in this post. They include websites that cover the quirky, the offbeat, the giant/big things, National Parks and Monuments, historic sites, etc.
  • Finally, since there will likely be hotel stays along the way, I typically go to my favorite site for hotels, which is Choice Hotels. Since I am a “Choice Privileges” member, I gain points and free nights by staying in their hotel brands whenever possible. But, there are many other sites out there, so choose your favorites.
  • After mapping things out, I glean information about towns from Google and Bing. I may do a search on a town or an offbeat site to get more information, look at images, etc.
  • For many towns I may also do a search in Wikipedia. This is a great source of detailed information
  • Finally, after searching through all of those, I find my way to the numerous town websites, tourist sites, chamber of commerce sites, etc.

Isn’t the World Wide Web Wonderful?

MAPPING OUT THE ROUTE

ROAD TRIP!
ROAD TRIP!

Google Maps is an amazing tool and it is also fun. With their Street View program you can practically take a virtual trip to anywhere — from the comfort of your home. Of course, there is really nothing like being there in person.

Google now has a new version of Google Maps, which has some nice features. But, I prefer the Classic Maps version chiefly because I can include multiple destinations. Returning to the sample trip from St. Louis to Kansas City, this is what the initial search would give me on Google Maps:

GoogleMap1
New Google Maps – St. Louis to Kansas City

On the map above you can see that I mapped a trip from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. It provided me with two driving routes — one direct down the Interstate and another quite a bit out of the way (if you are wanting a direct route). However, if I wanted to map an intermediate destination, I would not be able to include it and also include Kansas City. So, I will use the “Classic Maps” version by going to the settings in the upper right corner and select Classic Maps.

Switch to Classic Maps
Switch to Classic Maps

The best part of the Classic Maps view is the multiple destination selection option. With this option you can select up to 25 locations for Google to map out and create a route.

Multiple Destination Selector
Multiple Destination Selector

Following is what I used to create the ROAD TRIP! shot above:

Multiple Destination Options
Multiple Destination Options

After selecting the main destinations – in this case, St. Louis to Kansas City, it is time to dig deeper and find those offbeat attractions and other places of interest and then plug them into Google Maps.

NOW THE FUN BEGINS – FINDING THE PLACES ON THE ROAD

RABannerThe guys at Roadside America are phenomenal. They offer maps, directions and tourist attraction details as a convenience to their users. As they say it on their website – “RoadsideAmerica.com is a caramel-coated-nutbag-full of odd and hilarious travel destinations — over 10,000 places in the USA and Canada — ready for exploration.” I should note that any content from Roadside America used on my site is done so with the written permission of Roadside America. The wonderful thing about their site is that they take hundreds of user submitted photos and details and include them on the site. It is THE Honey Hole of Offbeat Travel!! If you have never visited them, check out their About Page and learn all about the great work that Doug, Ken and Mike have compiled over the years.

Roadside America Maps
Roadside America Maps

The next step in a fine back road trip is finding the unique places. The first stop should ALWAYS be Roadside America. Once on their site, click on the “Maps” link as shown above. You will get to the Roadside America Maps Page as shown below.

Roadside America Map Page
Roadside America Map Page

Since we are doing a Missouri Trip, you would click on the Missouri part of the Map (or select the state on the left hand list). This will bring up the Roadside America Missouri Page.

Roadside America Missouri page
Roadside America Missouri page

On each state page there is a ton of information….best sites, oddities, etc. There is also a small link to the Missouri Offbeat Attractions Map. Click that link and you will get the map below:

Roadside America Missouri Attractions Map
Roadside America Missouri Attractions Map

Each red pin on the map represents a unique site which you can refer to in conjunction with you Google Map trip plan. There is also an alphabetic list (based on town name) on the left side of the map. For convenience, I have circled the area from St. Louis to Kansas City to provide an idea of how many attractions there are. Bear in mind that these are predominantly the Offbeat Attractions and may not include historical museums and sites, national and state parks, scenic locations, etc.

Roadside America Map of downtown St. Louis
Roadside America Map of downtown St. Louis

When you open a state map, you can mouse over a section and double-click and the map will zoom in (it uses Google Maps technology). this will provide you with a closeup view of the area and the related pins. Click on a pin and it will pop up the Offbeat Attraction for that pin. Each attraction also has a “More” link, which, when clicked, will open up the page with details on that specific attraction. There are over 10,000 of these pages on the Roadside America site.

A typical Roadside America Attraction Page
A typical Roadside America Attraction Page

By viewing the attractions page you can find out where it is, see photos of the site, get other visitor’s comments and also see a site rating to let you know if it is “Well Worth the Visit” or just a site that may be of interest.

Roadside America iPhone app
Roadside America       iPhone app

And, while on the road, you can use the amazing Roadside America app for your iPhone.  It even has a GPS locator and will tell you the sites closest to your location on the road.  A must have for the back roads offbeat traveler!!

HONING DOWN THE ADVENTURE

Which Way Do I Go?
Which Way Do I Go?

Since the St. Louis to Kansas City trip will be a four day round trip, I typically will create a more detailed plan for each day. Since I can get actual addresses of sites along the way from Roadside America, Google and other sites, I can actually plug those into the Google Map directory. So, I will add the numerous sites from day one…initially with the sites from Roadside America. Then I will take my next step, based on those sites, and see if there are other sites of interest along the way, such as scenic views, state or National Parks, etc.

Sample Trip Day 1
Sample Trip Day 1

While adding these sites, I also create a document with the names of the places in their order. You can see from the map above that a number of places were selected in the St. Louis area. All of the locations on this map are just from Roadside America. Since Chillicothe will be the end point for the day, I will then fill in the blanks for other interesting sites along the way… As I look at the route, the following towns pop up along the way… St. Charles, St. Peters, Wentzville, Foristell, Wright City, Warrenton, Jonesburg, High Hill, New Florence, Danville, Williamsburg…and many more. I also notice that for a good part of the way I can go down Old U.S. 40 (called Booneslick Rd along part of the way and Old US 40 as well.) To me, this would be my option rather than the interstate, though, at many points it may parallel the interstate. When I hit Danville, it veers away onto some county roads, but returns to Old US 40 in Williamsburg. I will follow these roads until I hit US 54 which heads north at Kingdom City (which is an interesting place to visit by the way!!)

Kingdom City Water Tower
Kingdom City Water Tower

US 54 heads north to Mexico, Missouri, but veers off just south and turns into Missouri 22 before it goes into Mexico.  So, basically, all towns along that route are game for my search for interesting places.

GETTING TOWN INFORMATION

Mexico, Missouri
Mexico, Missouri

Perhaps one of my more unique methods of finding interesting places on the route is by using Google Maps, Google Search, Google Images, Wikipedia and miscellaneous town websites in combination.  It is almost like taking a virtual trip before I ever get on the road.  And I typically plan to hit more spots than I am actually able, but it really provides for some flexibility and it is fun.  Part of the reason for the flexibility is that you never know what you will see along the way that was unplanned.

Google Images for Mexico, Missouri
Google Images for Mexico, Missouri

Since it is halfway on the route, I randomly selected Mexico, Missouri to provide an example of how I go about finding places.  I have never been to Mexico and so, as I write this, I have no idea if there is anything of interest in this small central Missouri town.  My first step is a Google Search and then I switch over to images, some of which are above.  I didn’t really see anything that struck me there, so I went back to Google and found a website for Mexico, Missouri.  When I hit that page I immediately discovered that there is a Statue of Liberty in downtown Mexico (see photo below).

Mexico Web Page
Mexico Web Page

There are a few Statues of Liberty dotting the U.S. and it is always fun to capture them.  Since Mexico is on the route, this is a definite stop for a photo.  On further study of the Mexico website I also learn that it is the “Firebrick Capital of the World,” and that this industry has kept the town alive.  They have a Firebrick Museum with memorabilia and other items, as well as a Firebrick walk in the front.  This too could be of interest.  Being from Lexington, KY, the “Horse Capital of the World”, I also find it interesting that one of the few Horse Museums outside of the Kentucky Horse Park is located in Mexico.  It is the American Saddlebred Horse Museum and is the oldest Saddlebred Horse Museum in the nation.  This information alone would warrant a stop in Mexico as we pass by on our roundabout trip to Kansas City.

Centralia Triceratops
Centralia Triceratops

Of course, we were going through Mexico because of one of the sites we selected from Roadside America.  In this case, it is Larry Vennard’s Outside Sculpture Park of dinosaurs and other critters.  Those of you that follow my blogs know I have visited others like this in Canada, Washington and then, of course, the famous Jurustic Park in Wisconsin. (See an entire post dedicated to “Yard Art”).  This is certainly one of my passions out on the road….seeing these.  So, on this trip, I will be stopping here!!  Then, continuing west towards Salisbury, MO, there are the Scrap Metal Grasshoppers.  This too is a likely stop along the way.

Locust Creek Covered Bridge, Missouri
Locust Creek Covered Bridge, Missouri

I also have a fascination with Covered Bridges.  I have seen dozens of these old monuments to bridge building history, so a stop at the Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Park naturally is on the agenda before I finally hit Chillicothe, Missouri for an overnight stay.  By the way, Chillicothe is the “Home of Sliced Bread.”

Of course, I also explore interesting places to eat and scenic drives…and the list goes on and on.  Hopefully, this provides a piece of my mind and thought process as I plan my road trips.  The planning is almost as fun as the trip itself!!

(3683)

Road Trip Home from Idaho – Day 4: Oacoma, SD to Des Moines, IA

Bridges of Madison County in Iowa
Covered Bridges of Madison County in Iowa

April 2, 2013: After a good night’s rest in Oacoma, we were back on the road heading east with our first planned stop being an early morning visit to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.


View Larger Map – Oacoma, SD to Des Moines, IA

Originally built in 1892 as the “Corn Belt Exposition,” it became an iconic landmark and attraction in Mitchell after 1921.  Every year the exterior decorations are stripped and a new theme is created. The work is done by local artists.  The 2013 theme is “We Celebrate” and each mural is a depiction of an American holiday.  The artists use 13 different colors or shades of corn to decorate with. Typically there are over 275,000 ears of corn used annually on the murals. There is a nice list of the history of the murals here.  The Corn Palace has a full sized basketball court inside and even has big name concerts.

The Corn Palace - 2013
The Corn Palace – 2013
One of the Corn Pillars of the Corn Palace
One of the Corn Pillars of the Corn Palace
World's Only Corn Palace
World’s Only Corn Palace
Mural depicting Easter
Mural depicting Easter
Mural depicting Valentine's Day
Mural depicting Valentine’s Day
Sumoflam at the Corn Palace
Sumoflam at the Corn Palace
Not sure which of these two is the cornier??
Not sure which of these two is the cornier??
Not all corn in Mitchell. There is also a giant cow advertising a steak house.
Not all corn in Mitchell. There is also a giant cow advertising a steak house

From Mitchell we continued east on I-90 toward Sioux Falls.  Unbeknownst to me, in the small town of Montrose, South Dakota, right off the freeway (near Exit 374), there was an unusual site.  I actually pulled onto the shoulder to get out and get shots of what is known as the Porter Sculpture Park, which includes an amazing 60-foot tall bull’s head, which is what got me.  For some reason I had overlooked this one!!  I got a few photos from where I was, but was already past the exit and we were pushing the clock.

60 foot tall bull's head at Porter's Sculpture Park
60 foot tall bull’s head at Porter’s Sculpture Park
Porter's Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD
Porter’s Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD
A skeleton sentry watches over the park
A skeleton sentry watches over the park
A giant hammer adorns the park's whimsical displays
A giant hammer adorns the park’s whimsical displays

Vultures that represent politicians and buzzards holding giant knives are just some of the over 40 creations that came from the inventive mind of Wayne Porter, a blacksmith who uses his appreciation of history to create metallic works of art at his establishment.  Apparently, Porter spent approximately three years creating the 25-ton bull’s head which is mostly made out of railroad tie plates. This could definitely be the largest bull’s head statue around.

A hodge podge of scrap metal art at Porter's Sculpture Park in Montrose, SD
A hodge podge of scrap metal art at Porter’s Sculpture Park in Montrose, SD
Porter Sculpture Park as seen from a Google Satellite image
Porter Sculpture Park as seen from a Google Satellite image

From Montrose we continued east towards Sioux Falls and then on to I-29 south past Sioux City, Iowa.  Along the way I saw a sign for Onawa, Iowa noting it as the home of the Eskimo Pie. I had to drive through the town of about 3000 and see if we could find where it was invented.  Research shows me that someone named Christian Nelson invented it in 1920.  Interestingly enough, he originally called it an I-Scream Bar.  He later partnered with candy maker Russell Stover to patent the product. (See History here) They also claim to have the widest Main Street in the U.S.A. Though I drove around a bit, I couldn’t find a museum or anything…but, there were the hanging banners!!  I wish I could have found an Eskimo Pie!!

Onawa, Iowa, Home of the Eskimo Pie
Onawa, Iowa, Home of the Eskimo Pie

After that little detour we continued south until we hit I-680 north of Omaha and headed towards Des Moines on I-80 until we got to Exit 106. I have always wanted to go to Winterset, Iowa, famed for the “Covered Bridges of Madison County” (See a map here).  Robert James Waller made these famous with his book called The Bridges of Madison County. The county originally had 19 covered bridges, but now only six remain.  There are actually a couple of other places in Ohio with quite a few covered bridges including the bridges in Greene County (see map) near Xenia (see my write up of my visit to many of these), the 18 bridges in Fairfield County (also see map) and the 17 bridges in Ashtabula County (also see map here), including the newest and longest, which is the Smolen-Gulf Bridge at 613 feet long (see my photo of this bridge).  There are just over 125 covered bridges still in the United States and I have been fortunate to have visited many of them.  Therefore this was an exciting visit for me.

Madison County Courthouse, Winterset, Iowa
Madison County Courthouse, Winterset, Iowa

First thing you see in Winterset is the amazing Madison County courthouse! This courthouse was built in 1876. The Renaissance Revival structure has four wings which join to form a Greek cross. The silver-colored dome reaches a height of 136 feet (41.5 m) into the air and it contains a 1500-pound (680.4 kg) bell.  The inside is wonderful as well.  I got to go in for a look see.

Fon's and Porters Quilt Shop - Winterset, Iowa
Fons and Porter’s Quilt Shop – Winterset, Iowa

Across the street from the Courthouse is the famous Fons and Porter’s Quilt shop. Fons and Porter are two famous quilters that have produced a TV Show, the Love of Quilting Magazine and more.  Though I am not a quilter, my wife is and she was excited to visit here.  We found out that the store front was built specifically because people were always looking for one in their travels to Winterset.

Building front in Winterset
Building front in Winterset
More Winterset building fronts
More Winterset building fronts

Winterset is also famous as the Birthplace of John Wayne.  I did drop by there for a visit.  The visitor’s center was closed when we got there, but I did get a photo opp in front.

Birthplace of John Wayne
Sumoflam at the Birthplace of John Wayne
John Wayne Drive, Winterset, Iowa
John Wayne Drive, Winterset, Iowa

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, the son of Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison.  Interestingly, on May 24-25 (in nine days), the center will host Maureen O’Hara, who starred with John Wayne in 5 of his movies. Over his 50-year career, John Wayne appeared in more than 175 movies from major Hollywood epics to shorts, documentaries, promotional films, television shows and special appearances. Though there are actors who may have appeared in more movies, it is yet to be seen if any actor will ever better Duke’s record of being the lead in more than 140 films.

Welcome to Winterset, Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa
Welcome to Winterset, Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa
Cedar Covered Bridge, Winterset, Iowa
Cedar Covered Bridge, Winterset, Iowa

But the real interest in Winterset was the covered bridges.  Our first one was the Cedar Covered Bridge. This bridge was built in 1883 by Benton Jones and is 73 feet long.

Side view of the Cedar Bridge
Side view of the Cedar Bridge

Unfortunately, the original Cedar bridge was destroyed by an arsonist in September 2002.  They have reconstructed it and the new bridge was dedicated on October 9, 2004.

Roseman Covered Bridge in Winterset, Iowa
Roseman Covered Bridge in Winterset, Iowa

Like the Cedar Bridge, the Roseman Covered Bridge was also built by Benton Jones.  It is 107 feet long. This bridge is also known as the “haunted” bridge. Apparently this is where two sheriff’s posses trapped a county jail escapee in 1892. It is said the man rose up straight through the roof of the bridge, uttering a wild cry, and disappeared. He was never found, and it was decided that anyone capable of such a feat must be innocent.  This bridge was renovated in 1992.

Holliwell Covered Bridge in Scott, Iowa
Holliwell Covered Bridge in Scott, Iowa

The Holliwell Covered Bridge is another bridge built by Benton Jones in 1880.  It is the longest of the Madison County bridges at 122 feet.  It is located in Scott, Iowa.  Like the others, it was renovated in 1995.

Holliwell Covered Bridge, Scott, Iowa
Holliwell Covered Bridge, Scott, Iowa

Along the way to Holliwell, we came across a nice pond with a Blue Heron ( I love these birds!!) and a nice windmill shot.

Old Windmill on road to Holliwell Covered bridge
Old Windmill on road to Holliwell Covered bridge
Herry the Heron visited us near Scott, Iowa
Herry the Heron visited us near Scott, Iowa

We didn’t have time to get to the Hogback Covered Bridge or the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, but we did make it to the Imes Covered Bridge in St. Charles, Iowa.  This bridge was built in 1877 and actually moved three times.  It was moved to its current location in 1977.  this is the oldest of the remaining covered bridges, though it was also renovated in 1997.  It is 81 feet in length.

St. Charles, Iowa welcome sign near Imes Covered Bridge
St. Charles, Iowa welcome sign near Imes Covered Bridge
Imes Covered Bridge, St. Charles, Iowa
Imes Covered Bridge, St. Charles, Iowa

From St. Charles it was a short jump to I-35 and we went north into Des Moines for the night.  It was a beautiful day going through Iowa.


(590)