Welcome to Uranus (Missouri) – Really?

One of the Uranus Billboards along Interstate 44

In late July and early August 2018 I had been on the road traveling with my granddaughter for nearly two weeks and we finally made our way to US Route 66 in Oklahoma and Missouri. On our last night on the road, we spent the night in Springfield, Missouri. As we departed down Interstate 44, one of the first things I saw was a sign telling us to visit Uranus at exit 163! REALLY? In all my years of traveling, I had never heard of this place. As we headed east we continued to see signs…you know, the “Tourist Trap” type of signs that try to draw you in.

Thanks for Picking Uranus
Help Keep Uranus Clean

The term “Tourist Trap“ tends to be used in a derogatory fashion for a place that tries to draw tourists in with unique offerings and then once the tourist is drawn in, they are “trapped“ such that they will likely purchase items that they don’t probably need. As a seasoned traveler on the back roads of America, I have run across many of these so-called “tourist traps.“ I find them rather fun! Many of them offer similar things like cups or small shot glasses emblazoned with their particular business name and logo. Perhaps, it might be better if you call a “Tourist Trap“ a “Tourist Haven.“ Why? Well, these places are usually a perfect place for a break from the driving, a restroom break, cold drinks and snacks and a chance to have a little fun while on the road. Entertainment for smaller kids and entertainment for adults…all in one convenient location.

Welcome to Uranus Missouri
Big signs and a big rocket in Uranus
Uranus Shot Glasses

Of course, you will be able to find the T-shirts, the magnets and the many other kitschy souvenirs and memorabilia that you can take home to remember your visit to the “little tourist trap.

In 2002 the current location was purchased by two guys named Louie Keen and Vernon Brejcha. Keen had run some other businesses on the property before he came up with the idea of opening up a Fudge Factory in 2015 and naming the place Uranus. He is now the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Uranus.” From there he began an aggressive marketing campaign with signs that said things such as “81 Miles to Big Fun in Uranus”, “the Best Fudge Comes From Uranus”, etc. Of course, the name… most of us know the joke. No need to elucidate upon that, especially since the photos of the T-shirts and shot glasses that I provide in this post will give plenty of that kind of fodder for either laughter, eye rolls, guffaws or just the general “ewww.”

Uranus Parks T-shirt
Uranus Meat and Sausage sign
Fudge Packers Union t-shirt from Uranus
Wall Drug sign in southwest Minnesota

As with all Tourist Havens, the signs can be seen for miles before you get there. I think of the best example of this can be seen across the northern highways in the US, pushing the destination known as Wall Drug, which is located in Wall, South Dakota. I have seen signs advertising Wall Drug as far away as eastern Minnesota, and I’ve heard that there may be some even further east in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

An example of The Thing billboards that dot Arizona, New Mexico and California

They actually even include the mileage to the location. Then there are the series of “Tourist Havens“ along the highways in southern New Mexico and Arizona, predominately on Interstate 10 owned by Bowlin Travel Centers of Albuquerque. Their travel centers typically incorporate a Southwestern “Trading Post” theme (not uncommon along Route 66, even in Missouri and Illinois), in the manner of small stores commonly found along Old Route 66 prior to the construction of the Interstate. Many were former independent businesses. They have names like “Flying C Ranch”, “Old West”, “Bowlin’s Running Indian”, and “Continental Divide”. The most iconic of the Bowlin businesses is one known as “The Thing,“ which adds the drawing card of a sideshow within the confines of this business that one must pay for in order to go see. But on the way in you can buy your “The Thing“ shot glasses, mugs, “Kick Ass Peanuts,” and other fine touristy memorabilia.

A myriad of souvenirs available at Bowlin’s The Thing resort in Dragoon, AZ
Mugs from Hell – “I’ve been to Hell and Back.”
Rabbit Hash Mugs – Rabbit Hash, KY
Seems like most tourist traps have their “resident aliens”

All of these places are worth a visit, if for anything else, just to catch the theme, see what’s going on, take some fun pictures and have a laugh. They do sell legitimate products, they sell soft drinks, they sell candy and often times things such as homemade popcorn in various flavors, or fudge. Off the top of my head, I can list off more than a dozen of these quirky tourist locations throughout the country. And there are a number of smaller ones that I’ve been to as well. But, there is something special about Uranus and the strip mall of quirky and offbeat shops located therein.

Uranus, Missouri water tower
Uranus is Expanding
My granddaughter and I with the Uranus Fudge Factory sign

When we pulled off the interstate and then drove along the old Route 66, we could see that this particular tourist attraction covered a couple or 3 acres and had a number of smaller businesses within it, all owned and run by Keen apparently. In the middle of the parking lot is a big water tower that mimics other town water towers – “Uranus, Missouri – Home of the Pirates.” I don’t think I get the joke, but I am sure there is one. Of course, along the way, the signs would say – Uranus, Missouri – not a town, but a destination – or something like that.

The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus
Making Uranus Fudge
Uranus Fudge – 18 different flavors daily
Uranus Fudge T-shirt

As noted above, the main drawing card is the Uranus Fudge Factory. Herein they advertise that the “Best Fudge Comes from Uranus.” You walk in the door and are immediately greeted by smiling staff members (known as Uranus Fudge Packers) who, without any hesitation or embarrassment, yell out “Welcome to Uranus!“ And that is after you have already taken photographs outside with the sign that says “Uranus on Route 66”, and the bland white sign that says “Thank you for Picking Uranus.” Keen actually got an online Chocolatier Certificate so he could begin doing his fudge.

A scene from Uranus
Another scene from Uranus
Uranus Gas ‘N Lube

Once inside this rather large shop, your eyes are filled with the eye candy temptations of a tourist trap. There is no doubt about that! All of the “trappings” are there… Numerous T-shirts with sayings about Uranus, the shot glasses, and even a sign above the fudge counter that says “The Best Fudge comes from Uranus.”

After receiving your gracious welcome, your eyes are loaded with the eye candy of the “trappings“ of this shop. The colorful T-shirts with all of their unique sayings about Uranus, the shot glasses, the snacks, souvenirs. They even sell things like Route 66 Root Beer.

Route 66 Sodas
Men’s Restroom Sign
Sign in Restroom

As with any “destination” of this sort, there are the cheap little toys for the kids that are bored on their long road trips. There is the candy in abundance and the cold drinks. There is a restroom, and, to my surprise, there was not much written on the door of the restroom or within the restroom, which for a place called Uranus, is a big surprise to me.

Big Fun in Uranus

The one thing I did notice, is that every tourist that walked through that door was smiling and/or laughing about things within the shop and that is exactly what the owners want you to do because a smile or laugh will likely equivocate into a purchase. And that is why places like this are called a “tourist traps.“

Uranus Police
Uranus Police Car
Uranus Bus

After spending a good deal of time and even a little money for a T-shirt for my granddaughter (yes I used a 20 dollar bill in Uranus), and after numerous photographs were taken, we meandered our way out into the rather large parking lot and drove around to grab shots of some of the other things to be seen. The absolutely funniest attraction was the plywood cut outs. Every tourist trap has some kind of these. You know, the kind where there’s a hole in there for you to stick your head in and get a picture taken! This Uranus version has one of an elephant, as zebra, a giraffe, an antelope and a couple of other animals. Beautifully painted and very realistic looking. The only difference is that these are on the butt end of the animal so when you are sticking your head through the hole, it appears that your head is coming out of the … well, I think you can guess. Just check out the pictures.

Granddaughter with a Zebra….
Pet Control in Uranus
Chicken Bones Billiards in Uranus
Gas in Uranus
Please Pick Up in Uranus

According to a couple of recent articles I read about Uranus, Keen expects that there are about 250,000 visitors a year to the place. No wonder Uranus is expanding!!

What is a Tourist Trap with a Dinosaur or two roaming around?
Uranus City Jail
Big Mugs
Having a Gas in Uranus
Uranus T-Shirt
Thanks For Picking Uranus

So, if you are driving to central Missouri on interstate 44 are trying to travel some of the remnants of old route 66, then the trip to Uranus should be included in your planning. Just make sure that you bring enough money because, you would not want to have the paper content of your wallet wiped out in Uranus.

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April 2018 Cross-Country Road Trip: Miscellaneous Leftovers

Steven’s Pass – Washington

On a long road trip like the one I did in April, there are so many places visited, but some didn’t fit into a post for one reason or another.  Here are some odds and ends leftovers from my 6000 mile cross country trek through 14 states.  There is really no rhyme or reason, but the opportunity to address these places in a little more depth.

Papa Joe’s Stop & Go – Crescent Junction, Utah

Papa Joe’s in Crescent Junction – fun “tourist trap”

Out in the middle of nowhere in Utah is the small place called Crescent Junction at the junction of I-70 and US 191.  There is really not much there and it is basically a tourist-trappy stopover point for folks heading to and from the lovely canyons of Moab.  At the center of it all is Papa Joe’s Stop & Go.  Called a C-Store (short for Convenience Store), Papa Joe has a number of unique “attractions” in store.

Welcome to Papa Joe’s
Mystery Machine replica (from Scooby-Doo) — flat tire and all
Another funky van at Papa Joe’s
The usual Tourist Trap fare — I have seen this around the country
Gotta get a cup… maybe?
Skullduggery – lots of skeletonesque souvenirs
A Gnasty Gnome…
Crop Circle Popcorn – Strawberry Lemonade
Caramel Crop Circle Popcorn
Sumoflam and alien in Bad Ass Joe’s

The main store has all of the amenities… a restroom (if you are a paying customer of course — but face it, water is in short supply out here), drinks and food and quirky and kitschy knick-knacks and then there is the “gourmet” crop-circle popcorn.  Recently he has opened a second building next door that he is calling “Bad Ass Joe’s Jerky” and it has a UFO-esque theme complete with life size cutouts of Star Wars characters and aliens.

Inside the Jerky Store
Souvenirs
Papa Joe’s “Lightning McQueen”

If you get online, you will see many nasty reviews of the place.  And, honestly, Joe and his gal are really not the friendliest sorts.  But, I am always the optimist and try to find the good out there.  The place offers some fun photo ops, the “gourmet” popcorn is OK.  Prices are quite high, but then, I have been to dozens of places like this across the country.

He has a replica Mystery Mobile from Scooby-Doo, a South Park themed car, a Lightning McQueen “replica (actually an old Toyota Camry) and some other odds and ends.  They are all in poor repair.  Mystery Mobile has a flat tire (or two).  But heck…its quirky.  Just make sure you are filled up with gas BEFORE you get there.

Belle Inn – Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Belle Inn – Belle Fourche, SD

You know you have found THE PLACE to eat when the sign in the door tells Cowboys to “scrape shit from boots before entering.” When I stayed the night in Belle Fourche I sought after a locally owned place that would perhaps have some comfort food.  I found that place in Belle’s Inn.  Not just burgers, but other things like chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, etc.

Sign at Belle Inn front door
A scene from inside the Belle Inn – Be Nice or You’ll Get the Boot
Belle Inn – Comfort Food

There were only four staff members when I got there.  The chef looked like a renegade biker (and turns out that indeed he was!!  From Lead, SD — but he didn’t like his Harley. Preferred his Kawasaki!).  The food was good…freshly made chicken fried steak, onion rings, mashed potatoes.  And it was indeed a comfortable price.

Kreative Korners Krazy Kreatures – Kingston, Washington

Kreative Korners Krazy Kreatures

I am a sucker for wood carving.  And this little collection is a trip!

After we had gotten off of the Ferry in Kingston and were driving to Port Orchard, WA, this place just suddenly showed up on a corner.  I had to turn around and do my thing.

Some fun stuff here.  Most of the carvings are pretty well life size — five or six feet tall.

Some of the Kreatures
Found her! – She’s a mermaid
A bearded guy and a burger bearing bear
Gotta have an eagle!!
A Fish in Jeans…. whaddya call this guy?
Mmmm….. Ice Cream (well, not really)

Murals and Metal Art – Ottawa, Illinois

Detail of “Day of the Great Debate” by Don Gray in Ottawa, Illinois

Yet another town with lots of murals, this is Abraham Lincoln country and Ottawa was where the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas took place.  Murals and park statues depict the scene and the history.

Ottawa calls their mural art projects “A Brush With History,” a program which began in 2002.  There are now eight or nine murals in town including the massive “Day of the Great Debate” mural by artist Don Gray.

Day of the Great Debate mural by Don Gray in Ottawa, Illinois

Some of the other murals I found in my quick drive through town include the following:

Peltier Glass Factory mural by E. Colin Williams and Murals by Jericho.
A Section Ottawa as a Canal Town mural by Gregory Ackers
More detail of Ottawa as a Canal Town
A section of the mural Ottawa’s Earliest Residents by Roger Cooke Fine Arts
The head detail from “Bending”

But murals aren’t all that is in the town.  Over in Allen Park, along the Illinois River, I found one of the Whispering Giants.  While there, I also discovered two big metal sculptures, which I didn’t know anything about. Created by native artist, Mary Meinz-Fanning, these historical art structures were fashioned from parts of Ottawa’s old Hilliard Bridge, originally built in 1933. Ms. Meinz-Fanning built these two to commemorate the bridge: the yellow sculpture is named “Reclining” and the red one is known as “Bending”.

Reclining Sculpture by Mary Mary-Meinz Fanning – Allen Park in Ottawa, Illinois
Bending by Mary Meinz-Fanning in Ottawa, Illinois

Cheyenne Murals in a Sinclair Convenience Store – Ashland, Montana

Men’s Room Door at the gas station

I had to stop for drinks and gas while on US Highway 212.  I was driving over the pass and stopped in Ashland, Montana, which sits in the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  Went into this little Sinclair gas station in the small town and was stunned by the fabulous art.  Turns out the guys working the registers and managing the store were also the artists.

Happy Chief art in the Gas Station in Ashland, MT
An eagle on the all and the women’s restroom
A Sumoflam Staredown!!

Bear in a Box Wood Carvers – Allyn, Washington

Sumoflam and Justin Howland at Grizz Works in Maple, WI.  (2014)

A few years ago I was driving on US Route 2 through Maple, Wisconsin when I ran into a place called Grizz Works.  It was filled amazing chainsaw wood carvings of bears and other unique characters.  I had to feature it on its own post.

On my trip in April, driving down Washington Highway 3 into Allyn, Washington I ran into Bear in a Box, another “must stop and get photos” wood carving place.  Their work was a tad more whimsical than was Grizz Works, but amazing nonetheless.  I loved it.

Bear in a Box – Allyn, WA
Sumoflam at Bear in a Box, Allyn, WA
One of the whimsical Sasquatch carvings at Bear in a Box
Bear in a Box Bear, Allyn, WA
Unique horse carving at Bear in a Box
Another Bear in the Box Horse (and an eagle in the background)
Bear in the Box Owl
Staring down the Sasquatch
Totem Poles at Bear in a Box
Old Smiley the Sasquatch….I love this one.
Bear in a Log at Bear in a Box

Orval’s Used Cars – Delta, Colorado

Orval’s Used Cars – Delta, CO

On my drive down US Route 50 in central Colorado, I came across a most unexpected scene in Delta, Colorado.  I found a “Used Car” lot that carried a couple dozen or more REALLY used cars.  I am talking about antique classics.

In my travels I have come across these kinds of old cars dotting the scenery here and there, and usually only one or two, and sometimes three.  But, in this unique lot in Delta, an out of the way little town in out of the way Colorado, I would have never imagined I would see the collection like this guy had.  In fact, I was so amazed by the collection that I forgot to get a photo of the place’s sign.  But, the place does have a name — Orval’s Used Cars.  And it is like a walk back in time.

Some of the cars in Orval’s
Old Trucks in Orval’s
Some really old fixer uppers in Orval’s
More cars from Orval’s

Murals and Wall Art – Delta, Colorado

Old Egyptian Theater in Delta, Colorado.  Originally built in 1928

While on the subject of Delta, Colorado, a nice little town that came about originally to be a trading post for the Ute Nation and later was the home of Fort Uncompahgre, I should add some of the great murals that can be found here.  I was not able to get all of them, but here are a few.

I am also adding a photo of the lovely Egyptian Theater of Delta, which was built in 1928 and remodeled in the 1990s.  Unusual to find something like this in a small town in the middle of Colorado.

Delta City of Murals mural – “Train’s Arrival” by Seth Weber and Phil Wassell (16′ x 32′)

Delta, like other cities with a number of murals, calls itself the City of Murals as the town boasts at least 15 murals that dot the small city of about 8000.

One of Delta’s many murals – West Elk Wilderness by Ginny Allen
Anna-Dora Opera House Mural by W. Richard Doherty
Mural in Delta, Colorado – Greetings from Delta by Lee Bowerman
Old Advertisement mural in Delta, Colorado

Starved Rock State Park – Oglesby, Illinois

Starved Rock State Park near Oglesby, IL

On my first day of my 6000 mile long road trip across America, I had hoped to hit the three Peter Toth “Whispering Giants” carvings in Central Illinois since they were relatively close to each other.   One of these was located in Starved Rock State Park near Oglesby and Utica, Illinois and not too far from Ottawa (see above).

A Starved Rock Carving
Visiting the Whispering Giant at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

I had never heard of the park, but some tout it as the #1 Attraction in the State of Illinois (at least, that is what the park says on its website).  I drove around on the main road to find the Peter Toth giant and discovered a number of other wood carvings along the road, a nice lodge and more.  Sadly, this is one of those parks that deserves an all day visit and I couldn’t do that.  The park is apparently full of trails to waterfalls and gorges and more.  All I got to see was a few of the wood carvings and the main lodge.  This is certainly a “visit again” place in the future.

A Boy Scout Carving at Starved Rock
Foxridge Carving at Starved Rock
One of the unique signs at the park. Make sure you know to stay away from the river
A Raccoon Home Sculpture at Starved Rock

ENJOY THE RIDE!  CHOOSE HAPPY!

If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, is currently being worked on and I hope to make it available in late  June 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

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April 2018 Cross-Country Road Trip: The Wall Art Murals of Olympia

Wall art on front of Fish Tale Brew Pub in Olympia, WA.  Painted by Dennis Lyons

I love entering a town plastered with Wall Art Murals, especially when it is totally unexpected. Such was the case in April 2018 when I arrived in Olympia, WA to join some friends for breakfast on the first day of my return trip back to Lexington. While driving around to find parking for the Spar Cafe, I noticed that around almost every corner a new mural would make itself known.

Olympia claims to have over 70 murals dotting the city and even calls the city “A City of Murals.” I would have to concur. The city has also created a slick online map with pictures of the murals and their locations.  You can see it here.

A mural titled “Stalker” was painted by Olympia artist Ira Coyne – It is a rendition of a  smaller painting by Native American Activist Leonard Peltier and was painted to honor him.
Giant Octopus mural on the outside wall of the Fish Tale Brew Pub in Olympia. Painted by Dennis Lyons in 2006
Respect and Love Olympia Mural on the Avalon Theater in Olympia. The mural was painted in 2014 by South Sound artist Vince Ryland.

After breakfast, I made it a point to drive around the downtown area and capture as many photos as I could.

Sumoflam with the Marvel Mural in Olympia

One of the most impressive and detailed of the murals I discovered was on the back side the Old School PizzeriaMy research found that it was painted by Christopher Ross, an artist from Seattle.  He painted the 17 foot by 24 foot mural in 2002 based on an old Marvel Comics puzzle called “Marvel Super-Heroes Fantasy Jigsaw Puzzle” which the Pizzeria owner had.  The mural features 132 life-size characters and is a replica of the puzzle box cover.  It was of particular interest to me on two fronts.  One – I currently work for as a Database Manager for ComicBook.com and so the comic book aspect was fun.  Second – I discovered it as the big hit movie Avengers: Infinity War was getting ready to premiere (as of this writing the number one super-hero movie of all time in terms of ticket sales)  The mural apparently took artist Ross 10 days to complete.  Following are few shots of the whole and of sections.

Full Mural of Marvel Super-Heroes by Christoper Ross, on the back side of Old School Pizzeria in Olympia, WA
Detail 1 of Marvel mural
Detail 2 of Marvel Mural
Detail 3 of Marvel Mural
Detail 4 of Marvel Mural
Detail 5 of Marvel Mural
Alternate view of the Marvel Super-heroes mural by Christopher Ross – painted in 2002.

In the same parking lot there is another unique mural entitled “Plankton Mural” by local artist Carrie Ziegler.

Plankton Mural by South Sound artist Carrie Ziegler

Not far from that one is the Puget Sound Estuarium, a marine life discovery center, with saltwater aquariums, interactive learning, and rotating exhibits.  The colorful mural below is on the outside of the Estuarium and is also the work of Carrie Ziegler.

The Estuarium Mural is also done by Carrie Ziegler and features some larger than life estuary species
Another view of the Estuarium Mural
Puget Sound Marine was painted by Carrie Ziegler in 2015 and adorns another wall of the Estuarium
Detail of the Olympia Rafah Mural Project

Olympia is apparently proud of the mural entitled the “Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural.” Unlike most murals I have seen around the country, this particular piece of art has its own website (see it here).

Located at the corner of State & Capital in Olympia WA, the mural is 4000 square feet and is an “interdisciplinary mural” that includes artwork from more than 200 participants from all over the world. According to its website, the “Project celebrates and mourns Rachel Corrie through action. Rachel was born in Olympia and killed in Gaza when run over by an Israeli driven bulldozer in 2003.”

Full view of the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural

The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural was started in 2006 and then completed and dedicated in 2011. The mural depicts a large olive tree filled with 119 leaves of organizations from around the world, and a symbolic wave breaking the Israeli Separation Barrier.  There are detailed photos of each leaf on the website for the mural.

Another view of the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project (ORSMP)
A view of the ORSMP from across the street

Artist Michael Beeson painted the mural entitled Ganesha on the side of an Indian restaurant in 2014.

Ganesha by Michael Beeson, ca. 2014. On the side of the Great Cuisine of India restaurant
Detail of Oly Cartoon by Arthur Crews

As if the Super-Hero mural were not enough, the Old School Pizzeria has another mural in the alleyway which is entitled Oly Cartoon Scene. It was Arthur Crews and friends. It is supposedly an altered reality of the citizens of Olympia.

Like other artists, Arthur Crews has painted other murals in the city.

The Oly Cartoon Scene mural is also on the side of the Old School Pizzeria
Another detail of the Oly Cartoon Scene

Another work by Arthur Crews in collaboration with artists Vince Ryland and Ia Coynes, covers the east side of the Capitol Theater for the Olympia Film Society.

The Olympia Film Society wall was a collaborative effort by artists Arthur Crews, Vince Ryland and Ira Coyne, all of whom have done other murals in the city
Olympia Wall – panorama view

Olympia has a place called the Artesian Well and there is an abstract mural that covers the entire building front.  The work was done by Jean Nagai in 2015.

Artesian Well Abstract by Jean Nagai

And here are a few more photos from around the downtown area –

Another piece by Dennis Lyons, called Fish, Barley, Mountains on the front of a building. Painted in 2006
A large Salmon mural also on the side of the Capitol Theater. This was commissioned by a group called Procession of the Species
This mural was a collaboration Ira Coyne and Vince Ryland to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Rainy Day Records on 5th Ave. SE in Olympia
Abstract Art Scene – Artist Unknown
Deep Sea Scene – Artist Unknown
Orca Mural – Artist unknown
This mural, called Kali, was painted in 2007 by Artem RHK on the side of an Indian Restaurant

Obviously, I couldn’t get to them all.  Maybe on my next trip to Washington I can.  Olympia is an awesome town to visit.  There will be more about Olympia included in a later post.

ENJOY THE RIDE!  CHOOSE HAPPY!

If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, is currently being worked on and I hope to make it available in late  June 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

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