People are enthralled by dinosaurs and dragons. Maybe it is because humans have never really seen one alive. All we have are fossil evidences and legends.
A roadtrip on the back roads of America will almost always present a dinosaur or a dragon. I have seen hundreds in my travels.
In this post I hope to share some of the photos and fun of dinosaurs, dragons and other monster thingies as seen on the road.
Let’s look at a couple of strange monsters first. First there is the Hodag, a unique monster found in Rhinelander, WI. According to an 1893 newspaper article it was “the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth. It became extinct after its main food source, all white bulldogs, became scarce in the area.”
Wisconsin really seems to be the monster capital of the country. In Mt. Horeb, there is another cool looking monster statue in front of the visitor center. Created by Wally Keller, an artist from nearby.
Of course, the premier “dragon” stop in Wisconsin is Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. Created by artist (and former attorney) Clyde Wynia, this large property has well over 1000 pieces of welded scrap metal art, including a few dragons.
Clyde has a number of stories about his “artwork fossils” and makes it a fun place to visit. Note that it really is off the beaten path, but well worth a visit!
And the afore mentioned Wally Keller, who passed away a few years ago, also had a nice menagerie in his front yard.
There is another scrap metal artist in Centralia, MO who also has created a number of similar dinosaurs.
One of the most interesting dragons out there is the Kaskaskia Fire breathing dragon in Vandalia, IL
This monster was the brainchild of Kaskaskia Supply owner Walt Barenfanger. The 35 foot long beast is not only a nice piece of metal art, it is also FIRE BREATHING! Yes, go across the street to the Liquor Store or over to the Kaskaskia Hardware store and get a token for One Dollar, stick it into the self-service coin box and this guy’s eyes light up red and he breathes REAL fire for about 10 seconds!!
There are, of course, many other dragons out there.
But, its the dinosaurs that impress. Many have been built to the presumed size and shape of the various monsters. In fact, there are a number of T Rex statues out there.
Most impressive of all is the great escape of dinosaurs from the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Life size and REALLY REAL looking.
And here are a few more dinosaur shots from around the country
and finally, who can forget that cute little Sinclair Gas dinosaur?
There are some super huge statues in this country. Giant behemoths that can be seen from far away.
Perhaps there is no place better for BIG than in Texas, where everything is supposedly bigger. Texas actually has three of the tallest statues in the United States, including two that honor the great Texas heroes Sam Houston and Stephen Austin. All three giant free standing statues exceed 70 feet in height (including the pedestal/base). This puts these giants in the top seven tallest monuments in the United States.
“Tribute to Courage” – Sam Houston Statue – The First Texas Giant “World’s Tallest Statue of an American Hero”
The tallest of the three is the “Tribute to Courage” statue of Sam Houston, located in Huntsville, Texas home of Sam Houston State University. This one stands 67 feet but also has a 10 foot pedestal, giving it a ground to top height of 77 feet. It was built in 1994.
This giant Sam Houston statue can be seen from far off when driving on Interstate 45, especially coming from the south. It stands on the right looking over the interstate proudly.
This statue, along with the one of Stephen Austin were both done by Houston Artist David Adickes from his Sculpturworx Studio.
Soon after artist David Adickes unveiled his Sam Houston statue, a group of Brazoria County businessmen decided that it was time to honor Texas founder Stephen F. Austin, too. Adickes agreed to do the statue, which was named “The Father of Texas,” at the same time he was working on his series of gigantic presidential busts for his Presidents Park in Lead, SD. By 2003, Adickes was ready to start assembling the concrete and steel statue. He assembled the 15 sections of the statue on a 12-foot, five-sided granite base, that took almost a year to piece together.
Much like the Sam Houston Statue, this one is 60 feet tall and sits atop a 12 foot tall pedestal, giving a total height of 72 feet. It can clearly be seen from Highway 288.
The third giant doesn’t quite fit the nature of these two Texas heroes. Instead, the Quan The Am Bo Tat (Also known as Quan Am – Mother of Buddha) statue in Sugar Land stands 72 feet tall as it towers over the Vietnamese Buddhist Center.
Quan Am – The Mother of Buddha
The idea for this statue was conceived in 1994 as the Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, sought for an artist to do one. By the end of June 2001, this 72 foot tall statue was dedicated.
The statue was designed an build by New Orleans artist Mai Chi. She escaped from Vietnam in 1989 and spent four years in a refugee camp in Indonesia. She has a literature degree from the University of Saigo and took up sculpting clay religious figures for Buddhist, Catholic and Muslim refugees while there. She also took up wood carving. After being asked to build this, Chi took a year to design the statue. According to Chi, the face came from dreams she had during the design period.
The statue is garbed in a long stately robe. Her right hand forms the circular Buddhist finger symbol meaning happiness and compassion. In her left hand, she holds a container of dew that brings peace and harmony. She stands atop a lotus flower, a universal symbol of Buddhism.
Without a doubt, perhaps the most interesting part of this work was that Mai Chi turned to her artistic mentor, David Adickes, the sculptor of the other two giants, for advice on the designing the interior. She completed the statue in seven sections and erected it in January 2001.
Other Giants of the U.S. that I have been to
Over the years, I have traveled and seen many other giants. Following are some of the others I have visited over the years.
The Statue of Liberty in New York is the tallest of all statues in the United States. It is 151 feet tall and stands upon a 154 foot pedestal giving it a total height of 305 feet. This was completed in 1886 and was designed and sculpted by Frédéric Bartholdi. I have visited the Statue on four occasions. The photo above was taken in December 1991.
The second tallest statue in the United States (according to the Wikipedia list) was completed in 1985 high on a mountain in Butte, Montana. Designed by Laurien Eugene Riehl, this statue stands 88.6 feet tall and can be seen from Interstate 15 in Butte. I took the photo above in March 2013 from way below using a zoom lens to capture it.
Standing 65.5 feet tall, the Jesus of the Ozarks statue was completed in 1966 and overlooks a nice park in the touristy town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I got to visit this statue in 2012.
The “Keeper of the Plains” statue in Wichita, Kansas only stands 44 feet tall, but it also sits atop a 30 foot pedestal making the total height of 74 feet. This was designed and created by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin in 1974. It stands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. I visited this in 2012.
The “World’s Tallest and Largest Indian” Statue of Hiawatha in Ironwood, MI is another wonderful giant. Hiawatha stands at 52 feet and weighs 16,000 pounds, including anchoring internal steelwork, and is engineered to withstand 140 mph winds. Hiawatha was built in Minneapolis in 1964, transported to Ironwood and erected in the “caves area,” on the site of the Old Norrie Iron Mine.
An icon of television advertising, the 55.5 foot tall Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN is another giant. This was built in 1979 by a radio station owner and commissioned by a Wisconsin company to build it. I have visited twice and both times was not able to do much due to torrential rains. The picture above is of my son Seth from a trip he took in 2005.
One of the last “giants” that I have visited is along the highway near New London, MO. This nearly 45 foot tall statue of Mark Twain is kind of funky with a giant head and small hands, but, it definitely fits the category of “giant”
There is a difference between quirky and offbeat in my mind. Quirky is typically off the chain and unexpected, or even downright weird. On the other hand, as noted in my O is for Offbeat post, the offbeat and odd things are typically recognizable.
Obviously, there is a fine line between what is quirky and what is offbeat. I think we all make those determinations ourselves. In this post, I will offer up a few Quirky things…those that I think are beyond offbeat and into the realm of quirky.
I’ll start off with a biggie…a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts. Why quirky? Because who would ever think of making a 65 foot tall statue totally out of bicycle parts?
The artwork, entitled “Cyclisk” was created in 2010 by Petaluma, California-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 pounds. It is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture.
In fact, there are many “quirky” scrap metal art projects to be seen around this country. Some are small and others, like Cyclisk, are huge.
One such example at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, WA. Owner Mike Hammond is a muffler repairman, a musician and a metal artist. I visited his shop back in 2007.
I first met Mark at a Trailer Park Troubadours concert the night before in Dayton, WA. After talking with him, we headed south to Walla Walla to check out his quirky art. What a load of fun that was!
Since then, over the past 10 years, I have run into other quirky metal art in diverse places. You never know what you’ll see on the back roads of America!
I could likely post a hundred more pieces of scrap metal art found around the country, but there are other quirky places to cover.
Perhaps one of the most unusual and quirky places I have ever been to is the Screaming Heads of Midlothian Castle in Burk’s Falls, Ontario, not too far from Algonquin National Park. This entire project was begun by school teacher and artist Peter Camani. He is a Secondary School teacher, but has also spent over 25 years constructing Monolith-like sculptures in the shape of giant heads, which are scattered throughout the property. A two-headed dragon sits atop the chimney of his Midlothian Castle and he has a version of the See/Say/Hear No Evils greet visitors.
There are more than 100 “screaming head” sculptures, each one at least 20 feet in height. According to Wikipedia, Camani says he “built his otherworldly creations as a warning about environmental degradation. With his paintings already hanging in such coveted places as the Vatican and Buckingham Palace, he decided to focus his energy on realizing a vision of significantly larger proportions.” See my original post HERE.
Of course, there are also quirky sculptures to be found all over the place, just like the metal ones. Here are a couple more I have come across.
Quirky is not only centered on art. There are many quirky places. I came across Boudreau’s Antiques on US Highway 2 near Odanah, WI that was covered with “stuff.” That alone was a drawing card for me to drop by…but alas, it was closed.
And they don’t have to be antique shops either. How about the quirkiest of all eateries in the US… Hillbilly Hot Dog in West Virginia?
And another of the quirky treasures of this country is the Hamtramck Disneyland in Hamtramck, MI, near Detroit
Along these same lines of quirkiness is a family yard in Woodstock, Ontario.
Then there are places that defy description. One such uber-quirky place is Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN.
One man’s life dedication to his parents draws people from all around to see this unique and absolutely quirky massive structure made of steel pipes and steel pieces and a large painted water tower that says “Mindfield Cemetery.” This large piece of art work is the work of one Billy Tripp, who, in 1989 began creating this monument to his parents.
This place must have taken 1000s of hours to build and it is an absolute maze of metal. I was fascinated.
And another place, in Meadville, PA has hundreds of pieces of art created from old repurposed roadsigns.
Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville. In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322
I am assuming by now that you, the reader, has determined that there are some really over the top quirky places out there. Though Hillbilly Hot Dog takes the place for quirky eateries, a couple of burger joints in Washington and Texas take a close second and third.
The outside of Fat Smitty’s is quirky enough. But go inside and there are many more surprises….1000s of them hanging all over the place.
And in Cypress, TX there is the Shack Burger Resort, another over the top hall of quirky eating.
Head to Cincinnati for the quirkiest grocery store experience you may ever get. Jungle Jim’s is more than a grocery store, it’s a destination! There is over 200,000 square feet of shopping and 10s of 1000s of product choices from all over the world…. and the most unique restroom entrance in any store.
I guess I need to add the quirkiest 30 mile drive in the United States as the last piece. That would be the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota. Some humongously quirky pieces of art along a 30 mile stretch of road north of Regent, ND.
This is one of my all time favorite tourist destinations. Took me many years to finally get there, but I am glad I did. I have a great detailed post about this on my blog if you are interested. See it here.
By the way, Geese in Flight has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records. This piece was erected in 2001 and weighs over 78 tons. The main structure is 154 feet wide and 110 feet tall. The largest goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. On a clear day this structure can be seen from nearly 5 miles away!
So much quirk and so little time and space. Time to take a breather and enjoy the ride…through quirkville.