During the month of April I participated with nearly 2000 other bloggers worldwide in the “Blogging from A to Z Challenge” which is now in its 7th year. This was my second year to participate and this year’s theme for my series was “Wanderlust.” As a “Travelographer,” my posts tend to be photo heavy. I travel and take loads of photos. This is my way of sharing the wonders of the back roads of America.
Following are links to the complete A to Z set. Just click on the banner for each and letter and enjoy the posts and the photos. I hope all readers will Enjoy the Ride as much as I have enjoyed sharing it!
I am enriched by people. They inspire me, they teach me, they bring me joy.
I have often been told that I have never met a stranger. And it’s true. I am unabashed around people. Whether it’s joking with a person in line at a grocery store or interacting with the person at a table next to me in a restaurant, I always feel comfortable.
The same goes with my travels. I have been blessed to have met hundreds of unique individuals from all walks of life.
The diversity of people enriches us.
Unlike my other posts in this series, I am stretching far beyond the boundaries of back roads in America. This post will take the reader to Japan, the Philippines, Canada and beyond. As a tour guide in Flagstaff I got to interact with 100s of nameless tourists from all over the world. Working in Japan in the late 1980s, I met more unique folks from the far corners of the earth.
First off, there are the “random people.” The people I have photographed on the streets while traveling. Here are a few, including some from the Philippines during my trips there in 2007. From the loneliness of street people, to the unique shots I would see from the car as I drive by in some small town, these people add color.
For years, I have worked and often traveled with singer/songwriter Antsy McClain to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful musicians, some very well known, others not so well known. Many I have gotten to know well…not as musicians, but as people.
Many of the musicians I have met are genuine. They are such neat people…not pretentious at all. It is nice to talk to them about life. One of them, Bobby Cochran, who played guitar for Antsy for a few years, was also the lead guitarist for the band Steppenwolf in the 1970s. I saw him as a fan back in 1975 and never imagined I would be traveling on the road with him talking religion, politics and life.
Another Antsy fan I met in Lethbridge, Alberta. Crafty Jack is a carpenter and master luthier. I spent two days with he and his sweet wife “Little Debbie” back in 2008. He taught me and my son about guitar making and took us on a nice adventure to Vulcan, Alberta to learn about Star Trek. Also, while in Lethbridge we enjoyed a dinner with him and Debbie in a converted water tower. What a trip! Our visit with him was out of this world!
I have spent time with Crafty and Debbie in California and also on a cruise to Cancun. We strolled the historic site of Tulum in Mexico together. So blessed to know these great folks.
Along the way I have become close friends with many Antsy fans. These “Flamingoheads,” as they are called, are also a diverse and lovely flock of folks. Some have become lifelong friends.
A couple of these Flamingoheads took great care of me on a visit to California in 2015. “Christmas Carla” and “Princess Ione” provided housing, touring and transportation for nearly a week. I got to know them, not as fans of Antsy, but as the real people they are with their unique life stories.
My travels across Canada and the US have led me to others. Take, for instance, Oliver Zuder, a BBQ pit master from Ontario. I met him at Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario in 2013 and we became friends soon. I went to BBQ competitions to watch him and his brother Davor make people smile with satisfaction.
In the past couple of years, Oliver has started a new BBQ business called Uncle Sam’s BBQ, also in Ontario. We keep in contact and my mouth waters every time I think of him.
Crisscrossing the country I have met and chatted with cafe owners and shop owners. Their colorful stories enrich.
I have also had my brushes with celebrities in my travels. As a tour guide in Arizona in 1983, I once met Alice Cooper in a restaurant parking lot in Sedona. We talked Golf and politics for 30 minutes. No selfies, no autographs. Just two people chatting. On another occasion, I was attending a solar conference in Kobe, Japan in 1991. At lunch I sat with some other non-Japanese from Norway. We chatted a while and then I was introduced to Morten Harket, who I immediately recognized as the lead vocalist for the group A-ha (Take on Me). He happened to be a huge advocate of solar energy. We talked about many things. No pictures or autographs. Just enriching conversation.
One of my fond memories was being on the road for three days in Kyushu, Japan as the personal guide and interpreter for Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. I spent hours listening to her harrowing escape from the Communist regime in Romania. Though a national hero, she was also a prisoner to dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Fascinating stuff.
Back in August 2010 I watched the first episode of the TV show Swamp People. Already an avid traveler and travel writer, I became fascinated with the show, which featured Gator hunters in Louisiana. One of them, Troy Landry, was quite a character. I told my wife “one day I am gonna track him down and meet him.” In 2015 I did just that. I visited his bait shop and crawfishing facility in Pierre Part, LA. He happened to be there buying loads and loads of crawfish from fishermen. We talked and chatted for 30 minutes or more while he worked. Friendly and outgoing, and totally good natured, he told stories of Gator hunting, told me about the crawfishing business and the let me “choot him” in a selfie.
On another roadtrip, this time into Iowa, I visited the small town of LeClaire, on the Mississippi River. This was the home to Antique Archaeology, the Antique shop made famous by the hit TV Show American Pickers. While there in that hot July afternoon, I was told that Danielle Colby, one of the cast members, was around and was always happy to meet fans. She is the tattooed friendly gal that works with the pickers on the show. During my visit, I learned that she had her own business creating unique clothing and had a shop across the street. I went over there and we chatted about her work, her roller derby hobby and her work as a burlesque dancer. She welcomed a selfie too.
Not so famous, but just as unique, was my opportunity to meet 80 year old Clyde Wynia, the creative mind behind the amazing Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. This former attorney turned his welding passion into a unique menagerie of metal creations, including giant dragons and small spiders. He gave me a personal tour and told some amazing stories.
I also can’t forget to mention my encounter with “the one and only JFK,” James Frank Kotera, the Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI. (See full story and video HERE.)
My travels have also led me to chance meetings with individuals with similar interests. And social media, especially Facebook, has extended that opportunity.
On a trip to Wyoming in 2013, I stopped at a place called Hell’s Half Acre. A unique geological formation, it was a must see photo stop for me. I struck up a conversation with a young hot shot photographer named Derek Ace, from Madison, WI. We hit it off and I got his contact info. Derek and I have been Facebook friends ever since and I have been enlightened and enriched by his amazing photography, especially his desert works and his off the chain shots of abandoned buildings, rusted cars and sundry other forgotten treasures left behind. See his Rural Ruins page for some great photos.
As an avid blogger of quirky things, I had a chance virtual encounter via the web of Texas Travel blogger Tui Snider. We exchanged notes about offbeat and quirky places in Texas and soon became good Facebook friends. On a subsequent trip to Texas in 2013, I finally met this amazing individual and her husband Larry at their gothic-accented home in Azle. Besides quirky things, Tui is also fascinated by the paranormal and has also become quite the expert on cemetery gravestone symbolism. She has published numerous books and articles. I count her as a dear friend.
Through Tui I have met ghost tour guide Shelly Cumbie in Denton, TX, who has provided many fascinating stories. I have also become a virtual friend of writer, blogger and podcaster Teal Gray.
Teal has actually done a live podcast interview with me on her internationally syndicated podcast. She also recently write an article about my travel blogging and photography for the Dallas Entertainment Journal (see the link here)
The podcast can be heard in its entirety here:
Even my local staycation trips have led me to fascinating new friends, such as local bird and nature photographers and enthusiasts. See some great photos by the members of the Jacobson Park Photographers Group which I started on Facebook. (see the site)
I have also had the opportunity to meet local chefs that have been on Food Network competitions such as Cutthroat Kitchen or Guy’s Grocery Games. Ranada Riley, co-owner of the Lexington Diner, was one of these. Her “amazing” hairdo and unique cooking style have made her a local celebrity. But there is so much more to her beyond the cooking, whether it be her faith, her love for life or her diverse lifestyle. Meeting her in person and then following her life through social media has been a great adventure.
What more can I say? People bring me great joy and it is so fun to meet new folks every week!
In early April 2013 I had the opportunity to drive across the Hi-Line (US Route 2) in Northern Montana and then made our way to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore and all the across South Dakota to Mitchell and the Corn Palace. With another work trip to Idaho, I took a different route and, similar to the Hi-Line Drive, I mainly took US Route 18 (also known as the Oyate Trail) as it crosses most of South Dakota. It goes through many small and unique towns.
The Oyate Trail is a 388 mile route that generally follows SD 50 and US Route 18 across southern South Dakota. The name is derived from the Lakota word “Oyate”, which means “a people or a nation” and “Ochanku”, which is Lakota for “trail.” Thus, the trail of nations, initially meaning the trail to the various Lakota Nations — the Yankton, the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Sioux nations. But, the meaning is even more complex with the coming of the Europeans and the mixture of their cultures along the trail.
I started off in Kentucky on May 31 and spent the evening near Omaha, NE. On June 1 I headed north towards South Dakota, entering South Dakota in Sioux City on I-29. I took the freeway into the small town of Elk Point, another of the many places that Lewis and Clark had visited. They made camp nearby the area in August 1804.
My main stop in Elk Point was at Edgar’s Soda Fountain, a throwback to the good old days. Originally opened in Centerville in 1906 in a drug store, the soda fountain was taken out of the drug store in the 1960s. It eventually was rediscovered and rebuilt by the granddaughter of the drug store owner. They have even brought out the old manuals and have some concoctions directly from those manuals, such as The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages.
Owner Barb Wurtz was there and the staff was ultra friendly. They had an old-fashioned candy case, nice neon, original wooden booths and bar seating. Its a great place to take a quick break off the road.
I also wanted to drop by Edgar’s with my good friend and amazing guitarist Edgar Cruz in mind. So, “Welcome to Edgar’s!”
After consulting with the great staff at Edgar’s, I determined to make my way along US Route 18 (the Oyate Trail), which would take me across the lush prairies of southern South Dakota and into some small and unique towns. After visiting the Lewis and Clark Campsite monument n Elk Point, I headed north on I 29 to Exit 47 near Beresford and then west to Viborg. The Oyate Trail actually starts in Vermillion, SD, just NW of Elk Point, but I wanted to hit Viborg first.
Viborg is a town of around 700 and was settled by Danish immigrants in the 1860s. The town is named for Viborg in Denmark. The town was originally named Daneville, but with the coming of the railroad in the 1890s, the residents had to move a bit north so they could be along the railroad. Thus Viborg was born and was finally incorporated in August 1903.
As I drive through town I got glimpses of the culture. The Kountry Kookin’ Cafe, with its built in neon sign above the door, gave me cause for chuckle. The window on the right says “Dis is vare Sven loves the dinners” and the window on the left says “Dis is vare Ole gets the pie.” Had there been time, it could have been “Dis is vare Sumoflam gets the lunch!”
Like many small towns, there are the old fashioned theaters that thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. But these are a dying breed so I try to get shots of them when I go through these small towns.
On the outskirts of Viborg I came across this unusual, yet decorative grain silo. As I drive the back roads of this country, whether in Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin or elsewhere, silos are a common site. Yet, I don’t recall ever seeing brick silos like this one, nor do I recall the decorative nature. After a bit of internet research (thank you Google!!) I have learned that these are Glazed Block Silos. They are apparently very common in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. I am assuming that they are of Scandinavian origin, though I have not yet found anything definitive.
Living in Lexington I see plenty of horses. But, I couldn’t help but notice this happy trio in the lush prairie grasses near Viborg. I sat and watched them for a few minutes as they frolicked and played.
From Viborg I headed straight north on SD 19 past Swan Lake to US 18 and began my trek across the state.
I passed the two establishments along the road. Both were basically in the middle of nowhere. Meridian Corner has a fairly active Facebook Page. They are apparently quite popular and have T-shirts, etc.
I rolled into Menno, SD next. Menno was settled by German-Russian immigrants around 1874. Continuing west my next stop was in Tripp, SD. This was the first Tripp I have experienced on my many trips!! The town slogan “Easy to Find, Hard to Leave”. For me, its as my friend Antsy McClain says “Its All in the Trip”.
Tripp recently became a destination for a group of Amish families that moved from Wisconsin in 2010. This, of course, brings the need for a blacksmith. The name on the barn reminded me of the Amish, so I checked and indeed, as the link above explains, the first Amish in South Dakota are in this area.
I continued west on US 18 passing by farmland and a few trees. I found one set of trees that struck me…these were near the junction with US 281, where US 18 heads due south towards Ravinia, SD.
US 18/US 281 again heads west near the base of Lake Andes, which is a National Wildlife Refuge. As I drive along the southern border of the lake, I saw a huge flock of white birds. From my viewpoint I thought they were swans, but I decided to take a closer look so I took a drive into the small park just before getting to the town of Lake Andes, SD. I was thrilled as I got closer and discovered it was a huge flock of pelicans!!
Seeing the Pelicans was a real thrill for me as these were birds that I have never had a close encounter with. While at the lake, I also saw some beautiful purple wildflowers.
From Lake Andes I continued south on US 18/281 to cross over the dam at the Randall Creek Recreation Area. At the top of the hill past the dam I had an excellent view of the Old Fort Randall Cemetery.
US 18 continued west, then southwest for a while and then began heading northwest again towards the town of Bonesteel.
The town of Bonesteel was basically the first town of many on the actual Oyate Trail that I would hit on this drive. Bonesteel has an interesting name, named after H.E. Bonesteel and hasjust about 300 people.
The railroad first made its way into Bonesteel in 1902. there were a limited number of registrations for land ownership and eventually many of the prospective homesteaders fought leading to what was called “the Battle of Bonesteel.”
On the outskirts of town is a small little restaurant. Great name…
The next town on the trail was Burke, SD, another town with about 600 people. As I approached town I ran into a place called Rooster Tales Hunting Service. They had a unique sign and even a patriotic hay bale! Turns out that they have a Pheasant hunting service.
This part of South Dakota is considered the pheasant capital of the U.S. (including a number of towns competing for the title). So, despite the small towns, there are hotels and accommodations for pheasant hunting enthusiasts.
Despite its size, Burke is also home to the Burke Stampede Rodeo, supposedly the largest amateur rodeo in the Midwest.
The next major stop on the road is Gregory, South Dakota. This is in the midst of pheasant country. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the U.S. and this area of the Oyate Trail is one of the centers of the pheasant hunting world (and, in Gregory there is also a Gorilla or two….)
I got a kick out Mary Bob’s Bar — out in Kentucky we hear of “Jim Bob” all the time, but I have never heard of “Mary Bob.”
The Hipp Theatre in Gregory is a community volunteer run theatre, but does show up to date first run movies.
Then there is the giant pheasant….
Apparently Gregory is “The ground-zero of pheasantdom” according to Fortune Magazine in 1992.
Next stop was not too far — Dallas, South Dakota
Dallas is a really small town but has some interesting things…
Frank Day’s looks run down, but, apparently it is one of the “happening places” on the Oyate Trail. They have fashioned themselves as an old western-style saloon and also seem to be an attraction for bikers.
Moving west on US 18 I finally arrived at one of my “planned destinations.” Those that follow my blogs know that I am always looking for unique town names like Uncertain (TX), Boring (OR), Peculiar (MO), Tightwad (MO), Odd (WV) and more. Well, this town is a real Winner!!! Yes, Winner, South Dakota.
Winner was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and later part of the Dakota Territory, which was established by an act of Congress and a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Winner was named because it was the “winner” in the struggle to establish a town along the railroad right-of-way when the Chicago North Western began moving west from Dallas, SD in 1909.
Frank Leahy was one of Notre Dame’s most famous coaches. He grew up in Winner.
While I was in Winner, I stopped for a drink and a snack at a gas station. I just had to ask…had anyone ever won it big in the lottery in Winner. And, believe it or not, there was indeed a winning ticket sold, and, ironically, the winner’s name was Neal Wanless (awfully close to Winless…). Wanless was a Winner in Winner to the tune of $232 million. He apparently has many friends that frequent the Pheasant Bar.
Want a winning place to buy groceries? Try this place….
The Motel Parking lot above is home to another Pheasant Statue, as seen below…
Now, for that “Pheasant Capital” bit…. Research has shown me that Redfield, South Dakota is the “Pheasant Capital of the World” and they have even registered the phrase. Redfield is in the northeast section of South Dakota, north of Mitchell. As late as 1994 there has been a dispute between Winner and Redfield as to which is the “official” capital. I found an interesting article that shows that on October 26, 1994 Redfield had trademarked the phrase. Winner still claims it as well. But, Gregory is still the “ground-zero of pheasantdom.” I think this argument has gone to the birds!!!
I continued to head further west to Mission, which would be my last stop on the Oyate Trail as I planned to head north to the Badlands from there. By the way, Mission, SD is the home of Bob Barker, famous as the host of The Price is Right. The town of Mission is in the Rosebud Indian Reservation, home of the Sicangu Lakota tribe of the Sioux Nation.
While driving through Mission I came across this colorful restaurant called the Buffalo Jump. It is owned and operated by Native Americans and offers buffalo burgers, Indian tacos, and, yes, Asian, Mexican, Italian, seafood and other goodies.
From Mission I headed north on US 83 until I arrived at SD 63.
I found it interesting that my GPS sent me onto SD 63. I think my GPS is learning my penchant for back roads. SD 63 is 23 miles GRAVEL ROAD that cuts mainly through the Rosebud Indian Reservation to Belvidere, SD on I-90 near Badlands National Park. What a wonderful drive it was!!
I crossed over the White River just south of Belvidere. The White River is the 36th longest river in the US at 506 miles. It truly is whitish gray as a result of the clay, sand and volcanic ash it picks up along the way.
I finally got back onto pavement as I entered Belvidere, just a small town with 63 people and perhaps that many horses and goats….
It was time to fuel up so I stopped at the Badland’s Travel Stop in Kadoka just off of I-90 west of Belvidere. I loved the skies behind it.
Kadoka, South Dakota is “The Gateway to the Badlands.” The name Kadoka is a Lakota word which means “Hole in the Wall,” but the town doesn’t seem that way….
I really got a kick out of all of the homemade signs in Kadoka…..
And then there is the old Wagon Wheel motel sign…
And that was the end of the road to the Badlands — Kadoka is the “Gateway!”
On my next post I will have some great shots of prairie dogs and badlands!!