This post is the first in an occasional series of posts looking back on many of my trip journals as posted on my Sumoflam Journals site, which I used for my travel posts prior to the creation of my Less Beaten Paths blog. Since 2004 I have traveled tens of thousands of miles on the backroads of America and have posted 1000s of photos in dozens of trip journals. The Looking Back Series will feature some of the highlights of these trips.
This edition will look back at a return road trip I took from Dallas back to Lexington on February 27, 2010. The complete post can be seen here. The map of the trip is below:
Feb. 27, 2010: Time to return home to Lexington. It was a long busy week in Dallas, but the trip home would promise to be an interesting and fun day. I left Keller fairly early so I could hit the sunrise as I drove east. I almost made it to Tyler, TX by sunrise and pulled off the road in an effort to get some nice shots before traveling further.
After the sunrise, I was back on the road to Uncertain, TX. I was bound and determined to find Uncertain. Indeed, I was certain I would get to Uncertain. Heading east on I-20 I had to take Exit 604 and head north on Texas FM 450 towards Hallsville, TX. Once in Hallsville, I turned right on US 80 and continued east through Marshall, TX to US 59. From there, I went north for a mile or so to TX 43 and continued NE. I stayed on course until I got to Texas FM 2198. At the point, I turned right and a few miles up the road there it was…my first Uncertain sighting!! (See the Road Sign above…)
Uncertain is a village with an unusual name and it is located in an unusual place along the shores of Caddo Lake not too far from the Louisiana border. The town has taken advantage of the name and even has their own website. They call it “The City of Uncertain” (incorporated in 1961) but it is much more a small village, and many of the businesses appeared to me to be seasonal. There are apparently a number of purported reasons for the name but it appears that the most popular theory is the one that says — “once you get to Caddo you’re uncertain as to exactly where you are — and uncertain as to exactly when you’ll want to leave. One thing is for sure, you don’t go to Uncertain by Chance! It’s one way in and one way out” and I am certain of that since I drove the only roads myself. I arrived in February so it was still chilly, but, there was a lot of “fun” there. Following are a few of the signs I found around town:
And my favorite of all of the Uncertain signs!!
There is even an Uncertain Tourist Department (if you can call it that…)
Despite the draw of the name, the REAL draw to Uncertain is the scenery. Uncertain is on the shores of the eerie, yet picturesque Lake Caddo, which stretches across the Texas-Louisiana border. It is the only natural lake left in Texas. The lake is filled with bald cypress trees that are draped and decorated with Spanish Moss. When I first looked at it I wondered if I might see the “Swamp Thing” and sure enough, there is even a sign for that!!
Many claim that Caddo has been dubbed the “best photo spot in Texas.” Though some may question it, I certainly thought it to be one of the more interesting spots I have ever visited across these great United States. I took over 100 photos of the lake/swamp/bayou and even went beyond my normal routine and fiddled with some color settings in some of them to really make them interesting (and somewhat creepy….). Here are a few of the photos of Lake Caddo, which covers over 32,000 acres of channels, bayous and sloughs. I can imagine it would get pretty spooky late at night in mid-summer with the alligators swimming around and Swamp Things and Sasquatch waiting for you around each bend….
Even along the narrow roadways around Uncertain, there are interesting shots to be taken:
I made my way from Uncertain around Lake Caddo and into the Louisiana side of the lake. Here are a couple more swampy photos from the Louisiana side near Pelican Bay, LA.
In the area there were also a few “Uncertain” treasures — unique photo-ops:
All good things must end and for me, with still a long drive back to Kentucky, I left the realm of Uncertain-ty and headed east, driving around the northern part of Caddo Lake and then north up the backroads of the northwest corner of Louisiana. From Uncertain I headed north on Texas 43 and then east on Texas 49 into Louisiana and over the northern leg of the lake. This took me to LA 1 towards the small town of Vivian, home of the Louisiana Red Bud Festival. This town was originally settled as a railroad stop and currently has a population of a little over 4000. It is typical of many small towns where poverty has hit, but, it is a clean town and has some originality.
Continuing north I drove along Black Bayou Lake and then passed through the small town of Rodessa. And yes, I had a purpose. What is it that draws someone to a small little town in NW Louisiana? Two strange frog statues atop pillars with Alabama and Georgia on them and a name…Frog Level. Though the frogs are not really fancy artwork, apparently, the Smithsonian has these catalogued. As the sign below notes, in the 1800s a town meeting was called by store owner Noah Tyson to name the town. Apparently, a man from Alabama, noting the frogs hollering in a nearby pond, jumped up and said “Let’s name it Frog Level.” And so it was. Later the town’s name was changed to Rodessa. The frogs were made by a guy named Buster Dunn and the monument, dedicated in 1976, was fabricated by the Fix-It-Well Company. I do wonder what the Georgia pillar is for. There really is no mention…
After seeing (and actually hearing) the frogs at Frog Level, it was back on the road again. My next goal was to search for the whereabouts of Waldo. Many have spent hours doing “Where’s Waldo” puzzles, in search of the elusive beany topped thing guy with a red/white striped shirt. I even admit to have joined in the fascination many years ago. So, as I drove along the road home to Kentucky, I learned that Waldo might be in Arkansas. I went in search of AND finally found Waldo!!
From Waldo I really needed to push to get home at a decent very late hour, so from there it was back on freeways to Kentucky. But, despite the visit to Uncertain, it was most certainly an eventful 17 hours, which was the eventual amount of time to drive from Keller to Lexington.
And by the way, I finally did get a shot of pelican on the trip….
Watch soon for another post in the Looking Back Series. Next up will be the Erie Canal, Big Bridges and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (New York and Pennsylvania).
June 8, 2013: I had a free day in Rexburg, ID so I thought I would take a day trip into the heart of Idaho. I visited old nuclear sites, sagebrush filled grasslands, ancient volcanic flows, rugged (and jagged) mountains and riverine landscapes . It was an awesome day of geographic and scenic diversity. Here is my map of the trip:
I decided to leave early so I could catch all of the day’s sunlight. It would be a long day. After heading south to Idaho Falls, I stayed on US 20 west and made my way to the gravel road that leads to the small, nearly ghost town of Atomic City. I had seen earlier reviews on the town on Roadside America. I could see that the content of the article was a bit dated as I made my way into the small town. Atomic City was, at one time, a boom city due to the growth in nuclear research facilities in the area, namely the Idaho National Laboratory and its many secret test facilities in the area.
About 12,000 years ago hunters came to this area for big game such as mammoths, camels and giant bison. Looking at the landscape now, it is difficult to imagine.
The town used to have a store, a bar and a Texaco gas station. The gas station used to house the bar. Both appear to be closed now. In fact, the gas station does not even have the Post Office sign on it any longer. but the vestiges of the old town still remain…
Despite the ghostly appearance of the town, from May thru September the weekends are pretty active here with the Atomic Motor Raceway, which still offers locals the opportunity to race their dwarf karts, minis, modifieds and other stock cars. They had no event the day I was there.
There are some old potato barns and wildflowers that caught my eye in Atomic City as well. A sign that there is still some semblance of life….
I left the town of about 20 people and headed west on US 20/26 towards the town of Arco next.
Along the way there was a nice new Rest Area that had some history included, especially concerning the Nuclear Work in the area.
Arco, Idaho is a town of about 1000 people and is located in Butte County, Idaho. Originally known as Root Hog, the original town site was five miles south at the junction of two stagecoach lines (Blackfoot-Wood River and Blackfoot-Salmon). A suspension bridge that crossed the Big Lost River funneled traffic through the settlement. The town leaders applied to the U.S. Post Office for the town name of “Junction.” However, The Postmaster General thought the name too common and suggested that the place be named Arco for Georg von Arco (1869–1940), an inventor and pioneer in the field of radio transmission, who was visiting Washington, D.C. from his home country of Germany at the time. The town later moved four miles southeast when the stage station was moved to Webb Springs at Big Southern Butte. When the Oregon Short Line railroad arrived from Blackfoot in 1901 the stage lines became obsolete and the town of Arco moved northwest to its present site.
Arco was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated by nuclear power. This occurred on July 17, 1955, powered by Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX-III reactor at the nearby National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), which eventually became the site of the Idaho National Energy Laboratory, a predecessor of the current Idaho National Laboratory.
Arco is also known for “Number Hill”, a butte behind the city with a bunch of numbers on it. History of the hill states that the tradition began with the 1920 graduating class of Butte County High School when they painted a 20 up on the hill. Since that time the tradition has continued with each class adding their years to the hill. There is now even a cafe in town named after it.
A few more scenes from Arco
The USS Hawkbill SSN-666 (also known as the Devil Boat) was launched in 1969 and was decommissioned in 2000. The sail was sent to Arco to be added to the Idaho Science Center, which is housed in Arco.
Though many had come before, the official name “Craters of the Moon” was coined by Robert Limbert who was the first man to thoroughly explore and promote the area. The name became official in 1924 when the area was established as a National Monument.
The lava flows here were a result of fissure eruptions that would create cinder cones due to the high fluidity of the basalt flows that allowed gasses to escape. Sunset Crater in Arizona is very similar to this.
Lava flows called “aa” are basaltic lava flows characterized by a rough or rubbly surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinker. This is really rough stuff and scary to walk on.
There are a number of Cinder Cones in the park, some of which may be climbed by visitors.
I was very fortunate in my timing in the park as many of the native wildflowers were in bloom. These wildflowers struggle for the little water and naturally space themselves, pretty amazing.
And a few more lava photos…
From the Craters of the Moon I headed down the “Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway” for what I consider to be the real HIGHlight of the trip….
And then passed by Goodale’s Cutoff
The road goes on forever through the lava…much easier today then it was for the emigrants
Carey, Idaho is basically the Gateway to Idaho 75 heading into the Sawtooth Mountains. Actually, Carey is located at the junctions of U.S. Routes 26/93 and 20 and is the commercial center of the Little Wood River Valley. It was founded by a group of Mormon colonists led by Cyrus Joseph Stanford in 1883 who named the town “Marysville.” It was renamed “Carey” with the arrival of his younger brother, Thomas C. Stanford in 1884.
And then onto Idaho 75 and a new scenic byway
I would have to say that this drive was probably one of the more stunning mountain drives I have ever been on. The jagged look (thus Sawtooth) of the range is impressive and awe inspiring.
The first town on ID 75 is Bellevue, Idaho, which is Idaho’s only chartered city. The town was established in March 1882 and currently has a population of about 2300. It is nestled in the foothills at 5.170 feet, before advancing up into the higher altitudes.
Then there are the continuous stream of scrap metal animals, like this bear at a garden shop in Bellevue…
From Bellevue it was north to Hailey and then into the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. From Bellevue the climb began and the mountains north began to look regal and grand.
I arrived in Ketchum around noon. This is a touristy town, obviously with the Sun Valley ski resorts and all of the summer mountain activity. As with many of these kinds of towns, unique art abounds. Here are a few “artsy” things I saw in Ketchum….
The above twig and branch sculpture, called “Centerpiece” was made by artist Patrick Dougherty, a North Carolina artist who works with tree saplings as his medium. This was made in 2010for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which will be building a new facility on the grounds where Centerpiece stands. Dougherty has over 230 creations on exhibit all over the world. See more of his work here.
And then there are the unique places in town:
The Pioneer Saloon… Or the Commercial Club as it was called originally, was opened in the 1940’s as a gambling casino operated by Otis Hobbs. A few years later the casino was closed and the American Legion then took it over and used it as a meeting hall. For a short time, the building was converted into a dry goods store. In the mid 60’s, the Pioneer was redesigned as a restaurant. The present version of the Pioneer Saloon dates from 1972 — hence the phrase “Where were you in 72.”
From the Ketchum/Sun Valley area I continued north on ID 75 into the mountains. On this day I happened to be heading north while the Sawtooth Relay was in action. I saw runners for miles and thought it was just a marathon. Turns out it is a 62 mile relay race with teams of 6 running from Stanley, ID to Ketchum, ID along ID 75. It is a fund raising event that apparently had over 300 teams in 2013. I saw many of the team vans along the road.
The drive eventually got me to Galena Pass, which is at a little over 8700 feet.
Galena Summit marks the divide between the Big Wood River and Salmon River drainage areas. Just a bit more down the road is the Galena Overlook, which offers an expansive view of the Sawtooth Range to the north and the headwaters of the Salmon River in the Stanley Basin below.
The view from Galena Overlook was awesome. The blue lake in the bottom center will be seen in another photo from lake level as I ended up on that road below in the valley.
Just a small stream here, but turns into a mighty big river as it goes down the hill (which will be seen later in this post)
From this vantage point the rugged Sawtooth Range is clearly in sight….
From this area, as I ventured further north, I came to the Sawtooth City historical marker and then into the area around the crystal clear Alturas Lake.
The scenery from here was awe-inspiring as many of the views of the snow covered peaks also offered scenic carpets of flower covered meadows.
I continued north towards Redfish Lake and then into Stanley. I wanted to stop at Redfish Lake, but my time was running short. But the scenery was amazing…
Stanley, Idaho….I could SOOOO move here (in the summer at least). Stanley is is the hub point for three different Scenic Byways (The Sawtooth, the Ponderosa Pine and the Salmon River). It sits in a valley surrounded by mountains at a little over 6200 feet in elevation. It is a town with a number of small resorts/motels and a couple of places to eat. Wikipedia says the population in 2010 was 63, but it appeared to be closer to 200 to me.
It had been a long day so far and I was hungry, so I stopped in at the Mountain Village Express (part of the Mountain Village Resort) to find something to eat. Turns out they make breakfast all day and an omelet sounding appealing!!
Perhaps one of the most scenic photos I have ever taken….
I hated to leave Stanley, but I had to begin the winding descent along the Salmon River back into Rexburg. I went through Lower Stanley and then followed the Salmon River Scenic Byway. At first it was still rugged mountains and a raging river, enticing to rafters and kayakers (and probably bears too…)
The mountains soon began to fade away in the background as a more desertish/volcanic landscape. Nonetheless, this was rugged country full of deep gorges, steep hills and to me was reminiscent of western movie scenes.
As I approached the historical marker above, there was a County Sheriff taking radar. It is a downhill road and Clayton is on the county line. I stopped for a couple of photos and a small chit-chat with the sheriff who told me that Clayton is practically a ghost town. The sign above says it all!
As I hit US Route 93 from ID 75, I headed southeast towards Mackay, ID on US 93. To my excitement the mountains were not all gone. Indeed, I headed toward a new set range of mountains and drove through some pretty spectacular canyons as I entered the Grand View Canyon then out into the Lost River Valley which then opens up to an awesome view of the Lost River Mountain Range, which is home to the 9 highest peaks in Idaho.
Mount Borah is the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,667 feet and one of the most prominent peaks in the contiguous states. This mountain was named for William E. Borah, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1907 until 1940. A major earthquake fracture in October 1983 that was 26 miles long and 7 miles deep surfaced forcing the Lost River Valley to slide away from Mt. Borah. The valley subsided 9 feet after the quake.
Funny thing — along the way I came across a fence about 40 yards or more covered with boots and shoes….
Continuing south on US 93 i rolled into the small town of Mackay (prounounced MacKee locally).
Mackay is home to the Mackay Mine Hill which still allows tours, some of them apparently pretty grueling.
I made my way down US 93 back thru Arco and then to US 26/20 until the junction with Idaho 33, where I then proceeded east back towards Rexburg thru the small town of Howe.
This was a 13 hour road trip with an amazing diversity of scenery, geography and landscapes. Probably one of the more amazing day trips I have ever taken to this point in terms of variety and excitement. I really could have spent three days doing this and really digging in deeper. Maybe next time….
On June 2, 2013 I continued my trip westward from Lexington thru South Dakota and into Wyoming. On this leg I started in Gillette, Wyoming and made my way to Rexburg with a trip through Yellowstone National Park.
Gillette, Wyoming is the first large town in Wyoming on the western end of I-90. It was incorporated in 1892 and is now called the “Energy Capital of the Nation” due to the high grade coal reserves as well as nearly 13,000 oil wells.
Downtown Gillette is not too large, but, along the main street there are a number of sculptures and a great wall mural. The mural above was done by Gillette artist Harvey Jackson, who has murals throughout Wyoming including a giant mural on the side of L &H Industrial in Gillette called “Campbell County Industrial Mural“, which is twice as large as Mt. Rushmore.
Gillette has a Mayor’s Art Council which features an “Avenue of the Arts” annually. They have a number of pieces made and display them on the Main Street through town and then auction them. Here are a few that I took while driving through town.
Gillette is also home to the “Rockpile Museum.” This Campbell County Museum focuses on general, regional, and local history with an emphasis on the culture and people of Campbell County. It was opened in 1974 at the site of the historic natural rockpile, which has been a piece of Gillette history since the 1890s.
From Gillette I headed west towards Buffalo, Wyoming on I-90. It was a beautiful day heading into the mountains of Wyoming. There were some nice views and I also saw some antelope.
Buffalo, Wyoming is a nice small town in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
The sculpture above is called “Cool Water” and was done by Buffalo artist D. Michael Thomas, who has been sculpting cowboy themed pieces for over 30 years.
The road from Buffalo, WY to Cody, WY has mountain majesties, wondrous wildflowers and amazing canyons. Following is some of what I was able to see along US Route 16.
There are lots of wildflowers in bloom. The yellow ones closeup look like this
Worland, Wyoming is also home to the Washakie Museum which features exhibits that portrays the history of the Big Horn Basin. It is also home to a giant Mammoth Bronze statue. The statue is 25 feet tall and weighs 6000 pounds. It is the work of Casper, Wyoming (and Sedona, AZ) artist Chris Navarro.
From Worland I headed north on US 20 towards Greybull and then west on US 14/16/20 towards Cody. This provided some great scenes of the mountains of Yellowstone.
I eventually arrived in Cody, Wyoming by late morning. Named after William “Buffalo Bill” Cody who was one of the founders of the town. There is plenty in town of you are a Buffalo Bill (and I don’t mean football) fan!
The grizzly above is part of a Cody fundraising program called “The Grizzly Gathering“, which was created to raise funds for their library. Many towns are doing similar things. We had the horses in Lexington (“Horse Mania“) and I have seen buffaloes (“Buffalo Roam” project in West Yellowstone, WY), birds, etc., as I go through some towns.
The mural above is on the wall of Seidel’s Saddlery in Cody. It was painted by Colorado Austin Kuck.
Of course, like many older towns in the west, there is still plenty of neon….
Then, of course, there are the many Buffalo Bill items in town…
The Scoutis a bronze statue of a mounted rider outside the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody. It was placed in 1924 to commemorate the town’s most famous resident, Buffalo Bill Cody. Originally in open land on the western outskirts of town, the statue today stands at the end of Sheridan Avenue. The project was initiated by Cody’s niece, Mary Jester Allen, who had established the basis of what would become the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. A New Yorker, she persuaded heiress and artist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to sculpt the piece.
The above bronze was done by Peter Fillerup of Heber, Utah. It represents a younger Buffalo Bill as a Pony Express Rider.
From Cody I was next on my way to Yellowstone, continuing along the same highway. As I got closer there were more spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and other unique things as well.
Then there is the famously unique Smith Mansion high up on a hill in Wapiti. This 40 year old structure was the brainchild of Wyoming artist Lee Smith. Smith spent his life, and eventually tragically ended it building this unique house for his family. He fell to his death at the age of 48 in 1992. The home is 5 stories tall, has numerous staircases and rooms and hidden entrances. There is a great deal written about this odd place. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to venture up there, but I did get a good shot from below.
From Wapiti the road winds slowly into the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park.
The last time I visited Yellowstone National Park was in 1973 while my family lived in Bozeman, Montana. So, it has been about 40 years since then. Much has changed, but much has remained the same (or at least appears to have – we all know that geology is also ever changing).
In the lower 48 states there are many magnificent National Parks including my personal Big Five of Yellowstone (WY), the Grand Canyon (AZ), Glacier National Park (MT), Zions National Park (UT) and Grand Teton National Park (WY). There are many others ( I probably would have included Yosemite, but I have not been there yet). Indeed, I may be known for my visiting offbeat and quirky sites, but don’t let that fool you. I am enamored by the amazing geographic and historical diversity of this country. But, I have only made it to 22 of the nation’s 59 national parks thus far. I dream of getting to Denali in Alaska and the North Cascades in Washington, along with Yosemite. (Here is a complete list of the National Parks)
Unfortunately, I did not have a lot of time on this trip, so I tried to hit the highlights I could on the Grand Loop Road through the park to West Yellowstone. Here are a few scenes from the drive, some without any captions.
SCENES OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Buffalo and Elk in Yellowstone Park
Of course, everyone knows that wild buffalo roam Yellowstone National Park, as elk as do deer, elk, moose, antelope, mountain goats, bears and more. Unfortunately, all I saw were the buffalo (and almost hit one too!!). I saw a couple of elk as well. I heard from a few other tourists that they saw some bears hanging around the rivers, but I didn’t see any.
As I noted above, I almost ran into a HUGE buffalo while driving through the park. I rounded a corner and there he was crossing into the road almost in front of me. This guy was taller than my car and could care less about me rounding the corner. He just kept meandering across the road casually.
Alas, I eventually made my way to the road out towards West Yellowstone and into Montana.
West Yellowstone still has some of the old motels from ages past. Here are a few of the Ho-Hum Du
I finally made it into Rexburg late that evening…what a fantastic day this was!!