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.

(64)

April 2018 Cross-Country Road Trip: The Landscape in Photos

Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs, CO

This is the final post from my April 2018 cross-country road trip from Lexington to Port Orchard, Washington and back. As a reminder, I covered 6000 miles and ventured through 16 states. Along the way I not only stopped to visit attractions and see the sites in towns small and large, but I also tried to capture the grandeur of the landscapes and scenery I passed by along the way.  Following are a number of scenic photos from that trip.  Enjoy the ride!  I have randomized these, so they are not in any particular order.  Captions tell the story.

Sunset in Colorado, taken on US 24 near Hartsel, Colorado
Lovely sunset after a windy day. Taken on a side road of Interstate 70 just east of Abilene, Kansas
Morning sky taken between Bend, OR and Brothers, OR (near Millican, OR) on US Hwy 20 heading east.
This is a sunset scene taken from the Edmonds to Kingston Ferry in Washington. The mountains in the distance are Olympic National Park. Water is Puget Sound.
This is US Route 2 heading west towards Waterville, WA
A huge dust storm as seen from Nevada Hwy 140 west of Winnemucca, NV
Lovely mountain scene from US Route 2 near Skykomish, WA
Mt. Rainier as seen from the Edmonds to Kingston Ferry crossing the Puget Sound.
US 101 near South Bend, WA. I was heading south and it was raining. Still beautiful
Another shot of Garden of the Gods in Manitou Springs, CO
This is Hole in the Mountain Peak, taken from I-80 near Deeth, NV. I was heading east and this was south of me.
Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation Area east of Gunnison, CO. This was taken from US Hwy 50.
Mt. Aetna as seen from US 50 near Monarch Pass, Colorado. heading east.
Sunbeams over Garden of the Gods in Manitou Springs, CO
One of the peaks of the Cascades near Goldbar, WA
A snowy Interstate 90 heading west towards Livingston, Montana
Seattle, Washington as seen from a ferry in Puget Sound
A scene of the high Utah desert near Crescent Junction, UT
Heading towards Pine Canyon near Waterville, WA
Sunset over Sinclair Inlet near Port Orchard, WA
Missouri River Valley near Chamberlain, South Dakota

US Route 2 just past Steven’s Pass, WA – notice how high the show walls are on the side

Wenatchee Valley, near Wenatchee, WA
US Route 2 in Eastern Washington
A view from Oregon 202
Colorado Highway 94 near Rush, Colorado
US 50 East of Gunnison near Monarch, CO
Frenchglen Highway in Central Oregon
Skykomish River near Skykomish, WA as seen from US Hwy 2
A beach scene in Manchester, WA
The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah
The high deserts of central Oregon are lovely.
The view of the Cascades as seen from the Skykomish / Gold Bar area of Washington, east of Everett.

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

(32)

April 2018 Cross-Country Road Trip: The Overview – Kentucky to Washington

Sumoflam on the Road Again

In April 2018 I took a nice long road trip from my home in Lexington, Kentucky to my daughter’s home in Port Orchard, Washington and back.  Though I was gone for 15 days, I spent nine of them traveling more than 6000 miles through 14 states.  Many of my stops were in anticipation of my new book as I wanted some fresh content to add to it.

Lots of great two-lanes on this trip

In the past, I typically wrote one or two huge blog posts about long roadtrips, but, I have decided that a focus on some of the sites would be more apropos, so I am providing a general overview of my trip herein with maps and a few photos.  Following there will be a number of posts about many of the places I visited along the way.

Lexington to Storm Lake, Iowa – about 900 miles on Day 1 and 2

DAY 1/2 – Lexington to Storm Lake, Iowa

Stopped to see Peter Toth’s Whispering Giants

My first two days were quite eventful as I drove nearly 900 miles with an overnight stay in Bloomington, IL and then proceeded northwest to Storm Lake, Iowa for night two.  The weather was rainy and yucky most of the way and by the afternoon of Day 2, had turned into snow and, in some cases, blizzard-like conditions.  Not fun!

I had very few stops along the way, with the only planned stops being at four locations to see four of Peter Toth’s amazing Whispering Giants.  My next post will be all about the Whispering Giants I visited on this trip and also in past trips.

Stopped at Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Illinois and was pleasantly surprised
If driving through northeast Iowa, a stop at the home of American Pickers is always fun.
Storm Lake, Iowa to Belle Fourche, South Dakota – about 680 miles

 

Day 3 – Storm Lake, Iowa to Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Dignity is a stainless steel, 50-foot-tall statue was specifically designed by sculptor Dale Lamphere to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people.

Day 3 was really one of my typical road trip days with plenty of stops along the way, but it was slowed down considerably due to the snow and icy conditions.  Despite that, I visited places such as the Corn Palace (a required stop on a route like this as it changes each year), Wall Drug and a few in between.  The highlight of this day was seeing the amazing (and fairly new) fifty foot tall Dignity statue at a rest area overlooking Chamberlain and Oacoma, South Dakota.  The work was meticulous and lovely.

The Sunset Motel in Belle Fourche, SD

I decided to stay at a non-chain older Motel on this night and ended up at the cozy little Sunset Motel.  In fact, I got there about sunset and was even able to grab a photo of the sunset with the Sunset Motel sign.  This is the kind of motel that still has a real key on an old plastic diamond key holder.

Can’t skip the Corn Palace – a major roadside attraction. Changes every year.
Can’t skip the 80 foot tall Wall Drug Dino!!
Day 4 – Belle Fourche, SD to Wallace, Idaho

Day 4 – Belle Fourche, South Dakota to Wallace, Idaho

Snowy morning in Belle Fourche

I woke up to a cold, snowy morning in Belle Fourche on April 5. It was a concern as I knew I would need to be driving through a mountain range across southern Montana on US 212.  Fortunately, the roads weren’t bad until I got up on the pass and then they cleared up with occasional snow showers through Billings, Bozeman and Butte.  I was slowed down somewhat, so I ended up stopping in the small mountain town of Wallace, Idaho for the night.

Snow in Broadus, Montana
Stardust Motel in Wallace, Idaho

Once again, I stayed at a cool little motel called the Stardust Motel, ironically in the same room number I had the night before. In both cases, I did not request the room numbers.

Wallace is a really unique, touristy town nestled in the Idaho mountains.  I’ll have a blog post about this town over the next couple of weeks.

I did get to see some beautiful scenery on the trip and even visited my old high school in Bozeman, Montana as I made my way north towards Idaho.

Snow covered Teepees in Crow Agency, Montana
The interstate near Livingston, Montana
Men’s restroom door in Northern Cheyenne country – Ashland, Montana
Road Trip Day 5 – Wallace, Idaho to Port Orchard, Washington

Day 5 – Wallace, Idaho to Port Orchard, Washington

Sumoflam and Roger Vollmer, former boss from Nava-Hopi tours.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting an old friend and former boss from my days as a tour guide for Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, AZ in the 1980s.  Roger Vollmer, who later purchased and then sold the company, now resides in upper Idaho and I was able to drop by Cracker Barrel in Coeur d’Alene and have a nice breakfast and a couple of hours of reminiscing.  Honestly, Roger really helped me lay the foundation in my work ethic and I had a blast working with him.  It was good to see him.

The US 2 Sign at Stevens Pass in Washington

Another great part of this portion of my road trip was hitting US Route 2 from Coeur d’Alene and traveling it all the way to the end in Everett, Washington.  I have now traveled that highway from Ironwood, Michigan all the way to Washington.  I still have a small portion from Eastern Michigan to Ironwood and about 450 miles from Maine to New York to be able to say have driven the entire length.  I have driven all of US 66 and all of US 89 at one time or another.

US 2 from Spokane west goes through Washington’s high desert and then eventually into the Cascades and up over Steven’s Pass, which still had snow on both sides of the highway, almost six feet deep in places.  It was spectacular!

A snowy stop sign at Steven’s Pass in Washington
The view of the Cascades as seen from the Skykomish / Gold Bar area of Washington, east of Everett.

Upon arrival in Port Orchard, I spent a week with my daughter and her family.  We took the ferry into Seattle, I traveled with grandchildren to see the rocky beaches and watch seagulls.  Following are just a couple of pics from the visit.

With some of the karvings at Kountry Krazy Kreatures in Kingston, WA
Seattle as seen from Manchester, WA
Granddaughter Livvy poses in the rocks
A seagull gathers clams in Sinclair Inlet near Port Orchard
Also saw this bald eagle flyover me at Sinclair Inlet
Some of the buildings of downtown Seattle
A beach scene in Manchester, WA

Finally, early on Saturday, April 14, I was back on the road, heading south towards Portland and eventually east, to spend the night in Bend, Oregon.

Port Orchard, WA to Bend, Oregon

Travel Day 6 – Port Orchard, Washington to Bend, Oregon

As with some of my other travel days, I had to deal with rain and fog for the first part of the trip.  I had hoped for a fun drive down part of US 101 and, despite the weather, I really had a great drive, even if I only drive about 450 miles.  Unlike some of the other drives, I enjoyed forests, mountains, snow, ocean scenes and eventually high desert scenes.  I also made a stop in Olympia, Washington’s state capital, and visited some friends for breakfast.  I’ll have separate posts about Olympia and its awesome wall art/murals.  I’ll also have a nice post about the town of Raymond, Washington.

One of many murals in Olympia, WA
Raymond, WA has an entire community of lifesize metal people
Zigzag, Oregon
US 101 near Allyn, WA
Ran into Bigfoot in Allyn, WA. At least he was smiling
Drove over Mt. Hood highway heading southeast out of Portland
The high deserts of central Oregon are lovely.

Travel Day 7 – Bend, Oregon to Murray, Utah

Day 7: Driving from Bend to Murray, UT thru Nevada

Day 7 of  my driving days was a long day through nearly 750 miles of high desert through Oregon and Nevada.  My destination was my old hometown of Murray, Utah.  The drive from Bend, OR to Denio, NV is pretty much through high desert.  I took the Frenchglen Highway, which was a beautiful drive on a beautiful day. really not many places to stop along the way.  I’ll have a separate post about the Frenchglen Highway (including Brothers, Frenchglen and Fields).  It had also been over 40 years since I had set foot in Nevada, so it was fun to get travel blog photos.  I spent the night at the home of one of my best friends and had dinner with some of my high school friends and their wives.  Great times!

Standing in the middle of the road…no cars..on the Frenchglen Highway in central Oregon
Another scene from SE Oregon
Finally back in Nevada…at Denio, NV
Downtown Winnemucca, NV
The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah
Hanging with Friends

Travel Day 8 – Murray, Utah to Manitou Springs, Colorado

Travel Day 8 – Murray, UT to Manitou Springs, CO
Hitting the Colorado border

Day 8 of travel was another long  day as I drove nearly 600 miles from Murray, Utah to Manitou Springs, Colorado. This day once again took me through deserts, high deserts, mountain passes and into some beautiful country. I hit the town of Helper, UT which is nestled in a canyon and was a railroad and mining town.  Also passed through Price.  When working for a record and tape rack jobber back in 1974-75, I made weekly trips to Helper and Price.  Things have changed considerably. Crescent Junction had a unique place, Papa Joe’s, which I’ll write about separately.

Papa Joe’s in Crescent Junction – fun “tourist trap”
Soldier Summit, UT between Spanish Fork, UT and Price, UT on US Rt. 6. Elevation 7,477
Another Whispering Giant by Peter Toth, in Murray, UT

The drive from Grand Junction through Delta, Montrose, Gunnison and Buena Vista was absolutely beautiful (US Hwy 50), especially going over Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet in altitude. On the way down the hill towards Poncha Springs I even go to see a couple of mountain goats crossing the roads.

Once again, I stayed in a local motel.  Always interesting.

 

Monarch Pass – the Continental Divide at 11,312 feet in Colorado
Just barely was able to whip out the camera to catch this mountain goat
Old Hotel Neon in Helper, Utah
A scene from US 50 in Colorado near Cimarron
Mule deer taken near Poncha Springs, CO
US 50 East of Gunnison near Monarch, CO
Stayed at the Silver Saddle Motel in Manitou Springs

Travel Day 9 – Manitou Springs, Colorado to Kansas City, Missouri

Day 9 drive from Manitou Springs, CO to Kansas City, MO
Entering Kansas on US 40 near Weskan, Kansas

Talk about a long, straight drive.  Made the trip from Manitou Springs, after a visit to Garden of the Gods, (which I’ll write about in a separate post), and went through the deserts of eastern Colorado and Western Kansas on a super windy and dusty day.  Did catch a pretty amazing sunset as a result of the dust storms.  I decided to really go back roads on this leg of the trip by taking the straight as an arrow drive on Colorado Hwy 94 through Yoder, Rush and Punkin Center.  The highway eventually met US Hwy 287 near Wild Horse, CO. Basically, the highway was 85.5 miles long running almost perfectly west to east the entire length.

Garden of the Gods near Manitou Springs
Colorado Hwy 94 – 85 miles of straight highway in the middle of nowhere
Punkin Center, Colorado

I finally got to stop at a place to eat in Kit Carson, Colorado and then continued east on US 40 in Kansas through Cheyenne Wells, Sharon Springs and Oakley, where I got on to Interstate 70 to finish up the ride into Kansas City.   I was fortunate to stay with my good friend Brad Sweeten in KC.

Lunch at Kit Carson Trading Post
Kansas Sunset near Abilene, Kansas

Travel Day 10 – Kansas City, Missouri to home in Lexington, Kentucky

Travel Day 10 – the last leg. Kansas City, Missouri to Lexington, Kentucky
Driving with the windows open and the wind blowing through my hair

On the last day it was pretty much straight through driving. I enjoyed another beautiful sunrise east of Kansas City and then just made my way home with a couple of restroom and gas stops along the way.  What a long, wonderful trip it was!

Over 6000 miles, 14 states, 5 motels, lots of friends and time with family. I traveled through blizzards, rainstorms, snow covered mountain passes, high desert, long lonely highways. Enjoyed sunsets, sunrises, good meals at local places.  Saw eagles, mountain goats, mule deer, hawks and assortment of water fowl.  And, of course, a variety of roadside attractions along the way.

Back in Kentucky
The Shelbyville Horse at the Kentucky Welcome Center near Shelbyville

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 May or early June 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

(76)