The year 2014 brought me some wonderful opportunities to travel and even fulfill some travel dreams. In the past year I traveled nearly 10,000 miles on road trips and traversed through 19 states (including my home state of Kentucky). With all of this travel I was able to hit a few “bucket list” stops and also drive a good part of some “bucket list” highways as well. Overall, the year was splendid.
The Big Highlights
9,700 Miles Driven
Traveled through 19 states
Drove about 1,200 miles of US Route 2, one of my Bucket List Highways. Drove from Ironwood, MI to Browning, MT
Drove the Blues Highway in Mississippi
Drove the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming (which Charles Kuralt noted as “the most beautiful drive in America” and I concur
My Top 10 List of Places Visited (in order)
1. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, MN
I had dreamed of visiting here since first seeing pictures of it in a Life Magazine Book in the 1960s. A dream came true in May. (see full post here)
2. Drive the Beartooth Highway (US 212) in Wyoming and Montana
For years I had hoped for a chance to take one of the most beautiful drives in America. I was lucky on this one as the highway was opened for travel on Memorial Day weekend, just a couple of days before I got there. (see full post here)
3. Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska
I have had this on a Bucket List for a number of years. Along with Cadillac Ranch (in Amarillo, TX) and “Spindle” – the Cars on a Spike in Cermak Plaza (Berwyn, IL – and no longer there), these were my BIG THREE car art sites on my Bucket List. This was the last one to check off, though I have found smaller scale ones along the way as well (such as Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL) (see full post here)
4. The famous Austin sign in Austin, Texas
This is probably one of the most famous “Welcome to” signs in the country and one I wanted to say I had been to. Well, here it was, in June. (Full post coming in January 2015)
5. Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, Mississippi
This unique eatery deep in the heart of Mississippi made the list because of its quirky style. I had not heard of this place until doing my research on the Blues Highway. But it was a definite “Must See” place on the way. Glad I made it here. (see full post here)
6. The Big Fish Supper Club in Bena, Minnesota
Another iconic roadside attraction (one of many) in Minnesota, this big guy on US Highway 2 was well worth the visit. Wish I could have stopped for dinner…(not his…MINE!) (see full post here)
7. Rock City in Valier, Montana
While visiting family in Montana, I was told about this place called Rock City, a unique geologic site. Had to make a visit, so we went as a family. Well worth the trip! (see full post here)
8. Giant Pyramid Structure in Nekoma, North Dakota
I came across this unusual site while perusing Roadside America and looking for something to see in northern North Dakota near US Route 2. Well, I found a doozy!! (see full post here)
9. Visit to the home of “Swamp People” in Pierre Part, Louisiana
When the TV show “Swamp People” premiered a few years ago, I told my wife that I would someday make it to Louisiana and meet Troy Landry, one of the stars of the show and fun guy to watch catchin’ alligators. Well, in June I did it! (see full post here)
10. Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming
This is another one of those places I just came across while driving through Wyoming. An amazing geologic site. My only disappointment was that it was surrounded by fencing. But, I did get to meet a fellow traveler and amazing photographer named Derek Ace (see his Facebook page). We have since become friends on Facebook and I really love the photos of his travels and unique perspectives on our broad expanse.
A Couple of Other Notable Items
I got to meet Facebook friend, fellow travel blogger and author Tui Snider (visit her site) while on the road in 2014.
Her books “Unexpected Texas” and “Paranormal Texas” are both great travel guides for the Dallas and northern Texas area. It was fun to meet her. We continue to exchange travel ideas and photos as we go.
One of Tui’s favorite comments is “Even Home is a Destination” and I have certainly made Lexington a destination in 2014. The proliferation of massive wall art murals, among other things, have kept me busy. I was even published in Ace Weekly Magazine for a post about these.
After a great three days in Galveston, it was time to get back on the road. I would head north to Houston, then on to Austin and eventually into Fort Worth.
Texas is a BIG state and there is lots of ground to cover. My first day would cover some backroads from Galveston and meander my way into Houston where I would stay overnight with my uncle.
There were things I had planned to see along the way and found a few things along the way as well. I figured that I may not get this way again (south of Houston) for a while, so I took advantage of a full day of driving to see some parts of Texas that many may not really get to.
My plans were to drive to Alvin, but along the way I came across an interesting house in Santa Fe, Texas. I had to stop and get a few shots. I discovered an unusual huge estate right on TX Hwy 6. It is called the Pignataro Estate, though many call it a castle.
According to an article I found from the Galveston Daily News, September 20, 1981, the home was originally built in the 1930s by a widow of a well-to-do Danish immigrant. It has since passed hands a number of times and has been owned by the Pignataro family since the 1970s. This larges estate apparently has 26 rooms and a number of other amenities. Following are a few more shots of some of the many white cement statues in the yard.
It is places like the Pignataro Estate that make it so worthwhile to take back roads and see the sites. After my brief photo shoot there, I continued north to Alvin, Texas, the birthplace of famed pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Alvin is about 25 miles southeast of Houston, and like Santa Fe, it is a town originally built around the railroad. Currently, there are just under 25,000 residents in this town known for its connection to Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan spent a good part of his youth living in Alvin and playing Little League Baseball there and even became a famed high school pitcher at Alvin High School, where some players refused to go up to bat against him because of his amazing fastball. A Hall of Famer now, he serves as an adviser to the Houston Astros organization.
After the brief visit in Alvin and headed south to Angleton to visit the first of the Big Three statues in southern Texas. Angleton is home to the Stephen F. Austin statue, which stands 76 feet tall from the base.
Since I wrote extensively about the Stephen Austin statue in an earlier post, I am just including a couple of photos here.
While at the Stephen F. Austin Statue park, I came across a couple of what I have learned are Cattle Egrets. Smaller than a Great Egret, I saw them foraging in the grasses. I saw some of these birds in a horse field in Louisiana as well. Unique looking, beautiful birds. Cattle egrets exploit drier and open habitats more than other heron species. Their feeding habitats include seasonally inundated grasslands, pastures, farmlands, wetlands and rice paddies. They often accompany cattle or other large mammals, catching insect and small vertebrate prey disturbed by these animals.
From Angleton I headed to the small town of Lake Jackson, TX, to find my way…literally! The “main drag” of Lake Jackson is called This Way and they also have a That Way. Here are a few fun shots of these unique road names and the story behind them. (And, by the way, Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul spent most of his childhood in Lake Jackson…and he found his way to Kentucky and the US Senate!)
All streets radiating from downtown Lake Jackson end in the word “Way.” Among the streets are Center Way, Winding Way, Circle Way, and Parking Way. There is an intersection of two streets named This Way and That Way. In the same spirit, a local church near Bess Brannen Elementary placed a small sign in their driveway named His Way. There is also an Any Way.
And then there is the old British Phone Box on This Way
Speaking of out of place, as I headed out of town on my way to West Columbia, TX, lo and behold, what do I see driving in front of me?
The next stop in my roundabout tour of SE Texas was in West Columbia, which was known as the First Capitol of Texas. The first Congress of the Republic of Texas was convened in West Columbia on October 3, 1836, when the town was still just named Columbia.
I always have a penchant for old theaters and the Capitol Theater in West Columbia is a classic.
This old theater was first open in 1937 and by 1941 it had its name changed to the Capitol.
From West Columbia I made my way to Damon, TX up Texas Highway 36. I have a friend in Lexington named Damon so I had to stop and send him a shot or two for fun!
Damon was actually a unique little place. Even the old road signs were still in use and had character, but weren’t too legible.
From Damon I returned east on Texas Highway 1462 towards Rosharon, TX with a quick turn off on TX 762 to visit the Brazos Bend State Park, known for ts alligator sightings. I had visited places in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier on this trip in hopes of seeing alligators, but never got to see any. Maybe this would be the charm!
Maybe I’ll find that elusive gator yet!
And walking around the swamp area I got another gator view.
The State Park had a couple of miles of rads and a few swampy areas.
With my Gator Sighting checked off my bucket list and totally hot and sweaty after my hike around the pond, it was back in the car and on to Rosharon, TX. Didn’t plan a stop in Rosahron, but I couldn’t resist a couple of shots of the Cherokee Rose Trading Post.
After my quick drive by, I back tracked and headed up Hwy 36 towards Needville, TX on my way to Wharton. Along the way I saw a good old vintage neon sign for a roadside cafe called “The Jay”, in Needville.
From Needville, I headed west towards Boling and Iago.
Nothing in those two towns but the signs were interesting!! Then it was on to Wharton. Lots of fun things to see in little Wharton.
My main reason for visiting Wharton was to visit the Tee Pee Motel, a retro throwback to the 50s and 60s. According to their website, “The Teepee Motel was originally built in 1942 by George and Toppie Belcher to serve travelers heading across Texas on State Highway 60. This was an era of grand roadtrips, family adventure, and American innocence. The Teepee operated for 40 years, until the Interstate Highway system and a new era of travel routed customers away from the motel in the early 1980’s. The motel eventually closed and would remain so for over 15 years.
Another notable set of items are a number of murals painted by Independence, Texas mural artist Dayton Wodrich. He has done at least five murals in Wharton (though I only saw four when I drove around town). Following are a couple more…
Wharton has a great old courthouse and theater in town as well.
After my visit to Wharton I then headed northeast on US 59 and eventually made my way to the outskirts of Houston into the Sugar Land area where I visited the second of the three Texas Giant statues, this one, the giant Quan Te Am Bo Tat statue at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center. 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.
From the Vietnamese Center I headed to my uncle’s for an overnight in Houston.
Next post will cover Houston to Austin via the heart of Texas.
After a long two days of driving from Lexington thru Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, I got to spend three days with family relaxing on the beaches of Galveston Island and visiting many of the interesting sites on the island. And, for me, I got to spend some time watching the amazing brown pelicans as they flew in formation, glided over the Gulf of Mexico and took amazing dives for fish. It was a wonderously amazing visit.
Galveston is not only a city in southern Texas but is also an island. The city actually sits on Galveston Island and Pelican Island.
The town was named for Gálvez-town or Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez by Spanish explorer José de Evia during his charting of the Gulf Coast in 1785. Since that time many beautiful buildings were built, including some expansive hotels and old church buildings.
The main reason for coming to Galveston was a Kravetz family reunion. It was great to spend time with my cousins, uncles, aunts and sister and dad. It was nice to see the family…but no pics of them here.
Unfortunately, it was a bad year for sargassum seaweed buildup. The beaches had piles of smelly seaweed everywhere. In fact, there were tractors having to try to scoop up the stinky stuff. This was a result of cold fronts that kept the seaweed in the southern Gulf longer than usual, where it continued to thrive in warm waters. The seaweed then floated north, deluging many of the beaches along the gulf.
Despite the seaweeds, the beaches were still enjoyable. I usually am going going going, but, since family was all together, I was able to just take it easy. In fact, I sat in a beach chair and just watched the pelicans and seagulls and those strange two-legged mammals (humans) frolic in the waves.
Though family is always important, my fondest memories of Galveston will always center around the graceful brown pelicans. Their effortless floating over the city was fascinating. In fact, I loved how they flew in unison as many of the photos below show.
Then, while sitting on the beach I saw something else that just blew me away. I witnessed these graceful pelicans take high-speed nose dives into the gulf. While diving, the pelicans appeared to rotate their bodies ever so slightly to the left. My research verified this and indicated that the rotation helps the birds avoid injury to the esophagus and trachea, which are located on the right side of their neck. They have also apparently learned that a steep dive angle, between 60 and 90 degrees, reduces aiming errors caused by water surface refraction. This is pretty amazing. I tried to capture a few shots of this unique practice.
I also enjoyed watching the seagulls. I have always been used to seeing white ones, but the ones in Galveston are darker and have black heads. These are apparently called Laughing Gulls.
Galveston island is about 27 miles long and about 3 miles wide at its widest point. During my visit I circumnavigated most of the island. My cousins rented a beach house in Jamaica Beach, which is on the southwestern end of Galveston Island and the only other town on the island. We went there a couple of times during the visit and it was a nice drive.
Before getting into Jamaica Beach, I passed the Pirate’s Beach neighborhood, which sits between the highway and the Gulf of Mexico. Some really amazing beach houses here, many of them built after the devastation of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
In the main town area there are a number of other rental properties that sit on some land that juts out between Jumbile Cove to the south and Carancahua Cove to the north. Many of the homes sit next to small waterways where boats can be docked and then taken out to sea.
One of the recurring themes of my trip down to Galveston (and home as well) was alligators. I visited the home of “Swamp People” in Louisiana the day before and on the way through Mississippi stopped in Alligator, MS. So, it was only logical that I would run into something alligator related while in Galveston….
I got a kick out of the product. “Smoked Alligator with Pork Jerky.” Made me wonder if the alligators were “pork fed” before being made into jerky…..
Back into Galveston….Seawall Blvd. is the “main drag” along the coast. This stretch of road runs between the resort shops, restaurants and fast food places and the main beach. Typical beach wear shops can be seen, as well as unique multi-person bicycles called surrey bikes. I had never seen these before, but it occurs to me that these are the perfect mode of transport along the beaches. There were rental places all along Seawall Blvd.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try one of these out. I should have!! But I enjoyed the beach scenes anyway.
Of course, there are all of the unique hotels, restaurants and shops to be seen. I tried a couple of the restaurants while there. Also drove by and captured shots of some of the hotels, condos, etc.
While I was in Galveston, my wife was with her sisters and brother on the beach in San Diego. I had hoped we could adjust our schedules and take photos at the same time on the beach…but it didn’t work out. But, I did capture something that was pretty fun. They were staying at a condo time share in San Diego called “Capri by the Sea.” I ran into one in Galveston and called her. So, we were both at Capri by the Sea at the same time…in different places.
There is a completely different part of the town of Galveston, called the Strand Historic District. While all of the family was on a boat ride, I drove around that area. There were large cruise ships, old shops, museums, seaside diners and more.
Back on Seaside Blvd. is Pleasure Pier, Galveston’s answer to “Coney Island.” The Current Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier was built 1,130 feet out over the Gulf of Mexico waters and had its “soft” opening on May 25, 2012. The new pier compile is located where the original Pleasure Pier stood from 1943 until 1961, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Carla. The original Pleasure Pier featured rides, an arcade, an aquarium, concessions, a large ball room, named the Marine Ballroom, and fishing at the end of the pier. It was also the site of the USS Flagship Hotel, an over-the-water hotel built in 1965 that was demolished after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The Pier has a midway with games and amusements and then there are a number of rides, some of them that glide right over the gulf of Mexico. I didn’t visit….but we stayed close, so I did get a couple of photos.
Galveston does not have many sculptures, but there is one on the seawall that is well-known. Commissioned by the Galveston Commission for the Arts and installed in 2000, Galveston sculptor David W. Moore’s bronze sculpture is a monument to the victims and survivors of the 1900 Storm, which killed in excess of 6,000 Galvestonians, making it the worst natural disaster ever to hit the United States.
The only other major sculpture of any consequence in Galveston is the “Texas Heroes Monument” located at the intersection of Broadway and Rosenberg Avenue. It was commissioned by Henry Rosenberg to commemorate the brave people who fought during the Texas Revolution. The monument was built out of granite and bronze. The sculptor of the monument was Italian artist Louis Amateis and was unveiled on April 22, 1900.
The monument is 74 feet high including the statue of Victory. The base of the monument is thirty-four feet in diameter. The bulk of the monument consists of four columns made from a single block of granite. These are fifty feet high.
At the top of the columns are words which represent the qualities of the men who fought for Texas: Patriotism, Honor, Devotion, Courage. The statue of Victory is twenty-two feet high. She holds a sheathed sword entwined with roses and her right extended hand holds a crown of laurels.
Finally, I should note the “quirky”… a couple of restaurants have some giant “crustaceans” resting on the roof. Got a nice chuckle from these…
Then there is the giant crawfish
Overall, I had a great time with family and a great time visiting Galveston….even in the middle of the summer!!