In early 2020 I traveled across the country with the course of three weeks. My A to Z posts this year will have the “8154” theme, which will also be the title of my forthcoming new book that will document the epic road trip. Each entry will highlight a few stories with photos based on the alphabet and not the order of the trip. I hope you will enjoy this bouncy ride across the back roads of America. Please enjoy the X Stories. (all photography by David “Sumoflam” Kravetz)
Traveling the X-Roads (Crossroads) of America – Part One
Throughout the course of our 8154 Road Trip, there was not anything with an X in it. So, I thought I would take readers on a Virtual Road Trip along the highways of America as seen from our eyes. Part One will take you from Kentucky to Idaho. Part Two, which will be included in my Y Stories tomorrow, will hit the remainder of our trip. So, travel along with us and check out the scenery from our 23 day trip from Kentucky to Washington, down the Pacific Coast and east through the southwest and Texas. Enjoy the Ride!
South Dakota Highways
WATCH FOR MY NEW BOOK “8154” — COMING SOON TO AMAZON
I am currently working on my FOURTH book, titled “8154” to represent the mileage of my epic road trip with family. You can visit my Amazon Author Page to see my other books at https://amzn.to/3azY36l
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique towns. To see what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The T Towns
On a trip to Kansas City back in November 2011, I returned via some back roads in south central Missouri. My main destination of choice was Tightwad, Missouri. This is an unincorporated town of about 65 or 70 people. The village’s unusual name is said to stem from an episode in which a store owner cheated a customer, who was a postman, by charging him an extra fifty cents for a better watermelon. Some sources claim the transaction involved a rooster rather than a watermelon. However, there is really nothing definitive. Nonetheless, the town is fun. Perhaps the biggest point of excitement was the Tightwad Bank, which at the time was a real bank (their website says that the closed on June 29, 2015 to become Tightwad Financial, Inc. and moved to Overland Park, KS). According to its original website, the bank was founded on September 5, 1900 as Reading State Bank, a Kansas chartered commercial bank. On March 27, 2008 the bank opened a full service branch in Tightwad, MO and changed its name to Tightwad Bank. You can see my 2011 post HERE.
One evening a few years ago we were watching the well known TV Competition show “America’s Got Talent,” when they introduced one of the competitors and indicated he was from a place called Talent, Oregon. I knew then that I had to find a way to that town! In April 2012 I had that opportunity while on a business trip to southern Oregon. Called “The City of Talent“, I am not sure how much talent there actually is here. With a Talent Police Department, a Talent City Hall and even a unique “Shoe Tree,” it is certainly a unique place to go to find some Talent. See my full post about Talent HERE.
Toad Suck, Arkansas
On a road trip to Texas and Arkansas in 2007, we wound our way from Memphis into Arkansas and found a place called Toad Suck (after already visiting Booger Holler – see the B Towns post). Like many odd named communities, Toad Suck has a small population.
“What does “Toad Suck” mean anyway? Well, the answer is quite simple… Long ago, steamboats traveled the Arkansas River when the water was at the right depth. When it wasn’t, the captains and their crew tied up to wait where the Toad Suck Lock and Dam now spans the river. While they waited, they refreshed themselves at the local tavern there, to the dismay of the folks living nearby, who said: “They suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads.” Hence, the name Toad Suck. The tavern is long gone, but the legend and fun live on at Toad Suck Daze”
Check out my post of the entire 2007 trip including our visit to Toad Suck HERE.
I first visited Thermopolis, Wyoming in 1972. As a 16 year old, I was disenchanted with things at home in Bozeman, Montana and decided to “run away” from home. I hitchhiked my way from Bozeman to West Yellowstone, where I helped a family move things into a truck. They gave me a ride as far as Thermopolis, where I continued on through Wyoming’s Wind River Canyon, riding with a nice Native American lady, who got me into southern Wyoming. I eventually caught my final ride into Denver, where we used to live. Obviously, I got in trouble and returned back to Bozeman.
I again found myself in Thermopolis in the summer of 2014. This town is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. From the south Thermopolis is the gateway to Yellowstone Country, and coming from the north it is the gateway to the Wind River Canyon. See my full trip from Cody to Carhenge via Thermopolis HERE.
Teton Valley and Tetonia, Idaho
In 2013 I was blessed to make 2 trips to Rexburg, Idaho for work. During those times I made it a point to visit the Grand Tetons from different angles. One of the wonderful places to do this was in the Teton Valley and from Tetonia. The views are amazing and the mountains are splendid. Check out the entire trip post HERE.
Tuba City, Arizona
As I have noted in other posts on this blog, in the 1980s I was a tour guide for Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff. As part of my work I took may tourists on excursions into Navajo and Hopi country. Heading north on US Highway 89 out of Flagstaff and then catching US Highway 160 east, the first major town is Tuba City. Next to Flagstaff, it is the second largest city in Coconino County (which in land area is the second largest county in the United States) and is located on the Navajo Reservation. Continuing east on US 160 the drive eventually gets you to Kayenta, the gateway to Monument Valley. Instead, take AZ 264 south and you head towards the three mesas of the Hopi Reservation. In fact, the name of the town honors Tuuvi, a Hopi headman from Oraibi who converted to Mormonism. The Navajo name for Tuba City, Tó Naneesdizí translates as “tangled waters”, which probably refers to the many below-ground springs that are the source of several reservoirs.
Tuba City is also kind of the gateway for a spectacular canyon known as Coal Mine Canyon, which is accessible about 15 miles away on AZ 264 on the way to the Hopi Reservation. I have literally visited there a couple of hundred times. The canyon is one of many remote, little-visited sites in the Southwest where the main interest comes from the detail of the rock – the colors, forms and textures of the eroded sandstone – rather than the large scale appeal of such grand places as Zion and Monument Valley. Coal Mine Canyon is first sighted about 15 miles from Tuba City, and the usual viewing area is reached by a half mile drive along a dirt track – narrow and bumpy but fine for all vehicles – that leaves highway 264 between mileposts 336 and 337. This track leads to a new-looking 2 story residence, but the canyon rim is a little way to the right, at the end of a side track that passes an isolated windmill and water tank, ending at a parking area next to a rather forlorn picnic spot consisting of a few concrete tables & chairs surrounded by bare red earth within a fenced enclosure.
Tornado, West Virginia
In 2012 I made another road trip to North Carolina and took a side road through West Virginia for the sole purpose of driving through a Hurricane and a Tornado. Hurricane is a bit west of Charleston, WV. Once there, take US Highway 60 southeast and about 16 miles down the road you can drive through Tornado. Officially, Tornado is recognized as Upper Falls, WV. But there are still signs for Tornado. You can see my trip report about my visit to these two places HERE.
During my 2008 time in Ontario, I was invited to the 10th Annual World Crokinole Championships by then Tavistock Mayor Don McKay, one of the officials at that year’s event. I was greeted by Mayor McKay and also met Tavistock Gazette Editor Bill Gladding. Both were gracious enough to introduce me to this game. The championships are held in this small town as this is where the game was apparently invented in the 1870s. Crokinole (pronounced croak-i-knoll) is an action board game with elements of shuffleboard and curling reduced to table-top size. Players take turns shooting discs across the circular playing surface, trying to have their discs land in the higher-scoring regions of the board, while also attempting to knock away opposing discs. Historically, the game of Crokinole got its start near Tavistock. According to the Crokinole website, “the earliest known Crokinole board was made in 1876 in Perth County, Ontario, Canada. Several other home-made boards of southwestern Ontario origin. You can see my complete report of this June 2008 HERE.
The town of Tomahawk, Wisconsin is located on US Highway 51. We ventured into this colorful town during a 2012 visit to Wisconsin. We had just finished visiting Jurustic Park in Marshfield (see the M Towns Post) and were on the way to Rhinelander (in my R Towns post). Tomahawk has a nice big Moose, a BBQ Place called the Butt Hutt and a lovely Eagle sculpture in the downtown area. Read about the entire trip HERE.
Tripp, South Dakota
Tripp, South Dakota really offer s very little, but it has a great name for a Road Tripper!! Its all in the Tripp right? Located on South Dakota’s Oyate Trail, which basically follows US Highway 18 across the state. It is between the town of Menno to the east and the lovely Lake Andes to the east. See more about the Oyate Trail Drive HERE.
The summer of 2014 was a great travel year for me. I made four big trips, one of which was to Galveston, Texas via US Highway 61, the Blues Highway in Mississippi. If approaching from Memphis, then one of the first stops worth making along the highway is in Tunica. Tunica is huge resort town with a number of hotels and casinos. But it is also home to the Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is built in a rustic train depot, circa 1895. It is filled with guitars, maps, souvenirs, etc. Definitely worth a stop. See the report on my first leg along the Mississippi Blues Highway HERE.
Tioga, Texas (Honorable Mention)
Tioga is a small town in Texas near Sherman and Denison on US Highway 377. It is the birthplace of country music legend and former California Angels owner Gene Autry.
Ten Sleep, Wyoming (Honorable Mention)
OK. If you found a town named Ten Sleep, wouldn’t you include it in your post? This town is located near Ten Sleep Canyon which is on US Highway 16. It is located in the Big Horn Basin in the western foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, about 26 miles east of Worland and 59 miles west of Buffalo. I drove through here in 2013 on my way from Idaho to Dallas. I left Gillette, went through Buffalo and eventually made may way into Worland. See my full trip post HERE.
Torch, Ohio (Honorable Mention)
Finally, there is the small blink your eyes and you’ll miss it place along the Ohio River known as Torch, Ohio. Torch is not too far from Coolville, OH (see my C Towns post). (Ironically, the first town north of Coolville on Ohio 144 is called Frost…I did not go there). I could not find anything to provide information as to how Torch got its name. As for the little chapel in Torch, I did some research and came to find that it was built by Lloyd Middleton of Coolville. The non-denominational small chapel (its only 10 ft. by 14 ft.) is open 24/7 and anyone can go in to pray and seek respite. A more detailed writeup of the church’s history and the Ohio River drive can be seen HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
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!!