I am always on the lookout for fun places to visit when on the backroads of America. My travels in 2018 took me to 26 different states and along the way I found more unique town names and fun street signs to add to my collection. In 2017 I published my first book titled “Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names.” (Check out the book here) At the time I wrote it, I didn’t think I would get enough new places to fill up a second book, but , indeed, I have. And 2018 really helped with that.
Obviously, in my road trip plans I did set my sights on a few of these places intentionally. Once such place was Marvel, Alabama. I even bought a Marvel T-shirt to wear in front of the sign. But, having never been there, I had no assurance that there would even be a sign in such a small place. Luckily, my granddaughter Autumn (who also had a Marvel T-shirt for the occasion) and I did find a sign for the Marvel Baptist Church!! LUCKY!
But, I had many more instances where the places just happened to be there.
This post will quickly hit up on some of these fun discoveries, along with photos of signs, etc. ENJOY THE RIDE!
Y City is an unincorporated community in Scott County, Arkansas. It is located at the junction of U.S. Routes 71 and 270 in the southern part of the county on Mill Creek and the junction is shaped like a Y.
This small community was apparently a “freedmen’s” town. It is located in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma on Oklahoma State Highway 48. It has about 59 or 60 residents.
While in Okfuskee County, we also visited Okemah, the home of famed folk singer Woody Guthrie — you know, the guy that wrote “This Land is Your Land,” and “Bound for Glory,” among numerous others.
Gold Bar, Washington is located on US 20 in Snohomish County, Washington. The town has a little over 200 residents and is located in the heart of the Cascades. Beautiful mountains frame this small town. Gold Bar started as a prospectors camp in 1889, named by a miner who found traces of gold on a river gravel bar.
I never knew that fairies were Baptists nor that they die and get buried. But, there is a Fairy Baptist and a Fairy Cemetery in Fairy, Texas, a very small unincorporated community in the northern part of Hamilton County (north of Hico). It is at the junction of Texas FM 219 and 1602.
Lame Deer is on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Rosebud County, Montana. The community is named after Miniconjou Lakota chief Lame Deer, who was killed by the U.S. Army in 1877 under a flag of truce south of the town.
Sublime, Texas is a small community off of US Route 90 about 60 miles west of Houston. It has a small church and a Post Office.
Goobertown is an unincorporated community in Craighead County, Arkansas, near Jonesboro. You can pick up a Goobertown T-shirt if you want one at the Goobertown Grocery on US 49. The T-shirts feature a personified peanut after which the tiny community is supposedly named.
From peanuts in Goobertown to Punkins in Punkin Center. Punkin Center is a small, rural Unincorporated community in Lincoln Countyat the intersection of State Highway 94 and State Highway 71. Yes, that is literally the middle of nowhere! Originally had a small store that was painted orange (this the pumpkin reference), but it burned down in the 1950s. There are currently “about” 4 residents in this dot on the highway.
Zigzag is another unincorporated community. It is located in Clackamas County, Oregon on US Route 26, near Rhodendron. It is supposedly named after the Zigzag River. It is home to the Zigzag Ranger Station, which was built in 1935.
I am always looking for a smile and I thought Smiley, Texas would be just the place! I have been all over the country and seen many water towers with those fun smiley faces on them. Ala, no such luck in this town. Smiley is located in Gonzales County, Texas on US Route 87 and has a population of about 500 not too smiley people. It is about 60 miles east of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States.
Light, Arkansas was named after Daniel Light, the first settler. The small unincorporated community of 50 or so is located in Greene County at the junction of US Route 412 and AR Hwy 228.
I saw the town of Cloudy, Oklahoma on a map as I planned a return trip home from Texas and figured I needed to try to get there. It was actually more of an adventure than I had planned as Cloudy Road, which heads north out of Rattan, Oklahoma, snakes its way for about 12 miles into some hilly country. Some of the roads were in bad repair. But I made it!! Due to flooding, I had to return back to Rattan to continue the trek home.
Dime Box, Texas is located at the junction of TX Hwy 141 and TX Hwy 424 in Lee County. The community has maybe 200 people in town. There is actually a Dime Box Independent School District and a high school. I’ll feature more about Dime Box in future posts.
Brothers, Oregon is a dot on the map on US Route 20 about 40 miles east of Bend. There is a small stage stop, rest area and post office located in the unincorporated community. The place is in the Oregon high desert and is in the midst of a vast sagebrush field. If you travel about 60 miles northwest on US 20, you will arrive in Sisters, Oregon. I have been there a couple of times and have noted the town in my blog in the past (see post).
Ding Dong, Texas is an unincorporated place on the Lampasas River between Gerogetown and Kileen on TX Hwy 195. I had stopped there in hopes of buying Hostess Ding-Dongs… But, among all of the Hostess Cupcake products in the store, they did not carry Ding Dongs. A Ding Dong fail!! Ding Dong was named when two early settlers in the town, Zulis Bell and Bert Bell, opened a store and hired the artist Cohn Cohen Hoover to make a sign for it. Hoover painted a sign with two bells on it. Inside the bells, Hoover painted the initials of the Bell brothers. Underneath one bell he painted the word “Ding” and the word “Dong” under the other bell. Over the years, because of this sign, this community became known as Ding Dong.
Helper is small quaint community of about 2,200 located off of US 191 just north of Price, Utah in Carbon County. The town is a coal mining and railroad town. It gets its name from the “helper” engines that would help push trains up the long hill to Soldier Summit as trains made their way to Salt Lake City.
Telephone, Texas is located at the junction of TX Hwy 273 and TX Hwy 2029 in Fannin County north of Honey Grove, Texas and just south of the Oklahoma border. There are about 200 folks in this community, which got its name after numerous rejected name submissions to the US Postal Service in 1886.
Startup, Washington is a small community located just west of Stevens Pass on US Route 20. The name was to honor George G. Startup, manager of the Wallace Lumber Company. The Startup post office was established in 1900. There are about 700 people in this very scenic town at the base of the Cascade Mountains.
Many, Louisiana is just east of the Texas border on Louisiana Hwy 6 and the junction of US Route 171 in Sabine Parish. The community takes its name from Colonel Many, who was an officer stationed at nearby Fort Jesup.
Back to Texas (again) to the community of Flat. The town is on TX Hwy 36 northeast of Temple in Coryell County. There are about 850 people currently living here.
Are you looking for Big Foot? Maybe you can take Big Foot Rd. near Wall, South Dakota and find him. I wouldn’t know… I just stopped for a photo of the exit sign on Interstate 90.
Finally, there is the “faux” town of Uranus, Missouri on Route 66 west of Cuba. It is actually a huge tourist attraction filled with fun. The main attraction is the Uranus Fudge Factory and all of its employees, called Fudge Packers.
And I’ll end this post in Uranus… hope you enjoyed the ride
Looking for a unique and fun gift for yourself or your traveler friends? How about a book about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips? You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Enjoy the Read and Enjoy the Ride!
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 what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The I Towns
Indian Head, Saskatchewan
It is interesting that three of my I Towns in this post have something to do with Indians (American Indians) and so I am starting off in Canada at Indian Head, Saskatchewan. Indian Head is anchored against the mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railway at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway just 65 km east of Regina. The town was both a railroad hub and is in the center one of the wheat producing areas of Canada. The Indian Head statue (shown above) was officially unveiled on August 4, 1985. The statue is 18 feet high (the head itself is 10 feet tall). It weighs approximately 3,500 pounds and is made from metal pipe, metal mesh and cement. The statue was designed by sculptor Don Foulds of Saskatoon. It is very easy to get to, just off of Highway 1 in Indian Head.
Contrary to those with dirty minds, Intercourse was formerly known as “Cross Keys”, which was founded in 1754. The name was changed to Intercourse in 1814. There are several explanations concerning the origin of the name of Intercourse, but none can really be substantiated. The first centers around an old race track which existed just east of town along the Old Philadelphia Pike. The entrance to the race course was known as “Entercourse”. Some suggest that “Entercourse” gradually evolved into “Intercourse”. There are others, but perhaps the most quantifiable to me comes from the “old english” language which was is use in the early 1800’s. It refers to the “fellowship” or social interaction and friendship which was so much a part of an agricultural village and culture at that time. The Amish are really quite a social people and are well known for working as groups to raise barns, etc. The town’s sign is considered the most frequently stolen town sign in the US and is now on a pole that is difficult to get to. You can read more about my visit to Intercourse and Amish Country in central Pennsylvania back in 2008 HERE.
Ironwood, Michigan was the starting point of my massive US Highway 2 Roadtrip across half of the US Continent back in 2014. I started in Ironwood, which is on the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and it sits on the border with Wisconsin. Ironwood has a number of unique things to see including a giant Hiawatha statue which is touted to be the biggest Native American Indian statue in the United States (it stands 52 feet tall in the midst of a park in town). They also have some nice murals and a few other unique things to see. Its actually a great place to visit. As the name implies, Ironwood is a town that was settled due to iron mining. It’s history goes back to the 1800s. There are a couple of monuments to the iron workers in this town including a beautiful mural with paintings of the faces of almost 100 of the former iron workers. There is also a nice chainsaw carved sculpture in front of the old train station. See more about my visit to Ironwood and my drive on US Highway 2 HERE.
Independence is one of the great historical towns in Missouri. Decorated with murals all over town, filled with history and nearby in Liberty is the home of a major LDS (Mormon) Church Museum. It is the birthplace of American President Harry Truman. Lewis and Clark ventured here in the 1800s and many pioneers came here on the Mormon, California and Oregon trails. It is also home to one of America’s really quirky museums in Leila’s Hair Museum.
Idaho Falls, Idaho
I try not to include too many “big” cities in these posts, but I wanted to include Idaho Falls. Its a nice place to visit and has plenty to see. There are vintage restaurants and burger places, such as Scotty’s above, a beautiful Mormon temple, one of the 55 Peter Toth wooden carved “Whispering Giants” Indian Statues and more. The Snake River runs through the middle of town with some wonderful waterfalls (thus Idaho Falls). You can see more about my 2013 visit there by clicking HERE.
Iona, Idaho (Honorable Mention)
On a hill just northeast of Idaho Falls is another small town called Iona, a town settled by Mormon pioneers in 1884. It is now home to the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm. There are 43 turbines, which can be seen from Rexburg on a clear day. This site produces about 64.5 Mw of power.
Inverness, Montana (Honorable Mention)
Driving along US Highway 2 in northern Montana near Rudyard, is the small community of Inverness. It was named by “Scotty” Watson, pioneer stockman, in memory of his native town in Scotland. The Scottish town is located on the inlet to Loch Ness, famous for the Loch Ness monster. There is a population of about 55 living there, including sculptor Byron Wolery who made an interesting scrap metal dinosaur that greets passersby near Rudyard. They have their own “monster” now! See more about the Hi Line drive of Montana HERE.
Iron River, Wisconsin (Honorable Mention)
West of Ironwood, MI on US Highway 2 is the small town of Iron River, Wisconsin. This small town has a huge mural done by the same artists that did a number of lovely murals in Ashland, Wisconsin. They began this project in 2006 sponsored by the Iron River Lion’s Club. The town is proud to claim 96 Lakes, 12 Trout Streams, 4 Rivers, 500 miles of groomed ATV trails, Chequamegon National Forest, North Country Hiking Trail and many more great hiking trails, Camba Mountain Biking Trail System, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Dog Sledding, Waterfalls, Fishing, Birding, Berry Picking, Wildlife and Summer Sunsets. I hope to visit the area again in the future on a more extended visit. See more HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
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….