I love to travel the back roads of America. I also love to see Offbeat Attractions. Of course, I must drop by those strange named towns (see photo above). But, I also want to visit historical sites, National Parks, scenic locations, covered bridges and more that may be along the way. So, in this post I will lay out the “Sumoflam Guide” and the process I go about in planning almost all of my trips. Hopefully, you as the readers will be able to glean some helpful information in your plans and do as I do…..ENJOY THE RIDE!
WHERE DO WE WANT TO GO?
For the purpose of this particular guide, I am going to create a sample trip from St. Louis to Kansas City and back. My approach to this trip will begin at the St. Louis Arch and end up back there with very little back tracking along the way. Further, for simplicity, I will plan this as a four day round trip.
THE PLANNING “TOOLS”
Before I ever take off on a trip, I first get out the “tools” of the trade and begin mapping out a course.
- First and foremost I go to Google Maps. This helps me see the general course I will be taking. It will allow me to hone in on probable routes, preferably off of the Interstates and perhaps even on county roads, if time allows. Obviously, my goal is NOT to take the fastest or most direct route, but to take the one that provides me the greatest mix of places to visit, sites to see and photographs to take.
- After determining probable routes, I then go to my handy-dandy OFFBEAT ATTRACTION site – Roadside America – for the ultimate guide to the best offbeat attractions in my route area. I will provide details on this later on below.
- There are a number of other reference sites I may visit depending on the routes and locations. I will list a number of my favorites later in this post. They include websites that cover the quirky, the offbeat, the giant/big things, National Parks and Monuments, historic sites, etc.
- Finally, since there will likely be hotel stays along the way, I typically go to my favorite site for hotels, which is Choice Hotels. Since I am a “Choice Privileges” member, I gain points and free nights by staying in their hotel brands whenever possible. But, there are many other sites out there, so choose your favorites.
- After mapping things out, I glean information about towns from Google and Bing. I may do a search on a town or an offbeat site to get more information, look at images, etc.
- For many towns I may also do a search in Wikipedia. This is a great source of detailed information
- Finally, after searching through all of those, I find my way to the numerous town websites, tourist sites, chamber of commerce sites, etc.
Isn’t the World Wide Web Wonderful?
MAPPING OUT THE ROUTE
Google Maps is an amazing tool and it is also fun. With their Street View program you can practically take a virtual trip to anywhere — from the comfort of your home. Of course, there is really nothing like being there in person.
Google now has a new version of Google Maps, which has some nice features. But, I prefer the Classic Maps version chiefly because I can include multiple destinations. Returning to the sample trip from St. Louis to Kansas City, this is what the initial search would give me on Google Maps:
On the map above you can see that I mapped a trip from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. It provided me with two driving routes — one direct down the Interstate and another quite a bit out of the way (if you are wanting a direct route). However, if I wanted to map an intermediate destination, I would not be able to include it and also include Kansas City. So, I will use the “Classic Maps” version by going to the settings in the upper right corner and select Classic Maps.
The best part of the Classic Maps view is the multiple destination selection option. With this option you can select up to 25 locations for Google to map out and create a route.
Following is what I used to create the ROAD TRIP! shot above:
After selecting the main destinations – in this case, St. Louis to Kansas City, it is time to dig deeper and find those offbeat attractions and other places of interest and then plug them into Google Maps.
NOW THE FUN BEGINS – FINDING THE PLACES ON THE ROAD
The guys at Roadside America are phenomenal. They offer maps, directions and tourist attraction details as a convenience to their users. As they say it on their website – “RoadsideAmerica.com is a caramel-coated-nutbag-full of odd and hilarious travel destinations — over 10,000 places in the USA and Canada — ready for exploration.” I should note that any content from Roadside America used on my site is done so with the written permission of Roadside America. The wonderful thing about their site is that they take hundreds of user submitted photos and details and include them on the site. It is THE Honey Hole of Offbeat Travel!! If you have never visited them, check out their About Page and learn all about the great work that Doug, Ken and Mike have compiled over the years.
The next step in a fine back road trip is finding the unique places. The first stop should ALWAYS be Roadside America. Once on their site, click on the “Maps” link as shown above. You will get to the Roadside America Maps Page as shown below.
Since we are doing a Missouri Trip, you would click on the Missouri part of the Map (or select the state on the left hand list). This will bring up the Roadside America Missouri Page.
On each state page there is a ton of information….best sites, oddities, etc. There is also a small link to the Missouri Offbeat Attractions Map. Click that link and you will get the map below:
Each red pin on the map represents a unique site which you can refer to in conjunction with you Google Map trip plan. There is also an alphabetic list (based on town name) on the left side of the map. For convenience, I have circled the area from St. Louis to Kansas City to provide an idea of how many attractions there are. Bear in mind that these are predominantly the Offbeat Attractions and may not include historical museums and sites, national and state parks, scenic locations, etc.
When you open a state map, you can mouse over a section and double-click and the map will zoom in (it uses Google Maps technology). this will provide you with a closeup view of the area and the related pins. Click on a pin and it will pop up the Offbeat Attraction for that pin. Each attraction also has a “More” link, which, when clicked, will open up the page with details on that specific attraction. There are over 10,000 of these pages on the Roadside America site.
By viewing the attractions page you can find out where it is, see photos of the site, get other visitor’s comments and also see a site rating to let you know if it is “Well Worth the Visit” or just a site that may be of interest.
And, while on the road, you can use the amazing Roadside America app for your iPhone. It even has a GPS locator and will tell you the sites closest to your location on the road. A must have for the back roads offbeat traveler!!
HONING DOWN THE ADVENTURE
Since the St. Louis to Kansas City trip will be a four day round trip, I typically will create a more detailed plan for each day. Since I can get actual addresses of sites along the way from Roadside America, Google and other sites, I can actually plug those into the Google Map directory. So, I will add the numerous sites from day one…initially with the sites from Roadside America. Then I will take my next step, based on those sites, and see if there are other sites of interest along the way, such as scenic views, state or National Parks, etc.
While adding these sites, I also create a document with the names of the places in their order. You can see from the map above that a number of places were selected in the St. Louis area. All of the locations on this map are just from Roadside America. Since Chillicothe will be the end point for the day, I will then fill in the blanks for other interesting sites along the way… As I look at the route, the following towns pop up along the way… St. Charles, St. Peters, Wentzville, Foristell, Wright City, Warrenton, Jonesburg, High Hill, New Florence, Danville, Williamsburg…and many more. I also notice that for a good part of the way I can go down Old U.S. 40 (called Booneslick Rd along part of the way and Old US 40 as well.) To me, this would be my option rather than the interstate, though, at many points it may parallel the interstate. When I hit Danville, it veers away onto some county roads, but returns to Old US 40 in Williamsburg. I will follow these roads until I hit US 54 which heads north at Kingdom City (which is an interesting place to visit by the way!!)
US 54 heads north to Mexico, Missouri, but veers off just south and turns into Missouri 22 before it goes into Mexico. So, basically, all towns along that route are game for my search for interesting places.
GETTING TOWN INFORMATION
Perhaps one of my more unique methods of finding interesting places on the route is by using Google Maps, Google Search, Google Images, Wikipedia and miscellaneous town websites in combination. It is almost like taking a virtual trip before I ever get on the road. And I typically plan to hit more spots than I am actually able, but it really provides for some flexibility and it is fun. Part of the reason for the flexibility is that you never know what you will see along the way that was unplanned.
Since it is halfway on the route, I randomly selected Mexico, Missouri to provide an example of how I go about finding places. I have never been to Mexico and so, as I write this, I have no idea if there is anything of interest in this small central Missouri town. My first step is a Google Search and then I switch over to images, some of which are above. I didn’t really see anything that struck me there, so I went back to Google and found a website for Mexico, Missouri. When I hit that page I immediately discovered that there is a Statue of Liberty in downtown Mexico (see photo below).
There are a few Statues of Liberty dotting the U.S. and it is always fun to capture them. Since Mexico is on the route, this is a definite stop for a photo. On further study of the Mexico website I also learn that it is the “Firebrick Capital of the World,” and that this industry has kept the town alive. They have a Firebrick Museum with memorabilia and other items, as well as a Firebrick walk in the front. This too could be of interest. Being from Lexington, KY, the “Horse Capital of the World”, I also find it interesting that one of the few Horse Museums outside of the Kentucky Horse Park is located in Mexico. It is the American Saddlebred Horse Museum and is the oldest Saddlebred Horse Museum in the nation. This information alone would warrant a stop in Mexico as we pass by on our roundabout trip to Kansas City.
Of course, we were going through Mexico because of one of the sites we selected from Roadside America. In this case, it is Larry Vennard’s Outside Sculpture Park of dinosaurs and other critters. Those of you that follow my blogs know I have visited others like this in Canada, Washington and then, of course, the famous Jurustic Park in Wisconsin. (See an entire post dedicated to “Yard Art”). This is certainly one of my passions out on the road….seeing these. So, on this trip, I will be stopping here!! Then, continuing west towards Salisbury, MO, there are the Scrap Metal Grasshoppers. This too is a likely stop along the way.
I also have a fascination with Covered Bridges. I have seen dozens of these old monuments to bridge building history, so a stop at the Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Park naturally is on the agenda before I finally hit Chillicothe, Missouri for an overnight stay. By the way, Chillicothe is the “Home of Sliced Bread.”
Of course, I also explore interesting places to eat and scenic drives…and the list goes on and on. Hopefully, this provides a piece of my mind and thought process as I plan my road trips. The planning is almost as fun as the trip itself!!