B is for Back Roads – #atozchallenge

What is April A to Z?

Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.

I live to travel the back roads of America. These are the core of my travels around the United States and Canada. They always offer the best of everything: scenery, traffic conditions and a myriad of surprises.


A gravel road south of Belvidere, SD
A road approaching a checkerboard wheat farm near Cut Bank, MT

To me, the definition of a back road is anything that is not an interstate highway. However, I prefer the kind that are two lane and in many cases don’t even have stripes down the middle. Those are the best! I am even happy to be on a gravel road at times!

In this day of GPS maps and tracking, taking a back road is all the more opportune! If I take a road and get lost, I can typically depend on my GPS to get me back on the road where I’m going.  But, more often than not, I don’t care where I’m going, I just want to see where I’ve been.

Killdeer Road near Athens, WI
Interstate 5 near Sunny Valley, Oregon
Heading into a wind farm near Rugby, ND
On the top of the world on Beartooth Highway that borders Wyoming and Montana south of Red Lodge, MT
A road in the middle of a cornfield near Bloomington, IL

Back roads are the threads and fibers of our country. Many might travel the big interstate to get from one place to another, but sometime along the way they will need to leave the highway and get on to a smaller road to get to their final destination.  For me…the back road is ALWAYS my destination!

Back roads lead to numerous discoveries. I have driven back roads through every state in the United States (except for Alaska — I took a bus in Juneau, so does that count?) and always have come across something unique or interesting.  I have driven through cornfields in Iowa and pineapple groves in Hawaii.  I have seen many a wheat field in Montana and Saskatchewan.  I love driving the roads through the mountains of Colorado, Montana and Idaho, but am just as happy on a desert road in New Mexico or Texas.

The Road through Juneau, Alaska
Following the Amish on a road near Aylmer, Ontario in Canada
A lonely highway in south central Nebraska, near Overland
Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington

Sometimes my back road adventures are planned. I will have learned about something unique in a certain area and will try to go there via a back road. (You may want to check out my road trip from Bugtussle, KY to Bugtussle, TX — through Only, TN, for instance. See it HERE.) Other times, I just take a road and see where it leads.  And that is often the most fun!

Not every back road leads me to where I want to go. I specifically recall a time on a trip in Missouri. Driving down the highway I saw a sign pointing to Romance. And as I turned there was also a sign pointing to Romance Church. Since it was only 2 miles down the road, I decided I would take the road to romance. It was a windy, narrow little road that eventually turned into a gravel road and by the time I got to the end of the road there was a large building with some people sitting out on the porch. It looked as if it might’ve been a church at one time, but it was obviously a residence. I believe that this was once the community of “Romance.” But there was nothing there indicating such and so to this day I claim that I took a road to Romance and it was a dead end.

I took the road, but never did find Romance in Missouri in 2011
Success, Missouri direction

On a similar trip in Missouri I saw another sign to a town called Success. Obviously, my penchant for wanting to go to towns with unique names has always sent me down those roads. I turned left out of the town of Houston, MO and headed down the 16 mile road to Success. Much to my surprise, all the way along the road I could see abandoned old trailers and rusty old cars littering both sides. Granted, this is in a section of the Ozarks that is known for its poverty. I finally made it to Success and even got a photo in front of the Success Post Office. But I learned quickly, that, at least in Missouri, the road to Success is not very glamorous.

Success, Missouri

One time, on a road trip with the family through Louisiana, we came across a café in the middle of nowhere. We decided to stop and maybe try some Cajun food. They had blackened alligator! None of us had ever eaten alligator. But what was more fun was the Cajun music that was being played. There was a Zydeco band with lots of dancing and some of the dancers actually came after my children and asked them to dance. It was a wonderful and totally unplanned experience that we would’ve never seen had we not taken a back road.

Wind River Canyon, WY

Back roads always lead to somewhere, even if it is only a dead end. However, you’ll never know what’s there unless you take one! Following are a few more photos of some of the back roads I have been on.  I have hundreds of these, so this is just a sampling.  Enjoy the ride….  and preferably on a back road!

Rolling road near Gurney, WI
Downtown Ironwood, MI. Check out the giant Hiawatha Statue at the end of the road
On a quiet road near Baggs, WY
Three Turkey Vultures block the road near Gray Hawk, KY
Road leading to the Bridge of the Gods near Cascade Locks, Oregon
The Canadian highway near Fleming, Saskatchewan
NM 152 near Truth or Consequences, NM
The road to Alta, WY near Teton Valley, ID
Loop Road west of Sweet Grass, Montana right on the Canadian border
The highway leading to Carhenge in Alliance, NE
A local road near my home in Lexington, KY
The road through Bedias, TX
Driving along the coast in Galveston, TX
The cornfields near Adair, IA
I-80 near Green River, WY
A gravel road east of Craig, CO
Main Street in lovely Stanley, ID (yes it is a gravel road!)
SD 79 just south of the North Dakota border
The long straight highway near Cohagen, MT
Drive through the pines trees along OR 38 near Reedsport, OR
Driving in the autumn colors of Algonquin National Park in Ontario, Canada
The road in Ketchikan, AK ends with a cruise ship
Share the road with the Amish in Arthur, IL
The lonely road into Lost Springs, WY – Population 4



#TBT – Yard Art, Swans and Mennonites in Southern Ontario

(Note: I was working at the Toyota Plant in Woodstock, Ontario as a Japanese interpreter at the time I wrote this post in 2008)

March 26, 2008: It was a beautiful day and I got off work at 4:00 and decided to head out on a small road trip around the region.  A couple of days ago I met with Cathy Bingham, Director of the Oxford County, Ontario Tourism Office in Woodstock. She had contacted  me about my Jakeman’s Syrup page and wanted to meet with me to give me more ideas.  We had a wonderful visit and she gave me some unique ideas, told me about the history of the area and focused me in on some different places to see, both in Oxford County as well as the surrounding counties.  One of the DEFINITE MUST VISITS was to see the Tundra Swans near Aylmer,  Ontario.  So, I decided to do that along with a couple of other side  trips.  Following is an overview map of the route I took…about 78 miles all together.

The first place I visited was just outside of Woodstock.  I left Toyota and headed down Highway 2 (Dundas St.) into town all the way to the Highway 59 turnoff heading north (Vansitart Rd.).  I crossed over the Thames River and up a couple of hills to see  another place that Cathy had recommended to me, based on my  yard art interests.  This particular place is the home of Cliff Bruce and his wife.  Cliff Bruce has an eclectic collection of Windmills, whirly-gigs and other oddities scattered throughout his yard. Following are just a few shots of the place:

Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill
Welcome sign over the main driveway tells you where you are.
Push button
Push button to Open Gate – Do I dare?
Bruce Windmill Hill
Fun entry sign. I am still alive, so I must have missed the double shot gun day!

He calls it Windmill Hill.  There is a gate that keeps visitors out and  the dogs in, but the sign in the driveway says to “Push the Button” to open the gate.  I did that, but the gate did not open.  Since I did not know if today was the two double shot gun day, I decided to just walk around the outside and get a few shots of his yard decorum.

The first thing I noticed from the driveway was the working walk/don’t walk lights and the railroad crossing lights…which came complete with the bell ringing.  I wondered if the neighbors got tired of hearing the railroad bell go off every two minutes…for yes, there  are neighbors.

Walk/Don’t Walk Lights inside Windmill Hill
Railroad lights
Functioning Railroad Crossing lights go off occasionally
I would have walked had I been able to get inside the gate.

Then came the front yard.  He not only has windmills, but lots of unusual statues, etc.  Fun fun fun.

Fred Flintstone
Fred Flintstone waves at a whirly-gig from Cliff Bruce’s front porch
Bruce Windmill doll
Rent a birthday mannequin complete with the lingerie!
This cowpoke guards the place from American photographers…I had to be sneaky

From there I had to trudge through the foot deep snow around the south side of his house.  I was walking through some kind of field.  As I walked along the fence, the Bruce’s dogs paid me a visit (from the other side of the fence).  But I kept shooting away.  So many things…in so little space.

Windmill Hill
Numerous whirly-gigs and an old Texaco sign adorn the south side of the Bruce Windmill Hill landscape.
Tired snowman
A homemade Michelin man? Or is it a “tired” snowman??
Fascinating whirly-gig contraption.

One could really spend a couple of hours looking around this place. So many little things everywhere.

A red metal butterfly adorns the snow covered yard
A Clydesdale whirly-gig atop a pole
Fred Flintstone in flight

Cliff seems to have a fascination with flying things and moving things. He had a few small amusement airplanes and helicopters in the yard, like Fred Flintstone (above) and the plane and helicopter below.

A large toy plane floats above the yard at Bruce Windmill Farm
Planes, helicopters and other flying things.
A large amusement park style helicopter flies around. Even has a live-in pilot!

The menagerie in his yard  goes on and on.

A LIVE dog protects the whirly-gigs
A colorful tire adorns the yard
A wide shot of a part of the Cliff Bruce Windmill Farm.

From Windmill Hill I headed back into Woodstock and then on to the 401 freeway to head west towards London.  I got off at exit 203 to head south on Highway 73 (Elgin Rd.) towards Aylmer, Ontario (which the locals pronounce as “Elmer,” so I was initially confused in trying to find the place).  Along the way I went through the small village of  Harrietsville.  I was surprised to run across more yard art…in fact, a  place that fabricates yard art out of sheet metal and scrap metal.  I just had to stop!!

TCM Metal Art in Harrietsville, Ontario
A metal flamingo…but not too pink
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida!! An iron butterfly!!
A steel heron…or is it an egret?

On my stop at TCM I met an older man who said that he was one of four who owned and worked the place.  He makes the items with the stones while others do some of the metal work.  He told me about how he had a heart attack and the doctor said he could only be saved if he stopped smoking.  I asked if I could get his photo, but he declined.  Nonetheless, he was quite the talker.

Metal and stone flock of birds at TCM Metal Works in Harrietsville, Ontario
Lovely metallic flowers
Look at that snapper!
Metallic sunflower

i got a kick out of the guitar playing metallic dragon below:

Guitar playing dragon looks like he’s singing his heart out.
Opposite view of the singing dragon
A metallo-raptor?
Front view of metallo-raptor
Metallo-raptor head

Time was flying and the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky, so I shuffled off to Aylmer to go see the swans…the main goal of this  little excursion.  In speaking to Cathy, she told me that from her experience, the best time to see the swans is in the afternoon as they are the most active.  So, I took her word for it and hoped that my afternoon visit would pay off.

I drove down 73 until I got to Glencolin Line and at that corner was a nice blue sign with a swan on it and an arrow pointing left.  I followed Glencolin about 5 km to Hacienda Dr., where there was another sign pointing to the left.  Just shortly up the road was another sign pointing to the right.  This was the place – the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area:

Aylmer Wildlife Management Area – Aylmer, Ontario
The Blue Swan sign pointing to the Aylmer Wildlife Management area

A small jaunt down the road led to some viewing stands.  One was open and a couple more were enclosed with open windows. As I got out of the car I could hear an assortment of honks, hums, whistles and various other noises emanating from the small pond (named  Tundra Pond) where there were literally thousands of Tundra Swans (in fact, there is a group of volunteers that feeds them and counts them daily — today’s count was 4268).  In fact, the Aylmer Museum sponsors a Tundra Swan Line which allows people to call in and get a daily migration report and count of the visiting swans.  I had never seen more than one or two swans at a time, so this pretty amazing to me to see thousands of them.  And mingled in with them were a number of Canadian Geese.

First view of swans at Aylmer
Swans mingle with geese
Lots of swans in the Tundra Pond
Another view of swans and geese at Aylmer

I learned that the swans are in different groups.  Since they mate for life, the “married couples” are in one place, the singles are in another and then the young ‘uns are just out playing in the water.  Watching them fly was also cool as these birds are so graceful and their huge size really adds emphasis.  It was really an amazing visit!!

My return trip took me through the booming town of Aylmer.  I went through Aylmer and then ventured back along the back roads of Elgin County, Norfolk County and Oxford County, before returning to Brant County and Paris. Along the road I encountered Mennonites in their horse-drawn buggies.  Aylmer actually has a Mennonite Furniture Store.  I think the photos speak for themselves.  All told, it was a wonderfully adventurous afternoon and a beautiful one at that with partly cloudy skies and 45 degree temperatures.

A lonely Mennonite buggy on a road in Elgin County, Ontario
Look carefully and you can see a head through the window
Doesn’t look like a Canada Goose to me!!
Another Mennonite scene

The back roads of southern Ontario always offer some wonderful scenes.  So glad to have visited in 2008 and to be able to look back at these great memories.