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 L Towns
First stop on the L Town Road Trip is LeClaire, Iowa. This town literally sits on the shore of the Mississippi River and is definitely a river town. Today the town is perhaps most well known for the shop known as Antique Archaeology, home of the famed History Channel TV Show American Pickers. The show has enjoyed 14 seasons and has nearly 200 episodes as Mike and Franks travel the back roads of the U.S. looking for the rare and valuable items in old barns and other odd places. Their Office Manager Danielle frequents the show as well. I got to meet her in 2012 (see photo above). But what many don’t know is that the western icon Buffalo Bill Cody was born here. Born near LeClaire in Scott County, Iowa, in 1846, Buffalo Bill rode on the Pony Express at the age of 14, fought in the American Civil War, served as a scout for the Army, and was already an Old West legend before mounting his famous Wild West show, which traveled the United States and Europe. There is a museum in his honor in LeClaire. Cody, Wyoming is named for him. The town has a number of unique antique shops and eateries. Definitely worth a visit. I like the place so much I have been there FOUR times!! See more detailed posts about my visits HERE and HERE.
Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin
On a trip I took with my son back in 2007 to the western US, we made our way into a backwoods town in northern Wisconsin in search of the famed Largest Twine Ball in the World. We finally found the 19,000 pound monstrosity on the shores of Lake Nebagamon just east of US Highway 53 and south of US Highway 2 near Superior, WI. As unique as the ball was, were fascinated by the creator of this iconic attraction, James Frank Kotera, who calls himself “JFK the Twine Ball Man” and claims to be the most famous JFK. I even made a video of this guy….enjoy a laugh. You can see a flashback post of my 2007 visit HERE and then check out my 2007 Mockumentary Video with JFK below.
Lesage, West Virginia
Drive along the Ohio River out of Huntington, West Virginia and a few miles up WV Highway 2 you’ll come across what appears to be a junk collectors’ paradise. What it really is may surprise you…it is a world famous hot dog joint known as Hillbilly Hot Dogs. The place has been features on Diners, Dives and Drive Ins as well as a number of other shows. And yes, they do make a killer hot dog!! Check out my really fun 2008 Slide Show HERE.
LeRoy, New York
So, you have had the Hot Dogs and you want dessert? How about taking a trip to the community of LeRoy, New York on New York Highway 5 and visit the funky little JELL-O Museum. A ceiling full of spoons, a couple of “Did You Know JELL-O quizzes,” Bill Cosby memorabilia and lots of JELL-O souvenirs. See my 2008 trip report that includes more about the JELL-O museum HERE.
Lizard Lick, North Carolina
Travel along NC Highway 97 and you will eventually hit a crossroads at Lizard Lick Road and come across the small community of Lizard Lick, NC. The town supposedly got its name from a “passing observer who saw many lizards sunning and licking themselves on a rail fence.” In any case, it really became famous in 1998 when Nintendo did a big splashy introduction of their game called “Yoshi’s Story.” Then, in September 2009 Lizard Lick once again received publicity, this time on a national level when TruTV became aware of a local towing and recovery company owned and operated by evangelist and Lizard Lick honorary “Mayor” Ronnie Shirley and his wife Amy Shirley, called Lizard Lick Towing and Recovery. The program, called Lizard Lick Towing, ran for four seasons from 2011-2014
Lake Jackson, Texas (Honorable Mention)
On a trip to Galveston in 2014, I was apprised of a town called Lake Jackson, Texas. Located on Texas Highway 288, it doesn’t necessarily offer too much, but it has a REALLY curious street name — in fact, a couple of them. The main street through town is called This Way and downtown it intersects with another street called That Way. You can read the story on the photo of the plaque above. Definitely a fun quirky place. Read more about my visit HERE.
Lost Springs, Wyoming (Honorable Mention)
Back in 2007 I made a trip through central Wyoming on US Highway 20 with my son Solomon and we came to a place named Lost Springs, which had a sign proclaiming Population 1. At that time it was one of only three or four towns with that population. On a return visit in 2014, the town had grown by three. There is a Post Office, Bar and Antique shop…all were closed on both visits. The entire town must have been on vacation…all four of them. See my original 2007 Post HERE. My 2014 Return Trip is documented HERE.
Langdon, North Dakota (Honorable Mention)
Finally, there is that small town north of US Highway 2 in North Dakota called Langdon. Located at the crossroads of ND Highway 1 and ND Highway 5 very close to Canada, my interest in the town was its Spartan missile in the park. You can see more photos and read more about it HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
After a marvelous time in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, it was time to head east through the high deserts of Wyoming and across Nebraska and eventually back home to Kentucky.
After a restful evening at the Moose Creek Lodge in Cody, Wyoming, I was ready to hit the road running early the next morning. I had visited Cody in 2013 and so I didn’t spend a lot of time, but I did want to get back over to the Buffalo Bill Center and take some pictures of some of the numerous statues there.
After about 30 minutes in Cody, I was soon heading southeast on Wyoming Highway 120 towards Thermopolis. This is a scenic drive through rolling hills of sage brush.
I drove through the town of Meeteetse (Where Chief’s Meet) and then on to Thermopolis.
The drive from Meeteetse to Thermopolis is generally through high desert grasslands and hills. This is the vast interior of Wyoming, the open range land of ranchers and of solitude. You’re more likely to encounter more antelope than cars along this route, which was my case (which I did!!)
As the drive gets closer to Thermopolis, there are numerous unique rock formations which break the monotony of the seemingly endless sage brush grasslands. These open up to layers of mesas which provide a visual texture for miles. (OK, I lied, there were more cars than antelope – see photos below!)
Hwy 120 ends in Thermopolis. 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.
Of course, I always keep my eyes peeled for unique things when I drive through a town. Here are a couple of good ones.
Since I was pushing to get to Carhenge before dusk,I rushed through Thermopolis and proceeded east towards the Wind River Canyon on US Hwy 20.
US Route 20 is actually the longest highway in the US, spanning 3365 miles across the country from Newport, Oregon through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and ending in Massachusetts.
The Wind River Canyon drive follows US 20 along the Wind River for about 14 miles and into the depths of the canyon, sometimes 2400 deep. It is amazingly scenic as the highway winds it’s way around 34 miles of bends and through Rock carved tunnels, finally opening up near Boysen State Park and ending up in the small town of Shoshoni.
I have been through this canyon twice before and have always been amazed at the engineering genius of gnawing a path through this wild gorge. There are even a number of pullouts that provide unique views up and down the length of the canyon.
As I left the canyon, the spacious Boysen Reservoir was to my right (looking West) and beyond the lake in the distance were the snow capped peaks of the Wind River Mountain Range. Gannet Peak, Wyoming’s highest mountain at 13,804 feet, is part of this massive range that stretches about 100 miles from north to south. There are more than 40 named peaks over 13,000 feet in this mountain range. US Highway 26 and US Highway 287 skirt this range to the east in Wyoming through Dubois and Lander. I hope to drive those roads sometime in the future.
Just past the south end of Boysen Reservoir, US 20 continues into Shoshoni and the southeast towards Casper. Shoshoni had the appearance of a dying town to me. There were a few old buildings with some nice Native American murals, but the town really appeared dead.
The Sand Creek Massacre Trail in Wyoming is dedicated to the remembrance of the Sand Creek Massacre which took place on November 29, 1864. The trail follows the paths of the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne in the years after the massacre. It traces them to their wintering on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Riverton in central Wyoming, where the Arapaho remain today. The trail passes through Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper, Shoshoni and Riverton. The trail was dedicated August 6, 2006
Heading east on US Routes 20/26, I immediately drove by a number of unique rock formations along the side of the road. The sandstone pillars have been eroded away over centuries of time to create these nice designs.
US Highway 20 then provides us with a typical long drive through the sagebrush of Wyoming…
It is a bit of drive, but fortunately, there is a rest area east of the small town of Hiland. A couple of nice history signs as well.
About 4 miles from the rest area on the south side of the road is a turnoff to Hell’s Half Acre (near Powder River, WY), a large scarp with deep ravines, canyons, caves, rock formations and hoodoos. I have a love of these types of things. I was so very disappointed to see a chain link fence keeping visitors from being able to grasp the full extent of this place.
It was here that I met a new friend…a fellow traveler, a fellow photographer, a fellow blogger. A a professional photographer, Derek Ace does some amazing work. You can see some of his best work HERE. Turns out that Derek is from Middleton, Wisconsin, which had me talking right away since Middleton is also the home the National Mustard Museum, one of my favorite places (see my post about this from my old blog). You can really get a nice sense of Derek’s work from his Facebook Photo stream. I am glad to have made his acquaintance on this trip and I am looking forward to what I believe will be an amazing set of photos from HIS visit there.
Not too far east of Hell’s Half Acre is the little dot on the map known as Powder River, Wyoming. There are probably less than 40 people here. However, there was one place that took me back…and in the middle of nowhere too.
Apparently, as late as 2005, this place was being used a strip joint and oil workers, folks from Shoshoni and nearby Casper, would venture their way to this hole in the wall place. It closed in November 2005 and now sits as another ghost on a basically deserted highway in the middle in Nowheresville, welcoming the passersby.
I really didn’t have much time to spend in Casper, but I needed gas, so I stopped and filled up. While at the gas station, a giant Cloud Troll decided to show me the direction I needed to go in as I headed towards my next stop, which was Douglas, WY. (By the way…I LOVE looking at clouds!!)
From Casper I jumped on Interstate 25 to head east toward Douglas. This was one of the few Interstate ventures I took while on the road.
On the approach to Douglas, which is the “Jackalope Capital of the World”, there is a giant jackalope up on a hill overlooking Interstate 25. It is the first sign of Jackalope everywhere….
In the visitor’s center I was kindly greeted by Chamber Assistant Director Patty Morrell who took time to show me around, tell me a bit of history AND get me all set with my OFFICIAL “Limited Non-Resident Jackalope License”. She also was kind enough to slip me a Jackalope Sticker and a Jackalope pin.
The Visitor’s Center has a number of unique Jackalope goodies…here are a few
In 2006 there was a movie called “Stagbunny” about one man’s hunt for the elusive Jackalope. Here is the trailer (get ready to chuckle)
I should note that the Douglas Visitor’s Center also has some nice trains to look at if you are interested in these.
Before heading out of town I came across the White Wolf Saloon in downtown Douglas. Another great Kitschy place. Had to take a couple of shots.
Of course, I had to move on to get to Carhenge in time so I was back on US 20 heading east towards Lusk, Wyoming. US 20 and US 26 split at Orin Junction south of Douglas and that is where US Route 18 begins and joins with US 20.
This section of highway parallels the railroad tracks from Orin to Lusk and is pretty desolate, but there are a few things to be seen…
But, one of the more unique dots on the map on this stretch of highway is Lost Springs, WY. In 1976 the town was designated as the smallest incorporated town in America. At the time, its population was eleven. In 2007 I drove through and, at the time, it was one of only a handful of towns in the US with a population of 1. Here is a photo of me from that visit.
On this visit the town had boomed back to a population of FOUR….
I had hoped to actually drop into their Post Office/Shop, but they were closed. Nevertheless, here are a couple of shots of Lost Springs today (I took some in 2007 too).
Back on US 18/20 I continued east. Lots of highway and long trains and even an old truck stop in the middle of nowhere.
From Manville it was on to Lusk, Wyoming. Yet another small town on the road, Lusk boasts a population of about 1500. Just a stop on the railroad tracks, it does offer one unique site….an old wooden train water tower.
The old water tower was originally built in 1886 to furnish water for the Fremont, Elkhorn, Missouri Valley Railroad Steam Engines. The town of Lusk was established at the same time. The wooden tower is round, with a diameter of about 25 feet. The tank is about 25 feet high on a 25-foot base. The structure is believed to be composed of Douglas fir, while the tank itself is redwood. It is apparently the only surviving structure of its kind in Wyoming.
After a brief stop in Lusk it was eastward towards Nebraska, with a flyby past Van Tassell, the last town in Wyoming.
And into Nebraska I rolled….
This section of US 20 is also called the “Bridges to Buttes Scenic Highway” and runs for about 200 miles across northern Nebraska. This is Nebraska in its rawest form, as the subtle and rolling sandhills transform into striking and majestic bluffs and buttes.
From the rolling hills, the scenery opens up into beautiful buttes on the approach to Crawford, Nebraska.
After the long drive from Casper through the prairies of eastern Wyoming, I had to make stop in Crawford, “The Garden Beyond the Sandhills.”
From Crawford I headed southeast on Nebraska Highway 2 towards Alliance. This highway was a nice drive through the small town of Hemingford, Nebraska.
I loved the little police station in downtown Hemingford. One of the smaller ones I have seen.
From Hemingford it was on to Alliance, one of my main destination goals for this trip….
My object in Alliance was the famed Car Art spot “Carhenge.”
Due to the nature of this great roadside attraction, I have actually done a full blog post on Carhenge. You can see that HERE. So, I’ll just add one last photo below…you can see the rest on my other post.
From Alliance I still had a ways to go as I continued on Nebraska Hwy 2 towards my final destination for the day, Grand Island, Nebraska. This section of Hwy 2 is also known as the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.
The drive from Alliance to Grand Island was still about 272 miles so I was literally driving into the sunset over the beautiful rolling Sandhills of Nebraska. The Sandhills represent the largest remaining grassland ecosystem in the United States that is still virtually intact for both flora and fauna. It is the largest sand-dune area in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest grass-stabilized dune regions in the world. I wish I could have taken more time to see it, but I did get to enjoy a fabulous sunset as I passed the small town of Hyannis, Nebraska.
I continued for a couple more hours on Nebraska 2 finally arriving in Grand Island about 1 AM after a drive of about 720 miles and on the road from 7 AM to 1 AM – 18 hours. Yes, I was tired, but I was certainly happy with the wonder of the day’s journey.
On September 9, 2013 I had the opportunity to accompany my daughter and three grand kids on a an adventure across the midwest from Kentucky to Omaha, Nebraska. She wanted to visit her close friend there and needed a “tour planner and driver.” I was free and able to make the journey. All totaled, we spent 5 days on the road visiting spots in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. This post covers our adventures on Day 1 as we made our way to Walcott, Iowa, home of the World’s Largest Truck Stop.
We left plenty early so that we could hit Indianapolis by early morning with the intent to surprise the three grand kids with a “Dinosaur Sighting”. As we arrived in downtown Indy near the Lucas Field, I saw my first “Football” Wall Art. There was an entire wall of a building dedicated to the Indianapolis Colts. Here are a few shots:
A few blocks later we arrived at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Unfortunately, it was the first Monday after Labor Day, so the museum was closed. But, our main concern was seeing the amazing dinosaurs busting out of the building. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled!!
After looking at the dinosaurs, we were walking past the building and peeking in. The kids got all excited as there was a GIANT Transformer in the lobby. To our total delight, one of the staff members came to the door and invited us in to see the Autobot “Bumblebee.” This huge model was actually a prop from the original 2007 Transformers movie.
The outside of the museum also has a couple of nice bronze sculptures of kids at play and a nice “Walk through History” of some of the unique buildings of the world…
This first part of our trip was a real splash for the kids and got us on the fast lane for the remainder of the day. From Indy we headed west to Danville, Illinois. Danville has put in a great deal of effort to color up the town with beautiful murals and the Lindley Signpost Forest.
Danville, Illinois is a town of a bit over 33,000 people. It is literally on the border of Inidana. The town has a colorful history and was the home to famous actors Dick Van Dyke and Gene Hackman. The Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount was also born in Danville.
Today the charming town features antique shops and other shopping, a number of historical museums and a smattering of colorful Wall Murals created by Walldogs. In August of 2010, one hundred and sixty-two Walldog artists traveled to Danville from all over the world for a four day meet (see a complete Gallery here). During that span, they forever changed and enhanced the city with sixteen murals in a 7 block area.
And perhaps the best one of all of them….
Along with the numerous murals in town, Danville also set a park aside downtown to create the Lindley Sign Post Forest. This was created in honor of Danville resident Carl Lindley. He was a soldier who became homesick while working on the Alaska Highway in 1942. While there, Lindley erected a sign at Watson Lake in the Yukon showing how far it was to his hometown of Danville — 2835 miles. Since that time more than 40,000 signs have been added to it at Watson Lake. The Danville version of the Sign Post Forest was originally built in 2010 along with the painting of the Walldog murals.
We let the kids play at the AMBUCS Playground for Everyone, which has been specifically designed to accommodate not only children, but also handicapped individuals and adults. It was actually quite unique.
From Danville, it was westward to Champaign, Illinois. Obviously, with the kids, I had hoped to get them to the Curtis Orchard Pumpkin Farm to see the Wizard of Oz themed things and for them to “follow the yellow brick road”. Unfortunately, only the youngest, little Lyla, was awake.
From Champaign we continued northwest on I-74 through the windfarms near Bloomington and onward into Morton, Illinois, the Pumpkin Capital of the World and home of the Libby’s Pumpkin Canning Plant.
From Morton it was up I-74 into East Peoria. This was a very hot day (around 100 degrees) and the kids needed some cooling off. Where better than to go to the M & M’s Twistee Treat? This is one of those iconic Ice Cream/Hot Dog places where going there is as much fun as eating the ice cream.
Though built in the 1980s, there are flashbacks to the 1960s in here and also a collection of M & M stuff….
Just down the street from the Twistee Treat is Carl’s Bakery, home of the giant Rooster with a Top Hat.
From Peoria is was north to Le Claire, Iowa. My daughter Marissa was keen on visiting Antique Archeaology, home of the American Pickers TV Show. So, we zoomed on up the freeway.
We arrived in LeClaire around 5 PM knowing that Antique Archaeology closed at 6 PM. Marissa was very excited to visit. But, lo and behold, on this, my third visit and her first, we saw the following sign when we got there….
That did not stop us from taking a few shots from the outside. We also got a chance to meet Mike Wolfe’s brother Rob, who was on hand for the filming that day. Danielle Colby was nowhere to be found, likely because she is running her clothing shop in Chicago. Last year I did get a chance to visit her as well (and I have included that photo for fun).
And the best picture of all….
Of course, LeClaire is not only known for American Pickers. It is also the birthplace of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in April 1846. The family left LeClaire in 1853 to move to Leavenworth, Kansas. Eventually, Buffalo Bill made his way west. Cody, Wyoming is named after him and has a large museum (which I visited earlier this year). We dropped by the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire for a couple of shots to round off my visit to Buffalo Bill Cody Museums in two locations!
After our brief visit to LeClaire, we were hot, tired and ready to settle down, so we headed straight to our motel in Walcott, IA, next door to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop – the World’s Largest Truck Stop.