In 2018 I will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada. I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.
Cyclisk – Santa Rosa, California
Charles Nagreen Statue – Seymour, Wisconsin
Sam & Eulalia Frantz “Field of Corn”- Dublin, Ohio
CastlePost Castle – Versailles, Kentucky
Coal Mine Canyon – near Tuba City, Arizona
Chelsea Teddy Bear Company – Chelsea, Michigan
A Christmas Story House – Cleveland, Ohio
Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas
One of America’s most famous roadside attractions
Christman Studio & Sculpture Park – St. Louis, Missouri
Chocolate Hills – Bohol, Philippines
Craters of the Moon National Monument – near Arco, Idaho
Camp Disappointment – near Browning, Montana
Cathedral Rock – Sedona, Arizona
The Chocolate Chicken – Egg Harbor, Wisconsin
Colter Bay Lodge – Grand Teton National Park
Coffee Pot Water Tower – Nebraska City, Nebraska
Chain Saw Totem Pole Forest – near Medford, Wisconsin
Cattle Egret – Angleton, Texas
Another classic Route 66 town
Catfish Capitals of the World – Paris, Tennessee & Floodwood, Minnesota
Crystal Wendy’s Hamburger – Dublin, Ohio
Carhenge – Alliance, Nebraska
Another of America’s premiere roadside attractions
Creeper Trail Cafe – Taylors Valley, Virginia
Crescent Hotel – Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Claims to be America’s most haunted hotel. We stayed there one night and saw an apparition in our room!!
Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum – Hamilton, Ontario
Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota
Another of America’s most famous roadside attractions. They change the designs every year.
Bridges of Madison County – Winterset, Iowa
Cut and Shoot, Texas
Cows with Sunglasses – Russellville, Kentucky & Normal, Illinois
Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Capulin Volcano National Monument – Capulin, New Mexico
Cozy Drive In – Springfield, Illinois
Another Route 66 icon – home of the corn dog
Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Cathedral Falls – Gauley Bridge, West Virginia
World’s Largest Can Pile – Casselton, North Dakota
No longer around, but wanted to include this classic roadside attraction
Carlos Bake Shop – Hoboken, New Jersey
Home of TV Show “Cake Boss”
National Corvette Museum – Bowling Green, Kentucky
Coot Statue – Ashby, Minnesota
Clayton Dinosaur Trackway – Clayton, New Mexico
Circus Workers’ Cemetery – Hugo, Oklahoma
Church of Uncertain – Uncertain, Texas
If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon. My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.
There are not many better things on a back road trip than running into unexpected wildlife. There is an abundance of birds and animals to be discovered on the road. For me, my camera is always at the ready for the chance meeting of some interesting animal or bird.
One such incident happened on a gravel road near Dell, Montana. I was on the lookout for bison as I drive along Ted Turner’s massive bison ranch. While stopped to look I heard a strange bird call that I had never heard and shortly thereafter a pair of large birds came zipping by. I got some shots, but wasn’t sure what I had until I got to the hotel later that night and discovered they were a pair of Sandhill Cranes, my first ever sighting of these glorious birds.
Just a few years later in my own state of Kentucky I was able to track down a migration of 1000s of these magnificent birds. I actually came close to walking among their huge flock and they were flying all around me. Words can’t explain the awe I had.
These birds migrate north back to their homes in Michigan and Wisconsin and fly through Kentucky in late January. They stop in the bounteous cornfields to eat the leftovers that remained after harvest.
Chance encounters are always a thrill. On a morning drive in Grand Teton National Park on a snowy morning in March 2013, I caught a fox leaping in the snow out of the corner of my eye. The lovely animal stopped and stared at me as I sought to nab a shot.
On another trip earlier this year, we were driving on a backroad in Arkansas when we saw a “field of white” ahead of us. Turned out to be a massive flock of migrating snow geese.
There could have been 1000s of them here, much the same as the Sandhill Cranes I noted above. But it was such an unplanned surprise.
Once again, camera was always at the ready, so I was able to get a few shots while still sitting in the van (though we had to go about a mile down the road to turn around and accommodate the photo shoot.
Just like the snow geese, I happened upon a large flock of white pelicans at Andes Lake in South Dakota. I could see them from a distance and thought they were ducks.
Of course, its not always about birds. There are plenty of opportunities in the high plains to come across America’s fastest animal, the pronghorn antelope.
On trips through Montana and Wyoming I always saw these lovely sleek animals. Sometimes I got them right on the side of the road.
I did have one lucky trip in 2013 when I was driving through Colorado and saw a mother and her two calves go jaunting through the tall grass. I was able to get a nice shot with my telephoto lens.
The National Parks are always a great place to get some nice wildlife shots. I have been to Yellowstone three times in the past 5 years and have seen a nice variety of wildlife, but mainly its the bison that roam free that are a thrill. I was amazed at how huge some of these guys get. One that walked by my car was at least 7 feet tall.
Elk are another great large mammal to look for. I have seen them in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as well as some of the mountain drives I made.
These are lovely animals. And, like the bison, are huge.
The great culprit of car accidents and frequent recipient of roadkill awards are deer. These can be seen along highways everywhere both day and night.
I recently made a trip to Shenandoah National Park and got some very nice shots of deer. I have many more from other places, but these are my best.
Sometimes I make trips to find the wildlife myself. Such was the case recently on a visit to the fish hatchery near Cave Run Lake in Eastern Kentucky. I was in search of some of the bald eagles that hang around there. Found one!
There have been more sightings recently of these lovely and regal birds. I have seen one or two almost every week at Jacobson Park locally and also have been able to see a nest with three adults and two offspring near Taylorsville Lake west of Lexington.
Love these eagles.
My most favorite wildlife subject is the Great Blue Heron. These huge birds hang around lakes and rivers in Kentucky and many other places. I literally have 1000s of photos of them. Here are a few recent ones from Lexington.
I have photos of these birds in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio and other places as well.
I could post dozens and dozens of other photos, but I will only add a few other wildlife shots to this post from my travels.
After a great three days in Galveston, it was time to get back on the road. I would head north to Houston, then on to Austin and eventually into Fort Worth.
Texas is a BIG state and there is lots of ground to cover. My first day would cover some backroads from Galveston and meander my way into Houston where I would stay overnight with my uncle.
There were things I had planned to see along the way and found a few things along the way as well. I figured that I may not get this way again (south of Houston) for a while, so I took advantage of a full day of driving to see some parts of Texas that many may not really get to.
My plans were to drive to Alvin, but along the way I came across an interesting house in Santa Fe, Texas. I had to stop and get a few shots. I discovered an unusual huge estate right on TX Hwy 6. It is called the Pignataro Estate, though many call it a castle.
According to an article I found from the Galveston Daily News, September 20, 1981, the home was originally built in the 1930s by a widow of a well-to-do Danish immigrant. It has since passed hands a number of times and has been owned by the Pignataro family since the 1970s. This larges estate apparently has 26 rooms and a number of other amenities. Following are a few more shots of some of the many white cement statues in the yard.
It is places like the Pignataro Estate that make it so worthwhile to take back roads and see the sites. After my brief photo shoot there, I continued north to Alvin, Texas, the birthplace of famed pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Alvin is about 25 miles southeast of Houston, and like Santa Fe, it is a town originally built around the railroad. Currently, there are just under 25,000 residents in this town known for its connection to Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan spent a good part of his youth living in Alvin and playing Little League Baseball there and even became a famed high school pitcher at Alvin High School, where some players refused to go up to bat against him because of his amazing fastball. A Hall of Famer now, he serves as an adviser to the Houston Astros organization.
After the brief visit in Alvin and headed south to Angleton to visit the first of the Big Three statues in southern Texas. Angleton is home to the Stephen F. Austin statue, which stands 76 feet tall from the base.
Since I wrote extensively about the Stephen Austin statue in an earlier post, I am just including a couple of photos here.
While at the Stephen F. Austin Statue park, I came across a couple of what I have learned are Cattle Egrets. Smaller than a Great Egret, I saw them foraging in the grasses. I saw some of these birds in a horse field in Louisiana as well. Unique looking, beautiful birds. Cattle egrets exploit drier and open habitats more than other heron species. Their feeding habitats include seasonally inundated grasslands, pastures, farmlands, wetlands and rice paddies. They often accompany cattle or other large mammals, catching insect and small vertebrate prey disturbed by these animals.
From Angleton I headed to the small town of Lake Jackson, TX, to find my way…literally! The “main drag” of Lake Jackson is called This Way and they also have a That Way. Here are a few fun shots of these unique road names and the story behind them. (And, by the way, Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul spent most of his childhood in Lake Jackson…and he found his way to Kentucky and the US Senate!)
All streets radiating from downtown Lake Jackson end in the word “Way.” Among the streets are Center Way, Winding Way, Circle Way, and Parking Way. There is an intersection of two streets named This Way and That Way. In the same spirit, a local church near Bess Brannen Elementary placed a small sign in their driveway named His Way. There is also an Any Way.
And then there is the old British Phone Box on This Way
Speaking of out of place, as I headed out of town on my way to West Columbia, TX, lo and behold, what do I see driving in front of me?
The next stop in my roundabout tour of SE Texas was in West Columbia, which was known as the First Capitol of Texas. The first Congress of the Republic of Texas was convened in West Columbia on October 3, 1836, when the town was still just named Columbia.
I always have a penchant for old theaters and the Capitol Theater in West Columbia is a classic.
This old theater was first open in 1937 and by 1941 it had its name changed to the Capitol.
From West Columbia I made my way to Damon, TX up Texas Highway 36. I have a friend in Lexington named Damon so I had to stop and send him a shot or two for fun!
Damon was actually a unique little place. Even the old road signs were still in use and had character, but weren’t too legible.
From Damon I returned east on Texas Highway 1462 towards Rosharon, TX with a quick turn off on TX 762 to visit the Brazos Bend State Park, known for ts alligator sightings. I had visited places in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier on this trip in hopes of seeing alligators, but never got to see any. Maybe this would be the charm!
Maybe I’ll find that elusive gator yet!
And walking around the swamp area I got another gator view.
The State Park had a couple of miles of rads and a few swampy areas.
With my Gator Sighting checked off my bucket list and totally hot and sweaty after my hike around the pond, it was back in the car and on to Rosharon, TX. Didn’t plan a stop in Rosahron, but I couldn’t resist a couple of shots of the Cherokee Rose Trading Post.
After my quick drive by, I back tracked and headed up Hwy 36 towards Needville, TX on my way to Wharton. Along the way I saw a good old vintage neon sign for a roadside cafe called “The Jay”, in Needville.
From Needville, I headed west towards Boling and Iago.
Nothing in those two towns but the signs were interesting!! Then it was on to Wharton. Lots of fun things to see in little Wharton.
My main reason for visiting Wharton was to visit the Tee Pee Motel, a retro throwback to the 50s and 60s. According to their website, “The Teepee Motel was originally built in 1942 by George and Toppie Belcher to serve travelers heading across Texas on State Highway 60. This was an era of grand roadtrips, family adventure, and American innocence. The Teepee operated for 40 years, until the Interstate Highway system and a new era of travel routed customers away from the motel in the early 1980’s. The motel eventually closed and would remain so for over 15 years.
Another notable set of items are a number of murals painted by Independence, Texas mural artist Dayton Wodrich. He has done at least five murals in Wharton (though I only saw four when I drove around town). Following are a couple more…
Wharton has a great old courthouse and theater in town as well.
After my visit to Wharton I then headed northeast on US 59 and eventually made my way to the outskirts of Houston into the Sugar Land area where I visited the second of the three Texas Giant statues, this one, the giant Quan Te Am Bo Tat statue at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center. The statue was designed an build by New Orleans artist Mai Chi. She escaped from Vietnam in 1989 and spent four years in a refugee camp in Indonesia.
From the Vietnamese Center I headed to my uncle’s for an overnight in Houston.
Next post will cover Houston to Austin via the heart of Texas.