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 towns, some known for their names, other for unique sites in town. To see what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The C Towns
Cactus Flat, South Dakota
Visiting National Parks is always a fun adventure and especially this year as the National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016. One of the great parks in this country is Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Near the northeast entrance and right off of Interstate 90 at Exit 131 is a place called Cactus Flat. As with most National Park entrance areas, this is a touristy area with a couple of “tourist traps” such as the Badlands Ranch Store. And just near the trading post is the ‘World’s Largest Prairie Dog,” a six ton pink giant that overshadows a REAL Prairie Dog community where you can feed them and take photos. Read all about my 2013 visit to the Badlands HERE.
I have had a passion for “collecting” scrap metal sculptures from the around the country. My collections come in photographs of said objects as most are way too heavy and too large for a car. Most of these artists make them as a hobby and then display them on their properties (see my special post about these HERE). Back in October 2013, on a return trip from Omaha, we made a visit to the community of Centralia, Missouri to track down one of these artists. Larry Vennard is a nice guy and a fun artist. He has a number of scrap metal dinosaurs sitting in his front yard on Highway T. Check out my full post about Larry HERE.
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
In the summer of 2015 my wife, one of my daughters and some of the grandchildren took a drive to Connecticut to visit our son. While up in New England, we also made our way up to Maine to visit Old Orchard Beach, but also visited the famed Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Read about the entire visit HERE.
Climax, North Carolina and Climax, Kentucky
Most road trips have their highs and lows. But occasionally the trip can reach a Climax. In my case I made a trip to Climax, North Carolina and then on to High Point, North Carolina in March 2012. I stopped halfway there to call my wife and tell her I was somewhere between Climax and High Point. HA!
On another March trip, in 2009, with my wife in tow, we took a back roads “staycation” in Kentucky along KY Hwy 1912 (Climax Brushcreek Road) and I nabbed the photo of the Climax Christian Church. I even joked at that time the for members of the church there, it was always the climax of their week!
From Canada to Mexico, US Highway 89 is probably one of the most scenic routes in the country. Up in Montana it runs along Glacier National Park. One of the communities along that route is the town of Choteau. This town is one of the gateways to Glacier and offers a wonderful museum in the Old Trail Museum which offers large dinosaurs, a grizzly bear exhibit and a number of other fun things…even a great place to get an ice cream cone! Check out my trip down US 89 in Montana from 2014 — RIGHT HERE!
Cave City, Kentucky
Not too far from my home in Lexington, KY is yet another National Park…Mammoth Cave National Park. Like the other two listed above, this one is surrounded by tourist traps and a Gateway town known as Cave City. Cave City is one of those touristy towns that has been around since the 1950s. Along with the Route 66 type of feel with neon and old motels, it is also home to one of only 3 remaining Wigwam Motel Villages, a vestige of the early travel days of the late 1950s and 1960s. The town is also home to Dinosaur World, which features a number of giant dinosaur statues. Cave City is accessed from Exit 53 on Interstate 65 south of Louisville. You can learn more about the Wigwam Village HERE.
I am fascinated by other cultures, especially those that live in the US and Canada. From the Hopi and Navajo Indians to the Amish and Mennonites, some people choose alternative lifestyles without electricity, running water or otherwise. In my years of travel I have visited a number of Amish communities and one of my favorites is Charm, Ohio. As its name implies, it has a simple charm to it. To get there you take Ohio 557 south from Berlin, Ohio. But be careful, this is the heart of Ohio Amish country and there could be a slow moving buggy on the road.
On one of my trips to Michigan, I made way into the town of Chelsea. My daughter is named Chelsea, so I thought it would be fun to stop at the Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory and get her a namesake teddy bear. Chelsea is located on MI Hwy 52 south of Pinckney and Hell and is basically off of Interstate 94 west of Ann Arbor. It is quaint little town with beautiful architecture, the Teddy Bear Factory and is the home of the Jiffy Company, makers of that famous corn muffin mix. You can read about my trip there in 2008 by going HERE.
Deep in the heart of Illinois and a little south of Normal (in both the literal and figurative senses!) is the cool little town of Champaign, Illinois. This town is off of Interstate 74 west of Indianapolis and has some fun, kid friendly places to visit. The best place for a visit is Curtis Orchards. An orchard and pumpkin patch, they offer a real yellow brick road and have a number of Wizard of Oz themed attractions, murals and even the cafe, which is called the Flying Monkey Cafe. In the back part of the orchard there is a huge metal Indian statue shooting an arrow. Check out more about the fun visit I made in 2012 HERE.
Cut Bank, Montana
For a number of years my daughter and her family lived in Shelby, Montana. During my visits there I made a few treks down US Highway 2 into Cut Bank, Montana in order to get to Glacier National Park. Cut Bank is one of the gateways to Glacier and has a number of interesting and even quirky sites. There are a number of excellent wall murals dotting the town, a huge railroad trestle for railroad enthusiasts and then the “World’s Largest Penguin” statue that touts the town as the coldest spot in the nation. Check out a write up about my road trip across the Hi Line of Montana back in July 2014 – you can see it HERE.
Caledonia, Ontario, Canada
While working in Ontario, Canada in 2008, I had the opportunity to drive all over the province. One of the interesting stops I found was Caledonia. Caledonia is a small riverside community located on the Grand River in Haldimand County, Ontario and has a population of just under 10,000. In the late 1880s it became a stop along the Grand Trunk Railway which ran through Canada and into Michigan. In fact, the 1970s Rock Band, Grand Funk Railroad took their name as a play on this railway. You can read more about my visit to Caledonia and the surrounding towns of Norwich and Otterville in 2008 by clicking HERE.
Cut and Shoot, Texas (Honorable Mention)
I am always in search of uniquely named towns. There are very few in the country with multiple words in the name, and Cut and Shoot, Texas is one of them. On a trip to Galveston in 2014, I made my through this town north of Houston just to get a picture with the town hall building….a rustic old piece of art. I was also pleasantly surprised to see their police cars. How many police departments actually have Shoot in their name? Check out more about my drive through… HERE
China Grove, Texas (Honorable Mention)
I drove through China Grove, TX back in 2013 on my way to San Antonio. Indeed, I went out of my so I could see this sleepy little town near San Anton… (yes, made famous by the Doobie Brothers)
Cool, Texas and Coolville, Ohio (Honorable Mention)
Then there are the Cool places to visit. Cool, TX, which is located on US Highway 180 between Weatherford and Mineral Wells. Known for their unique cafe, the Cool Cafe, which has been closed both times I went through there. You can see a bit more in my post HERE. Then, up in Ohio, there is the small community of Coolville, located on US Highway 50 just north of the Ohio River and near the West Virginia border. You can see my writeup of Coolville HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
We had to really fly from a late afternoon arrival in Chillicothe to get to Larry’s place on 13178 Highway T in Centralia. But we did get there just at dusk and I got to meet Larry and learn more about his work. He has been doing these sculptures for a number of years and really loves the attention he gets. When we arrived and got out for a look see, the jovial Larry strolled out of his small farmhouse to greet me (along with his barking dog). Larry suffered a disastrous car accident in the early 1990s. He got a broken back that forced him to retire from his traveling construction work. He walked out with a cane and a nice smile.
If you look at Google Maps, it actually provides you a nice quick shot as can be seen below:
Fortunately, we arrived just at dusk so I could clearly see all of Larry’s pieces, but, it got dark quickly, so most of the photos below are done with a flash and I tried to edit in some brightness….
Vennard’s “Highway ‘T’ Rex” is about 20 feet tall and is by far his biggest project. You can’t miss it either as you drive east on Highway T coming from Centralia. He looks like he is ready to reach out an grab you!! Following are a few other pieces I was able to capture…
Larry has a number of other goodies on the grounds. His is one of those “MUST SEE” places on the back roads of America. He is a nice, humble man doing what he loves and loving how his work impacts others in a positive way. I am happy to have had the opportunity to meet Larry Vennard and I hope many of my readers will get the same opportunity!!
After a good day of rest in Nebraska City, we were off the next morning. My daughter was to meet her friends at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha (which by many reports is one of the Top Ten Zoos in America) and I was going to visit some places in Council Bluffs while they were all at the zoo. I actually visited the Henry Doorly Zoo in 2012 during the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials though I didn’t write any blog posts about the visit. So, I will include some of my photos from my visit as well as a couple of my daughter’s photos. After my visit to Council Bluffs we were then to make our way east into central Missouri with a planned overnight stay in Columbia. Following is a map of our adventures!
The early morning drive to Omaha from Nebraska City on Interstate 29 afforded us an opportunity to enjoy a Nebraska sunrise.
Before we hit the zoo, we had to make sure the kids got some breakfast. We saved up for a visit to the International Bakery in the Little Mexico part of Omaha. This is the ultimate in Mexican Panderias….the protocol consists of picking up a tray and tong by the entrance, and look around the large interior at the myriad choices and then get what you want. Pay the cashier in cash only, but items are either 50 cents or one dollar. Really cheap and ultra tasty.
Little Mexico not only has this tongue tantalizing bakery, but there is also plenty of eye-filling goodness in the district with beautiful architecture, amazing wall murals and some interesting artwork.
Then there are the pieces of art and tile work in the six block area
The tree and many of the pillars light up in the evening to add color. These have become a good drawing card in bringing people to this cultural district of Omaha.
After some pastries and a quick jaunt through the cultural district, it was off to the zoo. I had the opportunity to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo back in June 2012, so I opted out of this so Marissa could enjoy her friends. But, along with her photos, I am including some that I took last year.
Another great feature of this zoo is the penguins
During their visit to the zoo, Marissa and friends made their way to the tropical rainforest exhibit. I didn’t see this one on my visit. Here are a couple of pix.
The aquarium has a number of great things besides the penguins. The Jellyfish are always amazing….
Just outside of the zoo were too photo-ops – a giant burger clasping King Kong (for King Kong Burgers) and an old Zesto Ice Cream sign at a closed location. Zesto now only has three locations, all in southern Indiana, where they actually got their start. King Kong Burger has four locations in Nebraska. The two were kitty corner from each other at the entrance to the zoo.
As noted above, I didn’t visit the zoo with them, but made my way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, the twin city to Omaha. It is the county seat of Pottawattamie County (I love that County Name!!!) and is also considered the starting point for the historic Mormon Trail, which is also known as the Emigrant Trail since the Oregon Trail and the California Trail tend to follow the same route for much of the way west.
As is evidenced from the Welcome Sign above, Council Bluffs was and is a railroad town. With the completion of the Chicago and North Western Railway into Council Bluffs in 1867, the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and the opening of the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge in 1872, Council Bluffs became a major railroad center. Other railroads operating in the city came to include the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, Chicago Great Western Railway, Wabash Railroad, Illinois Central Railroad, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Today there is a nice Railroad Museum and more.
Finally, as a tribute to the junction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Rail Lines which were joined together in May 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah with a Golden Spike, the town of Council Bluffs has a commemorative Golden Spike Monument, which was erected in 1939 and stands 56 feet tall. It can be found at South 21st Street and 9th Avenue in Council Bluffs.
More than the railroad, the most striking aspect of Council Bluffs is its collection of outdoor modern art. That was the drawing card for me. Driving along Interstate 29/80 from the east and towards Omaha, one gets a real glimpse of the artwork. From a distance one can see what appears to be like 4 giant “Decepticons” from the Transformers movies. In fact, my 4 year old grandson even said so!! Actually, the four huge rusty works of steel, named Odyssey, are the handiwork of metal artist Albert Paley.
These huge weathering steel structures are from 46 feet tall to 60 feet tall and can be seen from a long ways away. Each of them is unique. These were assembled and added here in 2010.
The Odyssey pieces were just a small piece of a much larger set of projects carried out by the Public Art and Practice, LLC out of Indianapolis and St. Louis. In Council Bluffs they created Master Plans for three areas – Bayliss Park, the Haymarket District and the Mid-America Center. They also oversaw the 24th Street project (above) and the Broadway Viaduct. I made it a point to visit all of these places and got some great shots of the massive art works that were completed.
The Mid-America Center is right off of the 24th Street Bridge so it was my first stop. Three different artists were commissioned for work in this Convention Center, Shopping Center and Entertainment district. The first of these was Jun Kaneko, a Nagoya, Japan born artist and now based in Omaha (since 1986). His work at the Mid-America Center is in the form of a sculpture garden and is named Rhythm (see a slide show of the entire plan here). His commissioned sculpture garden includes 21 works of art on 400 feet of patterned granite. These 21 works include 11 columnar-shaped Dangos, 5 wedge-shaped Dangos, 3 bronze heads, and 2 large ceramic walls.
The second sculptor with works at the Mid-American Center is New York artist William King, who has three pieces at the center. His three works (Sunrise, Circus, and Interstate) are fabricated of 1″ thick plate aluminum and were installed in October 2007.
One of my favorites pieces from all of my travels, Sunrise memorializes the pioneers. I like how they have let grass grow around it to give the appearance of the pioneer couple walking through the prairie. This work is 24 feet tall.
Interstate gives the appearance of a driver in a convertible with his hair blowing in the wind. This work is almost 16 feet tall and sits at the corner of 24th Street and Mid-American Drive adjacent to Interstate 80.
The last William King piece is called Circus and is at the West Arena Entrance. This fun piece is 23 feet tall and brings to mind the acrobats of a circus.
Jonathan Borofsky is a sculptor who currently lives in Maine, but graduated in art from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I have actually seen two other pieces of his:
Borofsky’s Molecule Man is immense with each of the three human figures standing 50 feet tall. The originals of this sculpture were done in Los Angeles and Berlin. Both are 100 feet tall.
Just outside of the Mid-America Center is another Sapp Brothers Truck Stop, the ones famous for the Coffee Pot Water Towers. The one in Council Bluffs is a bit smaller but I was able to get closer.
I left the Mid-America Center and then headed into town for a few more sites. My first stop along the way was to take the Broadway Viaduct and see one of the most unusual pieces of bridge art I have ever seen.
The Broadway Viaduct was completed in October 2012 by Portland, Oregon artist Ed Carpenter.
Bayliss Park is in downtown Council Bluffs and has been a focal point of the downtown Council Bluffs area since the mid-1800’s Since a renovation in 2007, the park is now filled with unique art, much of which was done by Providence , Rhode Island artist Brower Hatcher. The centerpiece of the park is the amazing Wellspring water fountain. It is not only unique during the day, but has LED lights at night for amazing color shows.
Oculus provides entertainment opportunities for the community such as large swing band concerts, and local ballet and theatre performances.
Broward Hatcher also designed six black squirrels which are “touchable art”. The children’s interactive water area includes the six cast black squirrels (in bronze) standing nearly 30″ tall. Integral to the design is a water feature that turns on when activated by children.
To the side of Bayliss Park is a nice Veteran’s Plaza with a wall that includes the names of all residents who gave their lives to war. Some unique statues are there, including one of a couple looking at the wall.
Just a couple of blocks from Bayliss Park is the Haymarket Square District of Council Bluffs. This is a historical shopping district with unique shops, antique stores and old storefronts. Like other parts of Council Bluffs, it has had some unique artwork installed in recent years.
The artwork of Omaha artist Deborah Masuoka has been placed in Haymarket. Masuoka is most recognized for her large-scale “Rabbit Head” sculptures, which are painted in stone-like colors such as cobalt blue, green, rust, burnt orange and yellow. These sculptures can weigh as much as 1200 pounds and are over seven feet in height. Three of these sculptures adorn the island flower beds of the district.
Just a couple more blocks away from Haymarket Square is the Council Bluffs Library. This site also has a couple of unique pieces of artwork. The most unique is the stack of books called Imagination Takes Flight by Omaha artist Matthew Placzek.
Council Bluffs is truly a wonderful, clean town to visit and see some of the great artwork. I am glad I had the opportunity to do so. But, I had to head back to Omaha to get the kids so that we could head east to Missouri. Along the way in to the zoo I ran across some slick Wall Art….
We finally got away from the zoo and commenced to head east to Council Bluffs and then south on I-29. Along the way we passed the Sapp Brothers BIG Coffee Pot Water tower….
And we also passed the small town of Hamburg, Iowa. I wanted to stop, but we didn’t have time. On a previous trip I did drive into town just to get a photo of this place. Since I have not included it in a blog in the past, I’ll add it here…
The drive down I-29 soon had us into the far northwestern corner of Missouri and through some scenic countryside, even for an interstate!!
After a fairly long drive we were at our next destination – Chillicothe, Missouri. I wanted to stop here specifically for this….
Yes, Chillicothe is officially the “Home of Sliced Bread” and they are proud of it. They even have a page dedicated to the making of the above mural. It is HERE. And there is also a page with a pictorial history. Basically, the story goes that sliced bread was first offered for sale in Chillicothe in 1928. A product of the Chillicothe Baking Company, it was sliced on a Rohwedder Bread Slicer which was invented by Iowa inventor Otto Rohwedder. The owner of the bakery, Frank Bench, became the first commercial baker to slice bread mechanically. Though I thought this would be the best thing since sliced bread, I was doubly happy to discover that there are many other murals in Chillicothe. As a “collector” of murals, this was a blast.
Chillicothe mural artist Kelly Poling is responsible for painting at least 17 of the more than 20 larger than life murals in Chillicothe. Here are a few more of the paintings we discovered while driving around the town. See more details about the murals HERE.
Apparently, the Midwest Glove Company was moved from Milwaukee to Chillicothe in 1962. By the 1970s there were three glove factories in Chillicothe, and it got the name of the Glove Capital of the World.
Silver Moon Plaza is a small park in downtown Chillicothe. We stopped here to let the kids run around. It was a wonderfully pleasant day and the kids needed the break. I did some research about the park and the entry gate, which in and of itself is a unique piece of art. The park was begun in 2007 as part of a revitalization program called DREAM (Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri). The town worked with PGAV Planners, an Urban Planning and Development Company out of St. Louis to work on this project. The focal point is an ornamental metalwork composition depicting local crops: corn, soybeans and wheat. An abstracted lunar cycle icon completes the arrangement and adds a sense of whimsy to the plaza.
After our brief stop n Chillicothe, we had two more stops along the way. The first was to book it to a place just north of Centralia to see something I really wanted to see. My plan was to visit Larry Vennard’s Metal Sculpture Park, which is actually in Wilson, MO on County Hwy T a bit north of Centralia. So, we headed east on US Hwy 35 towards Macon, south though Moberly on US 63 and then east on MO Hwy 22 near Sturgeon, MO. From there we eventually made our way to Larry’s Place.
Larry Vennard is one of those quiet types who loves what he does and loves seeing his work’s impact on others. In the same breath as Jurustic Park in Wisconsin, the Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose and a few others around the statesm Larry Vennard’s scrapa metal art would certainly need to be included. Recently I posted Yard Art: Creativity with Scrap Metal, Chain Saw Art and “stuff” collections about a number of these from around the US and Canada. I had not yet been to Larry’s and his most certainly fits in. As such, I am doing a dual post this time with a separate post on Larry Vennard and only a couple of photos here to finish off this post. See my complete Post HERE.
After our visit with Larry we were off to our overnight stay in Columbia, MO and planned on the last leg of the trip back to Kentucky…