Everywhere I go I see old neon. These signs remind me of the my youthful days in the 1960s and 70s when we traveled. Alas, for many, the only signs they see are the same unoriginal fast food, gas station and motel chain signs all over the place. But, in the by gone days there were few McDonald’s and Motel 6 spots. Instead, there were the little cozy motels with the old metal chairs in the front and the unique neon signs. There were the local burger joints with their big shiny signs. And there were the drive in movie theaters and the downtown theatres with their unique names. Here is a trip down memory lane with neon I have captured along the less beaten paths and just a few comments, when appropriate.
Of all of the unique neon signs, perhaps the hotel and motel signs are the most fun and bring back the fondest memories. My first ever motel stay was in some non-descript motel in Amarillo, Texas in 1968. At the time I was only 12. It was exciting to sleep in a motel bed, see the paper covered drinking glasses, taste the strange tasting water, sit on the metal rockers on the front porch. We watched the news and stock reports on the local television and ate pancakes at a local cafe before heading to our new home in Richardson, Texas (we were moving from Albuquerque, so yes, we were on Route 66 back then).
And to round off the trip, how about one of the more famed ones….
CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
After a nice evening a a comfy motel, what is better than starting the day off with a great breakfast at a diner, a pancake house or a local cafe. The servings are always big, the mom and pop service is better than any fast food joint. Of course, while on the road you can also stop for lunch and even a big dinner, in some cases even more than you can manage if you are willing to take the chance (think Amarillo, Texas!!)
How about some burgers for lunch?
Perhaps you want to try an ORIGINAL Cozy Dog….a Route 66 Classic indeed. This one deserves two photos
Don’t want a burger or a corn dog? How about a Maid-Rite Sandwich?
Or perhaps some great authentic Bar-B-Q?
And a little Ice Cream for an afternoon treat….
Okay. So this next one is not neon. But it is certainly Vintage. And who can resist stopping for an ice cream at a place that LOOKS like an Ice Cream?
There are lots of places that you can get dinner…many of the old neon places are a combo bar/grill or bar/restaurant. And many have unique signs. Personally, I don’t drink alcohol, but I have certainly enjoyed a few good meals at some of these kinds of places.
And let’s not forget two of the most iconic vintage neon places for travelers….
Maybe you prefer something a bit more ethnic in the evening….
Or perhaps just a late night Philly Cheese Steak? How about two choices and they are just across the street from each other in the triangle….(I actually tried one at each place on the same evening – add the whiz!)
Movie Theaters, Drive-In Theaters and Music Halls
Perhaps you have had a long day on the road and need a break from motel room TV. A visit to an old drive in theater with some popcorn and thus fuzzy little speakers hanging in your window will do ya.
Too cold outside? Then there are some classic old movie theaters around that show some cool movies or maybe even will have a live band playing in them. Many of the old theaters are multi-purpose nowadays, but their old neon signs still draw you in and bring back the memories of 1960s childhood.
Following are a few classic looks with neon I have seen over the years as I travel the back roads of America.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OTHER PLACES
Sure, I meant it when I included “Sundry” in this section. That term seems old fashioned now, but the old five-and-dime shops had “sundry” items. There were also the old drug stores that sold magazines, had fountains in the shop and they sold “sundries.”
I also include the “various” in here since there are a few odds and ends neon signs that I want to include in this section.
Now, wasn’t that just a yummy adventure through the past?
March 25, 2013: After a fabulous couple of days in Shelby, MT with my daughter, her husband and all the kids, it was back on the road for the last leg of the trip to Rexburg. This was basically a straight shot down I-15 thru Great Falls, Helena and Butte. Unfortunately, the day started off pretty snowy and yucky.
By the time I had hit the Great Falls area, the weather was basically clearing up and so it was more or less smooth sailing to Helena. I was provided an excellent view of Tower Rock State Park.
Tower Rock State Park is a 400-foot high igneous rock formation that lies along a stretch of the Missouri River north of Helena. The river has formed a deep gorge into the rock. Tower Rock was noted in the Lewis and Clark Journals. Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal on July 16, 1805: ‘At this place there is a large rock of 400 feet high wich stands immediately in the gap which the Missouri makes on it’s passage from the mountains… This rock I called the tower. It may be ascended with some difficulty nearly to its summit and from it there is a most pleasing view of the country we are now about to leave. From it I saw that evening immense herds of buffaloe in the plains below.’
I took Exit 244 for Hardy Creek on got on to Old US Highway 91 and followed it along the Missouri River. This took me into the canyon area. I then crossed over the Hardy Bridge and continued along the river. Apparently, the silver steel bridge was the scene of the shootout between federal agents and rum-runners in the 1987 movie The Untouchables.
Back on the freeway I moved a little further up the road to the Dearborn Rest Area in the Adel Mountains, a large stretch of volcanic remnants. The volcanic remnants run about 40 miles in length and 20 miles wide, and the area of Tower Rock State Park is part of this old volcanic flow.
From the rest area I continued south to Exit 234 which brought me into Craig, MT. From what I could tell, Craig is all about fishing on the Missouri River and the other tributary creeks. This section of the Missouri is apparently one of the premier trout fishing areas in the country. As for the small town, it was named for local pioneer Warren Craig. In 1886 Craig built a log house, with a stone fireplace. Many times he had to defend his homestead from the Indians. The house is located half mile from the Great Northern depot, but I was not able to get over it due to time constraints. In 1890 his son, John Craig settled in the area and Mrs. John Craig later served as postmaster.
Ironically, my hope was a convenience store, but all that I could find were fishing related shops like the one below.
From Craig I got back on I-15 to continue south towards Helena. I took exit 209 to see the “Gates of the Mountains.” Named by Meriwether Lewis on July 19, 1805 because of the 1200 foot tall towering limestone cliffs that seemed to block their way. He wrote, “this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen. these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the hight of 1200 feet. … the river appears to have forced its way through this immense body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 Miles … I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.” Since that time the area has become a National Wilderness area by an act of Congress in 1964.
At this visitor turnoff there are not only the signs, but there is a metal sculpture of a man and a dog that greeted me. Behind them was a spectacular view of the area.
I am not sure (and have done a lot of looking!!) to see who made this sculpture. There is no information that I am aware of. Another view of it shows the Gates of the Mountains in the background.
I did drive a bit down the road to get closer, but it is quite a drive down there. The lake is Upper Holter Lake.
After this amazing scene (which the photo does no justice to), I continued south towards Helena.
I decided to go through Helena and then through Montana City and then on to Butte. I decided to stop at the Butte Berkeley Pit overlook for my next stop.
The Berkeley Pit is a former open pit copper mine in Butte. It is one mile long by half a mile wide with an approximate depth of 1,780 feet. The mine was opened in 1955 and operated by Anaconda Copper and later by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), until its closure in 1982.
The viewpoint offers a couple of great sights. First there is a spectacular view of the Anaconda Mountain range (also known as the Pintlars) east of Butte, which has a number of 10,000 foot tall peaks. And, also from the overview point, to the west, you can see the 90 foot tall “Our Lady of the Rockies” statue 3500 feet above the view point (actual elevation is 8510 feet) .
The “Our Lady of the Rockies” statue was placed on the East Ridge on the Continental Divide overlooking Butte. It is apparently the second tallest statue in the United States after the Statue of Liberty (see list of tallest statues on Wikipedia). The statue was built by volunteers using donated materials to honor women everywhere, especially mothers. The design for the statue was engineered by Laurien Eugene Riehl. He was a retired engineer for the Anaconda Company who donated his engineering skills to the project, specifically the statue would need to handle the intense winds at the top of the peak. A full photo of this huge beautiful statue is available here.
From the overlook I took a drive into Butte for fuel and a drive through town. Here are a few sights of Butte:
After the nice drive around Butte, it was back on I-15 heading south. I was humored when I approached Exit 111 south of Butte. The sign said Feely. So, I took the exit just to get the sign… Now I know how to get to Feely. I just need to find Touchy next!!
Not much further down the road was yet another interesting sign:
What I am wondering is if I need to really divide wisdom? Can’t I keep the complete wisdom? Actually, I would have liked to have made it to Wisdom. I have been to Wisdom, KY. I need more Wisdom!!
I continued south towards Idaho. Though I was not able to get any photos, I passed by a HUGE Buffalo Ranch near Dillon. I must have seen 200-300 head from the freeway. Continuing south I passed the huge Clark Canyon Reservoir, with water frozen.
From Lima I soon entered into Idaho. I ventured south into Spencer, Idaho, which is the home of the Opal Mountain Mine and is known as the Opal Capital of America.
Opals were apparently discovered in the Spencer area in 1948 and there is one big mine in operation. there are a number of shops. As it was a snowy Sunday, nothing was opened, but it was a unique little drive right off of the freeway.
From Spencer I continued south and finally got to Exit 143 and headed east towards Rexburg, where I will be for the next couple of weeks.
Finally…hotel sweet hotel. I am at the beautiful AmericInn Hotel. My room even has a jacuzzi in it!!