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.
Dinosaur National Monument – Vernal, Utah
Dolphin Swimming in the Atlantic – Ocean City, Maryland
Deer Photos – Shenandoah National Park, VA; Mt. Rainier National Park, WA; Lewistown, Montana
Duck Commander, home of Duck Dynasty – West Monroe, Louisiana
Delaware Seashore Bridge – Sussex County, Delaware
DFW Elite Toy Museum – Haltom City, Texas
Dragon Murals – Oak Creek, Colorado & Broken Bow, Oklahoma
Discovery Bay, Washington
Texas Country Restaurant – Dundas, Ontario
Dutch Letters at Jaarsma Bakery – Pella, Iowa
Dude Motel – West Yellowstone, Montana
Danielle Colby Cushman of American Pickers – LeClaire, Iowa
Big Spider – Denver, North Carolina
Dean Martin Mural – Steubenville, Ohio
Disaster Memorial Statue – Galveston, Texas
Donut Whole – Wichita, Kansas
Deer Crossing on Enchanted Highway – near Regent, North Dakota
Dave Thomas Statue – Wendy’s in Dublin, OH
Duck Lake, Montana
Watertower in the middle of the road – Dallas, South Dakota
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.
I am enriched by people. They inspire me, they teach me, they bring me joy.
I have often been told that I have never met a stranger. And it’s true. I am unabashed around people. Whether it’s joking with a person in line at a grocery store or interacting with the person at a table next to me in a restaurant, I always feel comfortable.
The same goes with my travels. I have been blessed to have met hundreds of unique individuals from all walks of life.
The diversity of people enriches us.
Unlike my other posts in this series, I am stretching far beyond the boundaries of back roads in America. This post will take the reader to Japan, the Philippines, Canada and beyond. As a tour guide in Flagstaff I got to interact with 100s of nameless tourists from all over the world. Working in Japan in the late 1980s, I met more unique folks from the far corners of the earth.
First off, there are the “random people.” The people I have photographed on the streets while traveling. Here are a few, including some from the Philippines during my trips there in 2007. From the loneliness of street people, to the unique shots I would see from the car as I drive by in some small town, these people add color.
For years, I have worked and often traveled with singer/songwriter Antsy McClain to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful musicians, some very well known, others not so well known. Many I have gotten to know well…not as musicians, but as people.
Many of the musicians I have met are genuine. They are such neat people…not pretentious at all. It is nice to talk to them about life. One of them, Bobby Cochran, who played guitar for Antsy for a few years, was also the lead guitarist for the band Steppenwolf in the 1970s. I saw him as a fan back in 1975 and never imagined I would be traveling on the road with him talking religion, politics and life.
Another Antsy fan I met in Lethbridge, Alberta. Crafty Jack is a carpenter and master luthier. I spent two days with he and his sweet wife “Little Debbie” back in 2008. He taught me and my son about guitar making and took us on a nice adventure to Vulcan, Alberta to learn about Star Trek. Also, while in Lethbridge we enjoyed a dinner with him and Debbie in a converted water tower. What a trip! Our visit with him was out of this world!
I have spent time with Crafty and Debbie in California and also on a cruise to Cancun. We strolled the historic site of Tulum in Mexico together. So blessed to know these great folks.
Along the way I have become close friends with many Antsy fans. These “Flamingoheads,” as they are called, are also a diverse and lovely flock of folks. Some have become lifelong friends.
A couple of these Flamingoheads took great care of me on a visit to California in 2015. “Christmas Carla” and “Princess Ione” provided housing, touring and transportation for nearly a week. I got to know them, not as fans of Antsy, but as the real people they are with their unique life stories.
My travels across Canada and the US have led me to others. Take, for instance, Oliver Zuder, a BBQ pit master from Ontario. I met him at Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario in 2013 and we became friends soon. I went to BBQ competitions to watch him and his brother Davor make people smile with satisfaction.
In the past couple of years, Oliver has started a new BBQ business called Uncle Sam’s BBQ, also in Ontario. We keep in contact and my mouth waters every time I think of him.
Crisscrossing the country I have met and chatted with cafe owners and shop owners. Their colorful stories enrich.
I have also had my brushes with celebrities in my travels. As a tour guide in Arizona in 1983, I once met Alice Cooper in a restaurant parking lot in Sedona. We talked Golf and politics for 30 minutes. No selfies, no autographs. Just two people chatting. On another occasion, I was attending a solar conference in Kobe, Japan in 1991. At lunch I sat with some other non-Japanese from Norway. We chatted a while and then I was introduced to Morten Harket, who I immediately recognized as the lead vocalist for the group A-ha (Take on Me). He happened to be a huge advocate of solar energy. We talked about many things. No pictures or autographs. Just enriching conversation.
One of my fond memories was being on the road for three days in Kyushu, Japan as the personal guide and interpreter for Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. I spent hours listening to her harrowing escape from the Communist regime in Romania. Though a national hero, she was also a prisoner to dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Fascinating stuff.
Back in August 2010 I watched the first episode of the TV show Swamp People. Already an avid traveler and travel writer, I became fascinated with the show, which featured Gator hunters in Louisiana. One of them, Troy Landry, was quite a character. I told my wife “one day I am gonna track him down and meet him.” In 2015 I did just that. I visited his bait shop and crawfishing facility in Pierre Part, LA. He happened to be there buying loads and loads of crawfish from fishermen. We talked and chatted for 30 minutes or more while he worked. Friendly and outgoing, and totally good natured, he told stories of Gator hunting, told me about the crawfishing business and the let me “choot him” in a selfie.
On another roadtrip, this time into Iowa, I visited the small town of LeClaire, on the Mississippi River. This was the home to Antique Archaeology, the Antique shop made famous by the hit TV Show American Pickers. While there in that hot July afternoon, I was told that Danielle Colby, one of the cast members, was around and was always happy to meet fans. She is the tattooed friendly gal that works with the pickers on the show. During my visit, I learned that she had her own business creating unique clothing and had a shop across the street. I went over there and we chatted about her work, her roller derby hobby and her work as a burlesque dancer. She welcomed a selfie too.
Not so famous, but just as unique, was my opportunity to meet 80 year old Clyde Wynia, the creative mind behind the amazing Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. This former attorney turned his welding passion into a unique menagerie of metal creations, including giant dragons and small spiders. He gave me a personal tour and told some amazing stories.
I also can’t forget to mention my encounter with “the one and only JFK,” James Frank Kotera, the Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI. (See full story and video HERE.)
My travels have also led me to chance meetings with individuals with similar interests. And social media, especially Facebook, has extended that opportunity.
On a trip to Wyoming in 2013, I stopped at a place called Hell’s Half Acre. A unique geological formation, it was a must see photo stop for me. I struck up a conversation with a young hot shot photographer named Derek Ace, from Madison, WI. We hit it off and I got his contact info. Derek and I have been Facebook friends ever since and I have been enlightened and enriched by his amazing photography, especially his desert works and his off the chain shots of abandoned buildings, rusted cars and sundry other forgotten treasures left behind. See his Rural Ruins page for some great photos.
As an avid blogger of quirky things, I had a chance virtual encounter via the web of Texas Travel blogger Tui Snider. We exchanged notes about offbeat and quirky places in Texas and soon became good Facebook friends. On a subsequent trip to Texas in 2013, I finally met this amazing individual and her husband Larry at their gothic-accented home in Azle. Besides quirky things, Tui is also fascinated by the paranormal and has also become quite the expert on cemetery gravestone symbolism. She has published numerous books and articles. I count her as a dear friend.
Through Tui I have met ghost tour guide Shelly Cumbie in Denton, TX, who has provided many fascinating stories. I have also become a virtual friend of writer, blogger and podcaster Teal Gray.
Teal has actually done a live podcast interview with me on her internationally syndicated podcast. She also recently write an article about my travel blogging and photography for the Dallas Entertainment Journal (see the link here)
The podcast can be heard in its entirety here:
Even my local staycation trips have led me to fascinating new friends, such as local bird and nature photographers and enthusiasts. See some great photos by the members of the Jacobson Park Photographers Group which I started on Facebook. (see the site)
I have also had the opportunity to meet local chefs that have been on Food Network competitions such as Cutthroat Kitchen or Guy’s Grocery Games. Ranada Riley, co-owner of the Lexington Diner, was one of these. Her “amazing” hairdo and unique cooking style have made her a local celebrity. But there is so much more to her beyond the cooking, whether it be her faith, her love for life or her diverse lifestyle. Meeting her in person and then following her life through social media has been a great adventure.
What more can I say? People bring me great joy and it is so fun to meet new folks every week!
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.