On January 1, 2017 I sat on a beach in Ocean City, Maryland to watch a spectacular sunrise and pondered to myself about the opportunities I would have to travel throughout the year. Little did I really know the extent that I would actually contact a mini bus rental in Chicago and travel over the year and I’m grateful that I’ve had a wonderful year of seeing more of this beautiful country.
Beginning with that glorious morning in Maryland, over the course of the year I have driven nearly 15,000 miles on road trips, many to visit family or be with family, but all of the trips have been wonderful. Some have been close by doing what I refer to as “staycation“ trips in Kentucky. But, throughout the course of the year I have been to 19 different states and have seen a plethora of places and things. Many of the trips included time with my wife, my children and my grandchildren. That makes things so much better and enjoyable!
In July we had a family reunion. It was the first in five years and all of my 10 grandchildren and all my five children were here at one time or another and even my sister and her husband and daughter came up to visit. During that time we also visited my extended family in Cleveland, Ohio. So, travel was not the only joyful thing. Family is the best.
The following photos tell just a small story of the past year. I have already posted some of the things in more detail and have five or six others in the works about specific places. But here are just some of the places and things form this past year. ENJOY THE RIDE!
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.
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.