One of the more interesting things I look for on roadtrips as I pass through small communities on back roads is yard art. Funky art and decorations in people’s yards, on their fences, on their houses. People have ingenuity. Some people have junk. But, as the saying goes, “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure.”
For me, Yard Art is anything unique and unusual. It could be chain saw art – wood carvings made with chain saws. It could be art made from scrap metal. It could be, like the photo above, a hodge podge of signs, junk or other things. Following are some selections of yard art I have taken over the years. Don’t judge…some of these people love their “collections.” I just love my collection of photos of theirs… Enjoy the virtual ride.
There is a difference between quirky and offbeat in my mind. Quirky is typically off the chain and unexpected, or even downright weird. On the other hand, as noted in my O is for Offbeat post, the offbeat and odd things are typically recognizable.
Obviously, there is a fine line between what is quirky and what is offbeat. I think we all make those determinations ourselves. In this post, I will offer up a few Quirky things…those that I think are beyond offbeat and into the realm of quirky.
I’ll start off with a biggie…a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts. Why quirky? Because who would ever think of making a 65 foot tall statue totally out of bicycle parts?
The artwork, entitled “Cyclisk” was created in 2010 by Petaluma, California-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 pounds. It is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture.
In fact, there are many “quirky” scrap metal art projects to be seen around this country. Some are small and others, like Cyclisk, are huge.
One such example at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, WA. Owner Mike Hammond is a muffler repairman, a musician and a metal artist. I visited his shop back in 2007.
I first met Mark at a Trailer Park Troubadours concert the night before in Dayton, WA. After talking with him, we headed south to Walla Walla to check out his quirky art. What a load of fun that was!
Since then, over the past 10 years, I have run into other quirky metal art in diverse places. You never know what you’ll see on the back roads of America!
I could likely post a hundred more pieces of scrap metal art found around the country, but there are other quirky places to cover.
Perhaps one of the most unusual and quirky places I have ever been to is the Screaming Heads of Midlothian Castle in Burk’s Falls, Ontario, not too far from Algonquin National Park. This entire project was begun by school teacher and artist Peter Camani. He is a Secondary School teacher, but has also spent over 25 years constructing Monolith-like sculptures in the shape of giant heads, which are scattered throughout the property. A two-headed dragon sits atop the chimney of his Midlothian Castle and he has a version of the See/Say/Hear No Evils greet visitors.
There are more than 100 “screaming head” sculptures, each one at least 20 feet in height. According to Wikipedia, Camani says he “built his otherworldly creations as a warning about environmental degradation. With his paintings already hanging in such coveted places as the Vatican and Buckingham Palace, he decided to focus his energy on realizing a vision of significantly larger proportions.” See my original post HERE.
Of course, there are also quirky sculptures to be found all over the place, just like the metal ones. Here are a couple more I have come across.
Quirky is not only centered on art. There are many quirky places. I came across Boudreau’s Antiques on US Highway 2 near Odanah, WI that was covered with “stuff.” That alone was a drawing card for me to drop by…but alas, it was closed.
And they don’t have to be antique shops either. How about the quirkiest of all eateries in the US… Hillbilly Hot Dog in West Virginia?
And another of the quirky treasures of this country is the Hamtramck Disneyland in Hamtramck, MI, near Detroit
Along these same lines of quirkiness is a family yard in Woodstock, Ontario.
Then there are places that defy description. One such uber-quirky place is Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN.
One man’s life dedication to his parents draws people from all around to see this unique and absolutely quirky massive structure made of steel pipes and steel pieces and a large painted water tower that says “Mindfield Cemetery.” This large piece of art work is the work of one Billy Tripp, who, in 1989 began creating this monument to his parents.
This place must have taken 1000s of hours to build and it is an absolute maze of metal. I was fascinated.
And another place, in Meadville, PA has hundreds of pieces of art created from old repurposed roadsigns.
Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville. In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322
I am assuming by now that you, the reader, has determined that there are some really over the top quirky places out there. Though Hillbilly Hot Dog takes the place for quirky eateries, a couple of burger joints in Washington and Texas take a close second and third.
The outside of Fat Smitty’s is quirky enough. But go inside and there are many more surprises….1000s of them hanging all over the place.
And in Cypress, TX there is the Shack Burger Resort, another over the top hall of quirky eating.
Head to Cincinnati for the quirkiest grocery store experience you may ever get. Jungle Jim’s is more than a grocery store, it’s a destination! There is over 200,000 square feet of shopping and 10s of 1000s of product choices from all over the world…. and the most unique restroom entrance in any store.
I guess I need to add the quirkiest 30 mile drive in the United States as the last piece. That would be the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota. Some humongously quirky pieces of art along a 30 mile stretch of road north of Regent, ND.
This is one of my all time favorite tourist destinations. Took me many years to finally get there, but I am glad I did. I have a great detailed post about this on my blog if you are interested. See it here.
By the way, Geese in Flight has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records. This piece was erected in 2001 and weighs over 78 tons. The main structure is 154 feet wide and 110 feet tall. The largest goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. On a clear day this structure can be seen from nearly 5 miles away!
So much quirk and so little time and space. Time to take a breather and enjoy the ride…through quirkville.
My first stop along the way was for gas. I stopped in Avon, MN…..which, I discovered, is also the home of the Lake Wobegon Trail. The trail is 46 miles long and 10 feet wide. It opened in 1998. Avon is the home of the Lake Wobegon Trails Association. Garrison Keillor, the creator of Lake Wobegon and the Prairie Home Companion show, lived in Avon at one time.
From Avon I proceeded north to Ashby, MN. This is home to a large metal Coot statue, which is what I was looking for. But, as I often discover, the town is also a quaint little place.
The coot statue stand outsides of town on Highway 78 and represents the largest Ashby area sportsmen club, Coots Unlimited (a parody of Ducks Unlimited). There is more about it here.
From Ashby I proceeded north to Fergus Falls, MN. The roads were a little better and my GPS had me taking a back road. I was headed first to the Continental Divide Marker and site, which was built in 2000.
From Fergus Falls I continued heading northwest on I-94. The roads were still icy, but had cleared up somewhat. I then took a quick swing off at Exit 38 (Rothsay) to get a photo of the 14 foot tall, 9200 pound cement prairie chicken statue. I have been here before (as well as a good part of the drive thru North Dakota – see my posts from 2005) . This time I was able to get a more unique view of the giant bird.
I then got back on the freeway and fought more fog. But the fog and snow make for interesting views that one would not see on a clear day. Many trees took on shadowy shapes.
Along the road I found a road sign that provided the perfect description of this day’s trip had been to this point – Downer, MN (exit 15 heading north)
Ironically, shortly after Downer, things cleared up again, just in time for my entrance into the border town of Moorhead, MN. Moorhead has a Norwegian population and is home to the Hjemkomst Center, which houses a replica Viking ship and the beautiful is the Stave Church, a symbol of the Norwegian heritage in the Red River Valley. Built by Guy Paulson, the church is a full-scale replica of the Hopperstad Church in Vik, Norway. Norwegian Stave churches were built just after the close of the Viking Age in Scandinavia in the 1100 and 1200’s. The technique of using vertical posts-or staves- had been modified over time to become wooden architectural works of art.
From Moorhead I entered Fargo, ND and continued heading west on I-94. I passed thru Fargo so I could get to other sights along the road (and to also get out of the miserable snow!!) My first stop in North Dakota was Jamestown. Jamestown is known as the “Buffalo City” and one can find all kinds of Buffalo things, including “the World’s Largest Buffalo” statue the National Buffalo Museum.
The “World’s Largest Buffalo” is a in Frontier Village. It was commissioned in 1959 by local businessman Harold Newman, and built by art students from Jamestown College, under the supervision of art instructor and designer, Elmer Peterson. It is visible from Interstate 94, overlooking the city from above the James River valley. The statue is 26 feet tall, 46 feet long and weighs 60 tons. It was constructed with stucco and cement around a steel beam frame shaped with wire mesh.
Further west on I-94 is the small town of Steele, ND. There are about 800 people and one silver Big Bird! “Sandy”, as she is known, is a 40 foot tall 4.5 ton bird. It was constructed of rolled sheet metal welded onto a steel inner frame, which was built in three different sections. It was created in 1999 by James Miller, a resident of Arena, ND. The crane was built to bring attention to the fact that the Steele area is one of the best birding destinations in North America. Sandhill Cranes are some of the migratory species that nest here.
I loved the shot above. Tons of fun…
I finally made it to Bismarck, ND where I had a couple more interesting stops. Bismarck borders the Missouri River and there are a number of parks along river road. One is Keelboat Park. There is a large four headed thunderbird statue at the park and it is uber impressive. The sculpture represents a powerful American Indian spirit that depicts thunderstorms.
In Pioneer Park along the Missouri River, there is a fairly new sculpture called “Rising Eagle”, which was made by art students from the United Tribes Technical College. Dedicated in 2007, it was vandalized in 2010 and had to be rebuilt.
As I continued west of Bismarck on I-94, the weather was finally cleared up and there were sunny skies. The views looked great.
A couple of miles before Exit 72 (about 20 miles east of Dickinson, ND) I could begin seeing the following HUGE sculpture by local artist Gary Greff (from Regent, ND). Greff began his projects in 1989 and continues work today through donations from local people and many others. Named “Geese in Flight,” it is the gateway to the famous “Enchanted Highway” and is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture.”
Built in 2001, “Geese in Flight” is 154 feet long and 110 feet tall and weighs over 78.8 tons. The largest flying goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. Gary Greff used oil tanks and oil well pipe to make it. I kind of envision the big “eye” in the middle as looking over the Enchanted Highway.
The Enchanted is a 32 mile stretch of road beginning at Exit 72 on I-94 and then going south through Gladstone and then all the way to Regent, ND. Along the way there are a number of sculptures. Greff even made dozens of small geese that line the nice dirt road up to the Flying Geese sculpture.
From the Flying Geese, I did go south through Gladstone and then on for another 10 miles.
Then about three miles down the road, is “Deer Crossing,” the second of the huge sculptures down the road. The buck is 60 feet long and 75 feet tall. The doe is 50 feet tall and 50 feet long. These were erected in 2002.
I continued south in hopes of seeing more and made it ten miles to the “almost” ghost town of Lefor. The prairie scenery was great.
I made it to Lefor and gave up as I had more traveling to do to get to Miles City, Montana for the night.
There are a number of other giant sculptures along the road south of Lefor, including a 60 foot grasshopper, pheasants on the prairie (including a 60 foot long pheasant), a 51 foot tall Teddy Roosevelt and a “Fisherman’s Dream”, which was completed in 2007 and includes a metal fish leaping up 70 feet through a metal pond surface. Someday I hope to get back there to see all of these. At the end of the road Greff has built an Enchanted Castle Hotel for the final enchanting stop.
I returned back through Gladstone and took a quick spin through the town and caught one final small statue:
I made way to Dickinson and then on to the border of North Dakota and Montana.