Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.
I live to travel the back roads of America. These are the core of my travels around the United States and Canada. They always offer the best of everything: scenery, traffic conditions and a myriad of surprises.
To me, the definition of a back road is anything that is not an interstate highway. However, I prefer the kind that are two lane and in many cases don’t even have stripes down the middle. Those are the best! I am even happy to be on a gravel road at times!
In this day of GPS maps and tracking, taking a back road is all the more opportune! If I take a road and get lost, I can typically depend on my GPS to get me back on the road where I’m going. But, more often than not, I don’t care where I’m going, I just want to see where I’ve been.
Back roads are the threads and fibers of our country. Many might travel the big interstate to get from one place to another, but sometime along the way they will need to leave the highway and get on to a smaller road to get to their final destination. For me…the back road is ALWAYS my destination!
Back roads lead to numerous discoveries. I have driven back roads through every state in the United States (except for Alaska — I took a bus in Juneau, so does that count?) and always have come across something unique or interesting. I have driven through cornfields in Iowa and pineapple groves in Hawaii. I have seen many a wheat field in Montana and Saskatchewan. I love driving the roads through the mountains of Colorado, Montana and Idaho, but am just as happy on a desert road in New Mexico or Texas.
Sometimes my back road adventures are planned. I will have learned about something unique in a certain area and will try to go there via a back road. (You may want to check out my road trip from Bugtussle, KY to Bugtussle, TX — through Only, TN, for instance. See it HERE.) Other times, I just take a road and see where it leads. And that is often the most fun!
Not every back road leads me to where I want to go. I specifically recall a time on a trip in Missouri. Driving down the highway I saw a sign pointing to Romance. And as I turned there was also a sign pointing to Romance Church. Since it was only 2 miles down the road, I decided I would take the road to romance. It was a windy, narrow little road that eventually turned into a gravel road and by the time I got to the end of the road there was a large building with some people sitting out on the porch. It looked as if it might’ve been a church at one time, but it was obviously a residence. I believe that this was once the community of “Romance.” But there was nothing there indicating such and so to this day I claim that I took a road to Romance and it was a dead end.
On a similar trip in Missouri I saw another sign to a town called Success. Obviously, my penchant for wanting to go to towns with unique names has always sent me down those roads. I turned left out of the town of Houston, MO and headed down the 16 mile road to Success. Much to my surprise, all the way along the road I could see abandoned old trailers and rusty old cars littering both sides. Granted, this is in a section of the Ozarks that is known for its poverty. I finally made it to Success and even got a photo in front of the Success Post Office. But I learned quickly, that, at least in Missouri, the road to Success is not very glamorous.
One time, on a road trip with the family through Louisiana, we came across a café in the middle of nowhere. We decided to stop and maybe try some Cajun food. They had blackened alligator! None of us had ever eaten alligator. But what was more fun was the Cajun music that was being played. There was a Zydeco band with lots of dancing and some of the dancers actually came after my children and asked them to dance. It was a wonderful and totally unplanned experience that we would’ve never seen had we not taken a back road.
Back roads always lead to somewhere, even if it is only a dead end. However, you’ll never know what’s there unless you take one! Following are a few more photos of some of the back roads I have been on. I have hundreds of these, so this is just a sampling. Enjoy the ride…. and preferably on a back road!
One of my “bucket list trips” is to drive the entire length of US Route 2 from the East Coast to the West Coast. Not necessarily in one trip, but to have been able to drive the length of that highway as the opportunity affords itself.
Route 2 is one of the longest continuous highways in the continental United States, spanning 2,571 miles and is also the northernmost US numbered route in the country. The western segment of US 2 extends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan across the northern tier of the lower 48 states. Most of the western route was built roughly paralleling the Great Northern Railway. US 2 adopted the railway’s route nickname “The Hi-Line” as the most northern crossing in the U.S.
On this trip to Montana, I chose to drive north to Ironwood, Michigan (see the first leg of the trip here if you missed it) and use that as my starting point for the trip westward on US Route 2 since it represents the western end of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I would then traverse across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and a good part of Montana all the way to US Route 89 near Glacier National Park.
Ironwood also has a number of unique things to see including a giant Hiawatha statue which is touted to be the biggest Native American Indian statue in the United States. They also have some nice murals and a few other unique things to see, so this would be how I started my day off.
As the name implies, Ironwood is a town that was settled due to iron mining. It’s history goes back to the 1800s. There are a couple of monuments to the iron workers in this town including a beautiful mural with paintings of the faces of almost 100 of the former iron workers. There is also a nice chainsaw carved sculpture in front of the old train station.
According to roadsideamerica.com, Ashland artists Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen spent over four years researching and painting the mural, which depicts over 100 real miners. It was unveiled on June 16, 2012, and proved so popular as a photo-op that in 2013 the city created a car-free zone in front of the mural.
Perhaps the biggest drawing card is the aforementioned Hiawatha statue which stands 52 feet tall in the midst of a park in town. I have been to many tall statues over the years including the Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota (55 feet), the 15 foot tall Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, and of course the giant “Salem Sue” cow statue in New Salem, North Dakota (38 ft tall, 55 foot long), among others. But this Hiawatha was quite amazing. It was built by Gordon Displays of St. Paul, Minnesota and erected in 1964, so it is quite a long-running Roadside attraction. It was made totally out of fiberglass and weighs 18,000 pounds. Amongst the “big things” of this country’s unique tourist attractions, this is certainly one of the bigger ones.
Ironwood also has one of those classy looking theater fronts at the Historic Ironwood Theatre. A drive around the town also shows a number of vintage motel neon signs, which are always of interest to the seasoned back roads traveler.
As I left Ironwood, I made sure to get the requisite selfie with the Welcome to Wisconsin sign (one of 100 planned selfies on this trip!)
By morning I was well on my way westward on US Route 2 traversing across the birch forests and farmland of northern Wisconsin.
As I neared WI 169 I saw a sign to Copper Falls State Park. There was no distance noted, so I made a left and headed down the road towards Gurney, WI. Great drive, but after about 8 miles I figured it was too far, so I headed back. I had wanted to head to Copper Falls because a verse of my friend Antsy McClain‘s song Field Trip.
Back on US Route 2 on continuing west one enters the Bad River Reservation, which is the home of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe. After driving past the Bad River Casino and the very small town of Odanah (pop 13), I came across a most unique “Collectibles Shop” on the side of the road. This is one of those really unique “junk all over everything” places. In some ways it is another form of Americana Art as far as I am concerned. Here are a few shots of the place….which some research showed me was Boudreau’s Antiques and Collectibles with an Ashland, WI address (65782 Hwy 2).
Once I left Boudreau’s and headed further west I could see Lake Superior to my right (north) and seagulls were everywhere. Definitely near water!
Ashland, Wisconsin sits on the shore of Lake Superior and is a nice little town with numerous brownstone buildings. It is also called the “Mural Capital of Wisconsin” due to its 13 wonderful murals. It is also the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The Lakeshore features 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland and hosts a unique blend of cultural and natural resources.
The Ashland Mural Walk offers some amazing work by Ashland mural artists Kelly Meredith and Susan Prentice-Martinsen. They have also done murals in Ironwood, MI and other spots in northern Wisconsin. The first of their murals is a three story tall mural called the Asaph Whittlesey mural, which was completed in 1998.
The next mural is actually a set of three along the same wall and is called the Ellis Avenue Historical Mural and features three famous redstone buildings including Northland College’s Wheeler Hall, Ashland High School and the Knight Hotel. these were apparently completed in 2012.
In 2007 the artists painted the “The Bus Stop Waitresses,” which I actually enjoyed quite a bit as it is somewhat whimsical.
The next one is quite large and is called the Ore Dock Mural. This mural depicts the Ashland Ore Dock, which was built in 1916. The top portion of the mural is a “to scale” painting of the ore dock itself, including every properly numbered ore chute. The lower section includes 21 “postcards” telling the history of the varied uses of the structure over the years.
Another extensive mural is the “Veteran’s Mural” which runs along the side of the old Bay Theatre. This mural features 41 veterans and all the veterans painted in the mural are actual people from the area.
Another nice mural is the “Lighthouse Mural.” Completed in 2000, the mural depicts three Apostle Island lighthouses and their “keepers.”
A smaller yet unique mural is the “Dhooghe’s Store Mural” on the front of the Chequamegon Food Co-op building in Ashland.
Finally, there is the “Lumberjack Mural.” This one was also completed in 2000 and depicts some of the men (and one woman) of Ashland’s lumber era.
Due to all of the murals, some other shops have gotten in on the action and done their own. The one below was quite colorful and was in a back alley.
But murals are not the only attraction in Ashland. Like many small towns, they still have their old theatre front, in this case, the Bay Theater.
On the wet end of town is a nice park on the shores of the lake and I had to get a couple more seagull shots…
After a 30 minute stopover in Ashland, it was time to get moving so I continued west on US Route 2. Not too far out of town I cam across Pagac’s Bar on the south side of the road. The drawing card here was the robotic looking Green Bay Packer quarterback made out of scrap metal and a keg. Pretty unique.
Continuing west on Route 2 I came to the small town of Iron River, WI. This small town also had a huge mural by the same artists that did the Ashland murals. They began this project in 2006 sponsored by the Iron River Lion’s Club.
Continuing west the drive was lovely as it took me into the small community of Blueberry, WI
Not too much further down the road I came into Maple, WI and discovered a wonderful place called Grizz Works. This place does chain saw and wood work and has some fabulous pieces. I stopped and spoke with Justin Howland, the owner. He was very pleasant and amenable. In fact, I will be doing a separate post just for them. But here are a couple of shots…
US Route 2 out of Maple eventually heads into Superior, WI, which is the end of the road in Wisconsin. Just before town is one of those offbeat eateries…this one is called Gronk’s Grill and Bar. This is one of thos places that has a Burger Challenge (which I did not try….but would have liked to have….) . Called the Great Divide Challenge, it involves eating 8 pounds’ worth of burger and fries. The first person to accomplish this was a woman!! It was named after the Great Divide (which is south of Superior and not visited on this trip).
After fun at Gronk’s it was back on the road and to the bridge crossing over into Minnesota.