A to Z Challenge: The S Towns #atozchallenge

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

SThe S Towns

Steubenville, Ohio

Welcome to Steubenville, OH
Welcome to Steubenville, OH
Fort Steuben Historical Site, Steubenville, OH
Fort Steuben Historical Site, Steubenville, OH
Market Street by Michael Wojczuk. This was the first mural painted in Steubenville
Market Street by Michael Wojczuk. This was the first mural painted in Steubenville
Dean Martin mural in Steubenville, OH painted by Robert Dever in 1998
Dean Martin mural in Steubenville, OH painted by Robert Dever in 1998
Veterans Memorial Bridge in Steubenville, OH
Veterans Memorial Bridge in Steubenville, OH
Ohio Valley Steelworker by Dmitri Akis
Ohio Valley Steelworker by Dmitri Akis

On the banks of the Ohio River bordering the upper panhandle of West Virginia lies the old steel mining town of Steubenville, Ohio. This is the hometown of the famous actor/singer Dean Martin and is known as the City of Murals, with over 25 larger than life murals painted on the sides of buildings around town. The town of over 20,000 seems to be one of those dying steel towns. As I drove around town I got a sense of sadness. Many old crippled folks hobbling along the streets and many of the downtown businesses were welfare-related businesses. Up on the hill above the city there seemed to be a little more life. But, I also saw obvious signs that the town is trying to redefine itself as a historical tourism location with the murals, a new museum dedicated to the Old Fort Steuben and then the Ohio River scenery of course.  Check out my 2008 blog post about this and other Ohio River towns HERE.

Stanley, Idaho

Welcome to Stanley, Idaho
Welcome to Stanley, Idaho
Jagged Sawtooths near Stanley, ID
Jagged Sawtooths near Stanley, ID
Teepee in Stanley, ID
Teepee in Stanley, ID
Sawtooths as seen from Lower Stanley, Idaho
The Sawtooths as seen from Lower Stanley, Idaho

I visited Idaho a couple of times in 2013 for some work and took the weekends to travel an see some of the sights. One place I had dreamed of visiting was the Sawtooth Mountain Range.  Nestled at the base of the mountain range is the pristine little community of Stanley, which boasts a whopping 60-70 residents year round.  I could SOOO live in this place.  Pristine views, clean air and a few log cabins….even a Teepee…dot the town.  There is only one gas station and a couple of places to eat.  But what got me was the stunning views.  Check out more about my visit to Stanley in 2013 by clicking HERE.

Sedona, Arizona

Century Plant overlooking Sedona, AZ
Century Plant overlooking Sedona, AZ
Oak Creek runs by the famed Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ
Oak Creek runs by the famed Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ
Agave in Sedona, Arizona
Agave in Sedona, Arizona
Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ
Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ
Sumoflam at the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook in 1982
Sumoflam at the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook in 1982

In the early 1980s I attended college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. During my four years there, I spent much of it working for Nava-Hopi Tours as a tour guide.  One of my twice weekly trips was to Sedona via the amazing switchbacks of the Oak Creek Canyon scenic drive. Personally, I am a fan of the Rocky Mountains, but Sedona most certainly is one of the most scenic places in the United States.  The massive red rocks, the colorful character of the residents, the Pink Jeep Tours, the impressive Chapel of the Holy Cross and more…this is a must see location. I look forward to my next visit to Arizona as I have not been to Sedona since the 1990s.

Santa Rosa, California

Front side of Larry Kirkland's "Agraria" in Santa Rosa, CA
Front side of Larry Kirkland’s “Agraria” in Santa Rosa, CA
Sumoflam at the base of "Cyclisk"
Sumoflam at the base of “Cyclisk”
"Guardian of the Creek" by Mario Uribe. In Santa Rosa's Prince Memorial Greenway
“Guardian of the Creek” by Mario Uribe. In Santa Rosa’s Prince Memorial Greenway

In 2015 I visited California to attend the Woodflock event with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. Prior to getting up to Red Bluff, CA where the event was held, I spent a couple of days with some of my acquaintances in the Santa Rosa area and actually got to tour around this funky town. I visited The Hand statue shown above, which is actually titled “Agraria” and is by artist Larry Kirkland. Then there is the ultimate in quirky attractions, a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts.  Called “Cyclisk,” this was created in 2010 by Petaluma-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 lb and is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture. There are a number of other fun attractions in this artsy little town.  You can see many more photos and more details in my 2015 blog post HERE.

Staunton, Illinois

Henry's Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Henry’s Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Rich Henry and Sumoflam with their rabbit at Henry's Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Rich Henry and Sumoflam with their rabbit at Henry’s Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Sumoflam with buried cars at Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Sumoflam with buried cars at Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Rabbit Yield Sign in Henry's Ra66it Ranch
Rabbit Yield Sign in Henry’s Ra66it Ranch

If you have been following my A to Z Blog Post, you would have noticed on the A Towns post that I covered both Amarillo in Texas and Alliance in Nebraska.  These two locations are home to two of the most well know “Car Art” sites in the United States, namely Cadillac Ranch and Carhenge.  Cadillac Ranch is right off of US Highway 66 in Amaraillo.  But if you continue east on US Route 66 into Illinois, you will come across a lesser known “Car Art” and Route 66 memorabilia spot near Staunton, Illinois. Known as “Henry’s Rabbit Ranch (also sometimes written as ‘Ra66it Ranch’),” this place celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with its emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s “Humpin’ to Please” trailers next to a replica of a vintage gas station. Owner Rich Henry and his wife Linda have built up a shop chock full of Route 66 memorabilia, a collection of old half buried VW Rabbits in their unique replicating of “Cadillac Ranch” (thus Rabbit Ranch….) and even have a pen full of live rabbits.  See more about my 2013 visit HERE.

Sisters, Oregon

Welcome to Sisters, Oregon
Welcome to Sisters, Oregon
Three Sisters - nicknamed Faith/Hope/Charity
Three Sisters – nicknamed Faith/Hope/Charity
Mt. Jefferson - at 10,497 feet the second highest peak ion Oregon
Mt. Jefferson – at 10,497 feet the second highest peak ion Oregon

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Oregon three times between 2011 and 2012 while working for iHigh.com.  On one of the trips I attended the Oregon High School Athletic Directors Conference at a resort near Bend and, along the way, drove some back roads, one of which took me into the town of Sisters, Oregon. The town gets its name from a set of three mountains in the Southern Cascades known as “The Three Sisters.”  From town you can also get a spectacular view of Mt. Jefferson, Oregon’s second highest peak.  Though not as high in altitude as Stanley, Idaho, this westernesque town (their biggest employer is a huge ranch), Sisters is another place that I could most certainly love and enjoy. Definitely worth a visit!

Seymour, Wisconsin

Welcome to Seymour, WI
Welcome to Seymour, WI
Hamburger Charlie statue in Seymour, WI
Hamburger Charlie statue in Seymour, WI
Hamburger Charlie's dignified face
Hamburger Charlie’s dignified face

Do you like hamburgers? How about hamburger history?  Back in 2012 on a visit to Wisconsin, we made our way into Seymour, which claims to be the home of the hamburger.  According to its history, Charles Nagreen (1870-1951), put ground beef patties in a bun and began calling them Hamburgers back in 1885.  They have an annual hamburger festival and there are a couple of giant hamburgers in town.  You can see more about Seymour by clicking HERE.

Santa Claus, Indiana

Santa Claus Welcome Sign
Santa Claus Welcome Sign
Santa Claus exit and Sumoflam
Santa Claus exit and Sumoflam
Santa Claus Post Office
Santa Claus Post Office
Santa Claus Police in Santa Claus, IN
Santa Claus Police in Santa Claus, IN
Santa Claus Statue near the Santa Claus Museum
Santa Claus Statue near the Santa Claus Museum

Perhaps you prefer Christmas year round.  You can get that in the village of Santa Claus, Indiana. There are a number of Santa Claus statues around town, Christmas-themed shops, a Post Office that has a Santa Claus in the front and even a Santa Claus Police Department!!  As a family, we made a visit there during the Christmas season of 2015 and had a good time.  You can see more about our visit to Santa Claus and a ton of photos HERE.

Sandwich, New Hampshire

Sandwich, NH - Discovered that you cannot buy a sandwich in Sandwich, NH
Sandwich, NH – Discovered that you cannot buy a sandwich in Sandwich, NH
...but none of the signs led to a sandwich place in Sandwich, NH. #SandwichFail!
…but none of the signs led to a sandwich place in Sandwich, NH. #SandwichFail!

On a trip to Connecticut in the summer of 2015, we made our way into New Hampshire and Vermont so i could knock off the remaining states in my quest to hit all 50.  One of my “wish list” stops was to go to Sandwich, NH in order to get a sat a sandwich there.  We even planned the trip such that we would get there around lunch time.  But, alas, there are no Sandwich places in Sandwich, New Hampshire (that we could locate anyway.)

Sweet Grass, Montana

Blue roofed church in Sweetgrass, Montana
Blue roofed church in Sweet Grass, Montana
Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass, Montana
Jerusalem Rocks near Sweet Grass, Montana
Sumoflam at Jerusalem Rocks in December 2012
Sumoflam at Jerusalem Rocks in December 2012
Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass
Jerusalem Rocks near Sweet Grass
A giant hoodoo overlooks the prairie valley below at Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass, Montana
A giant hoodoo overlooks the prairie valley below at Jerusalem Rocks near Sweet Grass, Montana

Way up north in Montana, practically at the Canadian border is the town of Sweet Grass, Montana. Though predominantly a border crossing, the town has a couple of interesting things.  First off, there is a church with a blue roof…a rarity on the back roads of America.  And then there are the interesting geologic hoodoo formation of the Jerusalem Rocks.  These outcroppings can be visited via a rough dirt road.  I have written about these and some other similar formations in a post HERE.

Shakespeare and Stratford, Ontario

Welcome to Shalespeare
Welcome to Shakespeare
Shakespeare Pies - Shakespeare, Ontario
Shakespeare Pies – Shakespeare, Ontario
Antique Shops in Shakespeare
Antique Shops in Shakespeare
The Avon River and Lake Victoria in Stratford, Ontario
The Avon River and Lake Victoria in Stratford, Ontario
Stratford, Ontario
Stratford, Ontario
A lovely swan on the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario
A lovely swan on the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario

As I have noted before, in 2008 I was working in Canada.  On one a couple of occasions I got to visit the small town of Shakespeare and the neighboring town of Stratford in Perth County. Full of little antique shops and some beautiful scenery, these are certainly two unique places to visit. You can read about some of my exploits in this part of Ontario in 2008 in my post HERE.

Sikeston, Missouri (Honorable Mention)

Sumoflam and wife at Lambert's Cafe - Home of Throwed Rolls
Sumoflam and wife at Lambert’s Cafe – Home of Throwed Rolls
Throwing Rolls at Lambert's
Throwing Rolls at Lambert’s
Lambert's Cafe - Sikeston, Missouri - big place
Lambert’s Cafe – Sikeston, Missouri – big place

I wanted to mention Sikeston, Missouri namely because it is home to one of America’s more unique eateries…Lambert’s Cafe – the Home of the Throwed Rolls. Offering great home style cooking, big portions, and yes, Throwed Rolls – literally throwing them to you across the room – it is a fun and delicious place to eat. Close to the entertainment town of Branson, Sikeston is a great stop along the way.  Read more HERE.

Success, Missouri (Honorable Mention)

Success, Missouri direction
Success, Missouri direction
Success, Missouri
Success, Missouri

I was heading north on US 63 in Missouri one day.  As I got to Houston, MO (in Texas County — NO JOKE!!), I passed the sign above.  I took the 16 mile trek to look for Success.  The road to Success from Houston is lined with old doublewides and rusted out cars.  No joke!!  And once you find Success, you will see that there is not much there.  At least you can say you found it.

Soda Springs, Idaho (Honorable Mention)

Soda Springs Historic Marker
Soda Springs Historic Marker
Idan-Ha Drive In Theatre - Soda Springs, Idaho
Idan-Ha Drive In Theatre – Soda Springs, Idaho
Murals in Soda Springs
Murals in Soda Springs
The Soda Springs Geyser - erupts every hour on the hour
The Soda Springs Geyser – erupts every hour on the hour

And my final S Town is Soda Springs, Idaho.  It sits on top of many hot springs and has a geyser too!! There is a lot of history here.  In fact, Brigham Young, the great Mormon leader, even had a home here.   Soda Springs has the only captive geyser in the world.  It was discovered in an attempt to find a hot water source for a swimming pool.  On November 30, 1937, the drill went down 315 feet and unleashed the geyser.  The extreme pressure is caused by carbon dioxide gas mixing with water in an underground chamber.  The water is around 72 F.  It is now controlled by a timer.  It erupts every hour on the hour and reaches heights of 100 feet year round.  You can read more about my visit to Soda Springs and other areas in Idaho and Wyoming HERE.

Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Learn More About the A to Z Challenge and visit hundreds of other participating blogs (click logo below)

A2Z-BADGE [2016]

(73)

A 5 Day Midwest Adventure: Day 5 – Columbia, St. Louis, Ra66it Ranch and a Fire Breathing Dragon

University of Missouri - Columbia, Missouri
University of Missouri – Columbia, Missouri

The final day of our five day whirlwind trip to Nebraska and back began in Columbia, Missouri and took us through St. Louis and then some interesting spots in Illinois along old Route 66 and then eventually home to Lexington.  Following is our final day route:


View Larger Map – Columbia, MO to Lexington, KY

Columbia was a pleasant surprise.  A beautiful college town with lots of murals and color and historical buildings, like the administration building for the University of Missouri (shown above).  Before we headed down the road towards St. Louis, we took a brief drive around Columbia.  Here are a few shots:

Colorful Phone Booth in downtown Columbia, MO
Colorful Phone Booth in downtown Columbia, MO
Sunrise in Columbia, MO
Sunrise in Columbia, MO

We drove by Shakespeare’s Pizza and they have a very unique long painted wall of art on the outside of the shop.  Here are a few close-ups of bits of the wall. This wall was painted by Columbia artist Ned Vail and members of some of his art classes.

Politician and School Leader - portion of Shakespeare's wall mural - Columbia, MO
Politician and School Leader – portion of Shakespeare’s wall mural – Columbia, MO
Drawing of Inside of the Pizza Shop
Drawing of Inside of the Pizza Shop – Ned Vail, 2003
Shakespeare Pizza Wall At by Ned Vail
Shakespeare Pizza Wall At by Ned Vail

Besides Shakespeare’s Pizza there were a few other colorful items in town:

Wall Mural - Columbia, MO
Wall Mural – Columbia, MO
Keys to the City by Howard Meehan
Keys to the City by Howard Meehan

New Mexico artist Howard Meehan built Keys to the City in 2010 for the city of Columbia. The 19-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide sculpture, one of 11 Columbia Percent for Art projects, is made of structural steel and placed atop concrete bases holding color-changing LEDs.

People by Don Bartlett
People by Don Bartlett
Mosaic Art - Columbia, MO
Mosaic Art – Columbia, MO
Lit Pillars at Courthouse in Columbia, MO
Lit Pillars at Courthouse in Columbia, MO

From Columbia it was time to head eastward towards St. Louis.  I have driven this stretch of Interstate 70 well over a dozen times, so we pressed forward to our next destination – The Butterfly House at the Missouri Botanical Garden in Chesterfield, Missouri’s Faust Park.

Butterfly House Gate - Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
Butterfly House Gate – Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
Butterfly House at Faust Park in Chesterfield, MO
Butterfly House at Faust Park in Chesterfield, MO

In the front seasonal gardens is a giant butterfly sculpture called the Mysterious Monarch, which is a 28-foot tall butterfly created by St. Louis sculptor Bob Cassilly in 1997 and given to the Butterfly House by Rosemary and Joe Shaughnessy in honor of their grandchildren.

Sumoflam and Giant Butterfly at the Butterfly House
Sumoflam and Giant Butterfly at the Butterfly House

The Butterfly House is GREAT and absolutely fascinating. It is well worth a visit, especially if you are with kids.  The museum section has a number of kid-friendly exhibits and an extraordinary video presentation about butterflies.  But the best part is the tropical conservatory.  It has a controlled environment that houses nearly 2,000 tropical butterflies in free flight and a number of unique tropical plants not seen in most locales in the U.S.  As many as 80 butterfly species and 150 tropical plant species can be seen. Following are a number of shots we got of butterflies and plants while in the conservatory.

Colorful Butterfly statue in front of the Butterfly House
Colorful Butterfly statue in front of the Butterfly House
Grandkids play on the 30 foot long "Lopatapillar", a creation by artist Bob Cassilly
Grandkids play on the 30 foot long “Lopatapillar”, a creation by artist Bob Cassilly
Flower at Butterfly House
Flower at Butterfly House
Flowers at Butterfly House
Flowers at Butterfly House
Tropical Flowers at the Butterfly House
Tropical Flowers at the Butterfly House
Blue Morpho Butterfly (morpho peleides) at the Butterfly House
Blue Morpho Butterfly (morpho peleides) at the Butterfly House
Granddaughter holding Blue Morphos
Granddaughter holding Blue Morphos

The Blue Morphos is common to South and Central America. The blue only shows when they fly; the underside of their wings is brown with several eyespots.

Postman Butterfly (Heliconius erato)
Postman Butterfly (Heliconius erato)
Striking Blue Butterfly on pink flowers
Striking Blue Butterfly on pink flowers
Lovely Tropical Flowers at Butterfly House
Lovely Tropical Flowers at Butterfly House
Paper Kite Butterfly (Idea leuconoe) from Southeast Asia
Paper Kite Butterfly (Idea leuconoe) from Southeast Asia
Great Mormon Butterfly (Papilio memnon) from Southeast Asia
Great Mormon Butterfly (Papilio memnon) from South Asia
White Swallowtail Butterfly
White Swallowtail Butterfly
Giant Owl Butterfly
Giant Owl Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly seen n outdoor garden at Butterfly House
Monarch Butterfly seen in outdoor garden at Butterfly House
Butterfly and Red Flowers
Butterfly and Red Flowers
Black Butterfly
Black Butterfly
Butterfly landing
Butterfly landing
Beautiful Purple Flower
Beautiful Purple Orchid at Butterfly House

Just a short walk from the Butterfly House is the St. Louis Carousel, an original carousel created by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia in the 1920s. The Carousel was installed in 1929 at the Forest Park Highlands. When the Highlands burned to the ground in 1963, the carousel was the only thing left standing. Howard C. Ohlendorf purchased the carousel to prevent it from being dismantled and donated it to St. Louis County Parks in 1965.  It is a throwback to the olden days….my grandkids got to enjoy the ride on this old fashioned wonder.

St. Louis Carousel Building in Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
St. Louis Carousel Building in Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
The 1920s St. Louis Carousel at Faust Park
The 1920s St. Louis Carousel at Faust Park
Riding the Carousel at Faust Park
Riding the Carousel at Faust Park

After a few rides on the Carousel, it was back on the road.  We headed into St. Louis for a stop at the Brown Shoe Company. This company is the home company for a number of shoe brands (inclduing Famous Footwear, Dr. Scholl’s, Naturalizer, Life Stride and more) , but we were only going to visit to see ONE shoe…..

Giant Shoe at Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis
Giant Shoe made of shoes at Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis
Shoes in the Giant Shoe
Shoes in the Giant Shoe
Sumoflam and the Big Shoe
Sumoflam and the Big Shoe

From the Big Shoe it was on to Downtown St. Louis.  All of us were excited to visit the Gateway Arch (no link since the US Government is still shut down as I write this).  On the way we made one more stop at a unique, quirky place…The Christman Studio and Sculpture Park and Joe’s Cafe in the Skinker Neighborhood of St. Louis. This is like the birthplace of quirky art and other kitsch.

Joe's Cafe - a performance venue attached to the Christman Gallery in St. Louis
Joe’s Cafe – a performance venue attached to the Christman Gallery in St. Louis

Bill Christman was trained as an artist, has taught and made art, and has worked for years in the design and production of signs, murals, billboards, exhibits, sculptures, assemblages and theatrical scenery. He’s the Proprietor of Beatnik Bob’s, and the Director of the Museum of Mirth, Mystery, & Mayhem at St. Louis’ Ultra Quirky and Offbeat City Museum (I wish we had gone there on this trip!!!!!!  See more here). He is also the owner of Christman Studios and the Impresario of Thursday Nite Music at Joe’s Café in the Skinker/DeBaliviere Neighborhood.

Big Pants at the entrance to Christman Gallery in St. Louis
Big Pants at the entrance to Christman Gallery in St. Louis
Giant Rooster greets you at Joe's Cafe entrance
Giant Rooster greets you at Joe’s Cafe entrance
A Thing-a-ma-jigger at Christman Studio in St. Louis
A Thing-a-ma-jigger at Christman Studio in St. Louis

The studio is apparently closed except on Thursday evenings, but you can at least take a peak through the gates of the back yard.  What a menagerie awaits as you gander at all of the goodies behind the fence and around the fence.

Backyard view of Christman's gallery - including a giant head
Backyard view of Christman’s gallery – including a giant Muffler Man head (probably the upper half of the legs in the front yard)
Hydrant Collection at back yard gate
Hydrant Collection at back yard gate
Another view of the back yard with a Big Boy Head
Another view of the back yard with a Big Boy Head
A HandBurger (probably from the Big Boy)
A HandBurger (probably from the Big Boy)
Rusty Cans line the top of the fence.  Who need's barbed wire?
Rusty Cans line the top of the fence. Who need’s barbed wire?
This must be his guest house.  "It Ain't Home 'til You Take the Wheels Off"
This must be his guest house. “It Ain’t Home ’til You Take the Wheels Off”
A White Buffalo Guards the Gate at Christman's Studio
A White Buffalo Guards the Gate at Christman’s Studio
Buddha Head adorns the top of the Front Door to the Gallery
Buddha Head adorns the top of the Front Door to the Gallery
A Skink on a Sign
A Skink on a Sign for the Skinker neighborhood

Finally, on to downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch….

Arch as seen from Downtown
Arch as seen from Downtown
Arch Reflection on a mirrored Building
Arch Reflection on a mirrored Building

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a 630-foot tall (and 630 foot wide) monument and is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. It is also the world’s tallest arch. The Gateway Arch was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. Construction began on February 12, 1963, and ended on October 28, 1965,costing US $13 million at the time. The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967. Currently, the Gateway Arch is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with over four million visitors annually,of which around one million travel to the top.  I had the opportunity to go to the top in 1997 and what an adventure that was.  Here is what I saw back then…

View of Capital Building from top of St. Louis Arch, taken Sept. 1997
View of Capital Building from top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, taken Sept. 1997
View of downtown St. Louis form the top of the Gateway Arch in Sept. 1997
View of downtown St. Louis from the top of the Gateway Arch in Sept. 1997

Much of St. Louis has changed over the last 16 years.  It is interesting that the photos above were taken on Sept 14, 1997.  Our visit this time was on Sept 13, 2013, almost exactly 16 years later.

My children under the Arch on Sept. 14, 1997
My children under the Gateway Arch on Sept. 14, 1997 (L-R Marissa -16, Barbara G – French Exchange Student -17, Amaree -17, Seth-10, Solomon-8)

Our visit this time was on a beautiful sunny day with a few clouds. I got a few shots of the arch closeup and then we were on our way across the Mississippi River.

Gateway Arch in the clouds
Gateway Arch in the clouds
Gateway Arch - St. Louis
Gateway Arch – St. Louis
Side shot of Gateway Arch in St. Louis
Side shot of Gateway Arch in St. Louis

From the Arch parking we lot we headed down the river and took a drive around the arch to get us back on to Memorial Drive heading north.  We then took the Eads Bridge across the river.

Lewis and Clark wave to us from the River as we passed by
Lewis and Clark wave to us from the River as we passed by
Martin Luther King Bridge in St. Louis
Martin Luther King Bridge in St. Louis

We figured there has to be a park on the other side of the river that would give us a view.  So, after crossing the Eads Bridge it put us onto Riverpark Dr. in East St. Louis, Illinois. We followed Riverpark Dr. to S. Main St. and took a right. We followed Main to W. Trendley Avenue and took a right.  This took us right into Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, which offered us a spectacular view of the Gateway Arch and St. Louis.  Though we got to see the Arch, we were not there at the right time to see the Gateway Geyser which explodes 8000 gallons of water per minute to a height of 630 feet (the height of the Gateway Arch), which makes it the tallest water fountain in the United States.

Gateway Arch as seen from Malcolm W. Marin Memorial Park in E. St. Louis, IL
Gateway Arch as seen from Malcolm W. Marin Memorial Park in E. St. Louis, IL
Gateway Geyser (photo from illinoisbeautiful.com)
Gateway Geyser (photo from illinoisbeautiful.com)

After a nice visit to the big city to see the big arch, we veered eastward toward Staunton, Illinois to the famous Henry’s Ra66it Ranch on Old Highway 66.

Historic Route 66 in Illinois
Historic Route 66 in Illinois

Henry’s Ra66it Ranch (the 66 is intentional) celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with its emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s Trucklines “Humpin’ to Please” trailers next to a replica of a vintage gas station.

Henry's Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Henry’s Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Reminiscent of Cadillac Ranch, Ra66it Ranch has their own buried cars
Reminiscent of Cadillac Ranch, Ra66it Ranch has their own buried cars

I have created a separate post about this here as it is deserving of its own post!  Please check it out. From Staunton we headed east towards Vandalia, Illinois to see the famed “Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon

Corn Fields on Old Route 66 near Staunton, IL
Corn Fields on Old Route 66 near Staunton, IL
Slow Down - Its Pokey Road - near Pochahontas, IL
Slow Down – Its Pokey Road – near Pocahontas, IL
Pochahontas, IL - "Pokey" - Home of Country Singer Gretchen Wilson (Gimme a Hell Ya!)
Pocahontas, IL – “Pokey” – Home of Country Singer Gretchen Wilson (Gimme a Hell Ya!)
Giant Golden Grapes at a Winery in Pocahontas, IL
Giant Copper Grapes at a Copper Dock Winery in Pocahontas, IL

Copper Dock Winery is on Pokey Road and has a 15 foot tall Giant bunch of Copper Grapes, ripe for the picking!!  From Pokey we headed NE on I-70 (along the old National Road) towards Vandalia, about a 30 minute drive.

Vandalia Water Tower with Lincoln on it
Vandalia Water Tower with Lincoln on it

Vandalia is a historical Illinois town.  From 1819 to 1839 it served as the state capital of Illinois. And, early on, it was the terminus for the legendary National Road. The road, also known as the “Road That Built the Nation”, was created in 1806 by legislation signed by President Thomas Jefferson. Sometimes called “The Cumberland Road” and “The Old Pike”, it was the only road completely built with federal funds. Originally winding from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, the National Road opened Illinois to settlement. Today, the Illinois National Road stretches 164 miles from Marshall to East St. Louis and is mirrored by U.S. Route 40 and Interstate 70.  Today the National Road stretches 824 miles.

Vandalia State House in Vandalia, IL
Vandalia State House in Vandalia, IL

The Vandalia State House was the fourth Illinois state house (The first (1818-1820) was at Kaskaskia, the state’s first capital. The second (1820-1823), third (1824-1836), and fourth (1836-1839) were at Vandalia.). The present one is the oldest surviving capital building in Illinois.  It is significant because of its association with Abraham Lincoln, who served in the House of Representatives at the time.

Madonna of the Trail Statue in Vandalia, IL
Madonna of the Trail Statue in Vandalia, IL

The “Madonna of the Trail” statues are a series of 12 statues that can be found along the original National Road and now all the way into California.  I have only visited one, but they are now on my “To Do” list as I travel to different destinations. They honor the pioneer heritage of the mothers that traveled across the country.  The following is from Wikipedia’s article on these monuments.

There is one monument in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Highway The monuments in order of dedication are:

  1. Springfield, Ohio—July 4, 1928
  2. Wheeling, West Virginia—July 7, 1928
  3. Council Grove, Kansas—September 7, 1928
  4. Lexington, Missouri—September 17, 1928
  5. Lamar, Colorado—September 24, 1928
  6. Albuquerque, New Mexico—September 27, 1928
  7. Springerville, Arizona—September 29, 1928
  8. Vandalia, Illinois—October 26, 1928
  9. Richmond, Indiana—October 28, 1928
  10. Beallsville, Pennsylvania—December 8, 1928
  11. Upland, California—February 1, 1929
  12. Bethesda, Maryland—April 19, 1929

As of 2005, all 12 monuments are still available for public viewing, although several have been relocated short distances due to highway improvements, etc.

Old Liberty Theater in Vandalia
Old Liberty Theater in Vandalia

From downtown we made our way to the…..

Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon
….Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon

One of our trip highlights and, significantly, the last stop on our long 5 day trip, is the huge Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon in Vandalia.  This monster was the brainchild of Kaskaskia Supply owner Walt Barenfanger. This 35 foot long beast is not only a nice piece of metal art, it is also FIRE BREATHING! Yes, go across the street to the Liquor Store or over to the Kaskaskia Hardware store and get a token for One Dollar, stick it into the self-service coin box and this guy’s eyes light up red and he breathes REAL fire for about 10 seconds!!

Kaskaskia Dragon Breathes Fire in Vandalia, IL
Kaskaskia Dragon Breathes Fire in Vandalia, IL
Breathing Fire in Vandalia
Breathing Fire in Vandalia
A closeup of the fire!
A closeup of the fire!

Since 2001 the Dragon has been anchored on the corner of Rock Island Ave and Progress Way, just off of US 40/Veteran’s Avenue. (see complete details at Roadside America).

Sumoflam and Paula Barenfanger, owner of the Kaskaskia Dragon and Kaskaskia Supply
Sumoflam and Paula Barenfanger, owner of the Kaskaskia Dragon and Kaskaskia Supply
Sumoflam and the Fire Breathing Dragon of Kaskaskia in Vandalia, IL
Sumoflam and the Fire Breathing Dragon of Kaskaskia in Vandalia, IL

And thus the five day Midwest Adventure comes to a close as my daughter, three grandchildren and I make our way back to Lexington.  I did get tired, so I thought I would let my little Lyla drive the rest of the way home.  What a great trip this was!!

Lyla driving us home
Lyla driving us home

Some roadside assistance provided by our friends at……

(1308)