During the month of April 2016 I participated in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge had each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays.
This was my first opportunity to really participate in this annual event, which just completed its 6th year. It was not easy!! I had to not only post something daily, but also create a theme and stick with it. And, in my perfectionist way, I wanted to make sure there were plenty of photos and commentary. I wrote in such a way to draw people to the more detailed posts, where ever possible.
It was a load of fun and I completed the challenge. Not sure how many actually did, but it was certainly tough, yet fulfilling.
What I really loved about the event was being able to communicate and link up with others doing the same thing. I have made some new friends on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I have found some interesting blogs to follow and also have a few new followers.
I most certainly look forward to participating again next year. Now to start thinking of a good theme for next year. May actually take a long time!!!
A BIG Thanks to Arlee Bird and her wonderful team!!
My blog was number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts took readers across the back roads of America to many unique towns. See what other bloggers posted about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
Following is a complete listing of each with the banners associated with each post’s link. Click on the Lettered Banner to go to the specific post.
The A Towns: Amarillo, TX – Adair, IA – Alzada, MT – Alamogordo, NM – Alligator, MS – Alliance, NE – Ada, MI – Akela Flats, NM
The B Towns: Bemidji, MN – Boring, OR – Blackfoot, ID – Burk’s Falls, ON – Booger Holler, AR – Brownsville, TN – Babb, MT – Blackwater, MO – Bena, MN – Bucksnort, TN – Bugtussle, KY – Bugtussle, TX
The C Towns: Cactus Flat, SD – Centralia, MO – Cape Elizabeth, ME – Climax, NC – Climax, KY – Choteau, MT – Cave City, KY – Charm, OH – Chelsea, MI – Champaign, IL – Cut Bank, MT – Caledonia, ON – Cut and Shoot, TX – China Grove, TX – Cool, TX – Coolville, OH
The D Towns: Douglas, WY – DeForest, WI – Discovery Bay, WA – Dublin, OH – Dublin, TX – Dragoon, AZ – Denton, TX – Durant, OK – Danville, IL – Dallas, SD – Denver, NC – Damon, TX
The E Towns: Earth, TX – Eureka Springs, AR – Elbe, WA – Easton, PA – Eldon, IA – Egg Harbor, WI – East Peoria, IL – Embro, ON – Eagle, CO – Endeavor, WI
The F Towns: Flagstaff, AZ – Friendly, WV – Friendship, AR – Flippin, AR – Fair Play, SC – Fergus Falls, MN – Feely, MT – Flippin, KY – Fly, OH – Four Way, TX – Future City, IL
The G Towns: Gainesville, TX – Gothenburg, NE – Guthrie, KY – Gregory, SD – Galata, MT – Glasgow, MT – Glasgow, KY – Gardiner, MT – Gillette, WY – Granbury, TX – Grand Forks, ND – Gravel Switch, KY – Gilboa, OH – Georgetown, TX
The H Towns: Hell, MI – Hamtramck, MI – Hamilton, ON – Hatch, NM – Hico, TX – Hopland, CA – Hoboken, NJ – Hugo, OK – Hershey, PA – Home on the Range, ND – Hamburg, IA
The I Towns: Indian Head, SK – Intercourse, PA – Ironwood, MI – Independence, MO – Idaho Falls, ID – Iona, ID – Inverness, MT – Iron River, WI
The J Towns: Jamestown, ND – Joseph, OR – Jeffersonville, IN – Juneau, AK – Jackson Hole, WY – Janesville, WI – Jackson Center, OH – Jamaica Beach, TX – Jamestown, NY
The K Towns: Kemmerer, WY – Keystone, SD – Ketchikan, AK – Kensington District, ON – Kadoka, SD – Kremlin, MT – Kirkwood, MO
The L Towns: LeClaire, IA – Lake Nebagamon, WI – Lesage, WV – LeRoy, NY – Lizard Lick, NC – Lake Jackson, TX – Lost Springs, WY – Langdon, ND
The M Towns: Mt. Horeb, WI – Meadville, PA – Metropolis, IL – Marshfield, WI – Moenave, AZ – Mystic, CT – Montrose, SD – Minot, ND – Mitchell, SD – Mapleton, ON – Medina, NY – Moose Jaw, SK – Mars, PA
The N Towns: Nicholson, PA – Nekoma, ND – Natchez, MS – Neah Bay, WA – Nauvoo, IL – Newport, OR – Newark, OH – Normal, IL – Nice, CA – New Salem, ND
The O Towns: Only, TN – Old Orchard Beach, ME – Okay, OK – Oil Springs, ON – Oak Creek, CO – Oacoma, SD – Odd, WV – Onawa, IA – Oddville, KY
The P Towns: Pella, IA – Peculiar, MO – Pierre Part, LA – Point Pleasant, WV – Paris, KY – Paris, TX – Paris, TN – Paris, ON – Port Orchard, WA – Powder River, WY – Paducah, KY – Port Gibson, MS – Palmyra, NY – Perryville, KY – Paxton, NE – Pembroke, NY – Penn Yan, NY – Ponder, TX
The Q Towns: Quincy, IL – Quartzsite, AZ – Queen City, OH (Cincinnati) – Quicksand, KY
The R Towns: Roswell, NM – Regent, ND – Rhinelander, WI – Rabbit Hash, KY – Raton, NM – Red Lodge, MT – Riverside, IA – Rugby, ND – Rudyard, MT
The S Towns: Steubenville, OH – Stanley, ID – Sedona, AZ – Santa Rosa, CA – Staunton, IL – Sisters, OR – Seymour, WI – Santa Claus, IN – Sandwich, NH – Sweet Grass, MT – Shakespeare, ON – Stratford, ON – Sikeston, MO – Success, MO – Soda Springs, ID
The T Towns: Tightwad, MO – Talent, OR – Toad Suck, AR – Thermopolis, WY – Teton Valley, ID – Tetonia, ID – Tuba City, AZ – Tornado, WV – Tavistock, ON – Tomahawk, WI – Tripp, SD – Tunica, MS – Tioga, TX – Ten Sleep, WY – Torch, OH
The U Towns: Uncertain, TX – Uncasville, CT – Upper Lake, CA – Ukiah, CA – Upton, KY
The V Towns: Vulcan, AB – Valier, MT – Vernal, UT – Vandalia, IL – Vicksburg, MS – Versailles, KY – Vincennes, IN
The W Towns: Wharton, TX – Welland, ON – Wapiti, WY – Wall, SD – Winterset, IA – Winner, SD – Walla Wall, WA – Worland, WY – Walcott, IA – Waldo, AR – West Montrose, ON
The X Towns: Xenia, OH – Lexington, KY – Cotopaxi, CO – Oxford County, ON – Texarkana, AR – Texline, TX – Rexburg, ID – Exie, KY
The Y Towns: Yampa, CO – West Yellowstone, MT – Yellville, AR – York, NE
The Z Towns: Zanesville, OH – Zelienople, PA – Zurich, MT
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 H Towns
I can’t in good conscience include a post about towns that begin with H without starting with Hell, Michigan. Located near Pinckney on a beautiful forest drive, Hell is a great tourist spot. There are only a few buildings there including an unofficial Post Office (it is actually part of Pinckney, but they have this one there and will do a Hell post mark). There is an ice cream/gift shop called I Scream, then there is the Dam Fine Food and Spirits place and you can even get official Dam U T-shirts (Damnation University). No public restrooms, just Porta Potties. You can see my complete post about Michigan and Hell that I wrote back in 2008 HERE.
Sticking in Michigan, swing over to the Hamtramck suburb of Detroit. This is a very interesting place to say the least. Hamtramck was originally settled by German farmers, but Polish immigrants flooded into the area when the Dodge Brothers plant opened in 1914. Poles used to make up a large proportion of the population. It is sometimes confused with Poletown, a traditional Polish neighborhood, which used to lie mostly in the city of Detroit and includes a small part of Hamtramck. But more recently (November 2015) the blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendants for more than a century has now become what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a
majority-Muslim council. In fact, in 2013 the town earned the distinction of becoming what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the United States following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade.
Despite all of this, tucked away on a side street is probably one of the most interesting accumulations of weird whirly gigs, mannequins, and a plethora of oddball knick knacks. Known as Hamtramck Disneyland, it is a yard art folk art located owned by a man named Dmytro Szylak. Hamtramck Disneyland was started in 1992 and came to be finished in 1999. Szylak died at age 92 in May 2015 and now the future of the place, located at 12087 Klinger St in Hamtramck, is in question. But the menagerie of fun will always be etched in my mind.
While living in Ontario in 2008, I visited a number of places and always seemed to pass through Hamilton, a wonderful place to visit. In the town itself is the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, which contains over 40 different aircraft. Then there are the waterfalls!! The township has over 100 waterfalls within a short drive from downtown, and many of them are spectacular. The area is part of the Niagara Escarpment which provides perfect geological conditions for waterfalls to occur, from Tobermory to Niagara Falls. The most scenic waterfall in Hamilton is Webster’s Falls. With its 98 ft crest, it is the largest waterfall within the city. Tew’s Falls is a 135 ft ribbon waterfall, and is the tallest waterfall found in Hamilton. Both are in photos above. There is a website dedicated to the waterfalls of Hamilton HERE. And then, after all of the waterfalls, head over to Lake Ontario and to the shoreside burger joint known as Hutch’s on the Beach for a great burger in a 1960s style diner.
Hatch, New Mexico
We’ll move from Hutch’s on the Beach clear south to Hatch, New Mexico. Hatch is known as the Chile Capital of the World. Located off Interstate 25, between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, the Village of Hatch has a population registered at little over 1,600 people. Chiles can be seen everywhere, both dried and fresh. The Hatch Green Chiles are my most favorite in the world!! Stop into one of the shops and get some and you too will be hooked. Every year in September they have their Hatch Valley Chile Festival which looks amazing. While in Hatch, check out Sparky’s burger joint which has a vintage A&W Family on the roof and nearby is giant Muffler Man. Ronald McDonald, Colonel Sanders and other fun stuff decorates the place known for BBQ and their World Famous Green Chile Cheeseburger. I went through there a few years ago, but never got around to writing a blog post. But many of my photos can be seen HERE.
Hico is Texas all the way. Only about 1400 people live there, but everything is BIG there. From the giant 12 foot tall spurs in front of a business to the many murals splashed on walls throughout the town, it is a fun place. And of course, you can’t miss the Billy the Kid Museum in downtown. The town where “Everybody is Somebody” is covered in my 2012 Blog Post HERE.
In May 2015 I was in the San Francisco area to participate in Antsy McClain’s Woodflock gathering in Red Bluff, CA. Along the way we passed a sign that said “Needing to Pee?” What a kick! It was one of many signs in Hopland advertising the naturalist’s department store known as Real Goods. Hopland It is located on the west bank of the Russian River 13 miles south-southeast of Ukiah, at an elevation of 502 feet and has a population of about 750 environmentally conscious folks. I got to meet one of America’s Solar Pioneers while there and saw a plethora of interesting items inn the shop, which is an extension of their massive website catalog. The place has a see through working beehive, the strangest restrooms in the world and some interesting, unique and even quirky items for sale. See my full post about Real Goods HERE.
Hoboken, New Jersey
On another family trip in 2015, my wife, daughter and grandchildren all headed east to Connecticut for a baby blessing. On the way we made a stop in Hoboken, NJ, which offers amazing views of New York City and is also the home of world famous Carlos Bake Shop, from the TV show Cake Boss. The town is packed, the roads are narrow, but the atmosphere, even at 11 PM, is amazing. See my complete roadtrip report, including Hoboken photos (and Hershey, PA photos) HERE.
On a return trip from Texas in 2014, I made my way into southeast Oklahoma for a visit to Hugo, which has the nickname of Circus City USA as it is perhaps best known as a resting place for Circus Performers and, has become the eternal resting place for many of these performers. Hugo has been a circus wintering ground since 1942 and is still such for three circuses and their staff and performers, The Carson and Barnes Circus, The Kelly-Miller Circus, and the Culpepper-Merriweather Circus. It is a common site to drive past their grounds in the winter and see them taking care of an elephant or working on their equipment. The town cemetery, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, has a special area called Showmen’s Rest which features unique headstones and grave sites for circus performers and owners. there is also a section called Bull Rider’s Reprieve set aside as a resting place for rodeo riders that have passed on. I thoroughly enjoyed the brief visit to this hallowed ground to remember circus performers. Here are a few photos from this fascinating corner of a cemetery. Read more about it in my 2015 post HERE.
In the southwest region of Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, the chocolate scented town of Hershey rests. Home of the Hershey Chocolate company, the town is decorated everywhere with chocolaty things, right down to the town’s Hershey’s Kiss shaped streetlights. I visited there in 1998 and then again in 2015. Hershey’s Chocolate World has some great stuff, lots of chocolate for sale and even a factory tour. We visited Hershey on the same trip as Hoboken, so check out my blog link above.
Home on the Range, North Dakota (Honorable Mention)
Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam…well, Home on the Range is somewhere in Western North Dakota off of Interstate 94. It turns out that Home on the Range is a working Catholic-run ranch for boys and girls ages 12-19, especially those that were abused or come from broken families. It helps them readjust and cope. Appears to be a great program.
Hamburg, Iowa (Honorable Mention)
Finally, I wanted to mention the small town of Hamburg, Iowa only because of the unique shop there known as Stoner Drug Store. They even sell T-Shirts!! The Drug store still has a working Malt/Soda Bar like they had in the 1960s. You can see more HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
Over the years, I have traveled to a number of what I call “Theme Towns.” These would include places such as Vulcan, Alberta with its Star Trek theme (see post of my visit in 2007); Metropolis, IL and its Superman theme (see post of my visit); Hershey, PA and its chocolate theme (see post about recent visit in 2015); Roswell, NM with an alien theme; Douglas, WY and its Jackalope theme (see post here); and Hell, MI with its Devils and hell-fire (see post here). Another one I visited back in 2012 was Santa Claus, IN with its Santa and Christmas inspired themes. That visit was a short pass-thru visit on my way west to Kansas City.
On my grandson Landen’s 7th birthday, Dec. 17, we gathered up Landen, his sisters and his cousin Rockwell, along with my daughter Marissa and my wife and took a day trip to visit Santa Claus during the holiday season. It was a lovely, though quite cold, day to take the two and a half hour trek from our own horse and bourbon themed Lexington up to Santa Claus.
Our trip up was uneventful. It was cloudy in the morning so we didn’t
see a sunrise. However, by the time we got to the Santa Claus exit off
of I-64 west, the skies was bright with sunshine and a few spotty
We got into town about 11:30 EST, but it was Central Time there. Our
intent was to head to lunch first and then visit the town.
One might think that Santa Claus would have a quaint little rustic
downtown area with Christmas-like cottages and a Gatlinburg-esque
atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is not really the case. Though there
are Santa statues throughout the small town, the actual town consists of a strip mall (Kringle Place) with a few Christmas-themed shops, then, a couple miles down the road there is a museum, the original post office, an old church and the “Candy Castle.” The town has a hotel called Santa’s Lodge, with a restaurant called St. Nick’s. There is a campground at Lake Rudolph. Besides the Santa-themed attractions, the biggest drawing card to the town is the Holiday World Amusement Park with its huge roller coasters and water slide amusements. Obviously, at this time of the year it is closed for the season.
Thus, this visit to Santa Claus was really in the “off season” though,
for three weekends in December the town is bustling with Christmas
visitors and its variety of Christmas activities, some of which were
still available on this particular Thursday visit. (Mind you, the
County Tourism office recommended I visit on Saturday, but that wasn’t going to work for us).
We got to St. Nick’s restaurant at 10:45 and it didn’t open until 11,
so we kind of hung around the lobby of the Santa’s Lodge hotel, which
was nicely decked out for Christmas. The town really has sparse
dining options. Besides the obviously Santa-themed St. Nick’s, the only other options appeared to be a Subway (with a Santa out front) and a Pizza/Sandwich place in the Kringle Plaza strip mall. If you want to eat vegan, good luck!
St. Nick’s has a few Christmas designs and the menu is certainly Christmasy. The menu items were typical American faire. We were there on a slow day and found little that we could eat (as far as vegetarian options were concerned.) We ordered the tri-color tortellini with artichoke pesto, kind of excited about the Christmas colored noodles. But, much to our dismay, our server came back a few minutes later to tell us it had been discontinued and that the “new owners” we’re getting “new menus” soon. So, we opted for the salad bar, which sufficed (somewhat). All the kids got kids meal chicken fingers and fries, which were hefty. I asked about the “Reindeer Paws,” which were advertised on the Santa Claus, IN website (see here), and our server had never heard of them. Apparently they used Reindeer Paws as the name of their Buffalo Wings but no longer.
By this time, my wife was already noting another “Sandwich Fail,”
referring to our September 2015 trip to New England and our out of the way drive to Sandwich, NH to get a sandwich (and our ultimate discovery that there are no places in Sandwich to get a sandwich).
Though the waitress was pleasant, the food was lackluster. But, in a town with few choices, it was probably better than the other two places. Thankfully, they gave us a 10% discount due to all of the troubles. That was helpful considering the cost of meals for seven people.
Now that tummies were full, we were ready to venture into town and see all of the offerings of this small Indiana village. Our first stop was some photo shoots inside and outside of Santa’s Lodge. The interior is nicely decorated for Christmas (perhaps year around). And, outside, they have the 10 foot tall “Angry Santa” statue — that’s what I call it anyway. He doesn’t look too friendly, though he did pat me on my head!
From Santa’s Lodge we decided to head over to the Santa Claus Museum and Village, which was east on IN 245 a bit past IN 162. The old historic Post Office and old Santa Claus Church are located there, along with a 20 foot tall Santa Statue. The Santa Claus Museum features historical documents, photos and artifacts illustrating the progression from the tiny settlement of Santa Fe (pop. 65) to the present day town of Santa Claus. Exhibits feature the story behind the town’s famous name, the history of tourism, and artifacts highlighting the town’s unique history. The town was established in 1854 and known as Santa Fe (pronounced “fee”). In 1856, when the town was working to establish a post office, the United States Postal Service refused their first application as there was already a Santa Fe established with the USPS. Several town meetings were held, during which the name Santa Claus was selected.
The town now has the world’s only post office to bear the name of Santa Claus. Because of this popular name, the post office receives thousands of letters to Santa from all over the world each year. A group of volunteers known as Santa’s Elves ensures each child receives a reply from Santa Claus; this tradition has been in existence since at least 1914.
The kids sat the old style desks to write their letters to Santa. It was a nice little unique atmosphere.
After each child completes their letter, the parents (or children) include their mailing address on the letter and Santa will send them a letter to respond to them. There is no charge for this. It is a fun concept for the kids (and donations are accepted for those wishing to help out Santa’s volunteers)
Just behind the old Post Office is the old church. It is a small, cozy building. It was built in 1880 and still is heated by a wood burning stove.
The inside is sparse, but warm. There is a nice nativity scene at the front. The grandkidz went in and sat down in one of the pews and all sang Silent Night together. It was really sweet!
A little on further down the road is “Santa’s Candy Castle,” the perfect place to pick up some goodies for the kids. And during the Christmas season, they also provide an opportunity for the kids to chat with Santa’s Elves in the North Pole online and find out if they have been Naughty or Nice. Its a nice interactive thing for the kids to do and they get a certificate afterwards that is encased in plastic! (There is a cost involved, but I was able to get coupons online and save a few dollars at santaclausind.org)
We had already determined who was Naughty and Nice between Mom and Daughter….but the grandkidz needed to wok with the north Pole elves to get that determination.
The interactive program on the computers requires a special code and each child is assigned to a specific elf for their interview. The Elves ask a few questions and then make some advice before they finalize the certificates. The kids have fun with this and so the adults!
Then came the BEST part of the visit to the Candy Castle….yep, the Candy!! The store has a Jelly Belly Room, a giant PEZ wall and a huge assortment of favorite goodies, even some that are not typically seen in the eastern US (such as the Rocky Road Bars). Each of the grandkidz got to choose ONE thing for being on the good list (per Grampz).
Then there are the Bean Boozled Flavors – including such yummy goodies as Skunk Spray, Toothpaste, Booger, Vomit, Baby Wipes, Moldy Cheese, Stinky Sock, and Grass Clippings. YUM! And yes, we got some of these too. Take the Bean Boozled Challenge if you dare…I have and lived to tell about my vomit and skunk spray experiences.
The Candy Store also offers a variety of fudge, popcorn and taffy flavors all served up by Santa’s Nice Little Helpers who were there for us on this day. If you dare (which we didn’t) you could try out the famed Frozen Hot Chocolate.
The Candy Castle also has a few ornaments and books as well as a Santa Claus Hall of Fame wall. Here are a few more photos from this fun place.
My daughter in law Holly wanted us to pick up a nice ornament from Santa Claus. She SPECIFICALLY asked my daughter to get it and didn’t want to ask me. When I called her and asked her why she wouldn’t want me to do it she said “I don’t want you bringing home a pickle ornament or some other weird ornament.” Ironically, I had never heard of a pickle ornament. But, t my amazement, there were indeed pickle ornaments for sale at Santa’s Candy Castle. They even came along with a story.
According to whychristmas.com the story of the Pickle Ornament is as follows:
The tradition of the Christmas Pickle has got to be one of the strangest modern Christmas customs in that no one is quite sure why it exists at all! It was claimed that the Christmas Pickle was a very old German tradition and that the pickle was the last ornament hung on the Christmas tree and then the first child to find the pickle got an extra present. Some families now have the tradition of hanging the pickle on the tree, with the first person/child to find it getting a present. But it probably didn’t start in Germany!
Needless to say, we got Holly her nice ornament, but ALSO got her a Christmas Pickle ornament. I couldn’t resist. We read the little info sheet to all at the family gathering. “An age-old German good luck emblem, this realistic, hand-painted glass ornament adds a touch of legend and humor to holiday decorating. According to tradition, the first child to find the pickle ornament, which parents hide deep within the trees boughs, gets an extra gift from St. Nick.” Oh what fun it was!
Now that we determined that the kids were all good and that they were all candied up, we got back in the van and headed over to Kringle Place to visit some of the shops there and maybe, just maybe, get a chance to see the REAL Santa. The Santa Claus Christmas Store has a HUGE selection of Christmas collectibles including ornaments, nativities, Christmas decor items and a special room to visit Santa Claus…a really special one.
Then of course, there was the chance visit with the REAL Santa Claus. Marissa said it best… “This Santa was pretty awesome. Lyla wasn’t even scared at all- which has not been the case for the fast few we have seen. And I just loved the chair. After asking the children what they wanted for Christmas he asked them if they knew why we really celebrated Christmas. And then they had a conversation about Jesus. (And look at his chair!)“
By this time we were pretty zonked. Marissa and Julianne still wanted to do some shopping, so I took the kids and we took a drive around the rest of the town. We found a few unique surprises along the way as we did.
To my surprise and delight, we discovered a Santa Claus Police Car! I asked the kids why they would need a Police Car in Santa Claus and Landen piped up with “Santa needs someone to decide who is Naughty and who is Nice.” HA! And now, I have another unique Police Car to add to my collection as well. here are a few other Santa Claus fun places.
And then there are the many Santa Claus” statues in town. The town even has a hashtag “#SantaSelfie”. I saw at least a dozen Santa statues around town at the banks, the post office, the library, the Subway sandwich shop, and other places.
These are all themed to give that wonderful feeling as one travels around town. Even the City Hall is decked out with a Santa Claus and holiday decorations.
Some of the Santas around town are whimsical. Others are much more traditional. Some are life size and others are larger than life. Here are a few more of the Santas around town.
And finally, even Sumoflam gets to meet Santa Claus in person!! He told me I was a good boy this year!!