Looking Back Series: An Uncertain Trip in Search of Waldo

Caddo Lake, Texas
Caddo Lake, Texas

This post is the first in an occasional series of posts looking back on many of my trip journals as posted on my Sumoflam Journals site, which I used for my travel posts prior to the creation of my Less Beaten Paths blog.   Since 2004 I have traveled tens of thousands of miles on the backroads of America and have posted 1000s of photos in dozens of trip journals.  The Looking Back Series will feature some of the highlights of these trips.

Uncertain, Texas
Uncertain, Texas

This edition will look back at a return road trip I took from Dallas back to Lexington on February 27, 2010.  The complete post can be seen here.  The map of the trip is below:

Keller, TX thru Uncertain, TX; Louisiana; Waldo, Arkansas and home to Lexington, KY

Feb. 27, 2010: Time to return home to Lexington. It was a long busy week in Dallas, but the trip home would promise to be an interesting and fun day. I left Keller fairly early so I could hit the sunrise as I drove east. I almost made it to Tyler, TX by sunrise and pulled off the road in an effort to get some nice shots before traveling further.

Sunrise near Tyler, Texas – Feb. 27, 2010
The early morning fog added to the intensity of this sunrise

After the sunrise, I was back on the road to Uncertain, TX. I was bound and determined to find Uncertain. Indeed, I was certain I would get to Uncertain. Heading east on I-20 I had to take Exit 604 and head north on Texas FM 450 towards Hallsville, TX. Once in Hallsville, I turned right on US 80 and continued east through Marshall, TX to US 59. From there, I went north for a mile or so to TX 43 and continued NE. I stayed on course until I got to Texas FM 2198. At the point, I turned right and a few miles up the road there it was…my first Uncertain sighting!! (See the Road Sign above…)

Uncertain, Texas in my sights

Uncertain is a village with an unusual name and it is located in an unusual place along the shores of Caddo Lake not too far from the Louisiana border. The town has taken advantage of the name and even has their own website. They call it “The City of Uncertain” (incorporated in 1961) but it is much more a small village, and many of the businesses appeared to me to be seasonal. There are apparently a number of purported reasons for the name but it appears that the most popular theory is the one that says — “once you get to Caddo you’re uncertain as to exactly where you are — and uncertain as to exactly when you’ll want to leave. One thing is for sure, you don’t go to Uncertain by Chance! It’s one way in and one way out” and I am certain of that since I drove the only roads myself. I arrived in February so it was still chilly, but, there was a lot of “fun” there. Following are a few of the signs I found around town:

The Uncertain Flea Market – Mouse Nose Doors!!
The Uncertain Inn – Uncertain, Texas
Uncertain General Store – Uncertain, Texas

And my favorite of all of the Uncertain signs!!

Church of Uncertain – now is that a faithless name??

There is even an Uncertain Tourist Department (if you can call it that…)

Uncertain, Texas Tourist Information Booth

Despite the draw of the name, the REAL draw to Uncertain is the scenery. Uncertain is on the shores of the eerie, yet picturesque Lake Caddo, which stretches across the Texas-Louisiana border.  It is the only natural lake left in Texas. The lake is filled with bald cypress trees that are draped and decorated with Spanish Moss. When I first looked at it I wondered if I might see the “Swamp Thing” and sure enough, there is even a sign for that!!

Swamp Thing sign in Uncertain, Texas
And let’s not forget the “Bigfoot Retreat”

Many claim that Caddo has been dubbed the “best photo spot in Texas.” Though some may question it, I certainly thought it to be one of the more interesting spots I have ever visited across these great United States. I took over 100 photos of the lake/swamp/bayou and even went beyond my normal routine and fiddled with some color settings in some of them to really make them interesting (and somewhat creepy….). Here are a few of the photos of Lake Caddo, which covers over 32,000 acres of channels, bayous and sloughs. I can imagine it would get pretty spooky late at night in mid-summer with the alligators swimming around and Swamp Things and Sasquatch waiting for you around each bend….

Scenes from Caddo Lake near Uncertain, Texas
A large cyprus tree stands boldly in Caddo Lake
Gator Haven? I don’t want to find out!! Caddo Lake, Texas
Spooky scene at Caddo Lake (after I fiddled with the color filtering a bit)
Easy to get lost in the maze of trees and moss and their reflections in the water

Even along the narrow roadways around Uncertain, there are interesting shots to be taken:

An old Chevy truck relaxes in the mossy sunrise
The narrow road through the mossy trees and pines

I made my way from Uncertain around Lake Caddo and into the Louisiana side of the lake.  Here are a couple more swampy photos from the Louisiana side near Pelican Bay, LA.

Caddo Lake as seen from near Pelican Bay Resort in Louisiana.
Twin Cypress trees bask in the February sunlight of Caddo Lake in Louisiana
One more swampy photo of Lake Caddo in Louisiana

In the area there were also a few “Uncertain” treasures — unique photo-ops:

The Shipwreck – One of the many “Hodge Podge” Cottages near Lake Caddo
The Hodge Podge Cottages office
Lots of Pelican statues in the area. I never saw a real pelican around the lake.
And the World’s Largest Tomato Soup can??

All good things must end and for me, with still a long drive back to Kentucky, I left the realm of Uncertain-ty and headed east, driving around the northern part of Caddo Lake and then north up the backroads of the northwest corner of Louisiana. From Uncertain I headed north on Texas 43 and then east on Texas 49 into Louisiana and over the northern leg of the lake. This took me to LA 1 towards the small town of Vivian, home of the Louisiana Red Bud Festival. This town was originally settled as a railroad stop and currently has a population of a little over 4000. It is typical of many small towns where poverty has hit, but, it is a clean town and has some originality.

Colorful historic mural – Vivian, LA
Flag Mural wall art – Vivian, LA

Continuing north I drove along Black Bayou Lake and then passed through the small town of Rodessa.  And yes, I had a purpose. What is it that draws someone to a small little town in NW Louisiana? Two strange frog statues atop pillars with Alabama and Georgia on them and a name…Frog Level. Though the frogs are not really fancy artwork, apparently, the Smithsonian has these catalogued. As the sign below notes, in the 1800s a town meeting was called by store owner Noah Tyson to name the town. Apparently, a man from Alabama, noting the frogs hollering in a nearby pond, jumped up and said “Let’s name it Frog Level.” And so it was. Later the town’s name was changed to Rodessa. The frogs were made by a guy named Buster Dunn and the monument, dedicated in 1976, was fabricated by the Fix-It-Well Company. I do wonder what the Georgia pillar is for. There really is no mention…

Frog Level Monument – Rodessa, Louisiana
History of Frog Level and Rodessa, Louisiana

After seeing (and actually hearing) the frogs at Frog Level, it was back on the road again. My next goal was to search for the whereabouts of Waldo. Many have spent hours doing “Where’s Waldo” puzzles, in search of the elusive beany topped thing guy with a red/white striped shirt. I even admit to have joined in the fascination many years ago. So, as I drove along the road home to Kentucky, I learned that Waldo might be in Arkansas. I went in search of AND finally found Waldo!!

I found Waldo!!
Waldo was in Arkansas (but could also be in Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Alabama, Wisconsin and Ohio)

From Waldo I really needed to push to get home at a decent very late hour, so from there it was back on freeways to Kentucky. But, despite the visit to Uncertain, it was most certainly an eventful 17 hours, which was the eventual amount of time to drive from Keller to Lexington.

Jimmy’s Drive-In, Stamps, Arkansas

And by the way, I finally did get a shot of pelican on the trip….

A lonely pelican in flight in southern Arkansas

Watch soon for another post in the Looking Back Series.  Next up will be the Erie Canal, Big Bridges and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (New York and Pennsylvania).

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A Few Days in Shelby, Montana and surrounding area

Shelby, Montana
Shelby, Montana

March 28, 2013:  On our way back to Kentucky from Rexburg, Idaho we made a three day detour to Shelby, Montana to visit our daughter and her husband and their 4 children. Thanks to our new best trailer tires we were able to go on rough roads quite smoothly, and I have to say till date they have been my best investment on the RV. During our three days here, we were very busy with a trip to the base of Glacier National Park, a drive around town capturing the “Neon Essence” of Shelby, and a trip north to Sweetgrass, just south of the Canadian border, where we also visited a Hutterite colony and learned of their amazing communal ways.  This post will cover these activities through photos and some details.

Shelby, Montana -- a train town
Shelby, Montana — a railroad town

Shelby is a city of about 3400 people (including 6 of my children/grandchildren!!). It was started as a railroad town and continues as such today.  Named after Peter O. Shelby of the Montana Central Railway, the town really got its start in 1891 when the Great Northern Railroad was making its way to the Marias Pass.  The story goes that the builders threw a box car from the train and called it a station.

Old Motel Sign in Shelby, Montana
Old Motel Sign in Shelby, Montana

One of the endearing characters of Shelby is all of the old neon signs still hanging around the town. Obviously, as an Amtrak town, there are still lots of motels in Shelby.  As well, it is a nice pit stop for many.

Vista Motel - Shelby, Montana
Vista Motel – Shelby, Montana
Sherlock Motel - Shelby, Montana
Sherlock Motel – Shelby, Montana
Big Motel sign in downtown Shelby
Big Motel sign in downtown Shelby
Old Motel Sign - Shelby, Montana
Old Motel Sign – Shelby, Montana

There are lots of bars and restaurants as well…

Oasis Bar - Shelby, Montana. Love the old Dancing neon sign
Oasis Bar – Shelby, Montana. Love the old Dancing neon sign
Sports Club - Excellent Food - Shelby, Montana
Sports Club – Excellent Food – Shelby, Montana
Mint Club - Shelby, Montana
The Mint Club – Shelby, Montana
Montana Grill and Roxy Theater in Shelby, Montana
Montana Grill and Roxy Theater in Shelby, Montana

On a previous trip I took the kids to see a movie at the Roxy.  Old style theater still in operation.  It was fun.

Here are a few other scenes from around the town itself…

Wall Art in downtown Shelby
Wall Art in downtown Shelby
H-O Motor Supply - old advertising
H-O Motor Supply – old advertising
Bowling anyone? - this is the only place to bowl in Shelby.
Bowling anyone? – this is the only place to bowl in Shelby.
Unusual sign seen in a shop in Shelby
Unusual sign seen in a shop in Shelby
Iwo Jima Metal Art at Veteran's Memorial in Shelby, Montana. This was made by local veteran John Alstad
Iwo Jima Metal Art at Veteran’s Memorial in Shelby, Montana

Vietnam War Veteran John Alstad of Sunburst created most of the pieces at the Veteran’s Memorial in Shelby. He estimates he spent nearly 700 hours working on the various pieces at the monument, the most prominent of which is the Iwo Jima piece.

Found this old truck driving through a neighborhood in Shelby
Found this old truck driving through a neighborhood in Shelby

As I noted, Shelby is a railroad town.  As I drove around town getting the shots above, we were stuck at a track for nearly 20 minutes as a long train made its way to a grain elevator.  The photo at the top shows the train at the elevator.

Long train running in Shelby, Montana
Long train running in Shelby, Montana

I have always enjoyed looking at the graffiti on trains.  You see it all over the country.  Here are a few examples I got as the train moved slowly past us.  I couldn’t go anywhere, so, why not?

Train Graffiti
Train Graffiti
Train Graffiti
Train Graffiti
Train graffiti
Train graffiti
Train graffiti
Train graffiti

After the trains, I drive a bit east of town on US 2 to get a view of Shelby from the hill.  We came across this unique Historical Marker.

The Oily Boid gets the Woim - a unique historical marker
The Oily Boid gets the Woim – a unique historical marker

One of the evenings Julianne and I went with my daughter and her husband to the “premier” steak place in the Shelby area. Trust me, you would never know how good this place was inside by driving by it!!  It is in an old whitewashed building literally in the middle of nowhere in a place called Dunkirk, on the outskirts of Shelby.  All that is indicated is the sign.

Frontier Restaurant near Shelby, Montana
Frontier Restaurant near Shelby, Montana
Mailbox outside of Frontier Bar and Grill
Mailbox outside of Frontier Bar and Grill
Hanging with the Frontier Guy
Hanging with the Frontier Guy
Frontier Bar in Dunkirk, east of Shelby
Frontier Bar in Dunkirk, east of Shelby
I guarantee that this place is no bull!!
I guarantee that this place is no bull!!

Once in the place, it is a whole different story.  Linen napkins and nice china. The water glasses were the nice stem ware one sees in an upscale restaurant.  The prices are also synonymous with ritzy…  But so was the meal.

Dinner at Frontier - 16 oz. Cajun blackened New York Strip with a huge potato and green beans.
Dinner at Frontier – 16 oz. Cajun blackened New York Strip with a huge potato and green beans

After a nice dinner, we walked out of the restaurant and OH WHAT A VIEW!!

Mountains to the north of Shelby, with an awesome sunset.
Mountains to the north of Shelby, with an awesome sunset
Close up of Gold Butte - mountains on fire
Close up of Gold Butte – mountains on fire

The next day my son in law Aaron, his two boys and I all took off west towards Glacier National Park.  Though it was officially closed, we were able to get close enough to the mountains to catch a beautiful sunrise.  I will have a special photo album of shots of the mountains, but will include a couple of them here as well.

We left early, while still dark and headed towards Cut Bank and Browning.  We then took Hwy 464 towards Duck Lake. As we headed north towards Babb, the sun began to rise.

Sunrise in Northern Montana
Sunrise in Northern Montana near Babb, Montana
Snow covered prairies north of Browning, Montana
Snow covered prairies north of Browning, Montana
First sunrise on the mountains of Glacier National Park near Babbs, Montana
First sunrise on the mountains of Glacier National Park near Babb, Montana
Sunrise a little later in Glacier
Sunrise a little later in Glacier – Chief Mountain on Right, Sherburne Peak and Yellow Mountain on the left
Chief Mountain at sunrise
Chief Mountain at sunrise
Heading to the mountains on Montana Hwy 464 near Duck Lake
Heading to the mountains on Montana Hwy 464 near Duck Lake
Clouds in the Mountains near Babb, MT
Clouds in the Mountains near Babb, MT
Old truck - Babb, Montana
Old truck – Babb, Montana
Babb Bar and Supper Club
Babb Bar and Supper Club

After the sun was finally up, we backtracked to Babb and dropped in at the Leaning Tree Cafe, which is about a mile from the US 89 Junction.  It opened at 8 AM and it was time for a great meal.

Leaning Tree Cafe, Babb, Montana
Leaning Tree Cafe, Babb, Montana
Leaning Tree Menu - lots of good breakfast
Leaning Tree Menu – lots of good breakfast
The kids were excited to eat at a place like this
The kids were excited to eat at a place like this
They sell grubs here too - didn't have any of those for breakfast
They sell grubs here too – didn’t have any of those for breakfast
Mary runs the Leaning Tree Cafe. She makes a great breakfast
Mary runs the Leaning Tree Cafe. She makes a great breakfast
My breakfast at leaning tree - eggs, sausage, hash, potatoes and toast - YUM
My breakfast at leaning tree – eggs, sausage, hash, potatoes and toast – YUM
Happy after my breakfast
Happy after my breakfast

You can see a complete gallery of the Glacier N.P. Mountains –> Click Here

We headed back towards Browning, and along the way saw a couple of bison.  Not too good of shots, but, I didn’t want to get out of the car

Bison on Hwy 464
Bison on Hwy 464

We made our way into Browning, Montana.  The mountains were beautiful, but I was actually quite shocked at all of the garbage in the fields (mind you, I come from Lexington, KY which always looks like a park)

Browning, Montana - notice all of the garbage
Browning, Montana – notice all of the garbage along the fence
Don't Drink and Drive sign - makes for empty lodges
Don’t Drink and Drive sign – makes for empty lodges
Big Lodge Espresso - the Espresso Tipi in Browning
Big Lodge Espresso – the Espresso Tipi in Browning
Cowboy Museum in a Native American town
Cowboy Museum in a Native American town
Murals on the side of a shop in Browning
Mural on the side of a shop in Browning
Metal Teepees in front of a shop in Browning
Metal Teepees in front of a shop in Browning
Another nice mural in Browning, Montana
Another nice mural in Browning, Montana

From Browning we headed east again towards Cut Bank, we took a small detour off of US Hwy 2 to visit the Camp Disappointment historic site and monument near milepost 233.  There is a historical marker as well as a large obelisk monument dedicated to the site.

Camp Disappointment Historical Sign
Camp Disappointment Historical Sign
Camp Disappointment Monument west of Cut Bank, Montana
Camp Disappointment Monument west of Cut Bank, Montana

The biggest disappointment is all of the graffiti on the obelisk.  I don’t know why people feel like they need to vandalize monuments like this.

Close up of text on the monument
Close up of text on the monument
Another shot of Camp Disappointment Monument
Another shot of Camp Disappointment Monument

From Camp Disappointment we continued east into Cut Bank.  The skies were clear blue and it was a great opportunity to stop and get some close up shots of the Blackfoot Warriors, made out of scrap metal. These were created by native Blackfeet artist Jay Polite Laber and were commissioned by the Blackfeet Tribal Leaders.  They were created in 2000.  He actually created a set of these to welcome travelers into the Blackfeet reservation from all four directions — the northern site is at the US/Canadian border on US 89,  the eastern site in East Glacier on US Hwy 2, the western site is near Cut Bank on US Hwy 2 (these are below), and the southern site is on US 89 near Birch Creek and Heart Butte.

Blackfeet Warriors by Jay Polite Laber, in East Glacier, Montana
Blackfeet Warriors by Jay Polite Laber, in Cut Bank, Montana
Warrior 1
Warrior 1 – by Jay Polite Laber, near Cut Bank, Montana
Warrior 2
Warrior 2 – by Jay Polite Laber, near Cut Bank, Montana
The Warriors, by Jay Polite
The Warriors, by Jay Polite
Closeup of horse
Closeup of horse

From the warriors we went through town and made the requisite stop at the world’s largest penguin!

Cut Bank Penguin
Cut Bank Penguin

Being another train town, there is a large Train Bridge in Cutbank

Cut Bank Creek Trestle, built in 1900
Cut Bank Creek Trestle, built in 1900

Even though we had a busy morning and got into Shelby around noon, we were then again back on the road north towards Sweetgrass and off to visit a Hutterite colony, which was an amazing experience.

Striped fields in Northern Montana
Striped fields in Northern Montana
Blue roofed church in Sweetgrass, Montana
Blue roofed church in Sweetgrass, Montana
Another view of the Blue Roofed Church
Another view of the Blue Roofed Church

From Sweetgrass we headed west on a dirt road  towards the Hillside Colony of the Hutterites.  AS we visited we learned some amazing things: the Hutterites are almost totally communal.  All of them share everything.  Unlike the Amish, the Hutterites have adopted technology and are fabulously industrious.  They make their own clothes, they grow most of their own food, they all live in a small community.  Their homes are sparse.  It should be noted that I took a number of photos, with their permission, but, by their request, very few and only select photos are being added below.

Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass
Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass

We saw the above rock formations on the way to Hillside.  However, these were just an inkling of the bigger ones, which I have visited in the past.

On the road to the Hillside Colony
On the road to the Hillside Colony
The Hillside Community
The Hillside Community

As seen above, the Hutterites in Hillside Colony live in the prefab buildings as seen above.  The apartments are small and have little or no belongings in them.  Each of the steps represent a single domicile.

The belongings in the kitchen
The belongings in the kitchen

One thing noticed immediately, there are no stoves, ovens or refrigerators in the homes.  They have a couple of chairs, perhaps a bench, a bed or two and some dressers.  The bed frames, dressers, kitchen tables, the cup holder above and the chairs are all hand made in the community.

Home made chairs
Home made chairs
The hat rack - the men wear hats in the public
The hat rack – the men wear hats in the public
Laundry Carts are used and they hang the laundry out. They do use washing machines
Laundry Carts are used and they hang the laundry out. They do use washing machines
Communal Dining Room
Communal Dining Room

All meals are eaten together as a community — men on one side, women on the other.  The women prepare the meals while the men work out on the farms, the chicken coops, the woodworking section, or otherwise.

Hat hanger in the Dining Room
Hat hanger in the Dining Room
Hutterite Food Storage
Hutterite Food Storage

Overall, we were so impressed about the kindness of the Hutterite folk.  We picked up some potatoes, home made sausage and some of their wonderful bread.  They are as industrious as bees and ants and all share completely.  Each individual has their own assigned jobs, many for life.  It was a great visit.

Cousin Thomas
Cousin Thomas

One last little visit was made while we were in Shelby. We got to visit Harry J. Benjamin, who makes all kinds of trains and pedal cars.  Below is his “De-Railed” Steam Engine, which he shows off in parades in northern Montana. This engine pulls a set of cars that reaches 60 feet long.

Harry J. Benjamin
Harry J. Benjamin

Well past his 80’s, Mr. Benjamin, a former farmer and mechanic, is famed in the area for building things out of junk parts and pieces.  He has built a number of trains, some other vehicles for the local high school and a number of children’s toys.

Harry driving his smaller train
Harry driving his smaller train
Smokin...
Smokin…
Benjamin's creations - a couple of tractors
Benjamin’s creations – a couple of tractors
De-Railed
De-Railed
Toy Tractor
Toy Tractor
Grandkids Enjoy the Ride
Grandkids Enjoy the Ride

Here’s a video of one of his creations:

But, I must admit, the BEST part of the entire visit to Shelby was this….

....Reading to the Grandkids
….reading to the Grandkids

Next stop…heading home via US 2.  Watch soon for the next great adventures on Less Beaten Paths.

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