For me there is a difference between “Offbeat” and “Quirky.” I like to look at things that are offbeat as being similar to something conventional or recognizable, but just somewhat off. On the other hand, quirky is closer to non-conventional and sometimes even absurd (my Q post will focus on Quirky).
When I am traveling I love looking at the beauty and nature around me, but I also seek out the offbeat and quirky. One source I always use to help me find these locations is the Roadside America app. This app covers all 50 states and most of Canada and includes almost anything offbeat, odd, quirky and even downright outlandish and ridiculous. There are literally 1000s of sites and things to find and this makes for something fun on a roadtrip.
So, what do I mean by offbeat? Let’s take houses for instance. The normal home is brick and mortar, or a trailer home. But how about a flying saucer or a house that looks like mushrooms? A trip to the Cincinnati area offers up both of these.
First, there is a house in Cincinnati literally referred to as the “Mushroom House.” It is built almost completely out of either natural materials or recycled materials.
It is like a house…it is a house. But it certainly looks different than the “normal” human abode.
Then there are the homes that look like flying saucers. Called “Futuro” homes, there were many built in the 1960s by a company in Finland.
Across the river from Cincinnati, on a hill in Covington, KY overlooking the Ohio River and US Interstate 75, sits a Futuro House. It is in a regular neighborhood and stands out like a sore thumb. If you look carefully off to your right from the Interstate driving south out of Cincinnati right after crossing the Ohio River, you will see it.
Finally, take a tripdown to Houston for another Offbeat house…the house built totally out of Beer Cans!
Basically done as an art project, this house is also lived in and is built out of 1000s of aluminum beer cans.
I think the owner’s name must be Bud Weiser??
But houses aren’t the only offbeat places. If one looks hard the discovery of offbeat eateries can also come to the fore. Like the houses, these are normal in most respects, but there is just something a tad different.
For instance, there is a great place in Portland, Oregon called Voodoo Doughnut. The main shop (yes, there are now a few of them) is located downtown and there are lines there 24/7. They make a great variety of doughnuts and even a few offbeat ones, such as the actual Voodoo Doughnut, which is a person shaped doughnut, covered with chocolate and filled with raspberry filling. It is stabbed with a pretzel stick…yes, like a Voodoo Doll!
Then there is the other offbeat thing…the original shop also has a chapel and some of the bakers are ALSO ordained ministers. You can be married at Voodoo Doughnut legally and be surrounded by chapel-esque stained glass and everything!
Head on over to Missouri for another unique treat. There is a restaurant in Ozark, Missouri (and another near Branson) called Lambert’s Cafe. These huge facilities cater to tourists and buses. They offer a variety of yummy meals and have a few things served “home style” – wheeled in on carts and served out of pots at the table (including black-eyed peas, potatoes, tomato stew and more).
But what really makes them famous are their “Throwed Rolls.” And this is where they fit into the Offbeat category. Literally, they come to the middle of an area in the restaurant, ask who wants rolls and then throw them across the room to you. You miss them, too bad…
Then there is the offbeat looking restaurant in Mississippi with amazing lunch offerings…
Convention gets thrown out the door when visiting a facility just outside of Nekoma, ND. There is a huge cement pyramid in the middle of nowhere. Seemingly deserted (but fenced off), this used to be an old military facility.
The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was the United States’ first operational ABM (anti-ballistic missile) defense system. The pyramid included radar and other defense systems. Now unused, it sits in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota and is an imposing offbeat site.
And a bank is a bank is a bank…right? What about one for tightwads?
Next are museums. There are hundreds of museums in the United States, but some are more offbeat and unique than others. Take the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI. Chock full of mustards from around the world, one can buy a lifetime supply of mustards and never have the same flavor twice.
The original Mustard Museum was located in Mt. Horeb, WI, but later moved to Middleton, to be in a much larger facility. A condiment lover’s dream.
There are also other fun museums out there. How about these?
And then there is the actual Oddity Place of all Oddity Places… a museum of Oddities in Seattle, WA called “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.”
Finally, what’s in a town? There are some offbeat towns out there. Many towns have unique names, but some of these are really offbeat and odd.
Some are totally Uncertain….
And lastly, a town that actually changed its name to a major sponsor…also in Texas.
Indeed, there is much offbeat in America and this is just a small sampling of the savory and unsavory offbeat oddities of our wonderful country. Is there anything Normal?
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 L Towns
First stop on the L Town Road Trip is LeClaire, Iowa. This town literally sits on the shore of the Mississippi River and is definitely a river town. Today the town is perhaps most well known for the shop known as Antique Archaeology, home of the famed History Channel TV Show American Pickers. The show has enjoyed 14 seasons and has nearly 200 episodes as Mike and Franks travel the back roads of the U.S. looking for the rare and valuable items in old barns and other odd places. Their Office Manager Danielle frequents the show as well. I got to meet her in 2012 (see photo above). But what many don’t know is that the western icon Buffalo Bill Cody was born here. Born near LeClaire in Scott County, Iowa, in 1846, Buffalo Bill rode on the Pony Express at the age of 14, fought in the American Civil War, served as a scout for the Army, and was already an Old West legend before mounting his famous Wild West show, which traveled the United States and Europe. There is a museum in his honor in LeClaire. Cody, Wyoming is named for him. The town has a number of unique antique shops and eateries. Definitely worth a visit. I like the place so much I have been there FOUR times!! See more detailed posts about my visits HERE and HERE.
Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin
On a trip I took with my son back in 2007 to the western US, we made our way into a backwoods town in northern Wisconsin in search of the famed Largest Twine Ball in the World. We finally found the 19,000 pound monstrosity on the shores of Lake Nebagamon just east of US Highway 53 and south of US Highway 2 near Superior, WI. As unique as the ball was, were fascinated by the creator of this iconic attraction, James Frank Kotera, who calls himself “JFK the Twine Ball Man” and claims to be the most famous JFK. I even made a video of this guy….enjoy a laugh. You can see a flashback post of my 2007 visit HERE and then check out my 2007 Mockumentary Video with JFK below.
Lesage, West Virginia
Drive along the Ohio River out of Huntington, West Virginia and a few miles up WV Highway 2 you’ll come across what appears to be a junk collectors’ paradise. What it really is may surprise you…it is a world famous hot dog joint known as Hillbilly Hot Dogs. The place has been features on Diners, Dives and Drive Ins as well as a number of other shows. And yes, they do make a killer hot dog!! Check out my really fun 2008 Slide Show HERE.
LeRoy, New York
So, you have had the Hot Dogs and you want dessert? How about taking a trip to the community of LeRoy, New York on New York Highway 5 and visit the funky little JELL-O Museum. A ceiling full of spoons, a couple of “Did You Know JELL-O quizzes,” Bill Cosby memorabilia and lots of JELL-O souvenirs. See my 2008 trip report that includes more about the JELL-O museum HERE.
Lizard Lick, North Carolina
Travel along NC Highway 97 and you will eventually hit a crossroads at Lizard Lick Road and come across the small community of Lizard Lick, NC. The town supposedly got its name from a “passing observer who saw many lizards sunning and licking themselves on a rail fence.” In any case, it really became famous in 1998 when Nintendo did a big splashy introduction of their game called “Yoshi’s Story.” Then, in September 2009 Lizard Lick once again received publicity, this time on a national level when TruTV became aware of a local towing and recovery company owned and operated by evangelist and Lizard Lick honorary “Mayor” Ronnie Shirley and his wife Amy Shirley, called Lizard Lick Towing and Recovery. The program, called Lizard Lick Towing, ran for four seasons from 2011-2014
Lake Jackson, Texas (Honorable Mention)
On a trip to Galveston in 2014, I was apprised of a town called Lake Jackson, Texas. Located on Texas Highway 288, it doesn’t necessarily offer too much, but it has a REALLY curious street name — in fact, a couple of them. The main street through town is called This Way and downtown it intersects with another street called That Way. You can read the story on the photo of the plaque above. Definitely a fun quirky place. Read more about my visit HERE.
Lost Springs, Wyoming (Honorable Mention)
Back in 2007 I made a trip through central Wyoming on US Highway 20 with my son Solomon and we came to a place named Lost Springs, which had a sign proclaiming Population 1. At that time it was one of only three or four towns with that population. On a return visit in 2014, the town had grown by three. There is a Post Office, Bar and Antique shop…all were closed on both visits. The entire town must have been on vacation…all four of them. See my original 2007 Post HERE. My 2014 Return Trip is documented HERE.
Langdon, North Dakota (Honorable Mention)
Finally, there is that small town north of US Highway 2 in North Dakota called Langdon. Located at the crossroads of ND Highway 1 and ND Highway 5 very close to Canada, my interest in the town was its Spartan missile in the park. You can see more photos and read more about it HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
(Author’s note: This post is another in my Throwback Thursday series. Taken from August 2008 on a visit to Bethlehem for the Music Festival to join Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. I also visited a number of other sites. At the time I was still working in Woodstock, Ontario)
August 1, 2008: Instead of heading back to Kentucky for the weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Bethlehem, PA and join Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours for their two performances at the 2008 Bethlehem MusikFest. I decided to make a weekend of it and visit more places along the way that I had yet to get to. It would be a fun weekend indeed!!
I headed out early and headed southeast towards Buffalo. My adventures for the first day would take me to the Erie Canal and the Jell-O Museum, among other places. The map of the entire trip is below.
My first “tourist stop” along the way was Lockport, New York. Lockport derived its name from the locks that were built on the Erie Canal through here. It is only about 20 miles east of Niagara Falls. Like many towns in NW New York and SW Ontario, the town was initially settled by Quakers. In the 1820s construction on the Erie Canal was well underway and part of the route would go through Lockport. The locks were the idea of Nathan Roberts. A sixty foot drop existed at Lockport and a way had to be devised to raise and lower the packet boats to complete the journey to Buffalo. Roberts’s idea was a twin flight of locks with five locks each. In 1823, work began on the lock construction. These locks were crucial to
the completion of the canal.
Today the town of Lockport welcomes many visitors who come to see the historic locks, which have since been improved upon considerably as technology has allowed. When I got to Lockport I visited the Erie Locks & Canal Museum, where there was a small video about the building of the canal and locks in the area. I then walked over to the locks.
There are tours down and through the canal from here as well as a boat tour down in the Lockport Cave. Due to time and money constraints I chose not to take them. But I would love to have the time to take a whole day here to see the sights and history. Maybe someday…..
The complex was built as two sets of five flights of locks (one east-bound, one west-bound) and was considered to be an engineering triumph. These would help traverse the Niagara escarpment which dropped 60 feet in the Lockport area. Lots of early photos can be seen here. Following are Some views of the locks in Lockport
From Lockport, I headed east along the Erie Canal and made my way into Middleport, a quaint little town with an interesting restaurant and bridge. The Original Basket Factory was begun around 1893 to make baskets for fruit farmers along the canal. It later became a nice little restaurant.
From Middleport I continued east to Medina, NY (pronounced Ma-DIE-nah as I later found out) on NY Highway 31. Another nice little town along the Erie Canal, Medina is the home to the Medina Railroad Museum (which I did not visit) and is also home to a very large sculpted apple along the Erie Canal.
I went further east of Medina on NY 31 to find the only place along the canal with a tunnel going under it. Just down the road on the left was Culvert Rd. Take a left and it takes you directly to the tunnel. Known as the Culvert Road tunnel (or something like that), it was the only one ever on the Erie Canal and has existed here since Clinton’s Ditch, another name for the Erie Canal. The original road culvert, on a slightly different alignment, was removed about 1854-1855 as part of the Erie’s enlargement. The contract for the Enlarged Erie road culvert is dated October 24, 1854 and lists Conway and Slater as the contractors. The 1854/1855 Enlarged Erie culvert was substantially rebuilt or replaced as part of the Nine Million Dollar Improvement of 1895. The contract for the new structure was given to Charles A. Gorman and is dated December 7, 1896. The current road culvert represents an attempt during the Barge Canal’s construction to preserve, if unknowingly, the historic significance of the structure. The facade of the south end was dismantled and the stones numbered. It was then reinstalled at a new location to allow for the wider Barge Canal channel.
After my drive along NY 31, I headed south on NY 98 towards Batavia and then east on NY 5 into the historical town of Le Roy, NY. My main objective in visiting Le Roy was the JELL-O Museum. This delectable bouncy treat was first developed in Le Roy in 1897 by Pearle Wait. He was working with some cough syrup and laxative tea and then added some gelatin. His wife called it Jell-O. The recipe was bought by a man named Orator F. Woodward in Sept. 1899. There is a lot of history about Jell-O, but perhaps the one thing that many people my age think of is Bill Cosby.
After Le Roy I headed east on I-90 to highway 14 South. I then went south through Finger Lake country along Seneca Lake to Geneva, then on 14A to the small town of Penn Yan, which sits on the north end of Keuka Lake. This is beautiful country. Penn Yan is also home of Birkett Mills, known for its famous Buckwheat flour, but also known to have the largest griddle in the world.
I continued south to Corning, NY and then to Elmira and then eventually wended my way to Clarks Summit, PA (near Scranton), where I spent the night. Scranton is the home of then Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate (with Barrack Obama). I spent the night in the Ramada Inn, which is right next to an extremely high bridge called the Freedom Bridge. It towers 163 feet high above the town
and is 1627 feet long. At one time was known as the “Suicide Bridge” due to the more than 20 suicides that took place from the 1980s to the present.
August 2, 2008: I was off to Bethlehem this morning. No plans to stop along the way, so I headed south on I-380 and then down US 209. I got into Bethlehem around 10 AM and had a great time driving around the town while waiting for Antsy McClain and the band to arrive in town later in the afternoon.
Bethlehem is in Eastern Pennsylvania and is a city of about 72,000. It was the home of Bethlehem Steel, which began in Bethlehem in 1857 but succumbed to bankruptcy in 2003. At one time it was the second largest steel producer in the United States. The buildings look rusty and the factory is like an old sore. But, there is now construction of a new casino on the site.
As I drove around the city I was taken by the cultural diversity. There is a large Puerto Rican community, the beautiful old Lehigh University and the old steel mill.
I drove up and down the streets near the steel plant and imagined how this area must have thrived in the heyday of steel production. Homes were tightly built in rows, with little or no yards. Nowadays most of the neighborhoods I drove through appeared to be Puerto Rican.
Lehigh University is a beautiful old campus and has some wonderful old buildings too.
I also drove around the outskirts of town and there was nice farmland and even some geese….
Of course, the highlight of the visit to Bethlehem was the MusikFest and most especially, the performance of the fabulous music group known as Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours!! The Troubs were scheduled for two nights here. They were just a small part of dozens of performances on a number of stages. The first night we played at 9 PM on the Liederplatz Stage.
The show was a blast and all had fun. After the show we all crashed at the hotel.
August 3, 2008: This morning was a great time to sleep in, which I did. The hotel was comfy, had a huge TV in the room and I just lounged until late in the morning. Antsy and I then took a small ride around town and then back to the hotel to get ready for the second night’s show. We played the larger Americaplatz stage at 7:30 PM and had a crowd of nearly 500 watching the show.
The band had a blast…
And of course, Sumoflam was on hand to handle the Merch and answer questions. He Married Up!!
But more than the band, the crowds had a blast (including a number of die-hard Flamingoheads from PA and NJ!!!):
August 4, 2008: Well, as with everything else, the good things eventually go away and are done. The two days of fun with the Troubs were done and I had to be back on the road to Woodstock again. I chose my route home carefully so I could see one spectacular sight on the way. So, from Bethlehem I drove north on PA 33 then to I-80. I then drove wet to I-380 and headed north towards Scranton and eventually back to Clark’s Summit. I exited there and headed north on US 11 towards Factoryville, which took me north along the Lackawanna Trail into Nicholson, PA. As I drove into town I was awestruck by the amazing sight in front me. Towering high above the town was this humongous cement train bridge. This is the Nicholson Bridge (actually the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct which celebrates its 100th anniversary in Sept. 2015). It is 2375 feet long, 240 feet tall and 34 feet wide. Yes, 24 stories tall!!!!! The bridge was built as part of the Clark’s Summit-Hallstead Cutoff, which was part of a project of the Lackawanna Railroad to revamp a winding and hilly system. This rerouting was built between Scranton, Pennsylvania and Binghamton, New York. All thirteen piers were excavated to bedrock, which was up to 138 feet below ground level. Almost half of the bulk of the bridge is underground. The bridge was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and was designed by Abraham Burton Cohen. Construction on the bridge began in May 1912, and dedication took place on November 6, 1915.
Considering the immensity of this bridge, it is amazing that it was built nearly 100 years ago. A detailed history of the bridge is here.
Following are more pictures. I drove all around the town to get these photos and found that the best place to get photos of the length of the bridge was at the cemetery, which is up on a hill overlooking the town. This is by far one of the greatest places I have “discovered” on my trips thus far.
After the magnificence of the viaduct, I then had to head north. I went through a town called Hop Bottom and then on the way up to New Milford. Hop Bottom got its name from the hops that are grown in the area. New Milford had an interesting library…
I also made my way through the Finger Lakes of New York. Along the road north of Ithaca I saw a sign about Taughannock Falls. I knew nothing about this waterfall, but the viewpoint was just off the road, so I took a little jaunt to catch a peek. The Falls have a drop of about 215 feet and is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern U.S. It was an amazing sight, but unfortunately the light was not at the best angle for a good photo.
Beautiful scenery, but no time to stop along the way…