There are not many better things on a back road trip than running into unexpected wildlife. There is an abundance of birds and animals to be discovered on the road. For me, my camera is always at the ready for the chance meeting of some interesting animal or bird.
One such incident happened on a gravel road near Dell, Montana. I was on the lookout for bison as I drive along Ted Turner’s massive bison ranch. While stopped to look I heard a strange bird call that I had never heard and shortly thereafter a pair of large birds came zipping by. I got some shots, but wasn’t sure what I had until I got to the hotel later that night and discovered they were a pair of Sandhill Cranes, my first ever sighting of these glorious birds.
Just a few years later in my own state of Kentucky I was able to track down a migration of 1000s of these magnificent birds. I actually came close to walking among their huge flock and they were flying all around me. Words can’t explain the awe I had.
These birds migrate north back to their homes in Michigan and Wisconsin and fly through Kentucky in late January. They stop in the bounteous cornfields to eat the leftovers that remained after harvest.
Chance encounters are always a thrill. On a morning drive in Grand Teton National Park on a snowy morning in March 2013, I caught a fox leaping in the snow out of the corner of my eye. The lovely animal stopped and stared at me as I sought to nab a shot.
On another trip earlier this year, we were driving on a backroad in Arkansas when we saw a “field of white” ahead of us. Turned out to be a massive flock of migrating snow geese.
There could have been 1000s of them here, much the same as the Sandhill Cranes I noted above. But it was such an unplanned surprise.
Once again, camera was always at the ready, so I was able to get a few shots while still sitting in the van (though we had to go about a mile down the road to turn around and accommodate the photo shoot.
Just like the snow geese, I happened upon a large flock of white pelicans at Andes Lake in South Dakota. I could see them from a distance and thought they were ducks.
Of course, its not always about birds. There are plenty of opportunities in the high plains to come across America’s fastest animal, the pronghorn antelope.
On trips through Montana and Wyoming I always saw these lovely sleek animals. Sometimes I got them right on the side of the road.
I did have one lucky trip in 2013 when I was driving through Colorado and saw a mother and her two calves go jaunting through the tall grass. I was able to get a nice shot with my telephoto lens.
The National Parks are always a great place to get some nice wildlife shots. I have been to Yellowstone three times in the past 5 years and have seen a nice variety of wildlife, but mainly its the bison that roam free that are a thrill. I was amazed at how huge some of these guys get. One that walked by my car was at least 7 feet tall.
Elk are another great large mammal to look for. I have seen them in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as well as some of the mountain drives I made.
These are lovely animals. And, like the bison, are huge.
The great culprit of car accidents and frequent recipient of roadkill awards are deer. These can be seen along highways everywhere both day and night.
I recently made a trip to Shenandoah National Park and got some very nice shots of deer. I have many more from other places, but these are my best.
Sometimes I make trips to find the wildlife myself. Such was the case recently on a visit to the fish hatchery near Cave Run Lake in Eastern Kentucky. I was in search of some of the bald eagles that hang around there. Found one!
There have been more sightings recently of these lovely and regal birds. I have seen one or two almost every week at Jacobson Park locally and also have been able to see a nest with three adults and two offspring near Taylorsville Lake west of Lexington.
Love these eagles.
My most favorite wildlife subject is the Great Blue Heron. These huge birds hang around lakes and rivers in Kentucky and many other places. I literally have 1000s of photos of them. Here are a few recent ones from Lexington.
I have photos of these birds in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio and other places as well.
I could post dozens and dozens of other photos, but I will only add a few other wildlife shots to this post from my travels.
One of my “bucket list trips” is to drive the entire length of US Route 2 from the East Coast to the West Coast. Not necessarily in one trip, but to have been able to drive the length of that highway as the opportunity affords itself.
Route 2 is one of the longest continuous highways in the continental United States, spanning 2,571 miles and is also the northernmost US numbered route in the country. The western segment of US 2 extends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan across the northern tier of the lower 48 states. Most of the western route was built roughly paralleling the Great Northern Railway. US 2 adopted the railway’s route nickname “The Hi-Line” as the most northern crossing in the U.S.
On this trip to Montana, I chose to drive north to Ironwood, Michigan (see the first leg of the trip here if you missed it) and use that as my starting point for the trip westward on US Route 2 since it represents the western end of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I would then traverse across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and a good part of Montana all the way to US Route 89 near Glacier National Park.
Ironwood also has a number of unique things to see including a giant Hiawatha statue which is touted to be the biggest Native American Indian statue in the United States. They also have some nice murals and a few other unique things to see, so this would be how I started my day off.
As the name implies, Ironwood is a town that was settled due to iron mining. It’s history goes back to the 1800s. There are a couple of monuments to the iron workers in this town including a beautiful mural with paintings of the faces of almost 100 of the former iron workers. There is also a nice chainsaw carved sculpture in front of the old train station.
According to roadsideamerica.com, Ashland artists Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen spent over four years researching and painting the mural, which depicts over 100 real miners. It was unveiled on June 16, 2012, and proved so popular as a photo-op that in 2013 the city created a car-free zone in front of the mural.
Perhaps the biggest drawing card is the aforementioned Hiawatha statue which stands 52 feet tall in the midst of a park in town. I have been to many tall statues over the years including the Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota (55 feet), the 15 foot tall Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, and of course the giant “Salem Sue” cow statue in New Salem, North Dakota (38 ft tall, 55 foot long), among others. But this Hiawatha was quite amazing. It was built by Gordon Displays of St. Paul, Minnesota and erected in 1964, so it is quite a long-running Roadside attraction. It was made totally out of fiberglass and weighs 18,000 pounds. Amongst the “big things” of this country’s unique tourist attractions, this is certainly one of the bigger ones.
Ironwood also has one of those classy looking theater fronts at the Historic Ironwood Theatre. A drive around the town also shows a number of vintage motel neon signs, which are always of interest to the seasoned back roads traveler.
As I left Ironwood, I made sure to get the requisite selfie with the Welcome to Wisconsin sign (one of 100 planned selfies on this trip!)
By morning I was well on my way westward on US Route 2 traversing across the birch forests and farmland of northern Wisconsin.
As I neared WI 169 I saw a sign to Copper Falls State Park. There was no distance noted, so I made a left and headed down the road towards Gurney, WI. Great drive, but after about 8 miles I figured it was too far, so I headed back. I had wanted to head to Copper Falls because a verse of my friend Antsy McClain‘s song Field Trip.
Back on US Route 2 on continuing west one enters the Bad River Reservation, which is the home of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe. After driving past the Bad River Casino and the very small town of Odanah (pop 13), I came across a most unique “Collectibles Shop” on the side of the road. This is one of those really unique “junk all over everything” places. In some ways it is another form of Americana Art as far as I am concerned. Here are a few shots of the place….which some research showed me was Boudreau’s Antiques and Collectibles with an Ashland, WI address (65782 Hwy 2).
Once I left Boudreau’s and headed further west I could see Lake Superior to my right (north) and seagulls were everywhere. Definitely near water!
Ashland, Wisconsin sits on the shore of Lake Superior and is a nice little town with numerous brownstone buildings. It is also called the “Mural Capital of Wisconsin” due to its 13 wonderful murals. It is also the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The Lakeshore features 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland and hosts a unique blend of cultural and natural resources.
The Ashland Mural Walk offers some amazing work by Ashland mural artists Kelly Meredith and Susan Prentice-Martinsen. They have also done murals in Ironwood, MI and other spots in northern Wisconsin. The first of their murals is a three story tall mural called the Asaph Whittlesey mural, which was completed in 1998.
The next mural is actually a set of three along the same wall and is called the Ellis Avenue Historical Mural and features three famous redstone buildings including Northland College’s Wheeler Hall, Ashland High School and the Knight Hotel. these were apparently completed in 2012.
In 2007 the artists painted the “The Bus Stop Waitresses,” which I actually enjoyed quite a bit as it is somewhat whimsical.
The next one is quite large and is called the Ore Dock Mural. This mural depicts the Ashland Ore Dock, which was built in 1916. The top portion of the mural is a “to scale” painting of the ore dock itself, including every properly numbered ore chute. The lower section includes 21 “postcards” telling the history of the varied uses of the structure over the years.
Another extensive mural is the “Veteran’s Mural” which runs along the side of the old Bay Theatre. This mural features 41 veterans and all the veterans painted in the mural are actual people from the area.
Another nice mural is the “Lighthouse Mural.” Completed in 2000, the mural depicts three Apostle Island lighthouses and their “keepers.”
A smaller yet unique mural is the “Dhooghe’s Store Mural” on the front of the Chequamegon Food Co-op building in Ashland.
Finally, there is the “Lumberjack Mural.” This one was also completed in 2000 and depicts some of the men (and one woman) of Ashland’s lumber era.
Due to all of the murals, some other shops have gotten in on the action and done their own. The one below was quite colorful and was in a back alley.
But murals are not the only attraction in Ashland. Like many small towns, they still have their old theatre front, in this case, the Bay Theater.
On the wet end of town is a nice park on the shores of the lake and I had to get a couple more seagull shots…
After a 30 minute stopover in Ashland, it was time to get moving so I continued west on US Route 2. Not too far out of town I cam across Pagac’s Bar on the south side of the road. The drawing card here was the robotic looking Green Bay Packer quarterback made out of scrap metal and a keg. Pretty unique.
Continuing west on Route 2 I came to the small town of Iron River, WI. This small town also had a huge mural by the same artists that did the Ashland murals. They began this project in 2006 sponsored by the Iron River Lion’s Club.
Continuing west the drive was lovely as it took me into the small community of Blueberry, WI
Not too much further down the road I came into Maple, WI and discovered a wonderful place called Grizz Works. This place does chain saw and wood work and has some fabulous pieces. I stopped and spoke with Justin Howland, the owner. He was very pleasant and amenable. In fact, I will be doing a separate post just for them. But here are a couple of shots…
US Route 2 out of Maple eventually heads into Superior, WI, which is the end of the road in Wisconsin. Just before town is one of those offbeat eateries…this one is called Gronk’s Grill and Bar. This is one of thos places that has a Burger Challenge (which I did not try….but would have liked to have….) . Called the Great Divide Challenge, it involves eating 8 pounds’ worth of burger and fries. The first person to accomplish this was a woman!! It was named after the Great Divide (which is south of Superior and not visited on this trip).
After fun at Gronk’s it was back on the road and to the bridge crossing over into Minnesota.
As I returned home from my long nine-day trip across America I wanted to take a quick look back at all the events.
Over the course of this trip I have covered 12 states, over 4600 miles, taken almost 2000 photos (including over 100 “selfies” and have seen all kinds of things.
The big highlights of this trip were visiting the Paul Bunyan and Big Blue in Bemidji, Minnesota, driving up the Beartooth Mountains in Wyoming/Montana, and hitting Carhenge in Nebraska.
Along with these, I saw many other interesting places. I had numerous oddball sites along the way including a pink elephant, big bears, Jackalopes and many other roadside attractions.
This trip took me along many US highways as I generally avoided the interstate whenever possible. I was fortunate enough to drive a big chunk US Route 2: all the way from Ironwood, Michigan to the eastern edge of Glacier National Park where US 2 intersects with US 89. That route has some amazing scenery, lots of variety and other wonderful things.
As I noted above, I took Route 2 all the way to where it met US Highway 89. I later drove US 89 from the US 2/US 89 intersection near Glacier National Park along the eastern rim down to the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Throughout my years of travel I have covered a good portion US 89 all the way down to Mexico and all the way up to Canada but never in one fell swoop. In my opinion, US 89 is probably the most scenic of all the US highways. US Route 66 may be the most famous, but US 89 passes by a number national parks and monuments, as well as numerous other scenic places. From the north you would drive by Glacier, then Yellowstone, continue south through the Rocky Mountains, down through southern Utah near Bryce and Zion national parks, crossover Lake Powell at Glen Canyon dam, head towards Flagstaff and pass Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments, then pass the Grand Canyon, and continue south all the way to Mexico. An amazing drive down nature’s “Grand Staircase.”
As with most of my trips, I also captured the abundance of wildlife, some of which I was able to photograph. I had close-ups of deer, antelope, bison and a few waterbirds. I drove through the wetlands of Minnesota, the marshlands of North Dakota, and the sandhills of Nebraska, all of which had an abundance of waterfowl.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some amazing people along this road trip. I met some expert woodcarvers in Wisconsin and I met with rice growers in Wisconsin. I had a long talk with the people in Bemidji, Minnesota. While in Douglas, Wyoming I got to meet with the people there about the Jackalope got my “official” Jackalope hunting license and other goodies from them. At Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming I met a photographer from Wisconsin who also writes blogs and has many similar interests in travel. I hope to exchange stories and photos with him. Then at Carhenge I met a time lapse photographer and some other interesting people and even donated my MARDUP (Married Up) license plate to the Carhenge gift shop. I don’t want to forget the small Old Trail Museum in the small town of Choteau, Montana with dinosaurs and other unique things.
As with most of my trips, I didn’t visit all of my planned locations. But along the way there were many in expected surprises that I ran across. These are what really make these trips worthwhile! Perhaps two of my most exciting surprises were visiting Rock City in northern Montana ( with my Grandkidz) and Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming. Both of these are basically uncharted geographic and geologic formations that are really amazing.
As always, I was delighted to be around the mountains! I was fortunate to be able drive along the eastern rim of Glacier National Park at sunrise and see the beauty of the snow-covered mountains there. Driving down US 89 from Shelby towards Yellowstone, I saw an abundance of wonderful mountain vistas. Then one of my bucket list trips was accomplished on this as I drove the Beartooth mountain range which sits atop the border of Montana and Wyoming. That was an amazing adventure as I drove all the way up 11,000 feet to the “Top of the World” as they call it there. Deep snow surrounded the roads and the vistas looking down on the mountains were absolutely breathtaking.
This trip will actually provide me enough content to warrant a number of blog posts for me as I visited so many locations and saw so many different things. In the past, I have tried to throw it all into one giant blog. But this time around I met with people and I dug a little deeper and took more pictures of various locations so that I can focus on the smaller picture items. For sure I will have blog posts about US Route 2, US Route 89, the Beartooth, Bemidji, Douglas, and probably a few others.
With the new technology of wireless devices, I was able to take a lot of “selfies” along the route. My goal was to get 100 selfies, but I actually got 96 on this trip. Using Instagram, I hash tagged them with #100selfies and shared them on Twitter, Facebook and other social sites. Ultimately, I plan on a “100 Selfies” blog post including all of the photographs and the stories behind them.
Of course, I cannot neglect noting the real reason I took the trip which was my grandson Kade’s baptism. It was amazing to be able to spend time with my four grandchildren and my daughter Amaree and her husband Aaron for four days in Shelby, Montana.
During the course of this trip, I probably took over 2000 photographs. Much of them were scenery and unique sites. But I also captured the sense of the fading America – the old neon signs, the old abandoned houses and barns, schools and churches, the small-town theaters and their marquees. I captured small-town murals and Wall art.
I also captured an abundance of nature including beautiful sunrises and sunsets, amazing cloud formations, wildlife, wonderful vistas of the prairies and mountains and many many shots of scenes from the road
For me, these trips are not about the destinations. These trips are about the experience. It is all in the trip! This nine-day adventure, as with other long trips I have taken the past couple of years, will leave me cherished memories to the day that I die. Watch soon for detailed posts about the trip.