People are enthralled by dinosaurs and dragons. Maybe it is because humans have never really seen one alive. All we have are fossil evidences and legends.
A roadtrip on the back roads of America will almost always present a dinosaur or a dragon. I have seen hundreds in my travels.
In this post I hope to share some of the photos and fun of dinosaurs, dragons and other monster thingies as seen on the road.
Let’s look at a couple of strange monsters first. First there is the Hodag, a unique monster found in Rhinelander, WI. According to an 1893 newspaper article it was “the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth. It became extinct after its main food source, all white bulldogs, became scarce in the area.”
Wisconsin really seems to be the monster capital of the country. In Mt. Horeb, there is another cool looking monster statue in front of the visitor center. Created by Wally Keller, an artist from nearby.
Of course, the premier “dragon” stop in Wisconsin is Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. Created by artist (and former attorney) Clyde Wynia, this large property has well over 1000 pieces of welded scrap metal art, including a few dragons.
Clyde has a number of stories about his “artwork fossils” and makes it a fun place to visit. Note that it really is off the beaten path, but well worth a visit!
And the afore mentioned Wally Keller, who passed away a few years ago, also had a nice menagerie in his front yard.
There is another scrap metal artist in Centralia, MO who also has created a number of similar dinosaurs.
One of the most interesting dragons out there is the Kaskaskia Fire breathing dragon in Vandalia, IL
This monster was the brainchild of Kaskaskia Supply owner Walt Barenfanger. The 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!!
There are, of course, many other dragons out there.
But, its the dinosaurs that impress. Many have been built to the presumed size and shape of the various monsters. In fact, there are a number of T Rex statues out there.
Most impressive of all is the great escape of dinosaurs from the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Life size and REALLY REAL looking.
And here are a few more dinosaur shots from around the country
and finally, who can forget that cute little Sinclair Gas dinosaur?
On June 12 I commenced on a trip to Dallas, Texas from Idaho Falls, Idaho. This would be a long two day trip, but I certainly wanted to hit some places I had never been before. So, on Day 1 I ventured south through Pocatello and then onto Eagle, Colorado, about 588 miles. Following is my route map for Day 1.
Just near the hotel I stayed at in Idaho Falls, there was an amazing Eagle Sculpture in a roundabout. This is a HUGE work and is quite stunning. Called “The Protector”, it is touted as the “World’s Largest Eagle Monument” and was unveiled in the fall of 2006. The work was done by Wyoming artist Vic Payne and portrays a mother eagle perched to feed her two young eaglets with a salmon that is held in her great talons. The father, “The Protector”, circles around his territory in majestic flight keeping a vigilant watch for anything that may bring danger to his family. Payne created the eagles 3 times life size with a 21 foot wingspan. Each of the eaglets are 4 1/2 feet in height.
Go figure…I will start the morning off with an “Eagle” and end the day in an “Eagle.”
I then proceeded south on I-15 to Pocatello. This drive goes through volcanic fields and other geology. An interesting drive. As I approached the crest of a hill though, there was a stunning change in scenery as the lava fields turned into a huge field of yellow.
From Pocatello I continued south until I hit US 30 and then proceeded east towards Lava Hot Springs. This road leads into the hill country and offered more great views of flowery meadows.
I rolled into the small resort town of Lava Hot Springs, which is nestled in a nice little valley. I didn’t have time to stop except for a photo or two. But the Welcome Sign pretty much says it all.
This area was frequented by pre-historic Indians long before the white men arrived in 1812. They used the hot water for bathing and processing hides. It was also a major campground during the winter. Now the town touts itself as a “Vacation Resort” with spas, water slides and more.
Not much further east is the town of Soda Springs. Like Lava Hot Springs, it sits atop of 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. as noted, 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.
I really would have liked to have spent a couple of hours here. It is a nice little town with some great history. But, I had to press on to Montpelier, which is “Pioneer Central”.
Montpelier, Idaho was founded in 1864 and received its name from Brigham Young in deference to his birthplace in the town of the same name in Vermont. Mormon heritage in the Bear Lake area of Idaho. Many Mormon families moved and settled in this area in the 1860s and 1870s. Indeed, my wife’s direct ancestors were some of the families that came to the area. In her case, her great great grandfather William Shepherd migrated from England and settled in nearby Paris, Idaho, which later became the county seat of Bear Lake County. He was a shoemaker and a farmer and was considered a “leading citizen” of the county (see this article for more on the Shepherds). My wife’s grandfather Rulon T. Shepherd was born in Paris as was her mother Arlene. Rulon and family eventually were some of the original settlers in Mesa, Arizona. So, the Pioneer Heritage of this area has a special place in the hearts of my family.
Montpelier is home to the National Oregon/California Trail Center, which is all about the pioneers. The Trail Center was built to preserve, perpetuate and promote the pioneer history and heritage of the Oregon/California Trail and the Bear Lake Valley.
I had to move on and into Wyoming. I got to the border via US 30 as it wound through areas trekked on by pioneers
From the border I headed into the small town of Cokeville, Wyoming.
Cokeville, Wyoming is a small town of about 535 people. The town got its name from coal deposits found in the area. The railroad arrived in 1882 and the town incorporated in 1910 and, in the early 1900s, was called the “Sheep Capital of the World” due to the number of sheep ranches. (Newell, SD is now called the “Sheep Capital of America”). Perhaps the only really interesting thing I saw in Cokeville was the non-descript sign for “Blondie’s Cafe”.
From Cokeville I continued s outh on US 30 until it turned east and then followed it on to Kemmerer.
Kemmerer, Wyoming and Diamondville, Wyoming are basically twin cities that reside in what is called “The Fossil Basin” due to the abundant fish fossils in the area. On the way into Kemmerer I passed Fossil Butte National Monument, but did not have time to stop there. Some of the world’s best preserved fossils are found here including fossilized fish, insects, plants, reptiles, birds, and mammals. They are apparently exceptional for their abundance, variety, and detail of preservation. There are also “Dig-your-own” fossil quarries located in the hills surrounding ancient Fossil Lake, just west of Kemmerer and Diamondville. So, this is a haven for fossil enthusiasts.
The two towns boast a number of beautiful wooden signs that dot the area. A few samples are above.
Kemmerer, Wyoming has about 2,700 residents and is the county seat of Lincoln County. The town was established as a result of the discovery of coal deposits by explorer John Fremont. In 1881 the Union Pacific Coal Company opened an underground mine in conjunction with the newly added Oregon Short Line Railroad. The actual town was founded in 1897 and was named after Pennsylvania Coal Magnate Mahlon S. Kemmerer, who provided major funding for the mine operations. As a result of the mines, the town grew rapidly.
In 1902 James Cash Penney came to Kemmerer to open a business. He set up the “Golden Rule Store” and opened its doors on April 14, 1902 in partnership with two other individuals. The partnership later dissolved, and, in 1909 Penney moved his headquarters to Salt Lake City to be closer to banks and railroads. By 1912 he had expanded to 34 stores in . In 1913 he made the decision to change their names to J.C. Penney Company. and the company eventually moved its headquarters to New York. An interesting side note of history: In 1940, Sam Walton began working at a J. C. Penney in Des Moines, Iowa. Walton later went on to found future retailer Walmart in 1962. The “Mother Store” still operates in Kemmerer.
The town has a beautiful (and large) wall mural in the downtown area depicting the history of the area. It was done by mural artist Harvey Jackson in 2006. I have wrote about another of his murals in Gillette, Wyoming in an earlier post.
I found this old wooden couple outside of Bob’s Rock Shop in Kemmerer. I didn’t stop in due to time constraints, but I had to get a shot of this fun couple!
Like Kemmerer, the small town of Diamondville, Wyoming got its start from Cole Mining when coal was discovered nearby in 1868 by a man named Harrison Church. A tent town soon formed and eventually the town was established in 1896. The town apparently got its name from the quality of the superior-grade coal that seemed to resemble black diamonds.
From Diamondville I proceeded east on US 30 towards the small town of Opal, WY.
Opal, Wyoming is practically a ghost town. There are only a few occupied buildings and a number of old run down houses. It was originally an old railroad town and is also a center for sheep and cattle ranching. According to one site, the town ships 10,000 head of cattle annually.
Continuing eastward, US 30 moved southeast towards Interstate 80 south of Granger, Wyoming. From there it was on to Little America, Wyoming.
Little America got its name from the Little America motel, which was purposefully located in this remote location as a haven, not unlike the base camp the polar explorer Richard E. Byrd set up in the Antarctic in 1928, thus the use of penguins as the icons. However, being situated on a coast-to-coast highway and offering travel services, it thrived, launching a chain of travel facilities by the same name. Its developer, Robert Earl Holding, who died on April 19, 2013, with a personal net worth of over $3 billion. Holding was the owner of Sinclair gas, the Little America hotel chain and the Sun Valley and Snowbasin ski resorts, among other businesses.
In 1974 I began work with a company in Salt Lake City called Alta Distributing. It was a record and tape rack jobber and I was given a sales territory that included southern Utah, eastern Utah and southern Wyoming. Once a month I made way from Vernal, Utah to Rock Springs, Wyoming and then west to Evanston and back to Salt Lake. I always stopped in Little America…it was truly a haven and they had a great dining facility with amazing portions. It was one of my fonder memories. Later, while in college, I worked for a short time at the Little America in Flagstaff, AZ and then, as a tour guide, made frequent trips to this classy hotel to pick up guests.
Heading east on I-80, the landscape is fairly bleak. Lots of sage brush and high desert landscapes. To some it is likely a boring drive. But, there is plenty of life out there and, as one gets closer to Green River, the scenery starts getting more interesting.
From Green River it is a hop skip and a jump to Rock Springs. I always remembered Rock Springs as a town full of singlewide trailers, but the town of 23,000 is actually quite vibrant due to the energy-rich region that contains numerous oil and natural gas reserves.
I continued east on I-80 until I got to exit 187 which linked with Wyoming HWY 789, which headed south towards Colorado. This exit had a couple of old gas station signs, remnants of a vibrant time now long gone.
The drive to Baggs, Wyoming on WY 789 is a 50 mile drive through some pretty amazing desert scenery. including colorful buttes, badlands, arroyos, wild horses and antelope. I was quite thrilled to take this drive on a road I had never been on and on one that is obviously not heavily traveled. At one time this was part of the Overland Trail and there are apparently still some ruts visible from the late 1800s when the trail was used.
The drive down Hwy 789 is also historic. It is reputedly where the famous Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and their “Wild Bunch” hung out. Baggs is one of many towns in scenic Carbon County, Wyoming, which includes the towns of Rawlins, Baggs and a number of others.
Baggs, Wyoming is a short drive from the Colorado border and is only about 40 miles or so from Craig, Colorado. To get there I continued south on 789 which turns into Colorado Hwy 13 heading into Craig.
The drive down Colorado 13 is scenic with rolling hills and lots of antelope. I saw quite a few including the two below and then the amazing scene of the mother and two calves.
Along this highway one can see the “Fortification Rocks” which is an old basalt pillar that is believed to be used by Indians as a fortification. The historical marker for Fortification Rocks thew in some humor noting that “this area is better known as home to a large number of rattlesnakes.” This structure juts out of the prairie like a sharp razor back and is fairly impressive.
Continuing southward towards Craig the scenery continues to get more impressive.
And, of course, my GPS knows me well as it sent me on a gravel road bypassing Craig and heading towards US Route 40 and Hayden, CO.
Hayden is a small town of abut 1600 people just a few miles east of Craig, CO and west of Steamboat Springs, CO on US Hwy 40. The area was first settled in 1875, with the town established in 1894 and incorporated in 1906. Hayden was named for F.V. Hayden, head of a survey party for the U.S. Geological & Geographic Survey in the late 1860s. Hayden explored western Colorado during the late nineteenth century. It has a small mainline passenger airport due to it’s proximity to some major Colorado ski resorts.
I continued east on US 40 a few more miles until I hit Colorado Hwy 131 which headed south towards Eagle through the Yampa River Valley and some wonderful late spring scenery of wildflower covered hills, as well as a drive by a huge Peabody Coal operation near Oak Creek, Colorado.
From the Peabody Coal facility, CO 131 winds its way down into the small town of Oak Creek. Funny how it reminded me of the drive from Flagstaff, AZ to Sedona, AZ thorough Oak Creek Canyon with the sharp curves.
From Oak Creek I proceeded south to Phippsburg and then into Yampa, CO, where I caught a pretty amazing sunset.
I finally arrived in Yampa, Colorado at around 8:30 PM in time to catch a glimpse of a wonderful sunset on the hills.
The remainder of the drive was in the shady light of sunset as I continued south and crossed over the Colorado River at State Bridge Landing south of Bond, CO. It was too dark to get any photographs but it was lit enough that I could imagine that it was a spectacular scene. I eventually made my way to my hotel in Eagle, CO. It was a long day after nearly 600 miles of driving…but left some lasting memories.
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 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.
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.
There are lots of bars and restaurants as well…
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
After a nice dinner, we walked out of the restaurant and OH WHAT A VIEW!!
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
From the warriors we went through town and made the requisite stop at the world’s largest penguin!
Being another train town, there is a large Train Bridge in Cutbank
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a video of one of his creations:
But, I must admit, the BEST part of the entire visit to Shelby was this….
Next stop…heading home via US 2. Watch soon for the next great adventures on Less Beaten Paths.