In 2018 I will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada. I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.
Lost Springs, Wyoming (Was Population 1, now Population 4)
Lake Andes, South Dakota
Lambert’s Cafe – Home of Throwed Rolls – Sikeston, Missouri
Lexington Cemetery in Spring – Lexington, Kentucky
Letchworth State Park – Castile, New York
Lindley Sign Post Forest – Danville, Illinois
Lake Oswego Art Walk – Lake Oswego, Oregon
Lawn Order – Nebraska City, Nebraska
Lincoln Mural – Lexington, Kentucky
Lordsburg, New Mexico
Leland, Mississippi – Birthplace of Kermit the Frog
Lake Wobegon Trail – Avon, Minnesota
Libby’s Pumpkin Factory – Morton, Illinois
Lookout, West Virginia
Log Cabin Motel – Ashton, Idaho
Lucy in Disguise Costumes – Austin, Texas
Larry Vennard Iron Sculpture Park – Centralia, Missouri
Leif Erikson Statues – Cleveland, Ohio and Duluth, Minnesota
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Abraham Lincoln Statue – Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Leaning Tree Cafe – Babb, Montana
Large Wooden Trolls – Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
Welcome to Louisiana
Laughing Ladies Cafe – Salida, Colorado
Langdon Wind Energy Center – Langdon, North Dakota
Little Big Horn National Monument – Crow Agency, Montana
Lizard Lick, North Carolina
Lucille Ball Birthplace – Jamestown, New York
Landry and Lombardi – NFL Coaching Icons – Dallas, Texas and Green Bay, Wisconsin
Longaberger Baskets – Newark, Ohio
Lynn’s Paradise Cafe – Louisville, Kentucky
Unfortunately, this place closed down around 2010 or so.
Lovesick Falls – Ontario, Canada
Little Italy – Cleveland, Ohio
Lopatapillar – Butterfly House – Chesterfield, Missouri
Logan’s Shoe Shop Neon Sign – Denton, Texas
Little River Cafe – Oregonia, Ohio
Troy Landry – Swamp People icon – Pierre Part, Louisiana
LSA Burger Company – Denton, Texas
Lund Theatre – Viborg, South Dakota
If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon. My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.
Everywhere I go I see old neon. These signs remind me of the my youthful days in the 1960s and 70s when we traveled. Alas, for many, the only signs they see are the same unoriginal fast food, gas station and motel chain signs all over the place. But, in the by gone days there were few McDonald’s and Motel 6 spots. Instead, there were the little cozy motels with the old metal chairs in the front and the unique neon signs. There were the local burger joints with their big shiny signs. And there were the drive in movie theaters and the downtown theatres with their unique names. Here is a trip down memory lane with neon I have captured along the less beaten paths and just a few comments, when appropriate.
Of all of the unique neon signs, perhaps the hotel and motel signs are the most fun and bring back the fondest memories. My first ever motel stay was in some non-descript motel in Amarillo, Texas in 1968. At the time I was only 12. It was exciting to sleep in a motel bed, see the paper covered drinking glasses, taste the strange tasting water, sit on the metal rockers on the front porch. We watched the news and stock reports on the local television and ate pancakes at a local cafe before heading to our new home in Richardson, Texas (we were moving from Albuquerque, so yes, we were on Route 66 back then).
And to round off the trip, how about one of the more famed ones….
CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
After a nice evening a a comfy motel, what is better than starting the day off with a great breakfast at a diner, a pancake house or a local cafe. The servings are always big, the mom and pop service is better than any fast food joint. Of course, while on the road you can also stop for lunch and even a big dinner, in some cases even more than you can manage if you are willing to take the chance (think Amarillo, Texas!!)
How about some burgers for lunch?
Perhaps you want to try an ORIGINAL Cozy Dog….a Route 66 Classic indeed. This one deserves two photos
Don’t want a burger or a corn dog? How about a Maid-Rite Sandwich?
Or perhaps some great authentic Bar-B-Q?
And a little Ice Cream for an afternoon treat….
Okay. So this next one is not neon. But it is certainly Vintage. And who can resist stopping for an ice cream at a place that LOOKS like an Ice Cream?
There are lots of places that you can get dinner…many of the old neon places are a combo bar/grill or bar/restaurant. And many have unique signs. Personally, I don’t drink alcohol, but I have certainly enjoyed a few good meals at some of these kinds of places.
And let’s not forget two of the most iconic vintage neon places for travelers….
Maybe you prefer something a bit more ethnic in the evening….
Or perhaps just a late night Philly Cheese Steak? How about two choices and they are just across the street from each other in the triangle….(I actually tried one at each place on the same evening – add the whiz!)
Movie Theaters, Drive-In Theaters and Music Halls
Perhaps you have had a long day on the road and need a break from motel room TV. A visit to an old drive in theater with some popcorn and thus fuzzy little speakers hanging in your window will do ya.
Too cold outside? Then there are some classic old movie theaters around that show some cool movies or maybe even will have a live band playing in them. Many of the old theaters are multi-purpose nowadays, but their old neon signs still draw you in and bring back the memories of 1960s childhood.
Following are a few classic looks with neon I have seen over the years as I travel the back roads of America.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OTHER PLACES
Sure, I meant it when I included “Sundry” in this section. That term seems old fashioned now, but the old five-and-dime shops had “sundry” items. There were also the old drug stores that sold magazines, had fountains in the shop and they sold “sundries.”
I also include the “various” in here since there are a few odds and ends neon signs that I want to include in this section.
Now, wasn’t that just a yummy adventure through the past?
In early April 2013 I had the opportunity to drive across the Hi-Line (US Route 2) in Northern Montana and then made our way to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore and all the across South Dakota to Mitchell and the Corn Palace. With another work trip to Idaho, I took a different route and, similar to the Hi-Line Drive, I mainly took US Route 18 (also known as the Oyate Trail) as it crosses most of South Dakota. It goes through many small and unique towns.
The Oyate Trail is a 388 mile route that generally follows SD 50 and US Route 18 across southern South Dakota. The name is derived from the Lakota word “Oyate”, which means “a people or a nation” and “Ochanku”, which is Lakota for “trail.” Thus, the trail of nations, initially meaning the trail to the various Lakota Nations — the Yankton, the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Sioux nations. But, the meaning is even more complex with the coming of the Europeans and the mixture of their cultures along the trail.
I started off in Kentucky on May 31 and spent the evening near Omaha, NE. On June 1 I headed north towards South Dakota, entering South Dakota in Sioux City on I-29. I took the freeway into the small town of Elk Point, another of the many places that Lewis and Clark had visited. They made camp nearby the area in August 1804.
My main stop in Elk Point was at Edgar’s Soda Fountain, a throwback to the good old days. Originally opened in Centerville in 1906 in a drug store, the soda fountain was taken out of the drug store in the 1960s. It eventually was rediscovered and rebuilt by the granddaughter of the drug store owner. They have even brought out the old manuals and have some concoctions directly from those manuals, such as The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages.
Owner Barb Wurtz was there and the staff was ultra friendly. They had an old-fashioned candy case, nice neon, original wooden booths and bar seating. Its a great place to take a quick break off the road.
I also wanted to drop by Edgar’s with my good friend and amazing guitarist Edgar Cruz in mind. So, “Welcome to Edgar’s!”
After consulting with the great staff at Edgar’s, I determined to make my way along US Route 18 (the Oyate Trail), which would take me across the lush prairies of southern South Dakota and into some small and unique towns. After visiting the Lewis and Clark Campsite monument n Elk Point, I headed north on I 29 to Exit 47 near Beresford and then west to Viborg. The Oyate Trail actually starts in Vermillion, SD, just NW of Elk Point, but I wanted to hit Viborg first.
Viborg is a town of around 700 and was settled by Danish immigrants in the 1860s. The town is named for Viborg in Denmark. The town was originally named Daneville, but with the coming of the railroad in the 1890s, the residents had to move a bit north so they could be along the railroad. Thus Viborg was born and was finally incorporated in August 1903.
As I drive through town I got glimpses of the culture. The Kountry Kookin’ Cafe, with its built in neon sign above the door, gave me cause for chuckle. The window on the right says “Dis is vare Sven loves the dinners” and the window on the left says “Dis is vare Ole gets the pie.” Had there been time, it could have been “Dis is vare Sumoflam gets the lunch!”
Like many small towns, there are the old fashioned theaters that thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. But these are a dying breed so I try to get shots of them when I go through these small towns.
On the outskirts of Viborg I came across this unusual, yet decorative grain silo. As I drive the back roads of this country, whether in Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin or elsewhere, silos are a common site. Yet, I don’t recall ever seeing brick silos like this one, nor do I recall the decorative nature. After a bit of internet research (thank you Google!!) I have learned that these are Glazed Block Silos. They are apparently very common in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. I am assuming that they are of Scandinavian origin, though I have not yet found anything definitive.
Living in Lexington I see plenty of horses. But, I couldn’t help but notice this happy trio in the lush prairie grasses near Viborg. I sat and watched them for a few minutes as they frolicked and played.
From Viborg I headed straight north on SD 19 past Swan Lake to US 18 and began my trek across the state.
I passed the two establishments along the road. Both were basically in the middle of nowhere. Meridian Corner has a fairly active Facebook Page. They are apparently quite popular and have T-shirts, etc.
I rolled into Menno, SD next. Menno was settled by German-Russian immigrants around 1874. Continuing west my next stop was in Tripp, SD. This was the first Tripp I have experienced on my many trips!! The town slogan “Easy to Find, Hard to Leave”. For me, its as my friend Antsy McClain says “Its All in the Trip”.
Tripp recently became a destination for a group of Amish families that moved from Wisconsin in 2010. This, of course, brings the need for a blacksmith. The name on the barn reminded me of the Amish, so I checked and indeed, as the link above explains, the first Amish in South Dakota are in this area.
I continued west on US 18 passing by farmland and a few trees. I found one set of trees that struck me…these were near the junction with US 281, where US 18 heads due south towards Ravinia, SD.
US 18/US 281 again heads west near the base of Lake Andes, which is a National Wildlife Refuge. As I drive along the southern border of the lake, I saw a huge flock of white birds. From my viewpoint I thought they were swans, but I decided to take a closer look so I took a drive into the small park just before getting to the town of Lake Andes, SD. I was thrilled as I got closer and discovered it was a huge flock of pelicans!!
Seeing the Pelicans was a real thrill for me as these were birds that I have never had a close encounter with. While at the lake, I also saw some beautiful purple wildflowers.
From Lake Andes I continued south on US 18/281 to cross over the dam at the Randall Creek Recreation Area. At the top of the hill past the dam I had an excellent view of the Old Fort Randall Cemetery.
US 18 continued west, then southwest for a while and then began heading northwest again towards the town of Bonesteel.
The town of Bonesteel was basically the first town of many on the actual Oyate Trail that I would hit on this drive. Bonesteel has an interesting name, named after H.E. Bonesteel and hasjust about 300 people.
The railroad first made its way into Bonesteel in 1902. there were a limited number of registrations for land ownership and eventually many of the prospective homesteaders fought leading to what was called “the Battle of Bonesteel.”
On the outskirts of town is a small little restaurant. Great name…
The next town on the trail was Burke, SD, another town with about 600 people. As I approached town I ran into a place called Rooster Tales Hunting Service. They had a unique sign and even a patriotic hay bale! Turns out that they have a Pheasant hunting service.
This part of South Dakota is considered the pheasant capital of the U.S. (including a number of towns competing for the title). So, despite the small towns, there are hotels and accommodations for pheasant hunting enthusiasts.
Despite its size, Burke is also home to the Burke Stampede Rodeo, supposedly the largest amateur rodeo in the Midwest.
The next major stop on the road is Gregory, South Dakota. This is in the midst of pheasant country. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the U.S. and this area of the Oyate Trail is one of the centers of the pheasant hunting world (and, in Gregory there is also a Gorilla or two….)
I got a kick out Mary Bob’s Bar — out in Kentucky we hear of “Jim Bob” all the time, but I have never heard of “Mary Bob.”
The Hipp Theatre in Gregory is a community volunteer run theatre, but does show up to date first run movies.
Then there is the giant pheasant….
Apparently Gregory is “The ground-zero of pheasantdom” according to Fortune Magazine in 1992.
Next stop was not too far — Dallas, South Dakota
Dallas is a really small town but has some interesting things…
Frank Day’s looks run down, but, apparently it is one of the “happening places” on the Oyate Trail. They have fashioned themselves as an old western-style saloon and also seem to be an attraction for bikers.
Moving west on US 18 I finally arrived at one of my “planned destinations.” Those that follow my blogs know that I am always looking for unique town names like Uncertain (TX), Boring (OR), Peculiar (MO), Tightwad (MO), Odd (WV) and more. Well, this town is a real Winner!!! Yes, Winner, South Dakota.
Winner was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and later part of the Dakota Territory, which was established by an act of Congress and a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Winner was named because it was the “winner” in the struggle to establish a town along the railroad right-of-way when the Chicago North Western began moving west from Dallas, SD in 1909.
Frank Leahy was one of Notre Dame’s most famous coaches. He grew up in Winner.
While I was in Winner, I stopped for a drink and a snack at a gas station. I just had to ask…had anyone ever won it big in the lottery in Winner. And, believe it or not, there was indeed a winning ticket sold, and, ironically, the winner’s name was Neal Wanless (awfully close to Winless…). Wanless was a Winner in Winner to the tune of $232 million. He apparently has many friends that frequent the Pheasant Bar.
Want a winning place to buy groceries? Try this place….
The Motel Parking lot above is home to another Pheasant Statue, as seen below…
Now, for that “Pheasant Capital” bit…. Research has shown me that Redfield, South Dakota is the “Pheasant Capital of the World” and they have even registered the phrase. Redfield is in the northeast section of South Dakota, north of Mitchell. As late as 1994 there has been a dispute between Winner and Redfield as to which is the “official” capital. I found an interesting article that shows that on October 26, 1994 Redfield had trademarked the phrase. Winner still claims it as well. But, Gregory is still the “ground-zero of pheasantdom.” I think this argument has gone to the birds!!!
I continued to head further west to Mission, which would be my last stop on the Oyate Trail as I planned to head north to the Badlands from there. By the way, Mission, SD is the home of Bob Barker, famous as the host of The Price is Right. The town of Mission is in the Rosebud Indian Reservation, home of the Sicangu Lakota tribe of the Sioux Nation.
While driving through Mission I came across this colorful restaurant called the Buffalo Jump. It is owned and operated by Native Americans and offers buffalo burgers, Indian tacos, and, yes, Asian, Mexican, Italian, seafood and other goodies.
From Mission I headed north on US 83 until I arrived at SD 63.
I found it interesting that my GPS sent me onto SD 63. I think my GPS is learning my penchant for back roads. SD 63 is 23 miles GRAVEL ROAD that cuts mainly through the Rosebud Indian Reservation to Belvidere, SD on I-90 near Badlands National Park. What a wonderful drive it was!!
I crossed over the White River just south of Belvidere. The White River is the 36th longest river in the US at 506 miles. It truly is whitish gray as a result of the clay, sand and volcanic ash it picks up along the way.
I finally got back onto pavement as I entered Belvidere, just a small town with 63 people and perhaps that many horses and goats….
It was time to fuel up so I stopped at the Badland’s Travel Stop in Kadoka just off of I-90 west of Belvidere. I loved the skies behind it.
Kadoka, South Dakota is “The Gateway to the Badlands.” The name Kadoka is a Lakota word which means “Hole in the Wall,” but the town doesn’t seem that way….
I really got a kick out of all of the homemade signs in Kadoka…..
And then there is the old Wagon Wheel motel sign…
And that was the end of the road to the Badlands — Kadoka is the “Gateway!”
On my next post I will have some great shots of prairie dogs and badlands!!