#TBT Montana Road Trip: Day 1 – June 15, 2005

Montana Road Trip Journal

June 15, 2005: Today we departed on our trip to Great Falls, Montana for Amaree’s wedding, the second in a string of 3 weddings in 8 weeks. Accompanying me on the trip is Seth, Solomon and Marissa, who will be married on the 25th of June in Louisville, which is in 10 days. Our Road Trip will comprise about 4500 miles as we drive north thru Indiana and Illinois and then across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and into Montana. Our return will be a
similar trip, except thru a corner of Wyoming and then across South Dakota and then Minnesota and Wisconsin. A general map of the trip can be seen below:

My goal was to leave at 5:30 AM since we have such a long trip ahead of us. However, we got out at 6:00 AM. Then, we had to stop at Wal-Mart to get some new tennis shoes for me since I blew my others ones out yesterday.  After Wal-Mart, we made a quick stop at McDonald’s for breakfast and then headed on the road.

Before I go into detail about the trip, I need to make a special note of gratitude to Randy O’Neal and his wife.  Randy works with me at Lexmark.  We have worked in the same are for nearly five years.  Anyway, last Sunday Randy called me out of the blue.  I was curious why he would call me on a Sunday and wondered if there was a work
emergency that came up.  In the long run Randy told me that he and his wife would like to offer us the use of their conversion van for the long trip. They felt that this was probably the best gift they could give for these weddings and that it would fill a big need since he knew we were planning on renting a car for the trip.  I told him how far we were going and that I would feel bad if anything happened.  But, he continued to press and so I graciously accepted.  This was such an extremely kind and thoughtful act on the part of Randy and his wife.  I know that this will make the trip more comfortable for all of us.  Below is a picture of the van:

Randy’s van – our wheels for this trip

We finally got on the road at about 6:45 after taking care of all the errands.  We headed west through Versailles and then onto I-64 towards Louisville.  We then headed north on I-65 through Indianapolis and on up to Gary, Indiana.  By the time we got to Gary it was already 11:45 AM.  My goal was to be in Chicago at our first stop by 10:00.  But, due to traffic and a late start, we were already way behind.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be on the road.  I had not taken a road trip like this for a couple of years and love to get out and see the countryside and the personality of these United States and all that is offered.  I kind of themed our trip to see the ‘Wacky and Wonderful’.  We would be going across the Northern states to Montana and they are fairly well known for a number of cheesy and interesting sites (and in the case of Wisconsin–REAL Cheesy).  I spent alot of time scheduling out all of the sites, most of which would be free.  But, we also had a tight schedule to keep since we had to make it to Great Falls by late Thursday night.  So, we really had to push it.

Our first planned stop was in Chicago, at Millennium Park.  We finally pulled into the underground parking lot in downtown Chicago at 12:54 PM, basically three hours later than planned.  The traffic was TERRIBLE into Chicago.  There were instances that we didn’t even move along Lake Shore Drive.  But, I wanted to at least get to Millennium Park.  I had read about it in the AAA Magazine and
thought it would match our theme.  I also felt that this would be a great point for all of us to get out and stretch and walk a bit.

Chicago traffic was terrible.
Thus parking garage was just one of many novelty sites on this trip.

Millennium Park is right in the center of downtown Chicago, on the location of Grant Park.  It is a 24.5 acre park that features some fabulous art and architecture.  I will not go into the history of the park here, but instead will provide a link to the park’s website:

Millenium Park

My hopes in visiting the park were to see the three main works: The Crown Fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the Kapoor sculpture, entitled “Cloud Gate”.

Our first stop was the Crown Fountain.  The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens (apparently over 1000 subjects were videoed), a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where
faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.  I was excited to see the fountains and see how the faces were projected on to them. More details about the fountains can be found here: The Crown Fountain

Here we are visiting Crown Fountain:

Seth and Solomon get a toothy grin at the Crown Fountain.
Missy and I are ooking at the “gargoyle”

The fountains are actually kind of freaky.  The subjects were video-taped, so they blink, move their mouths, etc.  It is as if the structures were alive.

Our next stop on the park was a stroll over to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.  To me this looks very similar to the Sydney Opera House in architectural design.  Details about the pavilion can be seen here: Jay Pritzker Pavilion

The Pavilion is a concert venue that stands about 120 feet high.  The stage is surrounded by a number of brushed steel ribbons.  I guess they call this the “headdress”.  There is a large lawn in front of it that makes this much like an amphitheater.  While we were here, there was an orchestra and choir rehearsing for an upcoming concert.  It was pretty unique.

Solomon, Seth and me at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Brothers carrying sister Marissa under the “headdress” of the pavilion

Our next visit in the park was to the “Cloud Gate”.  This is a large silver sculpture that looks like a drop of mercury.  Unfortunately, we could not see it in its entirety as much of it was covered for repair work.  Here is a link to more details about the sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor:  Cloud Gate on SBC Plaza

Despite the construction, we were able to get some pictures as one side of it was open.  It was pretty neat to take the pictures with a backdrop of the city behind us.  Here we are at Cloud Gate:

If you look carefully, you can see me in the middle taking the picture…to the left of Seth’s head.
One of the massive pieces of art at Millennium Park
A view of the fountain

We spent about an hour at the park. It was a refreshing experience and a nice break.  But, we needed to get back on the road as we had a lot of ground to cover.  I was quite disappointed that we were so far behind schedule.  One of the other sites that I really, really, really wanted to see was the Cermak Plaza, famous for the Cars on a Spike (NOTE: I did eventually make it to Cermak to see Spindle and, thank goodness I did as it has since been taken down).  Since we didn’t get there, I don’t have photos.  But here is a link: Spindle

Another place I had hoped to see was the Leaning Tower
of Niles…Niles, Illinois that is.  But, time did not allow for that
either.  But, here is a link from my favorite site Roadside America: Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois

Hopefully, on my next Road Trip to Montana to see Amaree and Aaron we can hit those sites.

We finally got back on the road at about 2 PM and continued to head north towards Wisconsin.  Along I-90 we must have hit 5 or 6 toll stations.  What a pain.  All totaled, we spent $11.00 on tolls between Gary, IN and the Wisconsin border.

We drove up I-90 through Madison, WI and then took exit 126 to DeForest, WI, which was our next scheduled stop. The first stop was the Ehlenbach Cheese Chalet, famous for its cheese and also famous for its large Holstein Cow statue in the front of the shop.  Here we
are in Wisconsin:

Welcome to Wisconsin!
Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet in DeForest, WI

Of course, besides a nice bag of cheese curds, the real goal here was to see Sissy the Cow:

Sissy the Cow..udderly mooving. Sissy the Cow is NOT wearing the tie dye shirt!!!
I did say there were some cheesy things in Wisconsin!!

Sissy is 19 feet tall, 20 feet long, and two tons — a Holstein cow made of structural steel and fiber mixed with epoxy.  She used to be known as the World’s Largest Cow, along with her sister Chatty Belle in nearby Janesville, WI.  However, as you will soon see (in a later post), she is now nowhere near the world’s largest (which is Salem Sue, in New Salem, ND).

Another site we planned on just down the road from Sissy, in fact, at the same exit, is Pinky the Elephant.  This was Marissa’s hope and dream to see Pinky.  Pinky is one of three or four of these bespectacled Pink Elephants dotting the United States.  I think there is one in Tennessee, one in Illinois and one in Georgia.  However, due to its proximity with Sissy, this one is probably the most famous.  Here are some shots of Pinky and Missy:

Pinky the Elephant in DeForest, WI
Marissa kissing Pinky on the snout
Missy gave Pinky a love pat on the rear.
And yes…you can EVEN buy souvenir stickers of Pinky for a quarter!! (As of 2014 they were 50 cents)

After our little venture into DeForest, it was time for us to head west towards Minnesota.  There were many other places along the way that we wanted to see, but time was a factor for us as we needed to get to St. Cloud, Minnesota in time for dinner at a special place.

We cruised across the state and got to the Mississippi River at about 7:15 PM, still about 3 hours behind schedule. This was really disappointing to me here as well.  I had hoped to get to Darwin, MN to see the Largest Ball of Twine made by one person.  But, since
we couldn’t make it this time, I will at least put a link to it:
World’s Largest Ball of Twine
.  There are other Balls of Twine out
there as evidenced by this site: World’s Largest Twine Balls.  I hope to get to all of them some time.

Solomon doesn’t look to excited to be welcomed to Minnesota.
The kids with the Mississippi River behind them.

But, despite missing the twine ball, I was very determined to get to Space Aliens Grill and Bar in Waite Park, MN, just outside of St. Cloud.  We were all hungry and we had to push it to get there, which we finally did at 10:00 PM.  Thank goodness they close at 11:00 PM (I did my research in advance so I knew this!!).  It was great to get there when we did too.  It was a Wednesday and that meant All-You-Can-Eat Ribs.  The boys were thrilled.

I wanted to go to Space Aliens either here or in Fargo, but didn’t think we could make it all the way to Fargo. This is one of those novelty theme restaurants as can be seen below.  Here is a link to their web site: Space Aliens Grill & Bar

The Waite Park restaurant was not difficult to locate.  We got there and all Seth and Solomon could say was “Let’s Eat!!”  I don’t think I need to say anything about the restaurant except that the ribs were fantastic.  The boys ate a ton of ribs, in fact, the waitress said she could not recall any group having as many as we did. The photos below should tell it all:

Notice that Earthlings are Welcome at this place.
Sumoflam outside the restaurant at 10 PM CST
Seth at the ‘UFO Crossing’.
Some of the typical artwork
The ceiling artwork
Now this is what we came for!! All-You-Can-Eat Ribs.
The boys set a record at this place and also wiped out the ribs.

Empty bones and plates
And full tummies and smiling faces after a well-eaten meal!!

After a great dinner, and our first real meal of the day, we were ready to crash.  We found a nearby motel and did just that.  A long, long day 1 of the trip to Montana was finally over.

The entire roadtrip set of journals can be seen in its original form HERE

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Montana Road Trip: US Route 2 across Minnesota – Offbeat Paradise

Northern Pike
Northern Pike Statue in Deer River, MN

Traveling US Route 2 across Wisconsin was beautiful and had its share of offbeat and quirky places, but Minnesota’s section of US Route 2 is one to be reckoned with when it comes to quirky and fun destinations on the same road. Entering from Superior, Wisconsin, Route 2 starts south of Duluth and proceeds through Proctor, MN.  From there the road heads northwest into the beautiful lake and birch country that gives Minnesota its name “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

Before I go any further, I do need to give a SHOUT OUT to fellow travel blogger Seth Hardmeyer, who does the Highway Highlights blog (also see @HHighlights on Twitter and highway_highlights on Instagram).  He provided me loads of information on spots to visit along US Route 2 in Minnesota (though I didn’t have time for them all!).  Give him some love and visit (and LIKE) his sites.

US Route 2 in eastern Minnesota
US Route 2 southwest of Duluth, Minnesota. The birch trees are just getting started in late May.
US Route 2 east of Floodwood, MN
US Route 2 east of Floodwood, MN

My first stop in Minnesota was in Floodwood, about 45 miles west of Duluth.  There are just over 500 folk in this small town, which is known for its Catfish Festival in July.

Sumoflam in Floodwood, Minnesota
Sumoflam in Floodwood, Minnesota

Floodwood claims to be the “Catfish Capital of the World” because of its festival. (There is apparently another place in Mississippi that claims the same…Belzoni, MS).

Floodwood, MN
Floodwood, MN on US Route 2
Floodwood Water Tower claims it is the Catfish Capital
Floodwood Water Tower claims it is the Catfish Capital

Floodwood is the home of the first of three big fish that get bigger and bigger the further west you go.  They have a moderately sized catfish statue in the city park as one enters town. Always a great photo op….

Catfish Statue of Floodwood, MN
Catfish Statue of Floodwood, MN

This wooden statue has a sign claiming it to be the Catfish Capital of the World.  It also has another “In Memory of Joseph T. Karpik” who was apparently a local-grown inventor with a couple of patents. He was the President of Floodwood company Mat, Inc. which makes erosion control products.

Sumoflam hangs with the Floodwood Catfish
Sumoflam hangs with the Floodwood Catfish

From Floodwood the highway enters pine and birch forests as one gets closer to Grand Rapids.

Pine trees along US Route 2 between Floodwood and Grand Rapids, MN
Pine trees along US Route 2 between Floodwood and Grand Rapids, MN
US Route 2 in northern Minnesota between Floodwood and Grand Rapids
US Route 2 in northern Minnesota between Floodwood and Grand Rapids

Next stop along Route 2 is Grand Rapids, MN.  The town is a well known tourist spot for outdoorsmen, but is probably better known as the Birthplace of Judy Garland, though I found no Yellow Brick Roads!

Welcome to Grand Rapids, Birthplace of Judy Garland
Welcome to Grand Rapids, Birthplace of Judy Garland

First thing I saw as I entered town was a giant Adirondack chair which is apparently called “Paul Bunyan’s Big Chair.”  It was dedicated in October 2013, so its a fairly new attraction, though there had been a smaller one there built in 2008 that eventually became dilapidated.  The chair is at the main intersection of US Route 2 and Pokegama Ave.

Paul Bunyan Big Chair in Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Paul Bunyan Big Chair in Grand Rapids, Minnesota

To get to Judy Garland’s birthplace I turned left on Pokegama Avenue and made my way to the “Land of Oz” which is the home of the Judy Garland Museum.

Follow the brown wood sign...and look at the Yellow Brick Road mural
Follow the brown wood sign…and look at the Yellow Brick Road mural
Welcome to the Land of Oz in Minnesota...we're not in Kansas anymore...
Welcome to the Land of Oz in Minnesota…we’re not in Kansas anymore…
Sumoflam at Judy Garland birthplace in Grand Rapids, MN
Sumoflam at Judy Garland birthplace in Grand Rapids, MN
Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN
Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN
Judy Garland Birthplace placard in Grand Rapids, MN
Judy Garland Birthplace placard in Grand Rapids, MN

After the brief photo ops and a quick stop for lunch in Grand Rapids, it was Westward Ho on Route 2 again.  I was headed for Deer River, home of the next big fish statue – a larger than life Northern Pike with a toothless grin.

Great Northern Pike statue in Deer Park, MN
Great Northern Pike statue in Deer River, MN
Sumoflam and his fish friend "Pike" in Deer Park, MN
Sumoflam and his fish friend “Pike” in Deer River, MN

While in Deer River I came across two classic neon signs for the Bahr’s Motel, which apparently sat on the grounds behind my fish friend. All that remains are the two signs. I did find a photo of the old 60s style motel here.

Bahr's Motel sign one on US Route 2 in Deer River, MN
Bahr’s Motel sign one on US Route 2 in Deer River, MN
Bahr's Motel sign on the location where the motel used to be in Deer River, MN
Bahr’s Motel sign on the location where the motel used to be in Deer River, MN

Continuing west along the lakes and the woods I collected 1000s of bugs on the front bumper as I passed by Ball Club, MN, my sole “unique town name” for the day.

US Route 2 West near Ball Club, MN
US Route 2 West near Ball Club, MN
Ball Club, MN
Ball Club, MN

The majority of the community is populated by Native Americans of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, but I am not sure how the town got its name. The Mississippi River surrounds Ball Club on both the East and West side of the community. Indeed, the Mississippi up here is not “mighty” at all as it meanders its way from its headwaters nearby.

US Route 2 east of Bena, MN near "Big Winnie"
US Route 2 east of Bena, MN near “Big Winnie”

Traveling through the Chippewa National Forest I enjoyed the cool breeze and fresh smells of the trees and lakes.  Then, out of nowhere came this interesting site called the “Big Winnie General Store” which is a national historic landmark. According to some histories, the store was built in 1932 by Ernest Flemming, but he apparently got some design sketches from none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. According to the link noted above “The unique architecture of the store was influenced by a world-renowned architect. Back in the early 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright was staying on Lake Winnibigoshish when Flemming and Wright met and got to know each other. Flemming explained that he was looking to build a store outside the Bena city limits and wanted an Asian and Bavarian look to the building.”

Big Winnie General Store, Bena, MN
Big Winnie General Store, Bena, MN
Old Cabins at Big Winnie
Old Cabins at Big Winnie

Just down the road is another “Big”…in fact, it is the “Big Fish Supper Club.” I am not sure how the food is there, but there is certainly a BIG FISH there!!  This toothy muskie appeared in the opening credits of National Lampoon’s “Vacation” with Chevy Chase. (Ironically, this movie was also filmed in Flagstaff, AZ and Monument Valley while I worked as a tour guide and I watched them film the scene with Chevy Chase and family driving through the rain near the Grand Canyon.) And here are 25 things you may not have known about “Vacation — just for fun. But I digress, back to the fish….

Big Fish Supper Club, Bena, MN
Big Fish Supper Club, Bena, MN
Long view of the Big Fish in Bena, MN
Long view of the Big Fish in Bena, MN
I love this angle - Big Fish Eats House!!  In Bena, MN
I love this angle – Big Fish Eats House!! In Bena, MN
Sumoflam and Big Fish in Bena, MN
Sumoflam and Big Fish in Bena, MN
Fish Food
Fish Food
Complete view of the Big Fish Supper Club and the Big Fish in Bena, MN
Complete view of the Big Fish Supper Club and the Big Fish in Bena, MN

Indeed, this is the kind of site a quirky roadtrip should have.  But US Route 2 in Minnesota certainly was not finished providing amazingly fun road trip stops.  Next stop….Bemidji, MN!

Welcome to Bemidji, Minnesota
Welcome to Bemidji, Minnesota

Bemidji, Minnesota is one of the ultimate “quirky places” to visit in Minnesota, but perhaps in the U.S.!  In fact, I will have a feature post of Bemidji with many more photos and details about the place.  But for now, here is the real story for me:

Life Magazine article on Bemidji and Paul Bunyan statue in February 1945
Life Magazine article on Bemidji and Paul Bunyan statue in February 1945

My whole fascination with travel and the birth of my wanderlust can be traced back to 1963 when I was flipping through a book about the U.S. that was published by LIFE Magazine.  Almost all of the photos were black and white in the book, but I was determined that one day I would see the sites.  One of the ones that struck me as “exotic” as a 7 year old was the Paul Bunyan picture (as shown above).  The photo above was taken from the 1945 issue which they have in the Visitor’s Center and which I held in my hands.  My 50 year old dream had come true as I made my way to one of the oldest “roadside attractions” in the country (this one was made in 1932!!). History of this unique attraction can be seen HERE.

Sumoflam at Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji, Minnesota - Dreams can come true!
Sumoflam at Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji, Minnesota – Dreams can come true!

I have written more about all of this in my special feature blog post on Bemidji (CLICK HERE).

Paul Bunyan and Babe in Bemidji, MN
Paul Bunyan and Babe in Bemidji, MN

These sculptures are at the Visitor’s Center in Bemidji, which also has the “Fireplace of States”. The Fireplace of States was constructed in 1934-35 under the U.S. Federal Works Program. In 1995, this fireplace was moved to its present location in the new Tourist Information Center on the Lake Bemidji waterfront.

Fireplace of States in Bemidji, MN
Fireplace of States in Bemidji, MN
Detail of Fireplace of States in Bemidji, MN
Detail of Fireplace of States in Bemidji, MN

Besides the Paul Bunyan, Bemidji does have a number of other things to see and do, much of which I didn’t have time for.  Though covered much more in my Bemidji feature post, here are a couple of more unique sites from Bemidji:

Nanobojo, Muffler Man Indian in Bemidji, MN
Nanobozho, Muffler Man Indian in Bemidji, MN

A big Muffler Man statue was converted to an Indian Muffler Man just across the street from Paul Bunyan’s statue.  It is apparently supposed to be of Nanabozho, a Paul Bunyan nemesis.

Nanabozho was considered a spirit father among the Ojibwe tribe. He most often appears in the shape of a rabbit and is characterized as a trickster. He was sent to Earth by Gitchi Manitou to teach the Ojibwe. One of his first tasks was to name all the plants and animals. He is also thought to be the inventor of fishing and hieroglyphs. This deity is a shape-shifter and a co-creator of the world. There are myths among the Ojibwe that tell how Nanabozho saves the forests from Paul Bunyan. The story goes that they fought for forty days and nights, and that Nanabozho killed Bunyan with a Red Lake walleye.

Niimii the Pow Wow Dancer in Bemidji, MN
Niimii the Pow Wow Dancer in Bemidji, MN

Nanabozhou is not the only Native American representation in Bemidji.  As part of the Bemidji “Sculpture Walk” series, this piece was created by Wanda Odegard.  Niimii is a 12 foot tall northern traditional Powwow Dancer made of steel. The traditional head piece is the essence of a large porcupine hair roach. Niimii wears a breast plate made of metal pipes which in real life they would be made of bone.

Pete the Curler by Dale Lewis - one of 25 pieces in the 2014 Sculpture Walk
Pete the Curler by Dale Lewis – one of 25 pieces in the 2014 Sculpture Walk

Bemidji has been doing their Sculpture Walk since 1999 and there are a number of unique pieces around town.  I took shots of many of them and will include them in my more detailed Bemidji post. Here is one last one for this post — there is also a nice map of the Sculpture Walk HERE.

Hinkypunk by Chris Gustafson, part of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk
Hinkypunk by Chris Gustafson, part of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk

It was getting later in the day so I had to move westward and continued my trek across Minnesota on US Route 2.

US Route 2 east of McIntosh, MN
US Route 2 east of McIntosh, MN

I made way into McIntosh after passing a few other small towns.  I had to stop for the metal rooster (one of four or five I have now captured in road trips). I also liked the huge historic wall mural in the town.

Metal Rooster in McIntosh, MN
Metal Rooster in McIntosh, MN
McIntosh Water Tower
McIntosh Water Tower
Wall Mural in McIntosh, MN
Wall Mural in McIntosh, MN

From McIntosh it was on to Crookston, MN, the last town before North Dakota.  The town has a huge Ox Cart as you roll in from the east.  They celebrate an annual Ox Cart Days in Crookston. There is also a nice Welcome Mural in town.

Crookston Ox Cart, Crookston, MN
Crookston Ox Cart, Crookston, MN – celebrates the history of the Pembina Trail
Welcome to Crookston mural in Crookston, MN
Welcome to Crookston mural in Crookston, MN

Next post will cover US Route 2 across North Dakota.

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Road Trip: Dallas to Lexington, KY via Branson, MO

Metals Horses in Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap Metal Horses by Doug Owen in Durant, Oklahoma

After being gone for nearly a month in Idaho and then a few days in Dallas for work in mid June (2013), I took the final leg of this adventure and a two day trip to return home to Lexington via Branson, Missouri, where my wife was visiting with her sister.  This would turn out to be another fun adventure as I traveled through Oklahoma and the Ozarks.  Following is the route I took for the trip.  I left in the afternoon and arrived about midnight in Branson.


View Larger Map – Dallas, TX to Branson, MO

I headed straight up US 75 to Denison and while there at least got a glimpse of the HUGE Eisenhower statue that can be seen off of the freeway.  I took a photo of it while driving by, so it is not as good as I would have hoped.

Eisenhower statue in Denison, TX - Burthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower statue in Denison, TX – Birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower

I continued north on US 75 until it turned into US 69 as I crossed into Oklahoma and made my way into Durant, Oklahoma. Durant is one of those unique small towns that brings me so much enjoyment in travel.

Bench in Durant, Oklahoma
Bench in Durant, Oklahoma

Durant is in the Choctaw Nation and is currently ranked as one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.  It is in a very nice area near lakes and rolling hills.  There are colorful horses dotting the town and some other surprises as well!!

Painted Horse in Durant, Oklahoma
Painted Horse in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse with Native American designs in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse with Native American designs in Durant, Oklahoma
Old Wall Advertisement in Durant, Oklahoma
Old Wall Advertisement in Durant, Oklahoma

Turns out that Durant, Oklahoma is also home to the “World’s Largest Peanut”, a title it shares with two other monuments in Texas and Ashburn, Georgia. This monument is for the peanut growers in Bryan County and I found it on the front lawn of Durant’s city hall.

World's Largest Peanut
World’s Largest Peanut
Sumoflam with Durant's Giant Peanut
Sumoflam with Durant’s Giant Peanut

Finally, on the way out of town I ran into these unique scrap metal horses in a park in Durant. These appear to be the handiwork of South Dakota “found metal sculptor” Doug Owen.

Scrap Metal Horses - Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap Metal Horses by Doug Owen – Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap metal horse - Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap metal horse by Doug Owen – Durant, Oklahoma

From Durant I headed north on US 69/75 through a number of small towns until I got to Atoka, Oklahoma.

US Routes 69/75 north of Durant, Oklahoma
US Routes 69/75 north of Durant, Oklahoma

Atoka, Oklahoma is a town of a little over 3000 people.  It was settled in the mid-1800s and was an important stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage Road.  The small town was considered the capital of the Choctaw Nation in the late 1800s and was named after Captain Atoka who led his people here during the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s.

Large White Buffalo statue in Atoka, OK
Large White Buffalo statue in Atoka, OK

Due to my time constraints, I didn’t have a lot of time to stop along the road on this trip, but I did make my way past the beautiful Atoka Reservoir and into McAlester, Oklahoma.

US Route 69 north out of Atoka, Oklahoma
US Route 69 north out of Atoka, Oklahoma
US 69 heading towards Atoka Reservoir
US 69 heading towards Atoka Reservoir

Upon arrival in McAlester I got to see a throwback to the 1950s…at the Happy Days Hotel there are 50s themed rooms including the “Elvis Suite,” “I Love Lucy,” James Dean and Marilyn Monroe rooms at the hotel.

Happy Days Hotel and Angel's Diner - McAlester, OK
Happy Days Hotel and Angel’s Diner – McAlester, OK
Happy Days Hotel - McAlester, OK
Happy Days Hotel – McAlester, OK
Angel's Diner store front - McAlester, Oklahoma
Angel’s Diner store front – McAlester, Oklahoma

Angel’s Diner has the black and white checkerboard floors, diner seating and more.  I wish I would have had time to stop in…..but I had to continue on to Branson

Eufaula Lake, Oklahoma
OK Hwy 9 bridge across Eufaula Reservoir, Oklahoma

One of the more spectacular sights along the drive north on US 69 is the huge Eufaula Lake, with over 600 miles of shoreline, it is the largest lake in Oklahoma.   It was beautiful as I approached close to sunset.

Another shot of Lake Eufaula
Another shot of Lake Eufaula

Shortly after passing by the lake I arrived in Checotah, Oklahoma and then headed west on Interstate 40.  It was getting dark, so I zipped my way on to Branson, Missouri through Arkansas.  Sorry…too dark for photos…

Branson, Missouri water tower
Branson, Missouri water tower

The next morning my wife and I took two cars and drive back from Branson to Lexington, Kentucky.  We had to get back, so we didn’t have much time to see anything in Branson.  I did get a photo of a huge guitar sticking out of a building….

Grand Country Fun Spot - Big Guitar neck - Branson, Missouri
Grand Country Fun Spot – Big Guitar neck – Branson, Missouri

Our route from Branson to Lexington was not a direct route as I wanted to take my wife by Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, MO for lunch, as you will see later on.  Here is our nearly 600 mile route for Day 2:


View Larger Map – Branson, MO to Lexington, KY

The drive across southern Missouri is always nicer OFF of the freeways.  I had been on US 60 between Branson and Sikeston three or four times.  But, of course, there are always interesting things to see along the way.

US 65 North near Busiek State Forest south of Springfield, Missouri
US 65 North near Busiek State Forest south of Springfield, Missouri
Uncle Rooster's Restaurant near Seymour, Missouri on US 60 East
Uncle Rooster’s Restaurant near Seymour, Missouri on US 60 East

Gotta love a name like Uncle Rooster’s!!  They even have a giant rooster out front….

Uncle Rooster's Big Rooster on US 60 near Seymour, Missouri
Uncle Rooster’s Big Rooster (ROHO) on US 60 near Seymour, Missouri

From Seymour, the countryside becomes mainly farmland until about Mountain View and Cabool.  We saw thousands of rolled bales of hay and other nice rural scenery along the way.

Rolled hay bales on US 60 east of Seymour, Missouri
Rolled hay bales on US 60 east of Seymour, Missouri
Long Train Running along US 60 near Norwood, Missouri
Long Train Running along US 60 near Norwood, Missouri
US Route 60 west of Mountain Home, Missouri
US Route 60 west of Mountain View, Missouri
More bales of hay near Mountain Home, Missouri
More bales of hay near Mountain View, Missouri

We stopped in Mountain View, Missouri for a quick rest break and a drink.  While there, lo and behold, I saw some scrap metal horse sculptures that looked amazingly similar to the ones I had seen in Durant, Oklahoma the day before.  I believe they are the work of South Dakota artist Doug Owen.

Scrap Metal Horses in Missouri
Scrap Metal Horses by Doug Owen in Mountain View, Missouri

From Mountain View we proceeded eastward on US Route 60.  Here are a couple more scenes from the road:

US Route 60 east of Mountain View, Missouri
US Route 60 east of Mountain View, Missouri
Low flying plane near Dexter, Missouri (aerial spraying)
Low flying plane near Dexter, Missouri (aerial spraying)
Aerial Spray plane rounding a turn near Dexter, Missouri
Aerial Spray plane rounding a turn near Dexter, Missouri

Not soon after seeing the aerial acrobatics of the plane above, we made our way into Sikeston, Missouri.  Sikeston is at a major junction of US 60 from the west, Interstate 55 (N-S thru Sikeston) and Interstate 57 from the east.  But for me, the real highlight was being able to once again visit Lambert’s Cafe.  I had been to the one in Ozark, Missouri a number of years ago, but never to this one.

Sumoflam and wife at Lambert's Cafe - Home of Throwed Rolls
Sumoflam and wife at Lambert’s Cafe – Home of Throwed Rolls

Lambert’s is one of those places that buses full of tourists stop at, highway drivers stop and more.  All sorts of Kitsch with license plates everywhere, old photos and, most importantly – good food and LOTS of it.  But, perhaps the real drawing card is the “Throwed Rolls”, a tradition at these stops since the beginning.

The Throwed Rolls Guy - Lambert's Cafe, Sikeston, Missouri
The Throwed Rolls Guy – Lambert’s Cafe, Sikeston, Missouri
Throwing Roll's at Lamberts - this guy chucked them clear across the room
Throwing Roll’s at Lamberts – this guy chucked them clear across the room

To get a roll you must raise your hand and they throw it to you.  You miss and hits the floor….too bad!

Throwed Rolls soaked in Sorghum Molasses
Throwed Rolls soaked in Sorghum Molasses

Sometimes the roll throwers do miss.  We saw some up on the overhangs…

Oops - missed
Oops – missed

The unique thing about this place is the Family Style servings.  You order your food and a side and then they bring you a number of other sides – fried potatoes, fried okra, macaroni and tomatoes, black-eyed peas and more.  These are as much as you care to eat.

Bringing around the potatoes at Lambert's
Bringing around the potatoes at Lambert’s
More throwed rolls!!
More throwed rolls!!

The environment there is fun as well….

Flags hang in front of Lambert's Cafe
Flags hang in front of Lambert’s Cafe
Lambert's Cafe - Sikeston, Missouri - big place
Lambert’s Cafe – Sikeston, Missouri – big place
Walkway in Lambert's Cafe - Sikeston, Missouri
Walkway in Lambert’s Cafe – Sikeston, Missouri
The Original Roll Thrower
The Original Roll Thrower
Eagle at Lambert's
Eagle at Lambert’s
Big Metal Chicken on overhang at Lambert's
Big Metal Chicken on overhang at Lambert’s
Need a big cup? Plenty of souvenirs at Lambert's!!
Need a big cup? Plenty of souvenirs at Lambert’s!!

After a hefty lunch, we really wanted a nap, but we actually had to scoot onwards towards home.  Just a short zip up I-57 and we were in Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet for one of the biggest confluences in the country.  There are two big bridges to cross at this point.

Crossing the Mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois
Crossing the Mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois

One moment you are in Missouri, a few minutes later you go through Illinois and straight into Kentucky.

Welcome to Wickliffe, Kentucky - just after crossing over the second bridge
Welcome to Wickliffe, Kentucky – just after crossing over the second bridge
I love it when Kentucky welcomes me home with flowers
I love it when Kentucky welcomes me home with flowers after being gone for a month
Sign to Future City, Illinois...I guess it is not there yet??
Sign to Future City, Illinois…I guess it is not there yet?? Or have I come “Back to the Future?”

After driving the narrow KY Hwy 286 to Paducah, we were excited to get on the freeway, but, I got a taste of Dallas in rural Kentucky as we were stuck in non-moving freeway traffic for well over 30 minutes.

Stuck in traffic on I-24 east of Paducah - shades of Dallas....
Stuck in traffic on I-24 east of Paducah – shades of Dallas….

But, after it all cleared up, we were on I-69 breezing away and then eventually onto the Bluegrass Parkway.

Bluegrass Parkway near Bardstown, Kentucky
Bluegrass Parkway near Bardstown, Kentucky

And, finally, back home in Kentucky after being away and on the road for over 5500 miles, 33 days and driving through 15 different states during that time.

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