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.
Mystic Pizza – Mystic, Connecticut
Moon Township, PA
Muscovy Duck – Damascus, Virginia
Mammy’s Cupboard – Natchez, Mississippi
Mail Pouch Barns – Brinkhaven, Ohio; Friendly, West Virginia; Hargett, Kentucky
Billy Tripp’s Mindfield – Brownsville, Tennessee
Mr. Roger’s T-Rex Statue – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Mountain Bluebird – The Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Mac the Moose – Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Monument Valley – Utah
Monongahela Incline – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Maid of the Mist – Niagara Falls, Ontario
Melt Eclectic Cafe – Cincinnati, Ohio
Metal Green Bay Packer – Pagac’s Bar – Ashland, Wisconsin
Mayan Ruins – Tulum, Mexico
Midlothian Castle – Burk’s Falls, Ontario
Home of Mayberry – Mount Airy, North Carolina
Mount Rainier National Park – Greenwater, Washington
Migrating Snow Geese – Arkansas
Medicine Hat, Alberta
Mickey Mantle Statue – Commerce, Oklahoma
Memorial Falls near Great Falls, Montana
Meerkats at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska
Dinosaur Tracks – Moenave, Arizona
Mama Santa Pizzeria – Little Eatery – Cleveland, Ohio
Montour Trail – Canonsburg, Pennsylvania
Miner’s Memorial Mural – Ironwood, Michigan
Mt. Fuji – near Fujinomiya, Japan
Multnomah Falls – Multnomah County, Oregon
Mud Street Cafe – Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Memphis Egg – Memphis, Tennessee
Mothman Museum – Point Pleasant, West Virginia
Mel’s Diner – San Francisco, California
Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Shop – Mapleton, Ontario
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.
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The M Towns
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin
There is no better place to catch some trolls than in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Indeed, the main attraction for the town are the trolls. The town has created a “Trollway” along Wisconsin Highway 151 with many large carved wooden trolls visible from the road. Many of these were created by local artist Michael Feeney. We found a few on our visit…. Click here for a nice map of the town, with all of the trolls and other attractions. Click HERE to read more about my 2012 visit and see more trolls.
Traveling Interstate 79 North towards Pittsburgh, you can hop off of Exit 147 onto US Highway 19 and head towards Meadville. Not too far off from there you will run into something interesting. Along the road there is a giant menagerie of roadside art…all made from repurposed roadsigns that PennDOT had donated. Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville (photos below). In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322. See more photos and more of the story HERE.
Many of us have grown up hearing the name “Metropolis” and associating with the big city that Superman. Well, there is actually a town in Illinois called Metropolis and they celebrate their Superman status with an entire town square dedicated to Superman and a newspaper called the Planet. See more in my post about Metropolis from 2012 HERE.
Marshfield, Wisconsin is located just north of US Highway 10 smack in the middle of Wisconsin. And, about four miles north of Marshfield, you can turn off onto Wisconsin Highway 97 and then onto Highway E on the north edge of Marshfield at the Wal-Mart stoplight. Go north past Menards 3 1/2 miles to Sugarbush Lane for 1/2 mile and you will see strange metal sculptures — you are then at Jurustic Park, the brainchild of former attorney Clyde Wynia. Once you get there and park, you will likely be met by Clyde and he will give you the ultimate tour, tell you the stories (both real and made up all intermingled) and will demonstrate and explain some of his nearly 1000 pieces. I asked him how many he has made and he said he has never counted them!! Jurustic Park is a MUST SEE destination if you are anywhere near. See my detailed post from 2012 about Clyde and Jurustic Park HERE.
In the early 1980s I was a tour guide for Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, Arizona. Many of my tours took visitors to the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations in Northern Arizona. One of first stops on these specific trips was at a little place known as Moenave, which is just off of US Highway 160 a few miles east of US Highway 89 north of Flagstaff. Not too far up Hwy 160 on the left there is a turn off to the Dinosaur Tracks. This spot on the Navajo Nation may be one of the most well preserved dinosaur track fossils around and, with probably close to 200 tracks, it may also be one of the biggest sites. The site has become so popular, that the Navajo Nation may soon be creating a small visitor center and a fence to protect the site from vandals. Currently you can still visit these for free, but it is advisable to leave a tip to the kind Navajo folk that “guide” you among the tracks. Bear in mind that you’ll need to take what they claim about the tracks with a grain of salt. Though paleontologists have verified these as authentic, there are no T-Rex tracks and no dinosaur poop on the site. Just a number of three toed tracks.
Connecticut offer many unique treasures, and one of them is most certainly Mystic, which sits on US Highway 1, just south of I-95. The town is on the Block Island Sound and is not too far from the northeastern stretches of Long Island in New York. We visited Mystic in 2015 as part of our New England visit/adventure. I was more interested in seeing the site of the 1980s movie Mystic Pizza, but also found that the small town has an awesome seaport with some tall sail ships, a fairly well known (though expensive) aquarium, a submarine museum, and even a nearby dinosaur park in Montville. It certainly deserves more than the couple of hours we devoted to the town. By the way, we have heard that you don’t want to try the pizza. But, I would advise you try the Thai at the 4 Roosevelt Bistro, which we discovered on our drive into Mystic and turned around after our drive thru town to go grab lunch there. It was a pleasant surprise to know that they also had a good number of vegan and vegetarian items on the menu, which made most of us happy. See more details of our visit to Mystic an other areas in New England HERE.
Montrose, South Dakota
Back in 2013 I was on a return trip home from Idaho with my wife. We had left Mitchell, South Dakota (see below) were driving east on I-90 toward Sioux Falls. Unbeknownst to me, in the small town of Montrose, South Dakota, right off the freeway (near Exit 374), there was an unusual site. I actually pulled onto the shoulder to get out and get shots of what is known as the Porter Sculpture Park, which includes an amazing 60-foot tall bull’s head, which is what got me. For some reason I had overlooked this one!! You can see more about my trip HERE.
Minot, North Dakota
Once again, in the Dakotas, there is so much to see. On a 2014 trip west to Montana, I made a stop in Minot, ND, which is on US Highway 2 in western North Dakota. This city is home to the North Dakota State Fair, but, of more interest to me is their celebration of Scandinavian heritage. The annual Norsk Hostfest is the largest festival of its kind in North America and is a tribute the area’s Scandinavian heritage. The Scandinavian Heritage Park is home to a replica of the beautiful Gol Stave Church which currently sits at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, Norway. You can see more about this trip across North Dakota on US Highway 2 HERE.
Mitchell, South Dakota
Back in South Dakota again, you can’t miss out on the Corn Palace of Mitchell, SD. It is one of those iconic must see roadside attractions. Originally built in 1892 as the “Corn Belt Exposition,” it became an iconic landmark and attraction in Mitchell after 1921. Every year the exterior decorations are stripped and a new theme is created. The work is done by local artists. The artists use 13 different colors or shades of corn to decorate with. Typically there are over 275,000 ears of corn used annually on the murals. There is a nice list of the history of the murals here. Definitely worth a visit if you are on Interstate 90 in eastern South Dakota.
Mapleton, Ontario (Honorable Mention)
The small community of Mapleton, Ontario is one of those “blink you miss it places. However, it is also one of those unique and offbeat places, featuring the Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Shop. See my 2012 post for more details HERE.
Medina, New York (Honorable Mention)
Clear up in northern New York, not too far from Niagara Falls, is a small town called Medina which is home to TWO unique oddities. The most well known is the Culvert Road Tunnel, which is a Ripley’s Believe It or Not (one of my site sponsors) featured site. This is the only place one can “cross” the Erie Canal by going UNDER it!! Also, if you thought the Big Apple was in New York City, think again, the real Big Apple sits beside a bridge. The apple was sculpted by artist Richard D. Banninster in 1999. See my whole 2008 story about both attractions HERE.
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (Honorable Mention)
Back up in Canada, the town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is home of the world’s largest moose statue, named Mac the Moose. I first visited there as a high school junior for a band tour in the 1970s BEFORE the moose. I once again made my way to Moose Jaw in 2007. Touted as the World’s Largest Moose, Mac stands 32 feet tall and weighs in at 10 tons. He was made by Saskatoon artist Don Foulds in 1984. Mac is considered to be one of the most photographed roadside attractions in all of Canada. See more about my 2007 visit HERE.
Mars, Pennsylvania (Honorable Mention)
Finally, for you outer space and alien lovers, you can visit Mars, Pennsylvania and see their out of this world spaceship in the city park downtown. Residents of Mars are often called “Martians”, or “Planets” because of the high school team name, which is actually the “Fightin’ Planets.” See my post about Mars HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
This is my 100th Post on Less Beaten Paths. It is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on travel with my family over the last 30 years. This Post will cover the “Early Years: 1980-1995.” Subsequent posts will be “1995-2005” and then the “Grandparent Years: 2005-present.”
As a family man (5 children, 9 grandchildren), I want to dedicate this post to my travels with all of them since the 1980s. These are fairly long posts with lots of family travel photos, so, feel free to skim through if interested, or pass onto another post in my blog. But, I do also want to use this post to show how the creation of a wanderlust in each of them has opened their eyes and minds to the world around them. Thirty years of family life and tens of thousands of miles traveled!! There are lots of Throwback photos in this one!! (Note that many of these have been scanned from original FILM photos — before the days of digital cameras)
All five of my children are 1980s children. My first was born in 1980 and my last in 1989. From 1987 to 1991 we lived in Japan. That was quite an adventure. In 1993 we moved cross country from sunny Mesa, Arizona to the lush green horse country of Kentucky, where we have been ever since. In 2005 my three oldest daughters all got married in diverse parts of the country within 6 weeks of each other. The first was in Tennessee, then, 5 weeks later we were on our way to Montana for the second and the next weekend back in Louisville for the third. Throughout all of these events, I made sure we traveled and saw the sites. That was so much more important to me than the Disneylands of the world.
Growing up I had the opportunity to travel as we moved to a number of places due to my fathers employment. With that in mind, I had always had high hopes to provide the same opportunities to travel for my children. So, even at a young age, we worked on opportunities, even if close by. As a young couple in college, we didn’t have much and we drove an old 1963 VW Bug. Our first trip with our first daughter consisted of a trip from Flagstaff into the San Francisco Peaks wilderness, only about 30 miles away.
As our second daughter Marissa came along, I was working as a tour guide/bus driver while going to school at Northern Arizona University. Flagstaff was really only a stone’s throw away from the beautiful red rock cliffs of Sedona. We made a number of trips there when the opportunity was afforded us…
Our time in Flagstaff ended in 1984 and we moved on to Arizona State University for Masters work and eventually for some PhD work. By the time 1987 rolled around our first son Seth came along, making 4 children. As a result, very little travel occurred at that time except for a couple of family reunions at the Marine Institute on Catalina Island in California and Aspen Grove near Provo, Utah. The heavy duty travel for my family really kicked off big time as we had an opportunity to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) in 1987. My fluency in Japanese (due to a Mormon mission in the 1970s) helped me land a two year position as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) for Oita Prefecture, where I worked for the Governor’s office (also see this link for Tourism in Oita). Little did we know when we left for Japan in August 1987 that this would open the doors to so many travel opportunities and experiences for the kids, none of whom spoke a word of Japanese when we left.
I left a couple of weeks before the family did and poor Julianne had to travel to Japan with the four children. It was the first flight for any of them and the first time Julianne had traveled to a foreign country (other than a trip to Canada and a couple of visits to Nogales, Mexico). To make things worse, her plane out of San Francisco was delayed and they missed their connection in Seoul, South Korea, so they all stayed overnight in Seoul. Once they did make it to Oita, we were some of the only foreigners there and truly the only foreign family. As a result we were the recipients of a ton of attention. We became the objects of a number of local television interviews, were invited to festivals and events as special guests and were also treated to travel all over Oita (which is just a bit larger than the state of Delaware).
Oita is one of seven Prefectures on the island of Kyushu, which is larger than Maryland but considerably smaller than West Virginia, but very similar to West Virginia in its remoteness and large mountains and hills, not to mention the large amount of countryside. We spent a little over four years living and working in Oita. The girls went to Japanese public schools and became totally immersed in the culture and language. Here are a few photos from our time and travels in Japan with details about the photos.
During our time in Oita each of the children had opportunities to be in TV commercials, department store advertising and other ads. So, not only were they traveling, but they got to be involved in some other unique opportunities, especially as some of the only non-Japanese children in Oita Prefecture.
Like most places in Japan, there are rural areas and then there are industrial areas. We had many special opportunities as a family to visit manufacturing facilities including a giant steel plant, the local newspaper to see how they printed in Japanese, a canon camera factory and a Toshiba Semiconductor plant.
After our four years in Japan, it was time to return home. The children had all become fluent in Japanese and were becoming Japanese. We wanted to get back to America and the Japanese economy had begun to see an economic bubble in 1991, so it was the right time. It was an amazing experience and opened their eyes to the world in so many ways.
So, we returned to Arizona and I commenced looking for work, eventually landing a position in Kentucky as a Japanese interpreter/translator. After about 8 months, I went back and we moved the family to Kentucky. This became the next great adventure for the family and I meticulously planned a good route. Back in 1993 there was no internet, so my research was done via maps and travel guides. We would travel from Mesa, AZ thru Flagstaff, AZ (visiting Sunset Crater National Monument, the Grand Canyon and Wupatki National Monument along the way). We made our way northeast to the dinosaur tracks in Moenave, AZ, then to Monument Valley in Utah and Four Corners Navajo Park. From there we continued eastward through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and eventually into Frankfort, Kentucky. Following is the route for our family’s first ever true cross country road trip (the first of many!!). We departed on July 15, 1993 … Julianne’s and my 14th Anniversary.
Our first stop on this trip was Sunset Crater National Monument and then following along the loop drive to Wupatki National Monument. Sunset Crater is one of the best examples of a volcanic cinder cone in the United States.
AS you head east towards Tuba City off of US 89N, along the way you come to a sign that points north towards Moenave, on the Navajo Reservation (about 6 miles east on AZ Hwy 160). You take that dirt road and just to the left a few hundred feet up the road is a large sandstone area covered in Dilophosaurus tracks. We stopped to check them out and then continued east to Monument Valley.
Of course, everyone recognizes Monument Valley from the movies, TV Commercials and Print ads. It is one of those unforgettably beautiful natural desert scenes and a must stop for anyone visiting northern Arizona or Southern Utah.
Continuing east on US 160 and a bit north from Teec Nos Pos, Arizona you arrive at the Four Corners Tribal Park, the only place in the U.S. where four state corners meet. Soon thereafter we began heading into the mountains with an overnight in Durango and then on to Pagosa Springs the next morning. From there we traveled up and up to the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass – 10,857 feet – definitely one of the high points of this trip.
We continued through the mountains along US 160 through Walsenburg and then on to Lamar and then on US 50 into Dodge City for the night. As we drove through Kansas I recalled that it was the only state that we could smell for miles. The next morning we were off again to the SE corner of Kansas to visit the “Little House on the Prairie” near Independence, Kansas. Of course, this was the title of the book by Laura Ingalls Wilder and was her second home after the family moved from Wisconsin.
Though we made other stops along the way, our next destination was specifically for the girls, who in the 1990s were into the “Precious Moments” figurines. though popular among collectors, they are not nearly as popular as they were in the 1990s.
In any case, we made our way into Carthage, Missouri, on the western end of the state, to visit the Precious Moments Chapel. This was fun for the girls with big Precious Moments Statues, Stained Glass and other at work. This was their first really “offbeat” travel site in terms of uniqueness.
From Carthage we continued on to Frankfort, Kentucky, driving through St. Louis, crossing over the mighty Mississippi and then a straight shot on I-64 through Louisville. It was an amazing adventure for the kids as they got to see a good chunk of the United States. But this was really only the FIRST of many adventures.
This first cross country trip with the family was very revealing. We learned that the kids could manage on a long trip as long as we had a few stops along the way that were interesting and fun for them. It helped them anticipate the next stop too. We also found that they took interest in the history, the geography and even the novelty. We had a living classroom on wheels. This would prove very beneficial in our planning of subsequent trips, whether short or long.
Kentucky was new to all of us. In fact, the Eastern U.S. was new to all of us. The green, the colorful spring and fall seasons. All made for a wonderful new opportunity for adventures, even close to home. During the remainder of 1993 and a good part of 1994, we stayed close to home and explored nearby places. We moved from Frankfort to Nicholasville on Christmas Eve 1993 and could enjoy living close to the larger city of Lexington and all of its amenities. After getting settled again we had more opportunities to explore as the kids learned about the Civil War first hand, they got to see the massive Mammoth Cave and even enjoyed time in many of Kentucky’s beautiful surroundings.
Traveling far away from home wasn’t really on the agenda until mid 1995. At that time we were the host of a French Exchange Student named Barbara Grandvoinet. She was between the ages of Amaree and Marissa and went to school with them. We had room for her and she stayed with us for six months. So, it was the perfect time to plan a trip and get our “wanderlust” fulfillment in. By this time the fledgling internet was getting popular. We had an AOL account and I was able to do some research online. I planned out a trip that would take us through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and back home through West Virginia. It promised to be an exciting trip. The following map gives a general course for us (though I don’t really recall the entire course).
My goal for the trip was to make it memorable for the kids and to introduce them to journal writing. I didn’t force too hard, but I encouraged them to write in the notebooks that I prepared for them, to tell about the trips and the fun things they did. Some did well…
Marissa took her journaling and photography seriously, even from the get go. She has since become a professional photographer (see her photography site).
From the Mystery Hole tourist trap, we then went to the amazing New River Gorge and saw the huge arched bridge that spans the river. the New River is one of the oldest rivers on the American Continent and the 3030 Arched Bridge that crosses over it is 876 feet above the river.
After an overnight stay at an old hotel near Fayetteville, we visited Lexington, VA and then were off on a drive through the scenic Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We then stopped in Fredericksburg and visited some historical sites and the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shoppe, which showed the kids many old ways of doing things.
From Fredericksburg it was on to the historic Jamestown Settlement. Due to time constraints we skipped Williamsburg, which I had visited a couple of years earlier. But Jamestown was a nice living history center and the kids got to see how the Powhattan Indians lived, they got to climb aboard replicas of the ships that the settlers came on and more. A couple of the kids we causing problems, so I had them “put in a pillory.” The pillory was a device made of a wooden or metal framework erected on a post, with holes for securing the head and hands, formerly used for punishment by public humiliation and often further physical abuse, sometimes lethal. A stock only held the hands, a pillory included the head…just so the difference is made clear.
We then made our way to Norfolk and then to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an amazing structure to cross over/under Chesapeake Bay from the Norfolk area of Virginia to the Delmarva Peninsula. After its completion in 1964 it was named one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World. The total length from Virginia to Delmarva is about 23 miles (17 miles from shore to shore). There are actually two tunnels (Thimble Shoal – 5,552 feet and Chesapeake Channel – 5,237 feet) along the way, so you go down under and then back up over the water to man made islands and back under another tunnel.
Halfway across after going through the first tunnel, you come out on an island and there is a 625 foot long fishing pier and a souvenir shop. We stopped there and got the shot above. Afterward, we were back down the second tunnel and eventually came out on the Delmarva Peninsula, where we found an old crab house (really rustic indeed) and literally had a HUGE tray of crabs, crabcakes and other delectable types of seafood. It was called Phillips Crab House in Ocean City. We ate there and then stayed overnight in Ocean City. Indeed, one of the “educational” pieces I have always tried to throw into our trips is eating things local to the area in local cafes and restaurants. I wish I would have gotten some photos!!!
With the arrival in Ocean City, my four children had officially now been on both the West Coast (from previous trips to California and Catalina Island in the mid-1980s) and now the East Coast. With this trip they had also pretty well traversed most of the United States by car (at least from Arizona to Maryland).
After an overnight stay in Ocean City, we traveled to Annapolis, MD and then to Silver Spring, MD, where my aunt lived. We did make a quick stop at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and then traveled on to Silver Spring, where the huge and beautiful LDS (Mormon) Washington D.C. Temple is located (see photo above). We also took a day trip down to Mt. Vernon, where George Washington’s home was.
We then finished off by visiting the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, West Virginia on the way home.