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.
Willie Nelson Shrine – LSA Burgers – Denton, Texas
Nanobozho Muffler Man – Bemidji, Minnesota
Number Hill – Arco, Idaho
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.
For me there is a difference between “Offbeat” and “Quirky.” I like to look at things that are offbeat as being similar to something conventional or recognizable, but just somewhat off. On the other hand, quirky is closer to non-conventional and sometimes even absurd (my Q post will focus on Quirky).
When I am traveling I love looking at the beauty and nature around me, but I also seek out the offbeat and quirky. One source I always use to help me find these locations is the Roadside America app. This app covers all 50 states and most of Canada and includes almost anything offbeat, odd, quirky and even downright outlandish and ridiculous. There are literally 1000s of sites and things to find and this makes for something fun on a roadtrip.
So, what do I mean by offbeat? Let’s take houses for instance. The normal home is brick and mortar, or a trailer home. But how about a flying saucer or a house that looks like mushrooms? A trip to the Cincinnati area offers up both of these.
First, there is a house in Cincinnati literally referred to as the “Mushroom House.” It is built almost completely out of either natural materials or recycled materials.
It is like a house…it is a house. But it certainly looks different than the “normal” human abode.
Then there are the homes that look like flying saucers. Called “Futuro” homes, there were many built in the 1960s by a company in Finland.
Across the river from Cincinnati, on a hill in Covington, KY overlooking the Ohio River and US Interstate 75, sits a Futuro House. It is in a regular neighborhood and stands out like a sore thumb. If you look carefully off to your right from the Interstate driving south out of Cincinnati right after crossing the Ohio River, you will see it.
Finally, take a tripdown to Houston for another Offbeat house…the house built totally out of Beer Cans!
Basically done as an art project, this house is also lived in and is built out of 1000s of aluminum beer cans.
I think the owner’s name must be Bud Weiser??
But houses aren’t the only offbeat places. If one looks hard the discovery of offbeat eateries can also come to the fore. Like the houses, these are normal in most respects, but there is just something a tad different.
For instance, there is a great place in Portland, Oregon called Voodoo Doughnut. The main shop (yes, there are now a few of them) is located downtown and there are lines there 24/7. They make a great variety of doughnuts and even a few offbeat ones, such as the actual Voodoo Doughnut, which is a person shaped doughnut, covered with chocolate and filled with raspberry filling. It is stabbed with a pretzel stick…yes, like a Voodoo Doll!
Then there is the other offbeat thing…the original shop also has a chapel and some of the bakers are ALSO ordained ministers. You can be married at Voodoo Doughnut legally and be surrounded by chapel-esque stained glass and everything!
Head on over to Missouri for another unique treat. There is a restaurant in Ozark, Missouri (and another near Branson) called Lambert’s Cafe. These huge facilities cater to tourists and buses. They offer a variety of yummy meals and have a few things served “home style” – wheeled in on carts and served out of pots at the table (including black-eyed peas, potatoes, tomato stew and more).
But what really makes them famous are their “Throwed Rolls.” And this is where they fit into the Offbeat category. Literally, they come to the middle of an area in the restaurant, ask who wants rolls and then throw them across the room to you. You miss them, too bad…
Then there is the offbeat looking restaurant in Mississippi with amazing lunch offerings…
Convention gets thrown out the door when visiting a facility just outside of Nekoma, ND. There is a huge cement pyramid in the middle of nowhere. Seemingly deserted (but fenced off), this used to be an old military facility.
The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was the United States’ first operational ABM (anti-ballistic missile) defense system. The pyramid included radar and other defense systems. Now unused, it sits in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota and is an imposing offbeat site.
And a bank is a bank is a bank…right? What about one for tightwads?
Next are museums. There are hundreds of museums in the United States, but some are more offbeat and unique than others. Take the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI. Chock full of mustards from around the world, one can buy a lifetime supply of mustards and never have the same flavor twice.
The original Mustard Museum was located in Mt. Horeb, WI, but later moved to Middleton, to be in a much larger facility. A condiment lover’s dream.
There are also other fun museums out there. How about these?
And then there is the actual Oddity Place of all Oddity Places… a museum of Oddities in Seattle, WA called “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.”
Finally, what’s in a town? There are some offbeat towns out there. Many towns have unique names, but some of these are really offbeat and odd.
Some are totally Uncertain….
And lastly, a town that actually changed its name to a major sponsor…also in Texas.
Indeed, there is much offbeat in America and this is just a small sampling of the savory and unsavory offbeat oddities of our wonderful country. Is there anything Normal?
One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building. That is part of the fun of a back road adventure. Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).
Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers. They are often interesting to stop and read. As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”
When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark. From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast. In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition. Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.
Of course, after them went the pioneers. There were those who followed the Oregon Trail. Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail. In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail. Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others. Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen. As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.
Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise. Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.
The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history. But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.
In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg. There are many others.
For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns. These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes. Typically there are monuments or statues. I have come across many of these. They are always a fun little side adventure.
I have come across many of these over the years. Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces. (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.) Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.
Then, of course, there are the historical buildings. Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties. There are old churches large and small. And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings. All of them tell some sort of story about the place.
I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country. I love the old architecture. I have some favorites. Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.
Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects. One never knows what they will run into in a small town. A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?
I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff. Here are a few below.