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.
In recent weeks, my wife Julianne has taken to riding on bike trails around the upper Midwest. In the past few weeks she has ridden bike trails in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and will soon be on a nice trail in Virginia.
She is finding these very enjoyable and has done some with her sister and some with our daughter Marissa, and one even with the grandchildren. As a support driver I enjoy taking her and driving the back roads to meet her (and the others) along the trail.
Many of my upcoming blog posts will cover some of these scenic bike trails, many which are called Rails to Trails. This post is an overview of these trails with links to my posts below and also brief details about the Rails to Trails movement and some of the things that are going on with that around the country.
As some railroads have gone defunct or gone out of business, the rails have been pulled up and trails have been made to replace them. These trails include the bridges and trestles, assorted tunnels (some of which are very long) and, of course, the wonderful scenery that these old railroad tracks pass through.
This whole movement was started by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy which transforms unused rail corridors into vibrant public places—ensuring a better future for America made possible by trails and the connections they inspire. According to their website, the “RTC serves as the national voice for more than 160,000 members and supporters, 30,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America.” It has been in operation since 1986 and the trails continue to get placed all over. The RTC History can be seen in detail here.
Julianne has fallen in love with these and I have too! Currently I only provide vehicular support, but I hope to be on the trail with her in the near future after I am able to get a bike. In the meantime, I am thrilled to drive the back roads nearby and see the small towns. Those too will be documented.
Not all of the Bike Trails are “Rails to Trails” trails. There are others such as the Legacy Trail in Lexington which has been built specifically as a bike trail…from scratch. These too will be covered.
Much of the documentation on the bike trails centers on the trails, but little is written about the “support” roads that a driver would want to take to meet the riders along these long trails, if wanted or needed. I have made efforts to document this in photos and will provide details in the posts on each trail…including maps when needed. (If links are not live, then the posts are still being worked on)
Finally, I have worked with Julianne to rate the trails. She will rate them from 1 pump (poor) to 5 pumps (excellent). Each separate post will include her comments about the specific trail. Comments and details will be in each individual post, but the ratings are also shown below with just a couple of comments.
Following is a growing list of trails — long and short — that we have covered. Check back here often as I will update links here and minor details as new trails are taken.
The first of the trails is perhaps our most visited due to proximity to where we live. It is the “middle of the week” riding trail for my wife and occasionally my daughter who joins her on these trips.
The Legacy Trail runs north and south through Lexington among green spaces, neighborhoods and parks. The trail joins the Kentucky Horse Park and the Lexington YMCA. (There are plans to extend it south beyond the YMCA to the memorial art garden named for African American jockey, and multiple Kentucky Derby champion, Isaac Murphy).
This trail is about 12 miles long and is completely asphalt. Julianne typically takes it form the Coldstream Parking Lot, so it is a bit shorter. But, she adds an additional 8 miles with a ride along the roads in the Kentucky Horse Park.
Julianne and her sister Laura rode a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail while on a trip to Ohio in early May 2016. We made a visit to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park after we found that part of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath runs through that park. Julianne and Laura rode about a 10 mile section of this 85 mile long path which actually runs from Scranton Flats in Cleveland down to Bolivar, Ohio. While they rode the predominantly crushed gravel trail, I visited some sites in the National Park.
Montour Trail – Pittsburgh, PA (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
On another trip in May 2016, Julianne visited her sister in Canonsburg, PA. Right outside of Canonsburg is the Montour Trail which actually runs from the northwest of Pittsburgh (starting at Moon Township), down through Pittsburgh and into Canonsburg area. It is about a 30 mile trail. The unique thing about that trail is that it also meets up with a much larger trail called the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. Complete from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Rail Trail to create a 335-mile non-motorized route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. They hope to ride the complete trail in 2017.
Dawkins Line Rail Trail – Swamp Branch, KY (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In early June 2016 Julianne and I took a trip down to Salyersville, KY (actually to the small village of Royalton) in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. This was at the trail head of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail, the longest Rail Trail in Kentucky. It is currently 18 miles long, but will be extended to 36 miles in the next year or two. The second half of the trail was to be completed and opened to the public in November 2015, but was still not completed on our visit. It will supposedly extend farther west into Breathitt County and will include access to the 1,556-foot Tip Top Tunnel. The trail passes by historical coal structures, goes over 24 scenic trestles and also includes the Gun Creek Tunnel, which spans nearly 700 feet. It was the first trail that she had been on with a tunnel.
Little Miami Scenic Trail – Southern Section – Xenia, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In mid-June 2016 we made our first trip to Ohio so Julianne could ride the southern portion of the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a 78 mile trail that stretches from Springfield, OH (north of Columbus) all the way to Newton, OH (just outside of Cincinnati). On this trip she decided to take the southern half of the trail, from the main Xenia Station to the small town of Morrow (the trail actually goes all the way to Loveland, but it was a bit too far to ride that day.) as of this trip, Julianne has been happiest about this particular trail, thus a Five Pump rating.
The trail is paved all the way and has lovely shady areas, some nice bridges and also links to a number of other trails that comprise the 330-mile network of paved, off-road trails in Ohio’s Miami Valley. Eventually this trail will be a link in a trail that will go from the Ohio River in Cincinnati all the way to Lake Erie in Cleveland (called the Ohio to Erie Trail).
North Bend Rail Trail – Cedar Grove, WV (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In late June 2016 Julianne once again met up with her sister in West Virginia for a ride down the North Bend Rail Trail. It is a 72-mile trail in north-central and western West Virginia and is operated by West Virginia State Parks. It is also part of the and is part of the American Discovery Trail. On our June trip, we started at North Bend State Park and she and her sister rode west to Cedar Grove (Happy Valley). The trail has 13 tunnels that were originally constructed by the B&O railroad. One of the tunnels, nearly 2000 feet long, is also supposedly haunted.
Julianne rated this trail a three due to the nature of the trail. There are parts with rough, sharp gravel that are not conducive to hybrid tires. But, on the other hand, the trail has some beautiful scenery.
Unfortunately for her, just after the long tunnel she got a flat tire and had to walk nearly five miles to meet me at the next location. Cell service is scant along this trail and much of the trail is not close to any roads.
Little Miami Scenic Trail – Northern Section – Springfield, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
In early July 2016 we took our daughter and her three children and headed north to Springfield, OH to catch the northern section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail. This portion of the trail runs form Springfield, goes near a great dairy (perfect for an ice cream stop!), passes through the artsy town of Yellow Springs and makes its way into Xenia and beyond. Like the southern section, it is all paved and very scenic. There are a number of side trails available.
Tri-County Triangle Trail – Washington Court House, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
We visited this trail in early July 2016, taking a trip up to the town of Washington Court House, OH. Julianne rode the 32 miles into Chillicothe, OH. Like the other Miami Valley trails, this one is paved all the way and also very scenic, though it has less shade than the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Also, unlike the Little Miami, there are many more rural areas without cell phone service. But, Julianne said it was a fun and enjoyable ride.
Virginia Creeper Trail – Damascus, VA (Click here for Trail Post with photos)
Perhaps one of the most beautiful and fun rides out there, the Virginia Creeper is about 33 miles of bike riding bliss. We visited in mid-July 2016 and took the drive from Damascus, VA to White Top Station in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. From there the ride begins with a nearly 17 mile downhill glide on the crushed gravel surface. The trail goes through luscious forests, passes by a number of Christmas Tree farms and over a number of bridges and trestles into Damascus (known as Trail Town USA), which is a perfect place to stop for a break before tackling the more challenging ride to the trail’s end in Abingdon, VA.
Damascus has a number of Shuttle companies that will take you and your bikes to White Top and then you can ride down. You can also catch similar shuttles in Abingdon.
Julianne rates this a 4 1/2 only because the gravel trail can be tricky. However, young kids and older folks all seem to enjoy the downhill ride. The last 6 miles into Abingdon is a gradual uphill battle, but doable. Definitely one of America’s MUST VISIT trails. That is why it is a Hall of Fame Trail.
During a trip in May 2016 I visited my birthplace in the Little Italy neighborhood (See Little Italy Post) of Cleveland and then spent a day with family driving around Cleveland and catching a few sites (see post about Cleveland). On my final day I picked up my wife in Kirtland, OH. She had been there for a conference with her sister. While there we visited a few places and I also had the opportunity to drive a few back roads while they were busy on the conference. Actually, some of the locations I visited on one of the mornings prior to returning to Cleveland, but they are all compiled here.
On the Sunday morning I was there we got the special opportunity to ring the Temple bells at 9 AM. Photos inside the Kirtland Temple are not allowed, so we didn’t get any pictures, but it was fun to ring the bell. I then left her and her sister there wile I did some driving around.
joining when I was 18 (back in 1975 — if interested you can read that part of my life story in my Sumoflam Singlewide Blog Here.) The Kirtland Temple figures prominently in the history of the LDS Church. (Read details HERE on the LDS History site). My wife comes from church pioneer heritage, but most of her relatives came from England and went to Nauvoo, which was the next stopping point west for the Mormons. But key pieces of the church’s early history took place here. Initially, the Prophet Joseph Smith dedicated the temple on March 27, 1836. According to church history, beginning in January and continuing past the dedication, many Church members reported witnessing heavenly manifestations during this season. Soon thereafter, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery noted the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ to them to accept the temple. Later, the resurrected personages of Moses, Elias, and Elijah also appeared to Joseph and Oliver to restore priesthood keys for the salvation of all mankind.
Just a few blocks from the Temple is the Historic Kirtland Visitor’s Center which has a number of historic buildings. One of these was the Newell K. Whitney Store where many of the revelations now included in the Doctrine and Covenants were received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He also received the revelation now called the Word of Wisdom, as well as the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and the command to build the temple. Joseph also completed much of his inspired translation of the Bible here. Following are a few other photos I took while at the temple and the visitor’s center.
After my visit to Kirtland, I continued south on US Highway 6 towards Russell Township, which also used to be known as Novelty, OH. There is still a Novelty Post Office. Of course, one of my favorite road trip activities is visiting towns and places with unique names and this one was a true novelty!!
I am not certain how the Post Office got its name (closed on Sundays obviously), but it is fun. Outside of the post office, attached to the building is a large wooden postage stamp for Novelty. See below.
Not far from the Novelty Post Office, on Kinsman Road, is the headquarters for ASM International (formerly known as the American Society for Metals).
According to its website, “ASM International was founded in 1913 as the American Society for Metals. Today, ASM is the world’s largest association of metals-centric materials scientists and engineers with over 30,000 members worldwide. ASM is dedicated to informing, educating and connecting the materials community to solve problems and stimulate innovation around the world. ” But the reason I went there was for something grand…indeed, the largest geodesic dome in the world and, unique to all others, a non-covered one.
The dome was initially constructed in 1959 and was conceived by prominent Cleveland architect, John Terence Kelly; ASM’s managing director for 50 years, William Hunt Eisenman, and futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller.
The geodesic dome is actually two domes, one inside the other that are 30 inches apart, rising to a height of 103 feet and is 274 feet in diameter. The dome is built using approximately 65,000 parts, including 13 miles of extruded aluminum tubing and tension rods welded into hexagons. There are no internal supports and the entire 80-ton weight rests on five concrete-filled pylons driven up to 77 feet into the earth.
The entire complex sits on a 400-foot diameter piazza with a 100-foot diameter mineral garden in the center that contains 66 labeled specimens of mineral ores with a fountain in the center. The 50,000-square foot headquarter building is a three-story semi-circular shaped concrete structure that occupies two-fifths of the piazza perimeter. The building resides on the western perimeter and is independent of the dome structure and has three distinct sections.
The building has floor-to-ceiling aluminum frame windows inside poured concrete walls and floors. The exterior of the western-facing second level glass wall is protected by a 13-foot high, 390-foot long satin-finish stainless steel “sun shield,” which protects against the afternoon sun without obstructing the view by providing 4,000 one-foot by five-inch louvers. Stainless steel, bronze, copper, aluminum, titanium and tungsten elements are incorporated into the interior design. This was an amazing sight!
Not too far away from Novelty/Russell Township is the Holden Arboretum which encompasses 3,600 acres in Lake and Geauga counties.
I had hoped to visit, but time constrained me. The arboretum offers plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities and an abundance of flora from what I could see driving by. It is also home to a 120 foot tall “Emergent Tower” which can provide views of Lake Erie on a clear day. The Murch Canopy walk is 500 feet long and is 65 feet above ground. I would love to visit these on a future visit. (See details here).
After driving past the arboretum I had to head back to meet my wife and her sister and we then headed south on OH 306 to Russell Center and then onto OH 87 to get to Chagrin Falls. This is a quaint touristy little town with two nice waterfalls smack in the middle of the village.
Chagrin Falls has a few claims to fame — it is the birthplace of famous comedian Tim Conway and was the home of Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic characters Calvin and Hobbes from age 6 on. It is also home to the Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop, known for its massive variety of flavored popcorn. The building now housing the Popcorn Shop was constructed in 1875 adjoining the hydro-powered flour mill to showcase “The Pride of the Falls” grocery items. It was complete with a water-wheel driven gristmill powered by the Chagrin River. The shop opened as a Popcorn Shop in 1949 and takes pride in offering what they claim to be “the finest & freshest, locally made ice cream, Euclid Beach custard, locally roasted coffee and old fashioned candies.” The foundation of their tradition is carefully crafted locally made popcorn, always made in small batches with only the finest ingredients.
The highlight of the town is the two sets of falls in the middle of town. Its a real drawing card indeed. The setting is wonderful with restaurants and cafes overlooking the falls. There are also a number of old buildings in the town giving it an old-fashioned and cozy feel.
After a nice lunch in Chagrin Falls, we departed for our final destination – Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For me it was an opportunity to add another National Park to my collection, but for Julianne and her sister Laura it was an opportunity to ride the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath trail, the first of their long trail rides in a week (the second was the next weekend as they took a portion of the Montour Trail near Canonsburg, PA). Since that trip, Julianne has been on five major bike trails. I will be writing about these in future blog posts including the the above two and also includes the Dawkins Line Rail Trail in SE Kentucky, the Little Miami Scenic Trail from Xenia, OH and then again with her sister on the North Bend Rail Trail east of Parkersburg, WV. Great opportunities to see some unique places!!
While the girls rode the trail, I enjoyed reading up on the history of the Boston Store and grabbed a few shots of the surrounding buildings. Then I just chillaxed in a rocking chair (I am a grandpa mind you) while I waited for Julianne and Laura to get back from biking.
This was a nice final stop to a great four day trip to Ohio. I sat on the porch, enjoyed the view, watched the bikers and reminisced on all of the fun places, great food (Little Italy!!), history and quirky sites we visited. Then it was back home to Kentucky with a stop in Wilmington, OH, which I will cover in a subsequent post.