Oftimes when we think of a road trip, we typically think of some far off location with fun sites and unique places to visit. Indeed, we may often overlook what is right in our backyard. Thus the word “Staycation” was born. A staycation is typically defined as a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in their own beds at night. Most of the time it involves dining out more frequently than usual. Staycations achieved popularity in the US during the financial crisis of 2007–2010.
I personally have taken a few of these in my own home town of Lexington and in surrounding areas around Kentucky. Last Monday was one of those days that I wanted to get out on the road, so I took a mini-roadtrip to travel along part of Kentucky’s Scenic Byway Highway 89 from Winchester through Irvine and into McKee. I had received inspiration to take this trip from a friend’s posting on Facebook about a small drive-in restaurant in Ravenna, KY called The Wigwam Drive-In. (I posted about that yesterday) Though only a four hour trip, it was well worth it both in beauty and in the refreshment of just getting out on the road and seeing the beautiful hills of the Bluegrass.
From Lexington I took US 60 to the lovely historic town of Winchester (which I’ll cover in another Staycation post in the future). From there I took Kentucky Highway 89 south towards Irvine, which begins on East Washington St. in Winchester. This drive weaves its way through farmland and hardwood forests passing through a few sparsely populated communities and their small churches.
The first community along the way is Trapp. Originally called Round Tree, the town had a school, post office and other stores. Trappers would visit the community’s stores, which is how the school was dubbed Trapp in the early 1900s. Nowadays the town has a few homes and a small grocery store called Fox’s General Store, which is advertised on the side of a building with a nice wall advertisement.
From there 89 crosses a bridge over the Red River into Estill County and the small community of Palmer. It is there that the Welcome to Estill County sign can be seen. I like its catchphrase “Where the Bluegrass Kisses the Mountains.” And indeed, this is where the mountains of eastern Kentucky really get started. From this point southward the drive is a natural wonderland of forest, wildflowers and rolling hills.
Soon I was driving into the community of Hargett which welcomes the driver with a rare sighting of an old Mail Pouch Barn, one of only six or seven I have seen in Kentucky. Originally known as Woodwards Creek, a post office opened in 1879 and was renamed Sams for a local store owner in 1886. It later moved to the nearby Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s Harg Station and was renamed Harg in 1914, just before closing. A Hargett post office opened in 1915 and closed in 1943. It is now a small unincorporated community with an old auto repair place that has a number of really old cars. There is also a fire department.
About five miles down the road I entered Irvine and was welcomed by a Priceless Foods store (actually I think it is Price Less, but I like the Priceless better–HA!!). Irvine is the home to locally famous Mountain Mushroom Festival at the end of April. Irvine and nearby Ravenna are known within Estill County as the “Twin Cities.” It is also the home of the famed Backstreet Boys Kevin Richardson and actor Harry Dean Stanton, who has appeared in a number of films including Cool Hand Luke, Alien, Red Dawn, Pretty in Pink and the Green Mile, among a myriad of others.
As noted above, the driving force for taking this mini-roadtrip to was to find my into Ravenna and visit the Wigwam Drive-In Restaurant. Ravenna is a twin city to Irvine and is accessed via KY Highway 52, which in town used to be affectionately called “The Wam.”
Before it was incorporated, Ravenna was apparently known only as “The Village”. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad was responsible for the name of Ravenna, the building of the shops, yard, office building, passenger and freight station, and many other things that were built for the establishment of a railroad terminal in Estill County just east of Irvine. After the completion of the terminal in 1915, the county decided it would call it “Ravenna”, which stems from the word “ravine”. Some early railroad officials reported that an Italian foreman and interpreter, with a construction crew of approximately 60 Italian men building the railroad yards, requested that the railroad officials name the station in honor of his birthplace, Ravenna, Italy, and it was so granted by the railroad officials in charge of such matter.
Just around the corner is the 60 year old Wigwam Drive-In Restaurant, famous for its Country Boy Burger (see my post about this place HERE). A unique little diner, this place is loved by many residents, many Kentuckians and others. I loved the old style diner feel of the place!
After leaving Ravenna, I got back onto KY 89 and crossed over the Kentucky River on the old bridge, which was built around 1940. Once across the bridge I continued my trek down KY 89 towards the mountain town of McKee, KY.
Along the entire drive there are barns with quilt blocks on the side. These are commonly seen in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, and perhaps other states. Estill County has its own Quilt Trail. There are a number of them in Kentucky, some of which I have visited in the past but not yet documented on my blog.
Purple Martins are North American birds that nest in colonies of 2 to 200 pairs. They like communal living and return to their gourd abodes annually. These communities can be seen all over the southeast and look nice as well as serving a purpose. Learn more about the gourds and the birds HERE.
KY Highway 89 turns into a windy, sometimes switchbacked, highway through the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is a beautiful drive this time of year as wildflowers dot the highway, as well as old beautiful barns.
There are many small community churches along this stretch of highway. The buildings are typically non-descript, but I love seeing the signs. Russell Flat was one of these.
There are quite a few others, many off of side roads.
I made my way into McKee, KY, another small town located in the heart of Jackson County, Kentucky. It is home to bluegrass festivals and more. I will visit there again and provide a more detailed report on this cute little place.
Highway 89 does continue south on to London, KY, but due to time constraints, I returned to Lexington via Richmond on US Highway 421, which is itself a beautiful drive through places like Sand Gap and Big Hill. It was a great trip!!
And, one last road sign….sometimes they can be pretty silly….
ENJOY THE RIDE!! Take a staycation near your home, wherever it may be. You never know what you may see.
(Note: This is a Throwback Thursday post of a trip I made to Michigan from Woodstock, Ontario in May 2008. Main reason for the trip was to see an Arena Football game, but I made a grad tour road trip of it, including a visit to Hell (MI)!)
May 31, 2008: This weekend was yet another opportunity for me to go see my friend Aaron Boone play football. The Utah Blaze will play in Grand Rapids, MI tomorrow and I decided I would drive there to see the game. It is actually the closest of the three games that
I will be able to attend this season. (The others were Cleveland and Philadelphia). In looking at the map and trying to determine the places I would be able to see along the way, I found that Hell, MI was kind of on the way. As I noted in my trip to Cleveland to see the game there, I lost my vehicle in a bad accident and practically went through hell to get to Cleveland. This time, I LITERALLY went through Hell to get to Grand Rapids. For my route I also went through the oil country of Ontario on the way over and, as always, I spiced up the trip with an assortment of places to stop. The map below tells the geographical story of this two day adventure.
The game would be held on Sunday afternoon in Grand Rapids, so I left early Saturday morning. A drive straight through to Grand Rapids is about 4 hours or so. But, I took the long way (don’t I always??) so as to see more countryside and places of interest
(at least to some folks).
By 7:30 AM I was on the Canada 401 Hwy heading west to London, Ontario where I would hop on the Canada 402. I took exit 82 and then headed via back roads through farmland towards Oil Springs, ON.
I eventually made my way down Gypsie Flats Road and as I neared the intersection of Gum Bed Line I could smell the petroleum in the air. The first things I see are an odd variety of old and new oil wells and a number of metal sculptures depicting the early oil industry. These fit nicely into my “scrap metal folk art” collection so I got a number of photos of these. All of these were on the Fairbank Oil Properties, named after John Henry Fairbank, who started these fields in 1861. Apparently all of these metal sculptures were made by local metal-worker Murray Watson, who owns Watson’s Machine Shop in Oil Springs and each of the sculptures is supposedly based on a real person connected to the oil business in the area.
I was also interested in the variety of oil wells in operation. The “black gold, Texas Tea…” was flowing freely from these contraptions. They are noisy and indeed were pumping away:
These are called “jerker lines”, a method used to pump oil to the surface from multiple wells using a shared steam engine (see the lines attached) This method was invented by John Henry Fairbank
I finally got into the small town of Oil Springs, which touts itself as site of the first commercial oil well in North America (they were celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2008, which celebrated the discovery of oil in 1858). Ironically, just a week earlier I drove through Oil City, PA and nearby Titusville, PA which has the same claim (they claim theirs was the birthplace of the Oil Industry in 1859). In any case, the oil wars continue today as I am (actually aren’t we all?) battling with $4.00/gallon prices in the U.S. and $1.30/liter (abt. $4.92/gal) prices in Canada.
Oil Springs is home to the Oil Museum of Canada. Unfortunately, it was still early so they were not open. But I got out and walked around the grounds, got a few photos and visited the site of the first oil well. The story, in a nut shell: Charles Nelson Tripp, his brother and businessmen from Hamilton and New York City came together to form the International Mining and Manufacturing Company for the purpose of producing asphalt from the Ontario gum beds situated in Enniskillen Township. This was the first oil company formed in North America. Its charter empowered the company to explore for asphalt beds and oil and salt springs, and to manufacture oils, naphtha paints, burning fluids, varnishes and related products. Then a manufacturer of railway carriages at Hamilton bought Tripp’s land and oil rights. Tripp stayed on the payroll as landman. Williams formed the J.M.Williams Company. After unsuccessful attempts at commercial production from the gum beds Williams hand-dug and cribbed a well 49 feet deep. It did not reach bedrock but produced as much as 150 gallons per hour by hand pump. The oil was refined for illuminating oil and lubricants. Then, in 1858, with stagnant algae-ridden water almost everywhere and, looking for better drinking water, Williams dug a well a few yards down an incline from his asphalt plant. At a depth of 20 meters, the well struck free oil instead of water. In 1858 it became the first oil well in North America, remembered as Williams No. 1 at Oil Springs, Ontario. (This was a year before Edwin Drake drilled his famous wildcat
in Pennsylvania in 1859.) — This info comes from Petrolia’s Website.
After visiting Oil Springs I drove north on Oil Heritage Road into Petrolia and then on to Wyoming. I had planned to stop in Petrolia, but I still had a lot to see so I skipped Petrolia and it was early anyway so the museum and other sites would not be open anyway. I got through Wyoming and was back on the 402 heading west towards Sarnia, into Point Edward and over the Blue Water Bridge. I have crossed this bridge a number of times, but have yet to actually stop and decided not to this time as well. There are some beautiful scenes of Lighthouse Park (in Port Huron, MI) and I think the park in Point Edward, ON would offer some nice shots of the lighthouse over the St. Clair River, which serves as the border between Canada and the U.S. Maybe on my next trip…..
I made it through Flint, MI on I-69 and then headed south from there on US-23. The scenery was grand as I drove by glimmering lakes and ponds and through nice wooded areas. As I got closer to my next destination I could see that there were a number of recreation areas. I turned west on 9 Mile Road heading towards Hamburg and then on M36 into Pinckney. I got there just in time for some big festival in town. It was already crowded by 10:30 AM. I knew that I had to turn from Pinckney to had south to Hell. I finally saw my sign:
The drive to Hell, Michigan is actually quite scenic. You take D19 south to Patterson Lake Road and then turn right. This is about a five mile drive. Hell is actually located inside Pinckney Recreation Area near four or five lakes. It is also considered a part of the town of Pinckney. According to the official Hell Website, the town got its name as follows: Hell was first settled in 1838 by George Reeves and his family. George had a wife and 7 daughters – no reason to call it Hell yet… George built a mill and a general store on the banks of a river that is now known as Hell Creek. The mill would grind the local farmers’ grain into flour; George also ran a whiskey still, so a lot of times the first 7-10 bushels of grain became moonshine. In turn, horses would come home without riders, wagons without drivers….someone would say to the wife, where is your husband? She’d shrug her shoulders, throw up her arms and exclaim, Ahh, he’s gone to Hell!” In 1841 when officials from the State of Michigan came by, and asked George what he wanted to name his town, he replied, “Call it Hell for all I care, everyone else does.” So the official date of becoming Hell was October 13, 1841… (you can click here for the LONG history of Hell).
Well, arriving in Hell was not as exciting as I thought it would be. There are only three businesses operating there (that I could see). The population is around 74 they say. As well, according to the Screams Ice Cream shop the locals are referred to as hellions, hellbillies or wannabes.
Enough about Hell. A fun place to say you have been through…so, now I have been to Hell and Back. Now, on to more places…. In my research of where to go I noticed that just south of Hell is another interesting town called Chelsea. I just had to go there since my daughter is Chelsea and since it was so close. I took a number of winding roads and finally made my way to M52 and went south into
I actually found two places to visit in Chelsea. The first actually has an official Guinness World Record. It is the Chelsea Teddy Bear
Company. Their record is for the world’s largest “Teddy Bear Mosaic”. They also have “Goliath”, the World’s Largest Stuffed Teddy Bear (over 10 feet tall!!) and then there is the 7′ tall “Happy” Grizzly Bear. Naturally, I got Chelsea a T-Shirt that she can wear proudly!
Chelsea is also home to one of my wife Julianne’s favorite products for use around Thanksgiving and when she makes chili. It is the home of the Chelsea Milling Company, known for their Jiffy Muffin Mix.
Chelsea also has some interesting folk art in the town square area
I was now back on the road going from Corn Meal Mix to Cream of Wheat as I headed south to I-94 out of Chelsea towards my next destination. Once on I-94 I was heading west to Exit 138 to US 127 north to the small town of Leslie, MI. Here I would find one of those real obscurities. As I mentioned Cream of Wheat, the story will be told first:
The boxes were hand-made and lettered, and emblazoned with the image of a black chef produced by Emery Mapes. The character was named Rastus, and the image was included on all boxes and advertisements and continues to be used today with only very slight changes. A stereotypical black icon was fairly common for U.S. commercial brands at the time of the cereal’s creation; for other examples, see Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. It has long been thought that a black chef named Frank L. White was the model for the chef shown on the Cream of Wheat box. White, who died in 1938 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Leslie, Michigan claimed to be the
model for the Cream of Wheat box. In June 2007, a headstone was erected for Mr. White. The headstone contains his name and an etching taken from the man depicted on the Cream of Wheat box.
I made my way into town and then to Woodlawn Cemetery. There are two roads in, one paved and one dirt. Take the dirt road under the Woodlawn Cemetery sign and take the fork to the right. His is the first marker on ground on the right just off the road.
Frank L. White: African American chef best known as the model featured on Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal boxes. White was born in Barbados in 1867 before immigrating to the U.S. in 1875 and
becoming a citizen in 1890. White lived much of his life in Leslie, Michigan, and was working as a master chef at a Chicago restaurant the time he was photographed for the cereal box in 1900. White died on February 15, 1938, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. In June 2007, his grave, which was previously unmarked, received a headstone.
Now when you eat Cream of Wheat you can have this interesting story to tell. (Please make mine lumpy!) He apparently never made a penny off of his image.
After paying homage to Mr. White, I continued north on US 27 to
just south of Lansing and then onto I-96 to head further west through Portland, Berlin and Boston, to Exit 43 where I would head north to Ada, MI. Ada is home to one of 11 covered bridges in Western Michigan. The Ada Covered Bridge spans the Thornapple River that runs through Ada. It is 125 feet long and was originally built around 1867 using “Brown” trusses that were patented by Josiah Brown of Buffalo, NY in 1857. This particular bridge has had its troubles through the years and was eventually destroyed by fire. The community, with help from nearby Amway Corporation, rebuilt the bridge in 1979. This bridge is only for pedestrian use now.
By the time I was done with the Ada Bridge, it was getting late. I was just outside of Grand Rapids, so I checked into my hotel room at the Super 8 near the Gerald R. Ford Airport and then headed across town to meet Aaron Boone. We met for dinner and then took a drive around Grand Rapids looking at some of the old churches as
well as a ride west towards Lake Michigan. We made it to about 100 yards of the lake and didn’t know it and it was dark anyway. It was a pleasant time talking about family, life, football, etc.
June 1, 2008: Today was game day, but it was beautiful outside and so I decided to take a drive to see another of the covered bridges. I had hoped to find it yesterday, but I got lost and it wasn’t signed very well. This time I had specific directions and drove east on I-96 to the Lowell exit 52 and headed north through Lowell up Lincoln Lake Ave. to Fallasburg Park Dr., about 5 miles north of Lowell. This is the site of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge. This bridge is a single span bridge also using Brown trusses. It is 100 feet long and 14 feet tall and allows single lane traffic by car as it crosses the Flat River. But, if you go faster than someone walking you will be “fined $5” according to the sign on the bridge. When I got there I was awestruck by the beautiful setting. On top of that, there was a man there fishing and the shot was too tempting. Barry O. gave me permission to photograph him and use it on the web.
Crossing over the river on the bridge and then up the hill takes you into the historic village of Fallasburg. There are some historical buildings.
After a nice morning visit, it was time to head back to Grand Rapids to get the tickets and get excited about the ball game. The Utah Blaze really needed a win here to stay in contention for the playoffs.
First of all, I sat on the “Blaze Bench” in Hell for good luck (see photo at top of page). I had yet to attend a game played by Aaron Boone as an Arena player that they had won. I was 0 for 5. So, I hoped my streak would be broken. I had to go through Hell to get here!!
The game went well. The Blaze won 63-56 over the Grand Rapids Rampage though Boone’s Touchdown streak was held to 13 games in a row as he didn’t get one this game. But, my streak was broken and better yet, the Blaze stayed in contention for the playoffs! Following are a few photos I took at the game. I had great seats right behind the Blaze bench.
Coach Danny White attended Westwood H.S. in Mesa, the same as my wife. My mother-in-law was one of his high school teachers. Germaine is also from Mesa and led Ohio State to a Rose Bowl win.
After the game I saw Aaron off and headed home. It was Sunday and I had to be back at work in the morning. However, on the way home I had one more place to visit. I needed dinner, so I would stop at a planned place. I discovered this one on roadsideamerica.com and thought it would fit my eclectic style.
Yes, the name conjures up all kinds of imaginations. But, as with other strange and wonderful places I have visited in the past, I needed to add this to my collection. (Note: As of this writing in 2015, the restaurant is closed, but is trying to reestablish in Lansing, MI) The TCIR and Tuba Museum not only has an interesting interior, but the menu is also a variety of Asian, ethnic, Greek, and whatever else they could conjure up. I actually had a Greek salad and a Buffalo burger…yes, Buffalo…not in Montana, South Dakota or Colorado…but in some little small town in Michigan!
The real charm of this place is the decor…with all kinds of tubas everywhere
It was spring and the flowers were in bloom and the fountains were running.
It was a pleasant ending to a rather long weekend. Eye candy, good food and wonderful fragrance. The drive back to Woodstock was uneventful and went quickly. It was a great time.
As I returned home from my long nine-day trip across America I wanted to take a quick look back at all the events.
Over the course of this trip I have covered 12 states, over 4600 miles, taken almost 2000 photos (including over 100 “selfies” and have seen all kinds of things.
The big highlights of this trip were visiting the Paul Bunyan and Big Blue in Bemidji, Minnesota, driving up the Beartooth Mountains in Wyoming/Montana, and hitting Carhenge in Nebraska.
Along with these, I saw many other interesting places. I had numerous oddball sites along the way including a pink elephant, big bears, Jackalopes and many other roadside attractions.
This trip took me along many US highways as I generally avoided the interstate whenever possible. I was fortunate enough to drive a big chunk US Route 2: all the way from Ironwood, Michigan to the eastern edge of Glacier National Park where US 2 intersects with US 89. That route has some amazing scenery, lots of variety and other wonderful things.
As I noted above, I took Route 2 all the way to where it met US Highway 89. I later drove US 89 from the US 2/US 89 intersection near Glacier National Park along the eastern rim down to the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Throughout my years of travel I have covered a good portion US 89 all the way down to Mexico and all the way up to Canada but never in one fell swoop. In my opinion, US 89 is probably the most scenic of all the US highways. US Route 66 may be the most famous, but US 89 passes by a number national parks and monuments, as well as numerous other scenic places. From the north you would drive by Glacier, then Yellowstone, continue south through the Rocky Mountains, down through southern Utah near Bryce and Zion national parks, crossover Lake Powell at Glen Canyon dam, head towards Flagstaff and pass Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments, then pass the Grand Canyon, and continue south all the way to Mexico. An amazing drive down nature’s “Grand Staircase.”
As with most of my trips, I also captured the abundance of wildlife, some of which I was able to photograph. I had close-ups of deer, antelope, bison and a few waterbirds. I drove through the wetlands of Minnesota, the marshlands of North Dakota, and the sandhills of Nebraska, all of which had an abundance of waterfowl.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some amazing people along this road trip. I met some expert woodcarvers in Wisconsin and I met with rice growers in Wisconsin. I had a long talk with the people in Bemidji, Minnesota. While in Douglas, Wyoming I got to meet with the people there about the Jackalope got my “official” Jackalope hunting license and other goodies from them. At Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming I met a photographer from Wisconsin who also writes blogs and has many similar interests in travel. I hope to exchange stories and photos with him. Then at Carhenge I met a time lapse photographer and some other interesting people and even donated my MARDUP (Married Up) license plate to the Carhenge gift shop. I don’t want to forget the small Old Trail Museum in the small town of Choteau, Montana with dinosaurs and other unique things.
As with most of my trips, I didn’t visit all of my planned locations. But along the way there were many in expected surprises that I ran across. These are what really make these trips worthwhile! Perhaps two of my most exciting surprises were visiting Rock City in northern Montana ( with my Grandkidz) and Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming. Both of these are basically uncharted geographic and geologic formations that are really amazing.
As always, I was delighted to be around the mountains! I was fortunate to be able drive along the eastern rim of Glacier National Park at sunrise and see the beauty of the snow-covered mountains there. Driving down US 89 from Shelby towards Yellowstone, I saw an abundance of wonderful mountain vistas. Then one of my bucket list trips was accomplished on this as I drove the Beartooth mountain range which sits atop the border of Montana and Wyoming. That was an amazing adventure as I drove all the way up 11,000 feet to the “Top of the World” as they call it there. Deep snow surrounded the roads and the vistas looking down on the mountains were absolutely breathtaking.
This trip will actually provide me enough content to warrant a number of blog posts for me as I visited so many locations and saw so many different things. In the past, I have tried to throw it all into one giant blog. But this time around I met with people and I dug a little deeper and took more pictures of various locations so that I can focus on the smaller picture items. For sure I will have blog posts about US Route 2, US Route 89, the Beartooth, Bemidji, Douglas, and probably a few others.
With the new technology of wireless devices, I was able to take a lot of “selfies” along the route. My goal was to get 100 selfies, but I actually got 96 on this trip. Using Instagram, I hash tagged them with #100selfies and shared them on Twitter, Facebook and other social sites. Ultimately, I plan on a “100 Selfies” blog post including all of the photographs and the stories behind them.
Of course, I cannot neglect noting the real reason I took the trip which was my grandson Kade’s baptism. It was amazing to be able to spend time with my four grandchildren and my daughter Amaree and her husband Aaron for four days in Shelby, Montana.
During the course of this trip, I probably took over 2000 photographs. Much of them were scenery and unique sites. But I also captured the sense of the fading America – the old neon signs, the old abandoned houses and barns, schools and churches, the small-town theaters and their marquees. I captured small-town murals and Wall art.
I also captured an abundance of nature including beautiful sunrises and sunsets, amazing cloud formations, wildlife, wonderful vistas of the prairies and mountains and many many shots of scenes from the road
For me, these trips are not about the destinations. These trips are about the experience. It is all in the trip! This nine-day adventure, as with other long trips I have taken the past couple of years, will leave me cherished memories to the day that I die. Watch soon for detailed posts about the trip.