Throughout my travels I drove over 10,000 miles and took over 3000 photos in 2014. I have numerous shots from the road of quirky places, offbeat sites and some nice looking places. If you missed my “nature photos”, some of which are from my travels, please check them out on my Sumoflam’s Singlewide Site. Following are my ten favorite travel shots from 2014 and the stories behind them (and a number of honorable mentions).
NUMBER 1 – OLD PRAIRIE SCHOOL HOUSE
I once saw a photo of this old school house and knew that I had to get to this relic of the past. So, on my way to Shelby, MT from Havre, I sought to track it down. Instructions from most are difficult to find, so I figured if I could find the place I could also document its location. I took color shots, but edited this one to be in black and white. Gives that old-timey feel.
NUMBER 2 – PAUL BUNYAN AND BABE
It had always been a dream of mine to get to this famed roadside attraction from 1937 located in Bemidji, MN. I first saw this in a LIFE Magazine Travel book in the 1960s. From that time my wanderlust kicked in and finally, in 2014, I was able to get there.
NUMBER 3 – CARHENGE
Car art at its best, my 2014 visit to this famed roadside attraction fulfilled my goal to hit the trifecta of car art sites (the other two being Cadillac Ranch, which I visited in 2013 and “Spindle”, the Cars on a Spike, which I visited in 2007)
NUMBER 4 – GIANT HIAWATHA
I went to Ironwood, MI to begin my journey west on US Highway 2, which I drove for over 1200 miles, eventually to Browning, Montana. This giant can be seen down the road as one enters the town of Ironwood from the south. It was one of many “giants” I would see in 2014.
NUMBER 5 – “I AM MO” MURAL
Sometimes the best sites are in your own backyard. This amazing mural was done in the summer of 2014 as part of the PRHBTN Arts program. A number of murals were added to Lexington. But this one is humongous!!
NUMBER 6 – GREETINGS FROM AUSTIN
One can’t visit Austin without visiting this famed mural. They continue to update it over the years, but it is well known.
NUMBER 7 – TEE PEE MOTEL
A throwback to the 50s and 60s, this motel was rebuilt in the 1980s but left with the vintage style buildings and furnishings. A few other similar ones can be found dotting the country.
NUMBER 8 – THE GREAT TEXAS SUPPER
The Great Texas Supper at LSA Burger in Denton, Texas
This mural is play on the Last Supper but features famed Texas musicians enjoying a meal with Jesus. It was painted by Icon Studios in Dallas. I got the opportunity to visit LSA Burgers for a special visit before they opened for the day (back in June 2014). They were kind enough to give me a nice tour thanks to Denton’s famed ghost tour lady Shelly Cumbie Tucker. L-R in the painting: George Jones, Selena, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Scott Joplin, Janis Joplin, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Holly and T-Bone Walker.
NUMBER 9 – MAMMY’S CUPBOARD
Mammy’s Cupboard is a great place to eat and an awfully unique roadside attraction. I found out about it as I researched my trip to Galveston. I had to not only grab a photo, but had to stop for a bit to eat just so I could say I have eaten in this historical roadside attraction.
NUMBER 10 – THE BIG FISH
This Big Fish is, in my opinion, one of the “Big Three” roadside attractions in Minnesota (though there are dozens of other good ones – the other two are Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, above, and the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth). I got a number of angles, but I loved this one where it looks as if the giant fish is about to devour the little house.
As I continued my trip in Montana, I spent some time with my daughter and her children in Shelby. From there I proceeded to head back to Kentucky the “back roads” way over a number of US Highways and State Highways.
My goal was to travel the majority of Montana’s US 89 during this trip. I did not hit the portion north of Browning to Alberta on this trip, though I have traveled it in the past. In fact, over the years I have traveled US 89 from the Canadian border all the way to Mexico (back when US 89 went that far). This post will cover the section of US 89 north of Great Falls and I will follow with a second post covering the portion of US 89 in Montana south of Great Falls.
Sometimes called the National Park Highway, U.S. 89 links seven national parks across the Mountain West. In addition, fourteen other national park areas, mostly national monuments are also reachable from this backbone of the Rockies. The highway goes through prairies, mountains and deserts and, in my opinion, is the most scenic US Highway in America.
My wife flew out to Montana so I took her down to Great Falls and spent the night there. The next morning she had an early flight, so I dropped her off and then headed north on US 89 from Great Falls and would travel all the way to US Highway 2 near Browning and then back to Shelby for one more night with the family.
US 89 near Great Falls merges with Interstate 15 until Vaughn, Montana, where it cuts northwest towards Glacier National Park. In the early morning, this is a fabulously beautiful drive along the eastern edge of Glacier.
The first town along US 89 north is Fairfield, where the highway continues northward. I pulled into town on an early Monday morning and things were still quiet. Like many small Montana towns, there are old neon signs, old buildings and a unique personality.
Fairfield is also the southern gateway to Freezeout Lake, which can be seen from US 89. This lake is a spring home to snow geese and swans as they fly north to Canada in the spring. I drove by a bit late to see the swarms of birds, but I did catch a couple of bird shots as I drove by.
Route 89 continues north into beautiful country on the approach to the town of Choteau, which is a southwestern gateway to Glacier (the town refers to itself as “The Front Porch to the Rockies”).
The town is the northern terminus of US 287 which actually starts in Port Arthur, Texas, about 1,791 miles away. (I actually drove a good portion of US 287 on a previous trip to Texas from Dalhart through Amarillo and Wichita Falls into the Dallas area.) As I pulled into Choteau from the south I was greeted by two grumpy looking cowboys (in the Ace Hardware parking lot). I contacted Ace owner Steve Nyland to inquire about the pieces and learned that they were made by Lincoln, Montana born artist Rick Rowley who now runs the Lost Woodsman Studio in Sedona, Arizona (which, by the way is ALSO on US 89 in Arizona) and is world renown for his art.
Choteau is home to a beautiful old courthouse, a 70s style motel and a few other unique things.
The folks at the Old Trail Museum are ultra friendly and there is a lot to see there including paleontology exhibits, grizzly bear exhibit, an art studio and a luscious ice cream shop! A great place to bring the kids…and that is why we came with the grand kids.
The next town north of Choteau is Bynum, Montana. The town is home to yet another dinosaur museum, the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, another Dinosaur Trail stop. The center includes the world’s longest dinosaur, a skeletal model display of a Seismosaurus, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Other displays include the first baby dinosaur remains found in North America and the actual remains of other new dinosaur species.
This is another one of those very small towns, but it does have a unique character in that it has a dinosaur museum in a giant T Rex that you can see from the highway. Great for a photo opportunity!
Another few miles up the road US 89 meets Montana 219 which leads to Pendroy and then on to Conrad on Interstate 15. Pendroy, Montana is a sparsely populated little place.
My biggest excitement about Pendroy was the discovery of some unique yard art outside a house there. It included a wind chime made of oxygen tanks, a metal bear sculpture, a metal gal on an old tiller and more.
The drive north on US Route 89 really offers some spectacular views of the mountains to the west and they are extra beautiful when the sun is coming up.
The next town on US 89 is the historic town of Dupuyer, Montana. The sign below says it all, calling is a “colorful cattle town” and the “oldest town between Fort Benton and the Rocky Mountains.” I found it to still be colorful.
While driving into Dupuyer, I noticed a unique cemetery on a hill west of town with the flag flying high and the Rockies in the background. I decided to veer off the road a bit onto Dupuyer Creek Road and catch some of the scenery and was glad I did.
The road was also lined with colorful wildflowers all on bloom on this early morning.
Then, what struck me as fun was the “Boot Fence.” I had seen one similar on a highway in Idaho in 2013. Each post had its own boot on it. I have also seen it in Texas. I wondered about the tradition and found a few write-ups about the tradition. A search in Google images shows dozens of photos of boots on fences.
Many ranchers wear cowboy boots and like everything else, they eventually wear out. Ranchers are very resourceful and when this happens — they put the boots on top of the posts to keep them covered and prevent rain water from seeping into the posts and rotting them out.
Sometimes, a rancher will put boots on the fencepost to honor the passing of a beloved horse, a hired hand or fallen comrade. Also, before telephones were invented, a rancher would indicate he was home and the workday was over by hanging boots on the fence. Whatever the reasons, it is an interesting tradition in the west.
Finally, back on US 89 I was tempted to visit the Dupuyer Cache, but they were still not open when I drove by at 8:45 AM.
A couple of miles north of Dupuyer on US 89 is a cut off to Valier. In and of itself, Valier is not too exciting of small town but it is scenic as it borders Lake Frances, a great bird estuary. On the afternoon leg of my trip with my grandchildren we ventured to Valier on our way to Choteau in order to take a ride out to “Rock City.” It is a six or seven mile drive due north of town. This is not the same Rock City that is located near Chattanooga, Tennessee and has advertisements on barns all over the southeast. Rather, this Rock City is a natural “city” of rock formations that have been eroded away by the Two Medicine River. (See my detailed post about here)
To get to Rock City you drive north towards Cut Bank out of Valier on Cut Bank Highway and as the road turns west, you continue north on a dirt road which eventually turns into a little path that’s kind of bumpy and probably more suited to a four-wheel-drive or a large base vehicle.
On the approach through prairie lands and farmlands, a big Valley, a chasm opens up in front of you. The Two Medicine River flows down below and it was quite a strong current at the time we visited due to all the glacier runoff as spring had gotten started.
Hundreds of strange rock formations dot the landscape, creating many eerie features. Many of the formations are 12 to 20 feet tall and many have big flat tops on them indicating massive amounts of water in wind erosion over but I would assume is centuries of time.
For the adventuresome person, hiking down to the river is probably quite possible as there are many locations that are not beholden with cliffs. On this occasion we walked around through many of the formations, but didn’t venture down into the canyon itself.
To me, though much different in appearance, it was not unlike Coal Mine Canyon which is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation east of Tuba City, Arizona. Like Coal Mine Canyon, it is an undeveloped geologic location that might otherwise be a National Monument or a State Park. But in both cases neither of these appear to be headed in this direction. Both require going down narrow dirt roads and paths to get to them. Both have unique and otherworldly formations. And both have big chasms with beautiful scenes.
Continuing north on US 89 I entered the Blackfeet Reservation at its southern entrance. And, similar to the East Entrance in Cut Bank (see photos in THIS POST), there are two scrap metal Indian Chiefs that greeted me. The same artist, Jay Polite Laber has put these sculptures at all four directional entrances to the reservation.
From this location looking west, one can see the grandeur of the massive snow covered mountains of Glacier National Park.
I continue my series on my Montana road trip and my drive along US Route two across the northern border from Michigan to Montana.
As one progresses further west after leaving Minnesota, you soon discover that the land is flatter, full of prairies and grasslands and not as many lakes and streams as one would see in Minnesota.
I spent the night in Grand Forks, North Dakota and then proceeded to head west early in the morning. The first thing I did was look for the famed Smiley Water Tower in Grand Forks. Unlike others with a similar smiley on them, this one has a smiley face on the one side and a winking smiley face on the other. It is always wonderful to start the day off with a smile!
After driving around Grand Forks for just a little bit, I proceeded forward on my drive and, for the first time since starting on US Highway 2, I deviated from the route to head north to an unusual destination. If you need advice on speed limits in this area, you may get it from here.
Before heading north I passed through Niagara, ND and a stop at the historic monument for the Old Fort Totten Trail which was used by the Sioux to assist in delivering mail. From here I proceeded to Petersburg, ND, another old small town. I came across their old Curling Club building. Who said that Curling was only a Canadian sport?
A few more miles down Highway 2 I went through the town of Michigan, ND (population 425)…returned to Michigan after a couple of days (hehehe).
Michigan, ND has a Barn Quilt Trail, which is common in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, but I have not really seen these in other states in my travels.
Finally, before heading north off of US Highway 2, I passed through the town of Lakota, ND. This town is about 60 miles west of Grand Forks. From here I would head north on ND Hwy 1.
Contrary to what many may believe about North Dakota, I was quite surprised by what I saw on ND Highway 1. All along the way there were many small ponds surrounded by grasses and filled with ducks and many other birds and wildlife.
One of my “goal destinations” in North Dakota was to see the unique pyramid near Nekoma. Actually, the pyramid is part of a larger installation called the Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Complex (SRMSC). This complex was the United States’ first operational ABM (anti-ballistic missile) defense system.
The Mickelsen Safeguard complex was deployed during the 1970s to defend the offensive Minuteman missiles based at Grand Forks Air Force Base in the event of a nuclear ICBM attack by the Soviet Union or China. Depending on the threat, the system could also provide a limited defense of a wider geographical area, including other offensive Minuteman missile fields as well as civilian population centers. It was operational for approximately eight months.
This unique facility is fascinating to look at. The pyramid was actually called the Missile Site Radar (MSR) installation. It used the target trajectory and classification data from the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) along with additional data supplied by its multiface phased array radar. This site provided additional surveillance and target tracking and also performed the function of track and guidance for the Sprint and Spartan missiles. Following is a video that explains some of what happened in the 1970s.
The pyramid shaped MSR is by far the most unique building on the site. The 80 foot high truncated pyramid “turret” of the MSR gave the radar its ability to see in all directions and is the only visible part of the MSCB. The MSCB underground areas held additional radar equipment and the data processing and command/control systems. The adjacent underground power plant provided the generating capacity to operate the MSR’s battle management systems.
The pyramid was not the only thing of interest in the area. Nekoma, ND was the support town for the facility, though most of the staff came from the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Nekoma is also the home of the Langdon Wind Farm which has 106 Wind Turbines, some of them right up on the Mickelsen Safeguard complex. In the middle of prairie lands, it offers unique views.
I continued north on Hwy 1 into Langdon, ND to see if there was anything interesting there. Langdon is about 15 miles south of the Canadian border and has about 1800 people residing in the town.
As I drove around I found the town park which actually had one of the Spartan missiles used at the complex in Nekoma. I thought that was unique.
From Langdon I proceeded to head west on ND Hwy 5 and then south on ND Hwy 20 to pass though Munich, ND.
From Munich I continued south into Cando, ND to get some Can Do Spirit!!
Cando, ND is one of my token unique named towns. It got its name as follows:
“…and in virtue of our authority we select this location and name the town ‘Cando’ to show you that we can do it.”
Capt. Prosper Parker
February 14, 1884
Cando is also the “Duck Capital of North Dakota.”
And there were a couple of interesting things in town….
From Cando I headed west on ND Hwy 16 and then south on ND Hwy 3 into Rugby, ND which lays claim to being the geographical center of North America.
According to the 1931 U.S. Geological Survey, the geographic center of the North American continent is located approximately 6 miles west of Balta, Pierce County, North Dakota. The approximate coordinates are given as latitude 48* 10′ North, 100* 10′ West. The field stone pillar was erected in 1932 on US Hwy 2 and ND Hwy 3.
A few more scenes from Rugby…
I had finally returned to US Hwy 2 and proceeded westward toward my next planned stop which would be Minot, ND. 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.
The Gol Stave Church Museum, in Scandinavian Heritage Park is a full-size replica of the original church built in about 1250, now in Bygdoy Park in Oslo. It is all wooden inside and I would call it “immaculately simple” in its architecture.
The wood carving is intricate and beautiful in this church. This work was apparently done by professional wood carvers Philip Odden and Elsa Bigton of Norsk Wood Works in Barronet, WI.
A stone’s throw from the Stave Church is the 30 foot Dala Horse which is apparently the most recognized Swedish symbol in the world. In central Sweden, wood scraps from the local furniture-making trade, paint-pigment from nearby copper mines, and long winter evenings bred the development of the Dala Horse. Traditions vary in giving credit to woodsmen and to soldiers for originating the craft. Dala Horses from the Nusnäs-Mora area first appeared with their familiar bright decoration in the 1800’s when the kurbit, or flower patterned saddle, was regularly added to them. There is actually a website dedicated to the Dala Horse.
Along the way I got a photo of this old homesteader’s house in the prairies. In the background you can see an oil well pump.
Williston is a modern Boomtown as “roughnecks” make their way to the town for oil jobs. North Dakota has the second highest level of GDP per capita, generating about $69,000 in economic activity per resident. Only Alaska ranks higher as a result of this oil boom of the 21st century.
As I drove into town and through town, I was amazed at the number of “extended stay” hotels, prefab apartments, huge trailer complexes and more that had gone up to house all of the oil workers.
The other thing I noticed was the terrible traffic and all of the road construction and infrastructure building in a town whose population is now bursting at the seams. The photo above represents the nearly 45 minutes that it took me to drive through the town in almost constant stop/go traffic on the congested roads.
For Fracture Drilling, the oil rig (or derrick) is used to drill both vertical and horizontal portions of the well. These are actually temporary in nature, and, depending on the well depth and number of wells developed, these will remain on site for a week to as long as eight weeks. There is a great definition of how the complete process works on Halliburton’s website. I saw a number of Halliburton facilities in Williston. I know this is a controversial process, and I am not condoning or complaining about it here. I believe that many of us have no idea how it is done.
From Williston I headed west into Montana for an overnight stay in Glasgow, Montana.
I finally arrived in Glasgow, Montana late after driving all the way from Grand Forks, ND, about 490 miles. They only had one motel left in town with any availability due to a state softball tournament. For the first time in ages I stayed in a 60s style motel with neon and a real key for the door on one of those plastic diamonds with the room number.