On a long road trip like the one I did in April, there are so many places visited, but some didn’t fit into a post for one reason or another. Here are some odds and ends leftovers from my 6000 mile cross country trek through 14 states. There is really no rhyme or reason, but the opportunity to address these places in a little more depth.
Papa Joe’s Stop & Go – Crescent Junction, Utah
Out in the middle of nowhere in Utah is the small place called Crescent Junction at the junction of I-70 and US 191. There is really not much there and it is basically a tourist-trappy stopover point for folks heading to and from the lovely canyons of Moab. At the center of it all is Papa Joe’s Stop & Go. Called a C-Store (short for Convenience Store), Papa Joe has a number of unique “attractions” in store.
The main store has all of the amenities… a restroom (if you are a paying customer of course — but face it, water is in short supply out here), drinks and food and quirky and kitschy knick-knacks and then there is the “gourmet” crop-circle popcorn. Recently he has opened a second building next door that he is calling “Bad Ass Joe’s Jerky” and it has a UFO-esque theme complete with life size cutouts of Star Wars characters and aliens.
If you get online, you will see many nasty reviews of the place. And, honestly, Joe and his gal are really not the friendliest sorts. But, I am always the optimist and try to find the good out there. The place offers some fun photo ops, the “gourmet” popcorn is OK. Prices are quite high, but then, I have been to dozens of places like this across the country.
He has a replica Mystery Mobile from Scooby-Doo, a South Park themed car, a Lightning McQueen “replica (actually an old Toyota Camry) and some other odds and ends. They are all in poor repair. Mystery Mobile has a flat tire (or two). But heck…its quirky. Just make sure you are filled up with gas BEFORE you get there.
Belle Inn – Belle Fourche, South Dakota
You know you have found THE PLACE to eat when the sign in the door tells Cowboys to “scrape shit from boots before entering.” When I stayed the night in Belle Fourche I sought after a locally owned place that would perhaps have some comfort food. I found that place in Belle’s Inn. Not just burgers, but other things like chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, etc.
There were only four staff members when I got there. The chef looked like a renegade biker (and turns out that indeed he was!! From Lead, SD — but he didn’t like his Harley. Preferred his Kawasaki!). The food was good…freshly made chicken fried steak, onion rings, mashed potatoes. And it was indeed a comfortable price.
Kreative Korners Krazy Kreatures – Kingston, Washington
I am a sucker for wood carving. And this little collection is a trip!
After we had gotten off of the Ferry in Kingston and were driving to Port Orchard, WA, this place just suddenly showed up on a corner. I had to turn around and do my thing.
Some fun stuff here. Most of the carvings are pretty well life size — five or six feet tall.
Murals and Metal Art – Ottawa, Illinois
Yet another town with lots of murals, this is Abraham Lincoln country and Ottawa was where the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas took place. Murals and park statues depict the scene and the history.
Ottawa calls their mural art projects “A Brush With History,” a program which began in 2002. There are now eight or nine murals in town including the massive “Day of the Great Debate” mural by artist Don Gray.
Some of the other murals I found in my quick drive through town include the following:
But murals aren’t all that is in the town. Over in Allen Park, along the Illinois River, I found one of the Whispering Giants. While there, I also discovered two big metal sculptures, which I didn’t know anything about. Created by native artist, Mary Meinz-Fanning, these historical art structures were fashioned from parts of Ottawa’s old Hilliard Bridge, originally built in 1933. Ms. Meinz-Fanning built these two to commemorate the bridge: the yellow sculpture is named “Reclining” and the red one is known as “Bending”.
Cheyenne Murals in a Sinclair Convenience Store – Ashland, Montana
I had to stop for drinks and gas while on US Highway 212. I was driving over the pass and stopped in Ashland, Montana, which sits in the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Went into this little Sinclair gas station in the small town and was stunned by the fabulous art. Turns out the guys working the registers and managing the store were also the artists.
Bear in a Box Wood Carvers – Allyn, Washington
A few years ago I was driving on US Route 2 through Maple, Wisconsin when I ran into a place called Grizz Works. It was filled amazing chainsaw wood carvings of bears and other unique characters. I had to feature it on its own post.
On my trip in April, driving down Washington Highway 3 into Allyn, Washington I ran into Bear in a Box, another “must stop and get photos” wood carving place. Their work was a tad more whimsical than was Grizz Works, but amazing nonetheless. I loved it.
Orval’s Used Cars – Delta, Colorado
On my drive down US Route 50 in central Colorado, I came across a most unexpected scene in Delta, Colorado. I found a “Used Car” lot that carried a couple dozen or more REALLY used cars. I am talking about antique classics.
In my travels I have come across these kinds of old cars dotting the scenery here and there, and usually only one or two, and sometimes three. But, in this unique lot in Delta, an out of the way little town in out of the way Colorado, I would have never imagined I would see the collection like this guy had. In fact, I was so amazed by the collection that I forgot to get a photo of the place’s sign. But, the place does have a name — Orval’s Used Cars. And it is like a walk back in time.
Murals and Wall Art – Delta, Colorado
While on the subject of Delta, Colorado, a nice little town that came about originally to be a trading post for the Ute Nation and later was the home of Fort Uncompahgre, I should add some of the great murals that can be found here. I was not able to get all of them, but here are a few.
I am also adding a photo of the lovely Egyptian Theater of Delta, which was built in 1928 and remodeled in the 1990s. Unusual to find something like this in a small town in the middle of Colorado.
Delta, like other cities with a number of murals, calls itself the City of Murals as the town boasts at least 15 murals that dot the small city of about 8000.
Starved Rock State Park – Oglesby, Illinois
On my first day of my 6000 mile long road trip across America, I had hoped to hit the three Peter Toth “Whispering Giants” carvings in Central Illinois since they were relatively close to each other. One of these was located in Starved Rock State Park near Oglesby and Utica, Illinois and not too far from Ottawa (see above).
I had never heard of the park, but some tout it as the #1 Attraction in the State of Illinois (at least, that is what the park says on its website). I drove around on the main road to find the Peter Toth giant and discovered a number of other wood carvings along the road, a nice lodge and more. Sadly, this is one of those parks that deserves an all day visit and I couldn’t do that. The park is apparently full of trails to waterfalls and gorges and more. All I got to see was a few of the wood carvings and the main lodge. This is certainly a “visit again” place in the future.
ENJOY THE RIDE! CHOOSE HAPPY!
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, is currently being worked on and I hope to make it available in late June 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.
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.
My trip along Route 2 continued from Glasgow, Montana westward along what is known as the Montana Hi-Line (See my May 2013 post about a previous drive on a portion of the Hi-Line). Back in May last year I drove through to Glasgow and then south. On this trip I tried to spend a little more time in some of the smaller towns on the road and capture the essence of what I feel is a dieing breed hanging on. In fact, to proclaim their existence, many of the towns have a big sign on the highway to proclaim “Hey, we’re here!”
Ultimately, I would drive Route 2 to where it intersects with US Route 89 on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. That would be the end of my 1165 mile jaunt on US Route 2. (According to Google Maps, it is 1165 miles from downtown Ironwood, MI to the US 2/US 89 Intersection near Browning, MT.)
After spending the night in an old 1970s style motel in Glasgow, Montana, it was back on the road. My last trip through Glasgow was fleeting so I couldn’t capture some of the essence of this nice little town on the eastern edge of Northern Montana. The population of just over 3200 is friendly and accommodating.
Downtown Glasgow offers some old motel signs, ghost signs and some other unique sites.
A drive back to the east part of town leads to the bar with an airplane in the building.
This bar is unique….a real small plane stuck in the building and a dinosaur out front guarding the place.
As one proceeds west on US Hwy 2 out of Glasgow, you will see dinosaurs up on the hillside. These and the other animals and sculptures (as well as the dino at the Hangar) are all creations of artist Buck Samuelson, who offers them for sale.
US Highway 2 has a number of historical signs along the way. The first one west of Glasgow is all about Buffalo Country.
The first town west of Glasgow is the Hinsdale, Montana. Not much here, but they have a unique church building where the steeple is planted in the ground in FRONT of the church and not on top it.
The next little town on the way is Saco, Montana. This town would have faded away long ago if not for its unique place in history as one of the homes of news anchor Chet Huntley, whose father worked for the railroad. There is one room schoolhouse in Saco that he attended. As well, Saco had two years of bragging rights as the Guinness World Record holder for making the world’s largest hamburger, building the 6,040-pound burger from the beef of 17 cattle in 1999.
Just west of town is the “Sleeping Buffalo Rock” which is actually listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
From Saco US Hwy 2 heads southwest as it circles around Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. From there the road passes through Malta, Montana along nice grazing lands for cattle and horses.
Malta, Montana is a nice small town on the Milk River. It has its share of old signs and old dinosaur bones.
Malta is also home to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station, which is part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail. The Dinosaur Trail includes 14 different museums around Montana that feature remains and history pertaining to dinosaurs. There are eight locations on the Hi-Line from Glasgow to Rudyard. There are a couple more on US 89 south of Glacier National Park.
The next stop on the road is the small town of Dodson, Montana. They have a new post office, but the old post office sign still remains as a reminder of the past.
From Fort Belknap, US Route 2 heads northwest into the small town of Harlem, Montana. This town is about 50% white and 43% Native American. Like the other towns, it has a metal welcome sign.
Not too far west of Harlem is the small dot of a town called Zurich (pronounced Zoo-rich by the locals). Like many small stations on the railroad, Zurich receives its name from an older, far more impressive city. Legend has it that to name many of their stations, railroad executives would open an atlas at random and point to a city. Although it may seem incongruous that a town on the plains be named after a noted European mountain city, from Zurich, westward bound visitors could catch their first glimpse of the Bear Paw Mountains. It is now basically a place for picnics along the Milk River.
The next stop on the Hi-Line heading west is Chinook, Montana. This small town of about 1500 has some character. It used to be the home of a large sugarbeet factory. They do have one of the more unique high school sports mascots in the country — the Sugarbeeters.
There are still many evidences of the past in Chinook. For instance, the Bear Paw Credit Union uses a remodeled old fashioned gas station that still has the old pumps out front.
I had a lot of other photos of Chinook from a previous trip I took along the Hi-Line in March 2013. You can see that post HERE.
Chinook lies along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail which goes from Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon (near Joseph, OR — I visited there in 2007), then crosses Idaho and goes south along the border of Idaho and Montana, through Yellowstone then heads north though Billings, MT and finally ends at the Bear Paw Battlefield, which is about 15 miles south of town. The Battlefield Park commemorates the final battle of the Nez Perce War of 1877 where the Nez Perce ceased fighting on October 5th, 1877.
It was at Bear Paw that Chief Joseph gave his famous speech in which he said, “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce Trail, like the Oyate Trail of South Dakota and the Trail of Tears in the Southeast US, among others, are integral parts of American history that help us to better understand the plight of the Native Americans. I am grateful to continue to learn about these great people who lived on this land long before the Europeans found their way here.
From Chinook I zipped through Havre, having visited it extensively in 2013. But, I did stop briefly for a good shot with the large bison that had been made by Cory Holmes, who used three miles of old telegraph wire to create this nine-foot long, six-foot tall 2000 pound bison.
Just west of Havre there is a road called Smith Frisno Road which crosses over the railroad tracks heading north. It eventually leads to a large ranch, but along the way many a visitor has stopped for a photo of an old abandoned schoolhouse that sits out in the prairie. I visited there last year, but wanted to grab a couple more shots as this is one of those iconic places that begs to be photographed.
The next town west of Havre is Kremlin, Montana. Yes, an unusual name for a town. But, as the story goes, the town had some Russian immigrants that were working on the Great Northern Railway who looked off in the distance at the mountains and were reminded of the Kremlin back home. The name apparently stuck.
After Kremlin there are a couple of other small towns before reaching the small historic town of Rudyard, Montana, which actually has three small museums – the Depot Museum, the Dinosaur Museum (part of the Dinosaur Trail) and a Vintage Auto Museum. Using the old railroad depot, the historical society renovated it for a museum in which to house both the written and physical history of the Hi-Line towns of Joplin, Inverness, Rudyard, Hingham, Gildford, and Kremlin.
Then there is my penchant for “collecting” scrap metal art. I came across a place in Rudyard that had three pieces of scrap metal animals in the yard, including a bison, a deer and an elk. I spoke to a guy there and he said “someone in town made them, but I am not sure who.” Surprising to me that in a town of just under 600 people that they don’t all know who does this kind of thing….
Then there is the semi-famous dinosaur skeleton sculpture just west of town on US Highway 2, probably advertising the Dinosaur Museum in Rudyard. I was able to contact the Rudyard Museum and found out that this old guy was made by a farmer named Bryon Wolery, owner of Wolery Farms. He apparently made two of them and one is on his farm.
The road west passes through the small town of Inverness, MT and then past Joplin.
From Joplin it is another 20 miles to the next town, which is Chester. It is much bigger than most of the towns between Havre and Shelby and functions as the county seat for Liberty County. Chester began as a watering and coal loading station for the Great Northern Railroad steam engines around 1891. The name “Chester” was apparently chosen by the first telegraph operator in the town and named in honor of his hometown in Pennsylvania.
North of Chester the Sweet Grass Hills can be seen in the distance. They are actually in the northern part of Liberty County and are actually mountains. They are unique in that they are the highest isolated peaks in the United States. Rising to nearly 7,000 feet, these mountains are volcanic in origin and believed to be millions of years old.
Between Chester and Shelby there is not much, but there is an old neon sign advertising the Galata Campground. So 1960s…. The town itself is practically a ghost town.
Shelby, Montana is another 25 miles down US Route 2 and is by far the largest town along the Hi-Line after Havre. I have written extensively about Shelby on a couple of occasions, so here is the token photo of this large railroad town.
After driving through Shelby, US Route 2 gains altitude and the huge Glacier Wind Farm can be seen. This is actually quite unique for at night all of the turbines blink bright red all along the hills west of Shelby.
From the top of these hills the snow covered peaks of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains can be seen in the distance. But one must pass through Cut Bank, Montana along the way. Named after the creek that cuts its banks along the white clay, the town got its start in the 1890s. The Cut Bank Creek Trestle that crosses the 150 foot deep gorge was built in 1900 but is still in use by the Burlington Santa Fe as well as Amtrak. Today, the town is still vibrant with the railroad and Glacier National Park tourism. It is also the eastern border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Cut Bank is also home to the “world’s largest penguin” with claims to be the “coldest spot in the nation,” though most sites with “Coldest Spots” lists don’t include it. (See Site 1 and Site 2)
After entering the reservation and not too far west of Cut Bank, there is an historic sign commemorating Camp Disappointment (see my 2013 post on this monument and more). This was the northernmost campsite for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
As I closed in on Browning, Montana, US Highway 2 intersects with US Highway 89, one of the more spectacular N/S Highways in the United States. This is the end of the approximately 1,169 mile long trek along US Highway 2 from Ironwood, MI.
My next post will cover the trip south on US 89 from Browning all the way to Yellowstone National Park.