One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building. That is part of the fun of a back road adventure. Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).
Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers. They are often interesting to stop and read. As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”
When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark. From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast. In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition. Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.
Of course, after them went the pioneers. There were those who followed the Oregon Trail. Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail. In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail. Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others. Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen. As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.
Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise. Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.
The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history. But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.
In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg. There are many others.
For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns. These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes. Typically there are monuments or statues. I have come across many of these. They are always a fun little side adventure.
I have come across many of these over the years. Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces. (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.) Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.
Then, of course, there are the historical buildings. Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties. There are old churches large and small. And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings. All of them tell some sort of story about the place.
I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country. I love the old architecture. I have some favorites. Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.
Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects. One never knows what they will run into in a small town. A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?
I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff. Here are a few below.
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The K Towns
Kemmerer, Wyoming and Diamondville, Wyoming are basically twin cities that reside in what is called “The Fossil Basin” due to the abundant fish fossils in the area. On the way into Kemmerer I passed Fossil Butte National Monument, but did not have time to stop there. Some of the world’s best preserved fossils are found here including fossilized fish, insects, plants, reptiles, birds, and mammals. They are apparently exceptional for their abundance, variety, and detail of preservation. There are also “Dig-your-own” fossil quarries located in the hills surrounding ancient Fossil Lake, just west of Kemmerer and Diamondville. So, this is a haven for fossil enthusiasts. Also, In 1902 James Cash Penney came to Kemmerer to open a business. He set up the “Golden Rule Store” and opened its doors on April 14, 1902 in partnership with two other individuals. The partnership later dissolved, and, in 1909 Penney moved his headquarters to Salt Lake City to be closer to banks and railroads. The “Mother Store” still operates in Kemmerer. You can see more about my visit to Kemmerer and other Wyoming spots HERE.
Keystone, South Dakota
Keystone, South Dakota is the Gateway to Mt. Rushmore National Monument. The town has a number of touristy shops, lots of hotels and motels and a few little resort types of things, typical of a “Gateway” town. The real point is that you need to go through Keystone to get to Mt. Rushmore National Monument. A wonderful place to visit. Check out my post about my 2013 roadtrip from Glendive through the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota and into Keystone HERE.
In my last post I wrote about Juneau and our cruise in 2004. After our visit to Juneau we then went on to Ketchikan, Alaska. The town is dotted with totem poles and lots of souvenir shops. It really was a fun place to visit.
Kensington District in Toronto, Ontario
OK, I admit it…Kensington is just a district of Toronto, Canada’s biggest city. But, in many respects it is like a little enclave of a town in the midst of the city. The smells and aromas of the food and markets are wonderful, but even better is the eye candy in the form of colorful store fronts, wall art, street art and shop signs. I was always a fan of wall murals and art, but it was in Kensington that I fell in love with “graffiti” and Street Art, which has continued to this day. I visited Kensington in 2008 on part of an all day trip to Toronto. See the full story with a ton of photos HERE.
Kadoka, South Dakota
Kadoka, South Dakota is the Gateway to the Badlands National Park. A great little rustic town with a couple of Trading Posts, and a few interesting statues, etc. Scrappy, the scrap metal deer made from auto parts was fascinating to me. See my full post about Kadoka and the Badlands HERE and HERE.
Kremlin, Montana (Honorable Mention)
Kremlin, Montana is another of the interesting small communities on US Highway 2, the Hi-Line, in Montana. The town of Kremlin apparently got its name from a Russian immigrant who was laying railroad track in the area around 1890. He saw the Bears Paws mountains in the distance and they reminded him of home.
Kirkwood, Missouri (Honorable Mention)
Kirkwood, Missouri is a suburb of St. Louis and is known for its massive collection of outdoor artwork, especially the pieces located in the Laumeier Sculpture Park. I am always a fan of creativity and outdoor art and the large number of huge pieces at the Sculpture Park was fascinating. You can see photos of many of them on my post about a visit to St. Louis and Kirkwood in 2010. The post can be seen HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
On June 12 I commenced on a trip to Dallas, Texas from Idaho Falls, Idaho. This would be a long two day trip, but I certainly wanted to hit some places I had never been before. So, on Day 1 I ventured south through Pocatello and then onto Eagle, Colorado, about 588 miles. Following is my route map for Day 1.
Just near the hotel I stayed at in Idaho Falls, there was an amazing Eagle Sculpture in a roundabout. This is a HUGE work and is quite stunning. Called “The Protector”, it is touted as the “World’s Largest Eagle Monument” and was unveiled in the fall of 2006. The work was done by Wyoming artist Vic Payne and portrays a mother eagle perched to feed her two young eaglets with a salmon that is held in her great talons. The father, “The Protector”, circles around his territory in majestic flight keeping a vigilant watch for anything that may bring danger to his family. Payne created the eagles 3 times life size with a 21 foot wingspan. Each of the eaglets are 4 1/2 feet in height.
Go figure…I will start the morning off with an “Eagle” and end the day in an “Eagle.”
I then proceeded south on I-15 to Pocatello. This drive goes through volcanic fields and other geology. An interesting drive. As I approached the crest of a hill though, there was a stunning change in scenery as the lava fields turned into a huge field of yellow.
From Pocatello I continued south until I hit US 30 and then proceeded east towards Lava Hot Springs. This road leads into the hill country and offered more great views of flowery meadows.
I rolled into the small resort town of Lava Hot Springs, which is nestled in a nice little valley. I didn’t have time to stop except for a photo or two. But the Welcome Sign pretty much says it all.
This area was frequented by pre-historic Indians long before the white men arrived in 1812. They used the hot water for bathing and processing hides. It was also a major campground during the winter. Now the town touts itself as a “Vacation Resort” with spas, water slides and more.
Not much further east is the town of Soda Springs. Like Lava Hot Springs, it sits atop of hot springs and has a geyser too!! There is a lot of history here. In fact, Brigham Young, the great Mormon leader, even had a home here. as noted, Soda Springs has the only captive geyser in the world. It was discovered in an attempt to find a hot water source for a swimming pool. On November 30, 1937, the drill went down 315 feet and unleashed the geyser. The extreme pressure is caused by carbon dioxide gas mixing with water in an underground chamber. The water is around 72 F. It is now controlled by a timer. It erupts every hour on the hour and reaches heights of 100 feet year round.
I really would have liked to have spent a couple of hours here. It is a nice little town with some great history. But, I had to press on to Montpelier, which is “Pioneer Central”.
Montpelier, Idaho was founded in 1864 and received its name from Brigham Young in deference to his birthplace in the town of the same name in Vermont. Mormon heritage in the Bear Lake area of Idaho. Many Mormon families moved and settled in this area in the 1860s and 1870s. Indeed, my wife’s direct ancestors were some of the families that came to the area. In her case, her great great grandfather William Shepherd migrated from England and settled in nearby Paris, Idaho, which later became the county seat of Bear Lake County. He was a shoemaker and a farmer and was considered a “leading citizen” of the county (see this article for more on the Shepherds). My wife’s grandfather Rulon T. Shepherd was born in Paris as was her mother Arlene. Rulon and family eventually were some of the original settlers in Mesa, Arizona. So, the Pioneer Heritage of this area has a special place in the hearts of my family.
Montpelier is home to the National Oregon/California Trail Center, which is all about the pioneers. The Trail Center was built to preserve, perpetuate and promote the pioneer history and heritage of the Oregon/California Trail and the Bear Lake Valley.
I had to move on and into Wyoming. I got to the border via US 30 as it wound through areas trekked on by pioneers
From the border I headed into the small town of Cokeville, Wyoming.
Cokeville, Wyoming is a small town of about 535 people. The town got its name from coal deposits found in the area. The railroad arrived in 1882 and the town incorporated in 1910 and, in the early 1900s, was called the “Sheep Capital of the World” due to the number of sheep ranches. (Newell, SD is now called the “Sheep Capital of America”). Perhaps the only really interesting thing I saw in Cokeville was the non-descript sign for “Blondie’s Cafe”.
From Cokeville I continued s outh on US 30 until it turned east and then followed it on to Kemmerer.
Kemmerer, Wyoming and Diamondville, Wyoming are basically twin cities that reside in what is called “The Fossil Basin” due to the abundant fish fossils in the area. On the way into Kemmerer I passed Fossil Butte National Monument, but did not have time to stop there. Some of the world’s best preserved fossils are found here including fossilized fish, insects, plants, reptiles, birds, and mammals. They are apparently exceptional for their abundance, variety, and detail of preservation. There are also “Dig-your-own” fossil quarries located in the hills surrounding ancient Fossil Lake, just west of Kemmerer and Diamondville. So, this is a haven for fossil enthusiasts.
The two towns boast a number of beautiful wooden signs that dot the area. A few samples are above.
Kemmerer, Wyoming has about 2,700 residents and is the county seat of Lincoln County. The town was established as a result of the discovery of coal deposits by explorer John Fremont. In 1881 the Union Pacific Coal Company opened an underground mine in conjunction with the newly added Oregon Short Line Railroad. The actual town was founded in 1897 and was named after Pennsylvania Coal Magnate Mahlon S. Kemmerer, who provided major funding for the mine operations. As a result of the mines, the town grew rapidly.
In 1902 James Cash Penney came to Kemmerer to open a business. He set up the “Golden Rule Store” and opened its doors on April 14, 1902 in partnership with two other individuals. The partnership later dissolved, and, in 1909 Penney moved his headquarters to Salt Lake City to be closer to banks and railroads. By 1912 he had expanded to 34 stores in . In 1913 he made the decision to change their names to J.C. Penney Company. and the company eventually moved its headquarters to New York. An interesting side note of history: In 1940, Sam Walton began working at a J. C. Penney in Des Moines, Iowa. Walton later went on to found future retailer Walmart in 1962. The “Mother Store” still operates in Kemmerer.
The town has a beautiful (and large) wall mural in the downtown area depicting the history of the area. It was done by mural artist Harvey Jackson in 2006. I have wrote about another of his murals in Gillette, Wyoming in an earlier post.
I found this old wooden couple outside of Bob’s Rock Shop in Kemmerer. I didn’t stop in due to time constraints, but I had to get a shot of this fun couple!
Like Kemmerer, the small town of Diamondville, Wyoming got its start from Cole Mining when coal was discovered nearby in 1868 by a man named Harrison Church. A tent town soon formed and eventually the town was established in 1896. The town apparently got its name from the quality of the superior-grade coal that seemed to resemble black diamonds.
From Diamondville I proceeded east on US 30 towards the small town of Opal, WY.
Opal, Wyoming is practically a ghost town. There are only a few occupied buildings and a number of old run down houses. It was originally an old railroad town and is also a center for sheep and cattle ranching. According to one site, the town ships 10,000 head of cattle annually.
Continuing eastward, US 30 moved southeast towards Interstate 80 south of Granger, Wyoming. From there it was on to Little America, Wyoming.
Little America got its name from the Little America motel, which was purposefully located in this remote location as a haven, not unlike the base camp the polar explorer Richard E. Byrd set up in the Antarctic in 1928, thus the use of penguins as the icons. However, being situated on a coast-to-coast highway and offering travel services, it thrived, launching a chain of travel facilities by the same name. Its developer, Robert Earl Holding, who died on April 19, 2013, with a personal net worth of over $3 billion. Holding was the owner of Sinclair gas, the Little America hotel chain and the Sun Valley and Snowbasin ski resorts, among other businesses.
In 1974 I began work with a company in Salt Lake City called Alta Distributing. It was a record and tape rack jobber and I was given a sales territory that included southern Utah, eastern Utah and southern Wyoming. Once a month I made way from Vernal, Utah to Rock Springs, Wyoming and then west to Evanston and back to Salt Lake. I always stopped in Little America…it was truly a haven and they had a great dining facility with amazing portions. It was one of my fonder memories. Later, while in college, I worked for a short time at the Little America in Flagstaff, AZ and then, as a tour guide, made frequent trips to this classy hotel to pick up guests.
Heading east on I-80, the landscape is fairly bleak. Lots of sage brush and high desert landscapes. To some it is likely a boring drive. But, there is plenty of life out there and, as one gets closer to Green River, the scenery starts getting more interesting.
From Green River it is a hop skip and a jump to Rock Springs. I always remembered Rock Springs as a town full of singlewide trailers, but the town of 23,000 is actually quite vibrant due to the energy-rich region that contains numerous oil and natural gas reserves.
I continued east on I-80 until I got to exit 187 which linked with Wyoming HWY 789, which headed south towards Colorado. This exit had a couple of old gas station signs, remnants of a vibrant time now long gone.
The drive to Baggs, Wyoming on WY 789 is a 50 mile drive through some pretty amazing desert scenery. including colorful buttes, badlands, arroyos, wild horses and antelope. I was quite thrilled to take this drive on a road I had never been on and on one that is obviously not heavily traveled. At one time this was part of the Overland Trail and there are apparently still some ruts visible from the late 1800s when the trail was used.
The drive down Hwy 789 is also historic. It is reputedly where the famous Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and their “Wild Bunch” hung out. Baggs is one of many towns in scenic Carbon County, Wyoming, which includes the towns of Rawlins, Baggs and a number of others.
Baggs, Wyoming is a short drive from the Colorado border and is only about 40 miles or so from Craig, Colorado. To get there I continued south on 789 which turns into Colorado Hwy 13 heading into Craig.
The drive down Colorado 13 is scenic with rolling hills and lots of antelope. I saw quite a few including the two below and then the amazing scene of the mother and two calves.
Along this highway one can see the “Fortification Rocks” which is an old basalt pillar that is believed to be used by Indians as a fortification. The historical marker for Fortification Rocks thew in some humor noting that “this area is better known as home to a large number of rattlesnakes.” This structure juts out of the prairie like a sharp razor back and is fairly impressive.
Continuing southward towards Craig the scenery continues to get more impressive.
And, of course, my GPS knows me well as it sent me on a gravel road bypassing Craig and heading towards US Route 40 and Hayden, CO.
Hayden is a small town of abut 1600 people just a few miles east of Craig, CO and west of Steamboat Springs, CO on US Hwy 40. The area was first settled in 1875, with the town established in 1894 and incorporated in 1906. Hayden was named for F.V. Hayden, head of a survey party for the U.S. Geological & Geographic Survey in the late 1860s. Hayden explored western Colorado during the late nineteenth century. It has a small mainline passenger airport due to it’s proximity to some major Colorado ski resorts.
I continued east on US 40 a few more miles until I hit Colorado Hwy 131 which headed south towards Eagle through the Yampa River Valley and some wonderful late spring scenery of wildflower covered hills, as well as a drive by a huge Peabody Coal operation near Oak Creek, Colorado.
From the Peabody Coal facility, CO 131 winds its way down into the small town of Oak Creek. Funny how it reminded me of the drive from Flagstaff, AZ to Sedona, AZ thorough Oak Creek Canyon with the sharp curves.
From Oak Creek I proceeded south to Phippsburg and then into Yampa, CO, where I caught a pretty amazing sunset.
I finally arrived in Yampa, Colorado at around 8:30 PM in time to catch a glimpse of a wonderful sunset on the hills.
The remainder of the drive was in the shady light of sunset as I continued south and crossed over the Colorado River at State Bridge Landing south of Bond, CO. It was too dark to get any photographs but it was lit enough that I could imagine that it was a spectacular scene. I eventually made my way to my hotel in Eagle, CO. It was a long day after nearly 600 miles of driving…but left some lasting memories.