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 M Towns
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin
There is no better place to catch some trolls than in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Indeed, the main attraction for the town are the trolls. The town has created a “Trollway” along Wisconsin Highway 151 with many large carved wooden trolls visible from the road. Many of these were created by local artist Michael Feeney. We found a few on our visit…. Click here for a nice map of the town, with all of the trolls and other attractions. Click HERE to read more about my 2012 visit and see more trolls.
Traveling Interstate 79 North towards Pittsburgh, you can hop off of Exit 147 onto US Highway 19 and head towards Meadville. Not too far off from there you will run into something interesting. Along the road there is a giant menagerie of roadside art…all made from repurposed roadsigns that PennDOT had donated. Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville (photos below). In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322. See more photos and more of the story HERE.
Many of us have grown up hearing the name “Metropolis” and associating with the big city that Superman. Well, there is actually a town in Illinois called Metropolis and they celebrate their Superman status with an entire town square dedicated to Superman and a newspaper called the Planet. See more in my post about Metropolis from 2012 HERE.
Marshfield, Wisconsin is located just north of US Highway 10 smack in the middle of Wisconsin. And, about four miles north of Marshfield, you can turn off onto Wisconsin Highway 97 and then onto Highway E on the north edge of Marshfield at the Wal-Mart stoplight. Go north past Menards 3 1/2 miles to Sugarbush Lane for 1/2 mile and you will see strange metal sculptures — you are then at Jurustic Park, the brainchild of former attorney Clyde Wynia. Once you get there and park, you will likely be met by Clyde and he will give you the ultimate tour, tell you the stories (both real and made up all intermingled) and will demonstrate and explain some of his nearly 1000 pieces. I asked him how many he has made and he said he has never counted them!! Jurustic Park is a MUST SEE destination if you are anywhere near. See my detailed post from 2012 about Clyde and Jurustic Park HERE.
In the early 1980s I was a tour guide for Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, Arizona. Many of my tours took visitors to the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations in Northern Arizona. One of first stops on these specific trips was at a little place known as Moenave, which is just off of US Highway 160 a few miles east of US Highway 89 north of Flagstaff. Not too far up Hwy 160 on the left there is a turn off to the Dinosaur Tracks. This spot on the Navajo Nation may be one of the most well preserved dinosaur track fossils around and, with probably close to 200 tracks, it may also be one of the biggest sites. The site has become so popular, that the Navajo Nation may soon be creating a small visitor center and a fence to protect the site from vandals. Currently you can still visit these for free, but it is advisable to leave a tip to the kind Navajo folk that “guide” you among the tracks. Bear in mind that you’ll need to take what they claim about the tracks with a grain of salt. Though paleontologists have verified these as authentic, there are no T-Rex tracks and no dinosaur poop on the site. Just a number of three toed tracks.
Connecticut offer many unique treasures, and one of them is most certainly Mystic, which sits on US Highway 1, just south of I-95. The town is on the Block Island Sound and is not too far from the northeastern stretches of Long Island in New York. We visited Mystic in 2015 as part of our New England visit/adventure. I was more interested in seeing the site of the 1980s movie Mystic Pizza, but also found that the small town has an awesome seaport with some tall sail ships, a fairly well known (though expensive) aquarium, a submarine museum, and even a nearby dinosaur park in Montville. It certainly deserves more than the couple of hours we devoted to the town. By the way, we have heard that you don’t want to try the pizza. But, I would advise you try the Thai at the 4 Roosevelt Bistro, which we discovered on our drive into Mystic and turned around after our drive thru town to go grab lunch there. It was a pleasant surprise to know that they also had a good number of vegan and vegetarian items on the menu, which made most of us happy. See more details of our visit to Mystic an other areas in New England HERE.
Montrose, South Dakota
Back in 2013 I was on a return trip home from Idaho with my wife. We had left Mitchell, South Dakota (see below) were driving east on I-90 toward Sioux Falls. Unbeknownst to me, in the small town of Montrose, South Dakota, right off the freeway (near Exit 374), there was an unusual site. I actually pulled onto the shoulder to get out and get shots of what is known as the Porter Sculpture Park, which includes an amazing 60-foot tall bull’s head, which is what got me. For some reason I had overlooked this one!! You can see more about my trip HERE.
Minot, North Dakota
Once again, in the Dakotas, there is so much to see. On a 2014 trip west to Montana, I made a stop in Minot, ND, which is on US Highway 2 in western North Dakota. 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. You can see more about this trip across North Dakota on US Highway 2 HERE.
Mitchell, South Dakota
Back in South Dakota again, you can’t miss out on the Corn Palace of Mitchell, SD. It is one of those iconic must see roadside attractions. Originally built in 1892 as the “Corn Belt Exposition,” it became an iconic landmark and attraction in Mitchell after 1921. Every year the exterior decorations are stripped and a new theme is created. The work is done by local artists. The artists use 13 different colors or shades of corn to decorate with. Typically there are over 275,000 ears of corn used annually on the murals. There is a nice list of the history of the murals here. Definitely worth a visit if you are on Interstate 90 in eastern South Dakota.
Mapleton, Ontario (Honorable Mention)
The small community of Mapleton, Ontario is one of those “blink you miss it places. However, it is also one of those unique and offbeat places, featuring the Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Shop. See my 2012 post for more details HERE.
Medina, New York (Honorable Mention)
Clear up in northern New York, not too far from Niagara Falls, is a small town called Medina which is home to TWO unique oddities. The most well known is the Culvert Road Tunnel, which is a Ripley’s Believe It or Not (one of my site sponsors) featured site. This is the only place one can “cross” the Erie Canal by going UNDER it!! Also, if you thought the Big Apple was in New York City, think again, the real Big Apple sits beside a bridge. The apple was sculpted by artist Richard D. Banninster in 1999. See my whole 2008 story about both attractions HERE.
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (Honorable Mention)
Back up in Canada, the town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is home of the world’s largest moose statue, named Mac the Moose. I first visited there as a high school junior for a band tour in the 1970s BEFORE the moose. I once again made my way to Moose Jaw in 2007. Touted as the World’s Largest Moose, Mac stands 32 feet tall and weighs in at 10 tons. He was made by Saskatoon artist Don Foulds in 1984. Mac is considered to be one of the most photographed roadside attractions in all of Canada. See more about my 2007 visit HERE.
Mars, Pennsylvania (Honorable Mention)
Finally, for you outer space and alien lovers, you can visit Mars, Pennsylvania and see their out of this world spaceship in the city park downtown. Residents of Mars are often called “Martians”, or “Planets” because of the high school team name, which is actually the “Fightin’ Planets.” See my post about Mars HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
My wife and I took a quick whirlwind trip to Palmyra, New York this past weekend (July 19-21, 2013) to attend the spectacular Hill Cumorah Pageant, which is presented by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Naturally, along the way we made a few stops. The three day trip was a lot of driving and a lot of fun. Following is a map of the trip.
The first part of the drive was straight up through Cincinnati and Columbus with just a small gas stop in Grove City, Ohio. I have traveled these roads so often, I think I have run out of places to see. (Actually, I am sure there are a number of smaller roads I could still do!!). We stopped overnight in the Akron, with a quick stop in Green, Ohio to have dinner at Menches Brothers, the Inventors of the Hamburger and the Ice Cream Cone.
According to Menches Brothers history, “History recorded that Frank and Charles Menches ran out of pork for their sausage patty sandwiches at the 1885 Erie County Fair. Their supplier, reluctant to butcher more hogs in the summer heat, suggested they use beef instead. The brothers fried some up, but found it bland. They added coffee, brown sugar, and other ingredients to create a taste that stands distinct without condiments. They christened this sandwich the “hamburger” after Hamburg, New York, where the fair was being held. At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Frank and Charles baked waffles in Parisian waffle irons and topped them with ice cream. They then had an idea to wrap the warm waffle around a fid, a cone-shaped splicing tool for tent ropes. The waffle cooled and held its shape to provide an edible handle for eating ice cream. Returning home to Akron, the Menches began production of “premium” cones at their Premium Popcorn Works factory.” Menches currently has 50 different varieties of burgers on their menu.
Interestingly, neither my wife or me tried their hamburgers, which still use the original recipe. I tried their Perogie Pizza, which is also fairly famous. It is a pizza made with garlic mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese and bacon. And really yummy!
As for the actual inventor of the hamburger — I have been to Seymour, Wisconsin where Charlie Nagreen claims to have invented the hamburger (see my original post about this). Further, Wikipedia has a great entry about the various claims (see Wikipedia article). Ironically, both the Menches and Nagreen make their claims ca. 1885. One thing is for sure, there was nobody with the name of McDonald that has a claim on the first hamburger!!
After a good night’s rest we were on the road eastward. Our firs stop was in Sharon, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour east of the Akron area and just over the border from Ohio. Sharon is the home of Daffin’s Candies, which claims to be the “World’s Largest Candy Store.” It is also home to the “Chocolate Kingdom.”
The 20,000 square foot store is chock full of every candy imaginable, including a huge variety of chocolates. I saw some candies I hadn’t seen in years.
The original candy store was started in 1903 by George Daffin in Woodsfield, Ohio. After a couple more moves over the years, the store made its way into downtown Sharon, Ohio in 1947. It was also the factory for making the chocolates at that time. They eventually got so busy they had to move. Besides the store, they now also have a 30,000 square foot factory.
For me, the drawing card to Daffin’s was not necessarily the size of the store, but rather the unique “Chocolate Kingdom” housed in the back of the store as it fits the whimsy and quirky characteristics of places of I like to visit. The Chocolate Kingdom includes large chocolate animals and two large castles, and an entire miniature village with chocolate houses and railroads. The big drawing cards are a 400-pound chocolate turtle, a 125-pound chocolate reindeer and 75-pound chocolate frog, not to mention a few other animals. There are also chocolate castles, a train, a village, and a Ferris Wheel.
After picking up a few pieces of chocolate, we were on the road again. While in Sharon I saw a unique building with some cool lamps. Also saw a nice wooden sculpture across the street from Daffin’s.
The Buhl Mansion is considered one of America’s Top 10 Most Romantic Inns and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by noted Youngstown architect Charles Owsley (1846–1935) and built in 1891. It is a 2 1/2-story, ashlar sandstone residence with Richardsonian Romanesque style features. It features round arches, steep gable wall dormers, an inset porch with heavy arches, stone finials, and several turrets with copper capped spires.
From Sharon we headed east on US 62 through Hermitage and Mercer to I-79 and then headed north. This is a very scenic stretch of interstate as it goes through the beautiful hills of the Allegheny Plateau with the offering of plenty of rural scenery. We proceeded north until we got to the Meadville exit (147A) so we could stop and see an assemblage of artwork on the roadside….all made from road signs.
Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville (photos below). In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322 (photos below).
Under the direction of Professor Geffen, art apprentices worked in collaboration with PennDOT welders, road crew and heavy equipment operators to create a sculptural garden that speaks of our human impact on the planet. Twelve enormous (10′-12′ high) road sign flowers and rolling mounds echo natural forms.
Just a couple of blocks away is the Read Between the Signs work. This work is a 1,200’ x 9’ sculptural relief constructed from reclaimed road signs that is located at the gateway into Meadville. This is really quite amazing work considering the media used to make it. (Some of the photos below were taken during a trip through here in 2011 – thus the snow…)
After the little “Sign Break” in Meadville, we were back on the road to New York. We made it to I-90 and zipped on past Erie and Buffalo with an occasional nice view of Lake Erie to the north of us. By 3 PM we were a bit hungry so we took the Pembroke Exit off of the Toll Road to find somewhere to eat.
From Kutter’s we drove down the road to the Indian Falls Log Cabin Restaurant, also in Corfu. This rustic little restaurant/bar is built along the Indian Falls of Tonawanda Creek, which flow over the Onondaga Escarpment. Though not huge, the falls are certainly scenic. The falls are a curtain falls with a height of about 20 feet and a crest width of roughly 100 feet.
The restaurant has a nice room with open windows that overlooks the falls. We enjoyed our lunch with the sounds of rushing water and a great view. In fact, the best view of the falls is from this little restaurant.
We did have a nice lunch by the way… Their Sweet Potato Fries are sweetened and then come with a nice cinnamon sugar butter dipping sauce.
After lunch we continued east to Palmyra, New York and the Hill Cumorah Visitor’s Center. We arrived around 6:30 PM. The Pageant would not start until around 9:15 PM, so we hung around, relaxed, and I took pictures of what was going on.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant began in the early 1920’s when a small group of missionaries from New York City gathered for the Cumorah Conference at the Joseph Smith Farm in Palmyra to celebrate Pioneer Day, the day when Brigham Young first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In July of 1934, the conference was moved from the Farm to the Hill Cumorah, the large hill behind the visitor’s center. Today the Pageant, with its incredible staging, lighting, special effects and colorful costuming is still carefully designed to keep its message about Jesus Christ both simple and pure. I actually plan on writing a more complete post about the Pageant with many photos soon. (Link will be here when completed)
The performance was a grand spectacle and very moving. I have been to other LDS Church Pageants (in Mesa, AZ; Manti, UT and Nauvoo, IL), but this one was perhaps the most amazing of all of them with fires, mists, volcanoes and storms all on the stage.
After the pageant we headed back towards Buffalo, New York for an overnight stay in Williamsville, NY. Though over an hour away, it was the closest place to find a reasonably priced motel. The pageant draws visitors from all over the U.S. and hotels are filled a year in advance or more.
The small village of Williamsville is replete with numerous bronze works of art thanks in great part to the hotel and restaurant entrepreneur Russell J. Salvatore, the owner of a number of places in the area (along with his family).
Perhaps the most unique of all of the pieces in the area is the Lunchtime on aSkyscrapersculpture by Sergio Furnari, which is based on a popular photograph taken by Charles C. Ebbets in 1932. An Italian sculptor, Furnari owned a mobile tourist attraction which he took around New York and which he created himself. Sergio made his living driving it around New York and selling souvenir versions of the statue to people. Russ Salvatore offered to buy it from him and eventually purchased it for $50,000 and then paid to have it moved to the front of his Garden Palace Hotel in Williamsville.
Once the ten-ton crane positioned the sculpture, Russ then hired local mural artist Tim Martin to create a mural of New York City below the men. The hand-painted billboard makes the statue look authentic, as if they are truly eating lunch 38 stories up in the sky.
There are a couple of other unique sculptures
After breakfast we were on our way home again. I always like to take a different route whenever possible, but we also had our schedule to consider. Nonetheless, we dropped south towards Jamestown, NY. We went west on I-90 until the Fredonia exit and then south on NY Hwy 60 towards Jamestown.
Along the way we drove through the small town of Gerry, NY. I had to stop for a photo as one of my good friends in Lexington is named Gerry. Took this in his honor!! (Hope you are reading Gerry!)
Jamestown, New York is the birthplace of iconic TV star Lucille Ball. There is Lucy and Desi stuff all over town. We didn’t have time to visit the Lucy-Desi Center, but I did at least get shots of the facilities (The Lucy Desi Museum and the Desilu Studios) from the outside.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to see her grave marker in the cemetery. I did get a shot of a huge mural however… The mural was done by Gary Peters Jr. and Gary Peters Sr. and completed in October 2012.
From Jamestown we headed west on Interstate 86, also known as the “Southern Tier Expressway.” This used to be US Rte 17, but, as of 2013, much of this has been converted to interstate. The section we were on goes all the way to Lake Erie and is a very scenic drive. We eventually hit I-90 in Erie, PA and then headed south to I-79, which we followed towards Pittsburgh. Along the way we were stuck in a huge traffic jam due to road construction near Moraine State Park (Exit 99) in Pennsylvania. It did allow me time to get some wildflower photos from the car….
The rural scenery is also wonderful on I-79 as it rolls through the Allegheny Plateau.
We eventually got off at Exit 88. I wanted to visit the town of Zelienople, chiefly because I had not been to a town that started with the letter Z (as far as I could recall – turns out I had been to Zanesville, Ohio in the past and we passed through Zanesville all on our way back on this trip too!! – 2 Z Towns in one day). Taking the road to Zelienople, we passed a turn to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Seemed to me that our church founder Joseph Smith had spent time in Harmony, so we decided to drop in. As we looked at the historic buildings we saw nothing there about our church. So, we Googled it and found out that the “old” Harmony, PA is now called Oakland (in NE Pennsylvania). Nonetheless, THIS Harmony was a quaint little town and was worth the visit anyway. Zelienople and Harmony actually share a Chamber of Commerce and are practically one in the same place. The towns are located in the Connoquenessing Valley.
Harmony is on the National Register of Historic Places. The area was settled by a German religious group known as Pietists, who broke off from the Lutherans and came to America in 1804. The first group of settlers arrived in Harmony in November 1804 and erected nine log cabins. They also laid out the town with three streets running north and south with three streets running east and west with a large diamond in the center. (More History here)
From Harmony we returned to I-79 and continued south and then west on US 22 towards Steubenville, OH, crossing a narrow strip of West Virginia. There is about a 5 mile section of West Virginia’s panhandle that is squeezed between Pennsylvania and Ohio. We stopped in Weirton, WV for lunch) through However, it is actually not the narrowest neck of land in the U.S. My research shows that the panhandle of Maryland’s mountainous western area is a geographic anomaly, a 1-mile-wide strip between Pennsylvania and West Virginia (near Cumberland). As for Weirton, WV, it too has some geographic significance. The town extends from the Ohio border on the west to the Pennsylvania border on the east. This makes it the only city in the United States that borders two other states on two sides, and its own state on the other two sides.
My main reason for the stop in Steubenville was to get a photo of the huge Dean Martin mural. I had been to Steubenville (also known as the “City of Murals“) once before (in 2008) and had many of the murals (see the full post here). But the Dean Martin mural eluded me (I had added a photo to my post that I found elsewhere). This time I did find it…
Dean Martin was originally born Dean Crocetti and is Steubenville’s most celebrated citizen. They have a Dino Festival in town every June. The Mural below was painted in 1998 by Robert Dever.
From Steubenville we followed the scenic drive along the Ohio River, passing through Brilliant, Ohio… (love the name).
From Brilliant we continued south through Columbus and on to Lexington. What a whirlwind trip!!