My Travels in 2018

Life gets so busy. The first two months of 2019 have been exceptionally busy and so I am just now getting to my annual review posts for 2018.

Visiting Route 66 in Oklahoma

At the beginning of 2018 I didn’t have very high hopes for many travel opportunities. I had begun a new job in early October of the previous year and I didn’t have any definitive travel plans. But, I had also learned to roll with things and, as good fortune would have it, 2018 actually became a really good travel year.

Over the course of the year I was able to travel through 26 different states and drove nearly 12,000 miles. I was able to add a plethora of photos (I took over 15,000 travel photos in 2018) and content for use in future blogs and books. Though many of my travels were alone (which I love), I also was able to travel with family on some of the trips (which I also love!).

Morning sky taken between Bend, OR and Brothers, OR (near Millican, OR) on US Hwy 20 heading east.
A sunset scene taken from the Edmonds to Kingston Ferry in Washington
Lovely sunset after a windy day. Taken on a side road of Interstate 70 just east of Abilene, Kansas
Mt. Aetna as seen from US 50 near Monarch Pass, Colorado.
Desert and snow-covered peaks in Nevada

My major trips included:

  1. A trip to Nashville in January to visit with my new employer ComicBook.com. On this trip I also visited the cool and “off-beat” Paradise PointMarketplace
    Welcome to Paradise Point
  2. In late January I made a trip down to Barren River Lake State Park in southern Kentucky to view the sandhill cranes which had migrated down there.
    Sandhill Cranes take flight
  3. In February I was asked by son Seth to come down to Cypress, Texas to watch his two sons for a couple of weeks while he and his wife were off on a cruise. The trip south took me through Calvert City, KY where I visited the Apple Valley Toy Land and Hillbilly Gardens. I also found my way to Kenton, Arkansas, home of the white squirrels, then to historic Walnut Ridge, Arkansas to see some fun Beatle’s things. I then meandered my way into Louisiana and visited a few fun places. While in Cypress with the boys I also visited Austin and then took the boys venturing out on some of the back roads around the Houston area where we discovered some fun places. My return trip took me up to Keller, Texas to visit my sister and while there I found a few more fascinating places. I then made my way home through Oklahoma and Arkansas, traveling back roads all the way and discovering some fun places. I finally returned to Lexington at the end of February.                                                                                               
    Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden – Calvert City, Kentucky
    Sumoflam with the Beatles in Walnut Ridge, AR
    The Beatles in Houston, statues by Houston artist David Adickes
  4. March saw me again on the road for a quick trip up to Cleveland, Ohio. On this trip, with my wife, we visited sites in Cleveland and then on the way home stopped in Columbus to see the famed Topiary Garden Park. It was a quick, yet fun and interesting trip. 
    Topiary Garden Park of Columbus
  5. On April 2 I set off on one of the biggest road trips I have had in a couple of years. We had a family event taking place in Port Orchard, Washington. I drove while my wife flew (she had a tighter schedule and needed to take some PTO time). I set out heading west through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. I had hoped to go up through Minnesota, but a major snowstorm diverted much of my initial plan. Nonetheless, I always find something. This trip allowed me to visit seven different Peter Toth “Whispering Giants” , which also took me to other unique places along the way. I ultimately made my way through Iowa Falls, Cedar Rapids, northern South Dakota and overnight in Belle Fourche. I then headed northwest into snowy southeastern Montana and crossed the state from there through Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and overnight in scenic and touristy Wallace, Idaho. From Wallace I made my way to Spokane and then east on US 2, to complete my travels on the western portion of that highway (other parts I had driven on in previous road trips. This took me through Washington’s high desert and then into the Cascades and back down into apple orchard country. I ultimately made my way into the Seattle area. The return trip went down through Olympia and then into Oregon on US 101 and then across Oregon’s high desert, through Winnemucca, Nevada and then into my old stomping grounds in Murray, Utah, near Salt Lake City. I then ventured to Colorado Springs to see my son Solomon and then across Colorado’s high deserts into western Kansas, and finally back home through St. Louis and Louisville. It was an amazing two week adventure! 
    Visiting the Whispering Giant at Starving Rock State Park in Illinois
    One of over 200 sculptures from around Raymond, Washington
    A stretch of Oregon Highway 205 south of Burns, Oregon
    Leavenworth, Washington
    Snow walls taller than me on both sides of the road at Stevens Pass in Washington
    Helper, Utah
    Dignity: Of Earth and Sky – 50 foot tall statue by Dale Lamphere near Chamberlain, South Dakota
    Men’s Room Door at a gas station in Ashland, Montana
    US Hwy 101 in southern Washington
    Garden of the Gods in Manitou Springs, Colorado
    On the road somewhere in NW Nevada
  6. I didn’t really venture out on a road trip again until mid-June when my wife and I took a day long trip up to Cincinnati to see some things we hadn’t done before. It was a nice sightseeing adventure.
    A day trip to Cincinnati with my wife
    The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge as seen from Carew Tower in Cincinnati. When opened on December 1, 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet main span.
  7. In late July I was joined by my oldest grandchild Autumn for a fun adventure to Cypress, Texas. I was again asked to babysit my two granddsons for about ten days. Autumn and I meandered our way down there through Tennessee and Alabama down to the gulf coast and into Biloxi, Mississippi. We traveled along the Gulf Coast into Louisiana and eventually into Texas. While in Texas, the four of us made a few trips as well, including a day-long adventure to the weird city of Austin. Autumn and I then returned home through central Texas and up to Keller to stay with my sister and allow Autumn to hang with her cousin, who is the same age. After a couple of days in Keller, Autumn and I returned home through Oklahoma, Kansas and into Missouri, where we visited the unique touristy place called Uranus and then finally home. It was an amazing fun trip.
    Sharkhead in Biloxi, Mississippi
    Decatur, Texas
    Welcome to Uranus Missouri
    Getting stabbed in Bowie, Texas
    One of hundreds of frog statues in Rayne, Louisiana
    Peach Water Tower in Clanton, Alabama
    One of a number of murals in a section of Houston
    Vulcan Statue, one of America’s tallest, in Birmingham, Alabama
    Woody Guthrie Water Towers in Okemah, Oklahoma

    Over the next few posts, I will try to catch up with content about different themes…road scenes, wood art, murals, roadside attractions and more.

    I hope you will enjoy the ride with me as I revisit these adventures.

Have you seen my most recent book yet? “Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions” is available on Amazon!

The book is 130 pages of FULL COLOR whimsy and kitsch as I tell stories of my visits to these places all over the U.S. and Canada. Definitely was fun taking these back roads trips to quirkville and I am excited to share them with you in words and photos.   I hope you will be able to check out the book or even get it on Kindle.

You can order the book here:   See Offbeat and Quirky Roadside Attractions

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Welcome to Uranus (Missouri) – Really?

One of the Uranus Billboards along Interstate 44

In late July and early August 2018 I had been on the road traveling with my granddaughter for nearly two weeks and we finally made our way to US Route 66 in Oklahoma and Missouri. On our last night on the road, we spent the night in Springfield, Missouri. As we departed down Interstate 44, one of the first things I saw was a sign telling us to visit Uranus at exit 163! REALLY? In all my years of traveling, I had never heard of this place. As we headed east we continued to see signs…you know, the “Tourist Trap” type of signs that try to draw you in.

Thanks for Picking Uranus

Help Keep Uranus Clean

The term “Tourist Trap“ tends to be used in a derogatory fashion for a place that tries to draw tourists in with unique offerings and then once the tourist is drawn in, they are “trapped“ such that they will likely purchase items that they don’t probably need. As a seasoned traveler on the back roads of America, I have run across many of these so-called “tourist traps.“ I find them rather fun! Many of them offer similar things like cups or small shot glasses emblazoned with their particular business name and logo. Perhaps, it might be better if you call a “Tourist Trap“ a “Tourist Haven.“ Why? Well, these places are usually a perfect place for a break from the driving, a restroom break, cold drinks and snacks and a chance to have a little fun while on the road. Entertainment for smaller kids and entertainment for adults…all in one convenient location.

Welcome to Uranus Missouri

Big signs and a big rocket in Uranus

Uranus Shot Glasses

Of course, you will be able to find the T-shirts, the magnets and the many other kitschy souvenirs and memorabilia that you can take home to remember your visit to the “little tourist trap.

In 2002 the current location was purchased by two guys named Louie Keen and Vernon Brejcha. Keen had run some other businesses on the property before he came up with the idea of opening up a Fudge Factory in 2015 and naming the place Uranus. He is now the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Uranus.” From there he began an aggressive marketing campaign with signs that said things such as “81 Miles to Big Fun in Uranus”, “the Best Fudge Comes From Uranus”, etc. Of course, the name… most of us know the joke. No need to elucidate upon that, especially since the photos of the T-shirts and shot glasses that I provide in this post will give plenty of that kind of fodder for either laughter, eye rolls, guffaws or just the general “ewww.”

Uranus Parks T-shirt

Uranus Meat and Sausage sign

Fudge Packers Union t-shirt from Uranus

Wall Drug sign in southwest Minnesota

As with all Tourist Havens, the signs can be seen for miles before you get there. I think of the best example of this can be seen across the northern highways in the US, pushing the destination known as Wall Drug, which is located in Wall, South Dakota. I have seen signs advertising Wall Drug as far away as eastern Minnesota, and I’ve heard that there may be some even further east in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

An example of The Thing billboards that dot Arizona, New Mexico and California

They actually even include the mileage to the location. Then there are the series of “Tourist Havens“ along the highways in southern New Mexico and Arizona, predominately on Interstate 10 owned by Bowlin Travel Centers of Albuquerque. Their travel centers typically incorporate a Southwestern “Trading Post” theme (not uncommon along Route 66, even in Missouri and Illinois), in the manner of small stores commonly found along Old Route 66 prior to the construction of the Interstate. Many were former independent businesses. They have names like “Flying C Ranch”, “Old West”, “Bowlin’s Running Indian”, and “Continental Divide”. The most iconic of the Bowlin businesses is one known as “The Thing,“ which adds the drawing card of a sideshow within the confines of this business that one must pay for in order to go see. But on the way in you can buy your “The Thing“ shot glasses, mugs, “Kick Ass Peanuts,” and other fine touristy memorabilia.

A myriad of souvenirs available at Bowlin’s The Thing resort in Dragoon, AZ

Mugs from Hell – “I’ve been to Hell and Back.”

Rabbit Hash Mugs – Rabbit Hash, KY

Seems like most tourist traps have their “resident aliens”

All of these places are worth a visit, if for anything else, just to catch the theme, see what’s going on, take some fun pictures and have a laugh. They do sell legitimate products, they sell soft drinks, they sell candy and often times things such as homemade popcorn in various flavors, or fudge. Off the top of my head, I can list off more than a dozen of these quirky tourist locations throughout the country. And there are a number of smaller ones that I’ve been to as well. But, there is something special about Uranus and the strip mall of quirky and offbeat shops located therein.

Uranus, Missouri water tower

Uranus is Expanding

My granddaughter and I with the Uranus Fudge Factory sign

When we pulled off the interstate and then drove along the old Route 66, we could see that this particular tourist attraction covered a couple or 3 acres and had a number of smaller businesses within it, all owned and run by Keen apparently. In the middle of the parking lot is a big water tower that mimics other town water towers – “Uranus, Missouri – Home of the Pirates.” I don’t think I get the joke, but I am sure there is one. Of course, along the way, the signs would say – Uranus, Missouri – not a town, but a destination – or something like that.

The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus

Making Uranus Fudge

Uranus Fudge – 18 different flavors daily

Uranus Fudge T-shirt

As noted above, the main drawing card is the Uranus Fudge Factory. Herein they advertise that the “Best Fudge Comes from Uranus.” You walk in the door and are immediately greeted by smiling staff members (known as Uranus Fudge Packers) who, without any hesitation or embarrassment, yell out “Welcome to Uranus!“ And that is after you have already taken photographs outside with the sign that says “Uranus on Route 66”, and the bland white sign that says “Thank you for Picking Uranus.” Keen actually got an online Chocolatier Certificate so he could begin doing his fudge.

A scene from Uranus

Another scene from Uranus

Uranus Gas ‘N Lube

Once inside this rather large shop, your eyes are filled with the eye candy temptations of a tourist trap. There is no doubt about that! All of the “trappings” are there… Numerous T-shirts with sayings about Uranus, the shot glasses, and even a sign above the fudge counter that says “The Best Fudge comes from Uranus.”

After receiving your gracious welcome, your eyes are loaded with the eye candy of the “trappings“ of this shop. The colorful T-shirts with all of their unique sayings about Uranus, the shot glasses, the snacks, souvenirs. They even sell things like Route 66 Root Beer.

Route 66 Sodas

Men’s Restroom Sign

Sign in Restroom

As with any “destination” of this sort, there are the cheap little toys for the kids that are bored on their long road trips. There is the candy in abundance and the cold drinks. There is a restroom, and, to my surprise, there was not much written on the door of the restroom or within the restroom, which for a place called Uranus, is a big surprise to me.

Big Fun in Uranus

The one thing I did notice, is that every tourist that walked through that door was smiling and/or laughing about things within the shop and that is exactly what the owners want you to do because a smile or laugh will likely equivocate into a purchase. And that is why places like this are called a “tourist traps.“

Uranus Police

Uranus Police Car

Uranus Bus

After spending a good deal of time and even a little money for a T-shirt for my granddaughter (yes I used a 20 dollar bill in Uranus), and after numerous photographs were taken, we meandered our way out into the rather large parking lot and drove around to grab shots of some of the other things to be seen. The absolutely funniest attraction was the plywood cut outs. Every tourist trap has some kind of these. You know, the kind where there’s a hole in there for you to stick your head in and get a picture taken! This Uranus version has one of an elephant, as zebra, a giraffe, an antelope and a couple of other animals. Beautifully painted and very realistic looking. The only difference is that these are on the butt end of the animal so when you are sticking your head through the hole, it appears that your head is coming out of the … well, I think you can guess. Just check out the pictures.

Granddaughter with a Zebra….

Pet Control in Uranus

Chicken Bones Billiards in Uranus

Gas in Uranus

Please Pick Up in Uranus

According to a couple of recent articles I read about Uranus, Keen expects that there are about 250,000 visitors a year to the place. No wonder Uranus is expanding!!

What is a Tourist Trap with a Dinosaur or two roaming around?

Uranus City Jail

Big Mugs

Having a Gas in Uranus

Uranus T-Shirt

Thanks For Picking Uranus

So, if you are driving to central Missouri on interstate 44 are trying to travel some of the remnants of old route 66, then the trip to Uranus should be included in your planning. Just make sure that you bring enough money because, you would not want to have the paper content of your wallet wiped out in Uranus.

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A Grab Bag from America’s Back Roads – The C Things #AtoZChallenge

In 2018 I  will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada.  I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.

 

Cyclisk – Santa Rosa, California

“Cyclisk” – Obelisk made out of bicycle parts in Santa Rosa, CA

Sumoflam at the base of “Cyclisk”

Charles Nagreen Statue – Seymour, Wisconsin

Hamburger Charlie statue in Seymour, WI. Charles Nagreen is credited with inventing the hamburger.

Sam & Eulalia Frantz “Field of Corn”- Dublin, Ohio

At the “Field of Corn” – Sam and Eulalia Frantz Park in Dublin, OH

The Field of Corn in Dublin, OH has 109 ears of corn

CastlePost Castle – Versailles, Kentucky

The CastlePost Castle near Versailles, KY

Coal Mine Canyon – near Tuba City, Arizona

Coal Mine Canyon, AZ 1983

Sumoflam at Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona in 1990

Chunky, Mississippi

Chunky, MS

Chelsea Teddy Bear Company – Chelsea, Michigan

Chelsea Teddy Bear Company, Chelsea, MI

A Christmas Story House – Cleveland, Ohio

Sumoflam at the Christmas Story House in Cleveland

Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas

One of America’s most famous roadside attractions

Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas

The iconic Route 66 roadside attraction known as Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX

Christman Studio & Sculpture Park – St. Louis, Missouri

Backyard view of Christman’s gallery – including a giant head

Chocolate Hills – Bohol, Philippines

The Chocolate Hills in Bohol

Sumoflam at the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines in 2007

Craters of the Moon National Monument – near Arco, Idaho

Visiting Craters of the Moon in Idaho in 2013

Craters of the Moon drive amidst the lava fields

Camp Disappointment – near Browning, Montana

Camp Disappointment Monument – a Lewis and Clark stopover

Cathedral Rock – Sedona, Arizona

Being a Tour Guide with Nava-Hopi Tours at Cathedral Rock on Oak Creek in Sedona, AZ 1983

The Chocolate Chicken – Egg Harbor, Wisconsin

The Chocolate Chicken in Egg Harbor, WI

Colter Bay Lodge – Grand Teton National Park

Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons as seen from Colter Bay Lodge

Coffee Pot Water Tower – Nebraska City, Nebraska

Sapp’s Coffee Pot Water Tower in Nebraska City

Chain Saw Totem Pole Forest – near Medford, Wisconsin

Chainsaw Forest near Medford, WI

Cattle Egret – Angleton, Texas

Cattle Egret seen in Angleton, Texas

Commerce, Oklahoma

Another classic Route 66 town

Car Advertising in Commerce, Oklahoma

Catfish Capitals of the World – Paris, Tennessee & Floodwood, Minnesota

Floodwood Water Tower claims it is the Catfish Capital

Welcome to Paris Catfish – they too claim to be the Catfish Capital

Crystal Wendy’s Hamburger – Dublin, Ohio

The Wendy’s Original $150,000 Crystal Cheeseburger created by Waterford Crystal

Carhenge – Alliance, Nebraska

Another of America’s premiere roadside attractions

Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska

Sumoflam at Carhenge in Alliance, NE

Creeper Trail Cafe – Taylors Valley, Virginia

The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the Virginia Creeper bike trail in Taylors Valley…about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia. They have world famous cake

Crescent Hotel – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Claims to be America’s most haunted hotel. We stayed there one night and saw an apparition in our room!!

The Crescent Hotel, America’s Most Haunted in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum – Hamilton, Ontario

Canadian Warplane Museum in Hamilton, Ontario

Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota

Another of America’s most famous roadside attractions. They change the designs every year.

Sumoflam at the Corn Palace

Bridges of Madison County – Winterset, Iowa

Bridges of Madison County in Iowa

Cut and Shoot, Texas

Cut and Shoot City Hall, Texas

Cut and Shoot Post Office in Texas

Cows with Sunglasses – Russellville, Kentucky & Normal, Illinois

Cow with Pink Sunglasses in Russellville, KY

A colorful cow in sunglasses seen in Normal, IL

Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The famous Cowboy Bar neon sign in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Capulin Volcano National Monument – Capulin, New Mexico

Capulin Volcano – part of the Capulin National Monument in New Mexico

Cozy Drive In – Springfield, Illinois

Another Route 66 icon – home of the corn dog

Cozy Drive In – Home of the famous Hot Dog on a Stick

Chagrin Falls, Ohio

David and Julianne at Chagrin Falls in Ohio

Chinook, Montana

Old Chinook Hotel Sign

Welcome to Chinook sign

Cool, Texas

Cool, Texas

Cool Cafe: If We Ain’t Shut We’re Open – Cool, Texas

Cathedral Falls – Gauley Bridge, West Virginia

Cathedral Falls in Gauley Bridge, WV

World’s Largest Can Pile – Casselton, North Dakota

No longer around, but wanted to include this classic roadside attraction

Casselton Can Pile – June 16, 2005

Sumoflam at the Casselton Can Pile

Carlos Bake Shop – Hoboken, New Jersey

Home of TV Show “Cake Boss”

Sumoflam at Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, NJ

National Corvette Museum – Bowling Green, Kentucky

Old Corvette on pedestal at Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Coot Statue – Ashby, Minnesota

Coot Statue, Ashby, MN

Clayton Dinosaur Trackway – Clayton, New Mexico

Dinosaur Statue – Clayton, NM

Clayton Dinosaur Trackway sign

Circus Workers’ Cemetery – Hugo, Oklahoma

Showmen’s Rest, a cemetery for circus workers in Hugo, Oklahoma

Church of Uncertain – Uncertain, Texas

The Church of Uncertain

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, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

 

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