I love the mountains. I spent a good part of my life in the mountains – New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Arizona. These are the BIG mountains.
Having lived in Kentucky for the past 25 years, I hear of people that live in “the mountains of Kentucky” or heading to “the mountains of West Virginia.” In my perspective these are more like hills. But, by the broader definition, there are mountains in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Maybe even Tennessee.
When I take trips to the Western US, I always try to make an effort to get to the REAL mountains….the kind over 10,000′ tall. I love the fresh air of these mountains. I long for the spectacular views…both from below and on top.
My first ventures into the mountains were as a young boy living in New Mexico. My Dad also loved the mountains and we often took rides up to the Sandias. We would hike, take picnics and my dad always took pictures. He always took slides because he thought they were better quality.
In 1968 we moved from Dallas to Denver. While in Denver, my Dad would take us on various drives up to Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak and other mountains. As a junior high school youth I went with him for the intense hike up Longs Peak, near Boulder. This mountain hike was a first for me. I never made it to the top (since we were bogged down by a massive hailstorm in the middle of summer). But my Dad left me at the stop station and continued up with a couple of friends.
Later in life I had the opportunity to take a trip up to the top of Mt. Evans (by car). It had changed over the years, but still had the mountain goats and the thin air.
Living in Bozeman, Montana in the mid 1970s was the final straw. We actually lived up in the mountains south of Bozeman. I was hooked and still am. My goals have always been to visit America’s great mountains, mountain ranges and parks. I have been blessed to have been able to do so.
Over the years I have been to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, the Colorado Rockies, the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, the Beartooth Range and scenic drive in northern Wyoming and more. I have even been to the eastern mountains of Shenandoah, the Alleghany Highlands in Virginia (where I am as I write this!), the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri and the Adirondacks. They have their own wonderful scenery.
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 S Towns
On the banks of the Ohio River bordering the upper panhandle of West Virginia lies the old steel mining town of Steubenville, Ohio. This is the hometown of the famous actor/singer Dean Martin and is known as the City of Murals, with over 25 larger than life murals painted on the sides of buildings around town. The town of over 20,000 seems to be one of those dying steel towns. As I drove around town I got a sense of sadness. Many old crippled folks hobbling along the streets and many of the downtown businesses were welfare-related businesses. Up on the hill above the city there seemed to be a little more life. But, I also saw obvious signs that the town is trying to redefine itself as a historical tourism location with the murals, a new museum dedicated to the Old Fort Steuben and then the Ohio River scenery of course. Check out my 2008 blog post about this and other Ohio River towns HERE.
I visited Idaho a couple of times in 2013 for some work and took the weekends to travel an see some of the sights. One place I had dreamed of visiting was the Sawtooth Mountain Range. Nestled at the base of the mountain range is the pristine little community of Stanley, which boasts a whopping 60-70 residents year round. I could SOOO live in this place. Pristine views, clean air and a few log cabins….even a Teepee…dot the town. There is only one gas station and a couple of places to eat. But what got me was the stunning views. Check out more about my visit to Stanley in 2013 by clicking HERE.
In the early 1980s I attended college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. During my four years there, I spent much of it working for Nava-Hopi Tours as a tour guide. One of my twice weekly trips was to Sedona via the amazing switchbacks of the Oak Creek Canyon scenic drive. Personally, I am a fan of the Rocky Mountains, but Sedona most certainly is one of the most scenic places in the United States. The massive red rocks, the colorful character of the residents, the Pink Jeep Tours, the impressive Chapel of the Holy Cross and more…this is a must see location. I look forward to my next visit to Arizona as I have not been to Sedona since the 1990s.
Santa Rosa, California
In 2015 I visited California to attend the Woodflock event with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. Prior to getting up to Red Bluff, CA where the event was held, I spent a couple of days with some of my acquaintances in the Santa Rosa area and actually got to tour around this funky town. I visited The Hand statue shown above, which is actually titled “Agraria” and is by artist Larry Kirkland. Then there is the ultimate in quirky attractions, a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts. Called “Cyclisk,” this was created in 2010 by Petaluma-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 lb and is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture. There are a number of other fun attractions in this artsy little town. You can see many more photos and more details in my 2015 blog post HERE.
If you have been following my A to Z Blog Post, you would have noticed on the A Towns post that I covered both Amarillo in Texas and Alliance in Nebraska. These two locations are home to two of the most well know “Car Art” sites in the United States, namely Cadillac Ranch and Carhenge. Cadillac Ranch is right off of US Highway 66 in Amaraillo. But if you continue east on US Route 66 into Illinois, you will come across a lesser known “Car Art” and Route 66 memorabilia spot near Staunton, Illinois. Known as “Henry’s Rabbit Ranch (also sometimes written as ‘Ra66it Ranch’),” this place celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with its emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s “Humpin’ to Please” trailers next to a replica of a vintage gas station. Owner Rich Henry and his wife Linda have built up a shop chock full of Route 66 memorabilia, a collection of old half buried VW Rabbits in their unique replicating of “Cadillac Ranch” (thus Rabbit Ranch….) and even have a pen full of live rabbits. See more about my 2013 visit HERE.
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Oregon three times between 2011 and 2012 while working for iHigh.com. On one of the trips I attended the Oregon High School Athletic Directors Conference at a resort near Bend and, along the way, drove some back roads, one of which took me into the town of Sisters, Oregon. The town gets its name from a set of three mountains in the Southern Cascades known as “The Three Sisters.” From town you can also get a spectacular view of Mt. Jefferson, Oregon’s second highest peak. Though not as high in altitude as Stanley, Idaho, this westernesque town (their biggest employer is a huge ranch), Sisters is another place that I could most certainly love and enjoy. Definitely worth a visit!
Do you like hamburgers? How about hamburger history? Back in 2012 on a visit to Wisconsin, we made our way into Seymour, which claims to be the home of the hamburger. According to its history, Charles Nagreen (1870-1951), put ground beef patties in a bun and began calling them Hamburgers back in 1885. They have an annual hamburger festival and there are a couple of giant hamburgers in town. You can see more about Seymour by clicking HERE.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Perhaps you prefer Christmas year round. You can get that in the village of Santa Claus, Indiana. There are a number of Santa Claus statues around town, Christmas-themed shops, a Post Office that has a Santa Claus in the front and even a Santa Claus Police Department!! As a family, we made a visit there during the Christmas season of 2015 and had a good time. You can see more about our visit to Santa Claus and a ton of photos HERE.
Sandwich, New Hampshire
On a trip to Connecticut in the summer of 2015, we made our way into New Hampshire and Vermont so i could knock off the remaining states in my quest to hit all 50. One of my “wish list” stops was to go to Sandwich, NH in order to get a sat a sandwich there. We even planned the trip such that we would get there around lunch time. But, alas, there are no Sandwich places in Sandwich, New Hampshire (that we could locate anyway.)
Sweet Grass, Montana
Way up north in Montana, practically at the Canadian border is the town of Sweet Grass, Montana. Though predominantly a border crossing, the town has a couple of interesting things. First off, there is a church with a blue roof…a rarity on the back roads of America. And then there are the interesting geologic hoodoo formation of the Jerusalem Rocks. These outcroppings can be visited via a rough dirt road. I have written about these and some other similar formations in a post HERE.
Shakespeare and Stratford, Ontario
As I have noted before, in 2008 I was working in Canada. On one a couple of occasions I got to visit the small town of Shakespeare and the neighboring town of Stratford in Perth County. Full of little antique shops and some beautiful scenery, these are certainly two unique places to visit. You can read about some of my exploits in this part of Ontario in 2008 in my post HERE.
Sikeston, Missouri (Honorable Mention)
I wanted to mention Sikeston, Missouri namely because it is home to one of America’s more unique eateries…Lambert’s Cafe – the Home of the Throwed Rolls. Offering great home style cooking, big portions, and yes, Throwed Rolls – literally throwing them to you across the room – it is a fun and delicious place to eat. Close to the entertainment town of Branson, Sikeston is a great stop along the way. Read more HERE.
Success, Missouri (Honorable Mention)
I was heading north on US 63 in Missouri one day. As I got to Houston, MO (in Texas County — NO JOKE!!), I passed the sign above. I took the 16 mile trek to look for Success. The road to Success from Houston is lined with old doublewides and rusted out cars. No joke!! And once you find Success, you will see that there is not much there. At least you can say you found it.
Soda Springs, Idaho (Honorable Mention)
And my final S Town is Soda Springs, Idaho. It sits on top of many 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. 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. You can read more about my visit to Soda Springs and other areas in Idaho and Wyoming HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
June 8, 2013: I had a free day in Rexburg, ID so I thought I would take a day trip into the heart of Idaho. I visited old nuclear sites, sagebrush filled grasslands, ancient volcanic flows, rugged (and jagged) mountains and riverine landscapes . It was an awesome day of geographic and scenic diversity. Here is my map of the trip:
I decided to leave early so I could catch all of the day’s sunlight. It would be a long day. After heading south to Idaho Falls, I stayed on US 20 west and made my way to the gravel road that leads to the small, nearly ghost town of Atomic City. I had seen earlier reviews on the town on Roadside America. I could see that the content of the article was a bit dated as I made my way into the small town. Atomic City was, at one time, a boom city due to the growth in nuclear research facilities in the area, namely the Idaho National Laboratory and its many secret test facilities in the area.
About 12,000 years ago hunters came to this area for big game such as mammoths, camels and giant bison. Looking at the landscape now, it is difficult to imagine.
The town used to have a store, a bar and a Texaco gas station. The gas station used to house the bar. Both appear to be closed now. In fact, the gas station does not even have the Post Office sign on it any longer. but the vestiges of the old town still remain…
Despite the ghostly appearance of the town, from May thru September the weekends are pretty active here with the Atomic Motor Raceway, which still offers locals the opportunity to race their dwarf karts, minis, modifieds and other stock cars. They had no event the day I was there.
There are some old potato barns and wildflowers that caught my eye in Atomic City as well. A sign that there is still some semblance of life….
I left the town of about 20 people and headed west on US 20/26 towards the town of Arco next.
Along the way there was a nice new Rest Area that had some history included, especially concerning the Nuclear Work in the area.
Arco, Idaho is a town of about 1000 people and is located in Butte County, Idaho. Originally known as Root Hog, the original town site was five miles south at the junction of two stagecoach lines (Blackfoot-Wood River and Blackfoot-Salmon). A suspension bridge that crossed the Big Lost River funneled traffic through the settlement. The town leaders applied to the U.S. Post Office for the town name of “Junction.” However, The Postmaster General thought the name too common and suggested that the place be named Arco for Georg von Arco (1869–1940), an inventor and pioneer in the field of radio transmission, who was visiting Washington, D.C. from his home country of Germany at the time. The town later moved four miles southeast when the stage station was moved to Webb Springs at Big Southern Butte. When the Oregon Short Line railroad arrived from Blackfoot in 1901 the stage lines became obsolete and the town of Arco moved northwest to its present site.
Arco was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated by nuclear power. This occurred on July 17, 1955, powered by Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX-III reactor at the nearby National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), which eventually became the site of the Idaho National Energy Laboratory, a predecessor of the current Idaho National Laboratory.
Arco is also known for “Number Hill”, a butte behind the city with a bunch of numbers on it. History of the hill states that the tradition began with the 1920 graduating class of Butte County High School when they painted a 20 up on the hill. Since that time the tradition has continued with each class adding their years to the hill. There is now even a cafe in town named after it.
A few more scenes from Arco
The USS Hawkbill SSN-666 (also known as the Devil Boat) was launched in 1969 and was decommissioned in 2000. The sail was sent to Arco to be added to the Idaho Science Center, which is housed in Arco.
Though many had come before, the official name “Craters of the Moon” was coined by Robert Limbert who was the first man to thoroughly explore and promote the area. The name became official in 1924 when the area was established as a National Monument.
The lava flows here were a result of fissure eruptions that would create cinder cones due to the high fluidity of the basalt flows that allowed gasses to escape. Sunset Crater in Arizona is very similar to this.
Lava flows called “aa” are basaltic lava flows characterized by a rough or rubbly surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinker. This is really rough stuff and scary to walk on.
There are a number of Cinder Cones in the park, some of which may be climbed by visitors.
I was very fortunate in my timing in the park as many of the native wildflowers were in bloom. These wildflowers struggle for the little water and naturally space themselves, pretty amazing.
And a few more lava photos…
From the Craters of the Moon I headed down the “Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway” for what I consider to be the real HIGHlight of the trip….
And then passed by Goodale’s Cutoff
The road goes on forever through the lava…much easier today then it was for the emigrants
Carey, Idaho is basically the Gateway to Idaho 75 heading into the Sawtooth Mountains. Actually, Carey is located at the junctions of U.S. Routes 26/93 and 20 and is the commercial center of the Little Wood River Valley. It was founded by a group of Mormon colonists led by Cyrus Joseph Stanford in 1883 who named the town “Marysville.” It was renamed “Carey” with the arrival of his younger brother, Thomas C. Stanford in 1884.
And then onto Idaho 75 and a new scenic byway
I would have to say that this drive was probably one of the more stunning mountain drives I have ever been on. The jagged look (thus Sawtooth) of the range is impressive and awe inspiring.
The first town on ID 75 is Bellevue, Idaho, which is Idaho’s only chartered city. The town was established in March 1882 and currently has a population of about 2300. It is nestled in the foothills at 5.170 feet, before advancing up into the higher altitudes.
Then there are the continuous stream of scrap metal animals, like this bear at a garden shop in Bellevue…
From Bellevue it was north to Hailey and then into the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. From Bellevue the climb began and the mountains north began to look regal and grand.
I arrived in Ketchum around noon. This is a touristy town, obviously with the Sun Valley ski resorts and all of the summer mountain activity. As with many of these kinds of towns, unique art abounds. Here are a few “artsy” things I saw in Ketchum….
The above twig and branch sculpture, called “Centerpiece” was made by artist Patrick Dougherty, a North Carolina artist who works with tree saplings as his medium. This was made in 2010for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which will be building a new facility on the grounds where Centerpiece stands. Dougherty has over 230 creations on exhibit all over the world. See more of his work here.
And then there are the unique places in town:
The Pioneer Saloon… Or the Commercial Club as it was called originally, was opened in the 1940’s as a gambling casino operated by Otis Hobbs. A few years later the casino was closed and the American Legion then took it over and used it as a meeting hall. For a short time, the building was converted into a dry goods store. In the mid 60’s, the Pioneer was redesigned as a restaurant. The present version of the Pioneer Saloon dates from 1972 — hence the phrase “Where were you in 72.”
From the Ketchum/Sun Valley area I continued north on ID 75 into the mountains. On this day I happened to be heading north while the Sawtooth Relay was in action. I saw runners for miles and thought it was just a marathon. Turns out it is a 62 mile relay race with teams of 6 running from Stanley, ID to Ketchum, ID along ID 75. It is a fund raising event that apparently had over 300 teams in 2013. I saw many of the team vans along the road.
The drive eventually got me to Galena Pass, which is at a little over 8700 feet.
Galena Summit marks the divide between the Big Wood River and Salmon River drainage areas. Just a bit more down the road is the Galena Overlook, which offers an expansive view of the Sawtooth Range to the north and the headwaters of the Salmon River in the Stanley Basin below.
The view from Galena Overlook was awesome. The blue lake in the bottom center will be seen in another photo from lake level as I ended up on that road below in the valley.
Just a small stream here, but turns into a mighty big river as it goes down the hill (which will be seen later in this post)
From this vantage point the rugged Sawtooth Range is clearly in sight….
From this area, as I ventured further north, I came to the Sawtooth City historical marker and then into the area around the crystal clear Alturas Lake.
The scenery from here was awe-inspiring as many of the views of the snow covered peaks also offered scenic carpets of flower covered meadows.
I continued north towards Redfish Lake and then into Stanley. I wanted to stop at Redfish Lake, but my time was running short. But the scenery was amazing…
Stanley, Idaho….I could SOOOO move here (in the summer at least). Stanley is is the hub point for three different Scenic Byways (The Sawtooth, the Ponderosa Pine and the Salmon River). It sits in a valley surrounded by mountains at a little over 6200 feet in elevation. It is a town with a number of small resorts/motels and a couple of places to eat. Wikipedia says the population in 2010 was 63, but it appeared to be closer to 200 to me.
It had been a long day so far and I was hungry, so I stopped in at the Mountain Village Express (part of the Mountain Village Resort) to find something to eat. Turns out they make breakfast all day and an omelet sounding appealing!!
Perhaps one of the most scenic photos I have ever taken….
I hated to leave Stanley, but I had to begin the winding descent along the Salmon River back into Rexburg. I went through Lower Stanley and then followed the Salmon River Scenic Byway. At first it was still rugged mountains and a raging river, enticing to rafters and kayakers (and probably bears too…)
The mountains soon began to fade away in the background as a more desertish/volcanic landscape. Nonetheless, this was rugged country full of deep gorges, steep hills and to me was reminiscent of western movie scenes.
As I approached the historical marker above, there was a County Sheriff taking radar. It is a downhill road and Clayton is on the county line. I stopped for a couple of photos and a small chit-chat with the sheriff who told me that Clayton is practically a ghost town. The sign above says it all!
As I hit US Route 93 from ID 75, I headed southeast towards Mackay, ID on US 93. To my excitement the mountains were not all gone. Indeed, I headed toward a new set range of mountains and drove through some pretty spectacular canyons as I entered the Grand View Canyon then out into the Lost River Valley which then opens up to an awesome view of the Lost River Mountain Range, which is home to the 9 highest peaks in Idaho.
Mount Borah is the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,667 feet and one of the most prominent peaks in the contiguous states. This mountain was named for William E. Borah, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1907 until 1940. A major earthquake fracture in October 1983 that was 26 miles long and 7 miles deep surfaced forcing the Lost River Valley to slide away from Mt. Borah. The valley subsided 9 feet after the quake.
Funny thing — along the way I came across a fence about 40 yards or more covered with boots and shoes….
Continuing south on US 93 i rolled into the small town of Mackay (prounounced MacKee locally).
Mackay is home to the Mackay Mine Hill which still allows tours, some of them apparently pretty grueling.
I made my way down US 93 back thru Arco and then to US 26/20 until the junction with Idaho 33, where I then proceeded east back towards Rexburg thru the small town of Howe.
This was a 13 hour road trip with an amazing diversity of scenery, geography and landscapes. Probably one of the more amazing day trips I have ever taken to this point in terms of variety and excitement. I really could have spent three days doing this and really digging in deeper. Maybe next time….