Since man could walk, travel has been a part of life. The sensational opportunity to see the world has kept most of us from being sedentary. The singular driving force is the strong desire of discovery.
For nearly 50 years I have sought the sensation, the scintillating, the stylish and the silly in my travels. In 2018, that striving for something special continued. I hope you will enjoy some of the S Signs I discovered in my 2018 travels. Enjoy the Read. Enjoy the Ride.
I was down in Houston in February 2018 and took the grandsons on an expedition. One of my “goal places” was Smiley, Texas. I always love places with unique names. The small community’s name has nothing to do with smiles. Rather, it was named after trader and sheepherder John Smiley in the 1870s. The town of about 450 is located at the intersection of US Highway 87 and Farm Roads 3234 and 108. Honestly, the town looked very depressed and run down. Probably not much to smile about.
Sunset Motel, Belle Fourche, South Dakota
When I take a long road trip, I don’t typically plan on a place to stay until late in the day. I never know how far along I’ll get before it gets dark. Such was the case with my visit to Belle Fourche. After traveling west on Interstate 90 thru to Wall, SD, I decided to head northwest on US Highway 85 towards Montana and made it into Belle Fourche. I always try to stay at a local, vintage motel on these trips nowadays, just for the experience (good or bad). I got to Belle Fourche at sunset, just in time to get a nice shot of the sunset with the Sunset Motel 5 sign. It was a nice stay.
Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, Illinois
I made my way to Starved Rock State Park which is a huge natural park situated on the Illinois River just south of North Utica, Illinois and east of Oglesby, Illinois. My sole purpose was to track down one of the Whispering Giant carvings by artist Peter Toth. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw and hope to visit there for a more extended trip sometime in the near future. The park has 18 small canyons and numerous waterfalls that can be seen from a number of hiking trails.
Skykomish – interesting name and splendid vistas! I pulled into Skykomish on a beautiful April day after coming down from the snow-packed Stevens Pass on US Highway 2. Though the altitude is only 928 feet, it feels completely like a mountain town as it is surrounded by the tall scenic mountains of the Cascade Range. The name “Skykomish” derives from the Skykomish or Skai-whamish tribe who inhabited the area before any Europeans arrived. The town of Skykomish was officially incorporated on June 5, 1909. The main purpose of the town was to be a fueling station for the railroad.
Sabine Theatre, Many, Louisiana
The old classic move marquee is slowly disappearing, so, whenever I hit a small town with a huge classic marquee, I want to grab a shot. Such was the case of the Sabine in Many, Louisiana. Built in 1947, the Sabine Theatre was acquired by the town of Many in the mid-1990’s. Like many theatres across the country, the Sabine is now typically used for live theatre, musical performances, occasional movies, and other community events.
When I hear the word shiner, I usually think of a black eye. So, on my trip to see Smiley (see above), I also went through the town of Shiner, Texas. Located on US Highway 90, the town is now locally famous in Texas as the home of the Spoetzl Brewery, best known for producing Shiner Bock, a dark German/Czech-style beer that is now distributed in 49 states. I didn’t visit the brewery, but learned that the town was named for Henry B. Shiner, who donated 250 acres of land in 1887 and then incorporated in 1890.
Sublime Baptist Church, Sublime, Texas
Continue East on US Highway 90 from Shiner and you’ll pass through the small community if Sublime. Isn’t that just sublime? There isn’t much here. The population is about 75, and has been since the 1950s. The name was set in 1875 when a post office was established there.
Stardust Motel, Wallace, Idaho
Like the Sunset Motel in South Dakota, I ended up in the mountain town of Wallace, Idaho on my way west to Washington in April 2018. I just stopped in and got a room at the Stardust. Classic vintage motel sign drew me in. Nice rooms, good rates and a lovely little town.
Spar Cafe, Olympia, Washington
I stopped in to Olympia to have breakfast with some old friends. We ate the Spar Cafe in downtown Olympia. First established in the 1930s, the eatery is filled with interesting art. Originally touted as a “fine eating and recreation parlor,” can you still see the original bar, artwork, chandeliers, and other furnishings. I heard that even the drinking water is served up old school—straight from its own artesian well.
Like what you see? Well, there is lots more! I currently have two books about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips. You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Working on Book 3, coming in late Spring 2019!!
Obviously, one of my favorite things to do on road trips short or long is locate the fun, unique and offbeat roadside attractions. And, fortunately, 2018 provided me a plethora of these. I have already written about a few of them individually in past months, but this post will be a nice little “photo tour” of some of my favorites.
Having been through 26 different states in 2018, I had plenty of sites and loads of fun. I got to share many of these with grandchildren, which made it even better.
Perhaps my favorite from 2018 was the amazing giant Dignity: Of Earth and Sky statue in Chamberlain, South Dakota. This giant 50 foot tall steel statue honors the women of the Lakota and Dakota tribes. It was created by artist South Dakota Dale Lamphere. It sits in a rest area overlooking the Missouri River and can be seen from quite a distance.
The statue also features a Star Quilt that has more than 100 blue diamond shapes that move in the wind. Really a wonderful site and it is also one of America’s tallest statues (the 20th tallest according to Wikipedia listing).
Another giant is just down the road from Dignity. Wall Drug’s giant brontosaurus stretches 80 feet and sits 37 feet tall as it overlooks Interstate 90 at the Wall Exit. Even there is no time for a visit to Wall Drug, there is always time to stop for a photo-op with a giant friendly dino!
Dinosaurs seem to be all over the country and on my four big trips in 2018 I came across a few more of them. Always fun!
Dinosaurs are not the only giants that I came across on the road in 2018. One of my favorite “giants” was “Ms. Pearl” the giant squirrel in Cedar Creek, Texas at the Berdoll Pecan Candy factory. Created in 2011, it stands 14 feet tall and currently lays claim to be the tallest squirrel statue in the world. Like many “roadside” attractions, this one is very visible off of TX Hwy 71.
Nice thing about Berdoll’s is that you can get your picture with Ms. Pearl and even get some Pecan goodies from their 24/7 Pecan Vending Machine.
Other big things I came across in 2018
Then there are the big Muffler Men and Big John statues. There are dozens and dozens of these dotting the landscape. I came across a couple of fun ones in 2018. In Helper, Utah there is one that is painted totally black…to represent the Coal Miners.
These guys are about 15 feet tall and basically all look alike except for the additional things added to them by the local sites. Over the years I personally have photographed nearly 40 different versions of Big John, Muffler Men or Uniroyal Gals.
You can find them looking like Paul Bunyan, cowboys, Indians and other fun things.
I always like coming across these unique pieces of funky Americana.
I am working on Part 2 of this travel report with more big and unique things to see. Watch for it soon.
I am always on the lookout for fun places to visit when on the backroads of America. My travels in 2018 took me to 26 different states and along the way I found more unique town names and fun street signs to add to my collection. In 2017 I published my first book titled “Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names.” (Check out the book here) At the time I wrote it, I didn’t think I would get enough new places to fill up a second book, but , indeed, I have. And 2018 really helped with that.
Obviously, in my road trip plans I did set my sights on a few of these places intentionally. Once such place was Marvel, Alabama. I even bought a Marvel T-shirt to wear in front of the sign. But, having never been there, I had no assurance that there would even be a sign in such a small place. Luckily, my granddaughter Autumn (who also had a Marvel T-shirt for the occasion) and I did find a sign for the Marvel Baptist Church!! LUCKY!
But, I had many more instances where the places just happened to be there.
This post will quickly hit up on some of these fun discoveries, along with photos of signs, etc. ENJOY THE RIDE!
Y City is an unincorporated community in Scott County, Arkansas. It is located at the junction of U.S. Routes 71 and 270 in the southern part of the county on Mill Creek and the junction is shaped like a Y.
This small community was apparently a “freedmen’s” town. It is located in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma on Oklahoma State Highway 48. It has about 59 or 60 residents.
While in Okfuskee County, we also visited Okemah, the home of famed folk singer Woody Guthrie — you know, the guy that wrote “This Land is Your Land,” and “Bound for Glory,” among numerous others.
Gold Bar, Washington is located on US 20 in Snohomish County, Washington. The town has a little over 200 residents and is located in the heart of the Cascades. Beautiful mountains frame this small town. Gold Bar started as a prospectors camp in 1889, named by a miner who found traces of gold on a river gravel bar.
I never knew that fairies were Baptists nor that they die and get buried. But, there is a Fairy Baptist and a Fairy Cemetery in Fairy, Texas, a very small unincorporated community in the northern part of Hamilton County (north of Hico). It is at the junction of Texas FM 219 and 1602.
Lame Deer is on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Rosebud County, Montana. The community is named after Miniconjou Lakota chief Lame Deer, who was killed by the U.S. Army in 1877 under a flag of truce south of the town.
Sublime, Texas is a small community off of US Route 90 about 60 miles west of Houston. It has a small church and a Post Office.
Goobertown is an unincorporated community in Craighead County, Arkansas, near Jonesboro. You can pick up a Goobertown T-shirt if you want one at the Goobertown Grocery on US 49. The T-shirts feature a personified peanut after which the tiny community is supposedly named.
From peanuts in Goobertown to Punkins in Punkin Center. Punkin Center is a small, rural Unincorporated community in Lincoln Countyat the intersection of State Highway 94 and State Highway 71. Yes, that is literally the middle of nowhere! Originally had a small store that was painted orange (this the pumpkin reference), but it burned down in the 1950s. There are currently “about” 4 residents in this dot on the highway.
Zigzag is another unincorporated community. It is located in Clackamas County, Oregon on US Route 26, near Rhodendron. It is supposedly named after the Zigzag River. It is home to the Zigzag Ranger Station, which was built in 1935.
I am always looking for a smile and I thought Smiley, Texas would be just the place! I have been all over the country and seen many water towers with those fun smiley faces on them. Ala, no such luck in this town. Smiley is located in Gonzales County, Texas on US Route 87 and has a population of about 500 not too smiley people. It is about 60 miles east of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States.
Light, Arkansas was named after Daniel Light, the first settler. The small unincorporated community of 50 or so is located in Greene County at the junction of US Route 412 and AR Hwy 228.
I saw the town of Cloudy, Oklahoma on a map as I planned a return trip home from Texas and figured I needed to try to get there. It was actually more of an adventure than I had planned as Cloudy Road, which heads north out of Rattan, Oklahoma, snakes its way for about 12 miles into some hilly country. Some of the roads were in bad repair. But I made it!! Due to flooding, I had to return back to Rattan to continue the trek home.
Dime Box, Texas is located at the junction of TX Hwy 141 and TX Hwy 424 in Lee County. The community has maybe 200 people in town. There is actually a Dime Box Independent School District and a high school. I’ll feature more about Dime Box in future posts.
Brothers, Oregon is a dot on the map on US Route 20 about 40 miles east of Bend. There is a small stage stop, rest area and post office located in the unincorporated community. The place is in the Oregon high desert and is in the midst of a vast sagebrush field. If you travel about 60 miles northwest on US 20, you will arrive in Sisters, Oregon. I have been there a couple of times and have noted the town in my blog in the past (see post).
Ding Dong, Texas is an unincorporated place on the Lampasas River between Gerogetown and Kileen on TX Hwy 195. I had stopped there in hopes of buying Hostess Ding-Dongs… But, among all of the Hostess Cupcake products in the store, they did not carry Ding Dongs. A Ding Dong fail!! Ding Dong was named when two early settlers in the town, Zulis Bell and Bert Bell, opened a store and hired the artist Cohn Cohen Hoover to make a sign for it. Hoover painted a sign with two bells on it. Inside the bells, Hoover painted the initials of the Bell brothers. Underneath one bell he painted the word “Ding” and the word “Dong” under the other bell. Over the years, because of this sign, this community became known as Ding Dong.
Helper is small quaint community of about 2,200 located off of US 191 just north of Price, Utah in Carbon County. The town is a coal mining and railroad town. It gets its name from the “helper” engines that would help push trains up the long hill to Soldier Summit as trains made their way to Salt Lake City.
Telephone, Texas is located at the junction of TX Hwy 273 and TX Hwy 2029 in Fannin County north of Honey Grove, Texas and just south of the Oklahoma border. There are about 200 folks in this community, which got its name after numerous rejected name submissions to the US Postal Service in 1886.
Startup, Washington is a small community located just west of Stevens Pass on US Route 20. The name was to honor George G. Startup, manager of the Wallace Lumber Company. The Startup post office was established in 1900. There are about 700 people in this very scenic town at the base of the Cascade Mountains.
Many, Louisiana is just east of the Texas border on Louisiana Hwy 6 and the junction of US Route 171 in Sabine Parish. The community takes its name from Colonel Many, who was an officer stationed at nearby Fort Jesup.
Back to Texas (again) to the community of Flat. The town is on TX Hwy 36 northeast of Temple in Coryell County. There are about 850 people currently living here.
Are you looking for Big Foot? Maybe you can take Big Foot Rd. near Wall, South Dakota and find him. I wouldn’t know… I just stopped for a photo of the exit sign on Interstate 90.
Finally, there is the “faux” town of Uranus, Missouri on Route 66 west of Cuba. It is actually a huge tourist attraction filled with fun. The main attraction is the Uranus Fudge Factory and all of its employees, called Fudge Packers.
And I’ll end this post in Uranus… hope you enjoyed the ride
Looking for a unique and fun gift for yourself or your traveler friends? How about a book about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips? You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Enjoy the Read and Enjoy the Ride!