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.
Tee Pee Motel – Wharton, Texas
Thoroughbred Park – Lexington, Kentucky
Tornado, West Virginia
Top of the World Store – Beartooth Pass – near Cody, Wyoming
Tews Falls – Hamilton, Ontario
Trailer Park Eatery – Austin, Texas
Teddy Rides Again – Enchanted Highway – Regent, North Dakota
Totem Poles – Neah Bay, Washington; Blueberry, Wisconsin; Ketchikan, Alaska; Superior, Wisconsin
Troll City – Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
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.
For me there is a difference between “Offbeat” and “Quirky.” I like to look at things that are offbeat as being similar to something conventional or recognizable, but just somewhat off. On the other hand, quirky is closer to non-conventional and sometimes even absurd (my Q post will focus on Quirky).
When I am traveling I love looking at the beauty and nature around me, but I also seek out the offbeat and quirky. One source I always use to help me find these locations is the Roadside America app. This app covers all 50 states and most of Canada and includes almost anything offbeat, odd, quirky and even downright outlandish and ridiculous. There are literally 1000s of sites and things to find and this makes for something fun on a roadtrip.
So, what do I mean by offbeat? Let’s take houses for instance. The normal home is brick and mortar, or a trailer home. But how about a flying saucer or a house that looks like mushrooms? A trip to the Cincinnati area offers up both of these.
First, there is a house in Cincinnati literally referred to as the “Mushroom House.” It is built almost completely out of either natural materials or recycled materials.
It is like a house…it is a house. But it certainly looks different than the “normal” human abode.
Then there are the homes that look like flying saucers. Called “Futuro” homes, there were many built in the 1960s by a company in Finland.
Across the river from Cincinnati, on a hill in Covington, KY overlooking the Ohio River and US Interstate 75, sits a Futuro House. It is in a regular neighborhood and stands out like a sore thumb. If you look carefully off to your right from the Interstate driving south out of Cincinnati right after crossing the Ohio River, you will see it.
Finally, take a tripdown to Houston for another Offbeat house…the house built totally out of Beer Cans!
Basically done as an art project, this house is also lived in and is built out of 1000s of aluminum beer cans.
I think the owner’s name must be Bud Weiser??
But houses aren’t the only offbeat places. If one looks hard the discovery of offbeat eateries can also come to the fore. Like the houses, these are normal in most respects, but there is just something a tad different.
For instance, there is a great place in Portland, Oregon called Voodoo Doughnut. The main shop (yes, there are now a few of them) is located downtown and there are lines there 24/7. They make a great variety of doughnuts and even a few offbeat ones, such as the actual Voodoo Doughnut, which is a person shaped doughnut, covered with chocolate and filled with raspberry filling. It is stabbed with a pretzel stick…yes, like a Voodoo Doll!
Then there is the other offbeat thing…the original shop also has a chapel and some of the bakers are ALSO ordained ministers. You can be married at Voodoo Doughnut legally and be surrounded by chapel-esque stained glass and everything!
Head on over to Missouri for another unique treat. There is a restaurant in Ozark, Missouri (and another near Branson) called Lambert’s Cafe. These huge facilities cater to tourists and buses. They offer a variety of yummy meals and have a few things served “home style” – wheeled in on carts and served out of pots at the table (including black-eyed peas, potatoes, tomato stew and more).
But what really makes them famous are their “Throwed Rolls.” And this is where they fit into the Offbeat category. Literally, they come to the middle of an area in the restaurant, ask who wants rolls and then throw them across the room to you. You miss them, too bad…
Then there is the offbeat looking restaurant in Mississippi with amazing lunch offerings…
Convention gets thrown out the door when visiting a facility just outside of Nekoma, ND. There is a huge cement pyramid in the middle of nowhere. Seemingly deserted (but fenced off), this used to be an old military facility.
The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was the United States’ first operational ABM (anti-ballistic missile) defense system. The pyramid included radar and other defense systems. Now unused, it sits in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota and is an imposing offbeat site.
And a bank is a bank is a bank…right? What about one for tightwads?
Next are museums. There are hundreds of museums in the United States, but some are more offbeat and unique than others. Take the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI. Chock full of mustards from around the world, one can buy a lifetime supply of mustards and never have the same flavor twice.
The original Mustard Museum was located in Mt. Horeb, WI, but later moved to Middleton, to be in a much larger facility. A condiment lover’s dream.
There are also other fun museums out there. How about these?
And then there is the actual Oddity Place of all Oddity Places… a museum of Oddities in Seattle, WA called “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.”
Finally, what’s in a town? There are some offbeat towns out there. Many towns have unique names, but some of these are really offbeat and odd.
Some are totally Uncertain….
And lastly, a town that actually changed its name to a major sponsor…also in Texas.
Indeed, there is much offbeat in America and this is just a small sampling of the savory and unsavory offbeat oddities of our wonderful country. Is there anything Normal?
Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.
Road trips would never be the same without the opportunity to stop at local diners, dives and drive-ins (OK…I gotta give credit to Guy Fieri). Food is such an important part of a road trip. Obviously, no matter where one drives they always come across the chain shops like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, etc. With those places, the food you get is always the same.
But, for me, the real joy is stopping at a local Mom and Pop shop or local Drive-In and trying out the fare. Someplace well known in that little town or region, but maybe not known anywhere else.
My good friend, singer/songwriter/storyteller/artist Antsy McClain did a song a few years ago called “Mom and Pop Don’t Work Here No More” in respect for these places that are quickly becoming a dying breed. (see the video)
“There used to be more flavor in this country that I roam I feel like I’m a stranger, no place to call my home I can eat the same cheeseburger from New Mexico to Main The same darn cup of coffee, just to link in someone’s chain No, mom-and-pop don’t work here no more”
So, when I am on the road I really make an effort to find the local places to eat and I have found many of them across this wonderful country of ours. For example, there is “Cozy Drive-In” in Springfield, IL which supposedly is famous because of its creation of the corndog.
Then there’s the place in Missouri called Lambert’s Cafe that is famous for its “Throwed Rolls.” Or how about the diner outside of Natchez, Mississippi that looks like an old 1930s black woman servant on the outside and service homemade sandwiches on homemade bread with deserts of homemade pie and cake? And how can I forget “Hillbilly Hotdog” in West Virginia or the unique burger joint called Fat Smitty’s that is plastered with dollar bills in Washington. And what about The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas?
Along the road there are always the burger joints, the ice cream places, and the roadside cafés. One never knows what they will get in some of these places. But, chances are the food will be much better than what one will get at a fast food chain place.
And each of these local places has their “speciality,” such as the Ku-Ku burger at Waylan’s in Commerce, OK on Route 66.
I recall visiting the “Tightwad Café” in Tightwad, MO. Amazing breakfast made for a king and not a miserly tightwad. The only indication that it was a “tightwad” type of place was that they only took cash — no credit cards.
But check out the food. This giant breakfast was very affordable and kept me filled up for a good part of the day.
Of course, there are the barbecue places. Oh yes, the myriad barbecue places across this country. I have had barbecue in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, one of my favorites was in Paris, Ontario in Canada!! And they’re all different and wonderful.
One such great barbecue place is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kansas. The café is inside a gas station and people are always waiting in line out the door to get their famous barbecue. And when I finished, my friend Brad Sweeten, and athletic director at one of the high schools in Kansas City, Missouri, took me to a local ice cream place that makes ice cream cones as tall is the Empire State building.
Honestly, I could write about the dozens and dozens of places I’ve visited over the years. Every single place has its own personality and tasty cuisine.
Following are a few of the photos of the diners, dives and drive-ins that I visited over the years. I have dozens that you can read about in my blog. I only have room to include a few. One piece of advice though… don’t go looking for a sandwich in Sandwich, NH. Been there…failed that. No sandwiches in Sandwich.