A to Z Challenge: The U Towns #atozchallenge

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 towns. To see what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016

UThe U Towns

Uncertain, Texas

Uncertain, TX
Uncertain, TX
Uncertain Department of Tourism
Uncertain Department of Tourism
The Uncertain General Store and Grill
The Uncertain General Store and Grill
Caddo Lake near Uncertain, TX
The Spanish moss draped Bald Cypress of Caddo Lake near Uncertain, TX
Caddo Lake near Uncertain, TX
Caddo Lake near Uncertain, TX
The Church of Uncertain
The Church of Uncertain

There are not many towns in the country that begin with the letter U, but I have a couple of good ones here, especially the first one — Uncertain, Texas.  Though their website calls them a “city,” it is really not much more than a small community of about 150 people that live along the shores of Caddo Lake. Caddo Lake is stretched across the Texas-Louisiana border and is Texas’ only naturally formed lake and covers 32,700 acres of a maze of channels, meandering bayous, and sloughs within thousands of acres of Spanish moss draped bald cypress. Though out of the way, it was certainly worth the drive.  Check out my blog post from my February 2010 visit to Uncertain and a few other places HERE.

Uncasville, Connecticut

Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
Sumoflam and Bronto at Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
Sumoflam and Bronto at Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
One of over 35 life-size dinosaur creations at Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
One of over 35 life-size dinosaur creations at Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
Dinos at Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT
Dinos at Wells Dinosaur Haven in Uncasville, CT

When we visited our son in 2015 to see our new grandson, we took a trip from the Hartford area south to Mystic, CT (See my M Towns post).  Along the way, we stopped in the small town of Uncasville on CT Hwy 32.  It is not really a touristy place, but we were in search of dinosaurs..namely Wells Dinosaur Haven. This is actually a person’s house with a huge backyard full of self-sculpted dinosaurs.  The brainchild and creation of Jeff Wells, this unique “haven” got its start in 1981. He has well over 30 dinosaurs, including a life-size T-Rex, most of which are made from welded metal fabrication.  Some are pretty realistic!! (See a detailed writeup about Jeff Wells on Roadside America.) You can read about our trip to Uncasville and Mystic in my 2015 post HERE.

Upper Lake, California

Welcome to Upper Lake, CA
Welcome to Upper Lake, CA
Upper Lake, CA
Upper Lake, CA
Old Town Upper Lake Antiques
Old Town Upper Lake Antiques
Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, CA
Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, CA
Hippie Joe's Gas in Upper Lake, CA
Hippie Joe’s Gas in Upper Lake, CA
A view across Clear Lake, one of the oldest freshwater lakes in North America
A view across Clear Lake, one of the oldest freshwater lakes in North America

Also, in 2015, I took a trip to California, which I have mentioned in previous posts (I mentioned this same trip in my N Towns post for Nice, CA and my S Towns post for Santa Rosa). Located on California Highway 20, it is a beautiful little drive. CA 20 is dotted with many small lakes and a number of scenic views.  It is MY KIND of back road highway, with a variety of things to see along the way.   Lots of beautiful scenery and vistas on this drive.  Upper Lake, is a rustic little place nestled in the upper reaches of Clear Lake. The town of Upper Lake is the gateway to the Mendocino National Forest and is a fun little town.  In the middle of town sits an old hotel and also a quaint little outdoor saloon/eatery. The Tallman Hotel was built in the 1890s and is now a 17 room luxury hotel/bed and breakfast place.  It fits in nicely with the rustic, old west style of the town.  You can see my full trip report HERE.

Ukiah, California (Honorable Mention)

Ukiah, CA
Ukiah, CA
California Strawberries! found near Ukiah, CA
California Strawberries! found near Ukiah, CA
Sumoflam enjoying an amazing California strawberry picked up fresh at a farm near Ukiah, CA
Sumoflam enjoying an amazing California strawberry picked up fresh at a farm near Ukiah, CA

I have now been to three towns that also are names of Doobie Brothers songs. The other two are Blackwater, MO and China Grove, TX. Yes, I collect (and visit) town names from songs.  Ukiah is on US Highway 101 and there are many farmer’s stands along the road.  We hit a Strawberry Stand along the way.  I think we stopped at Saechao Strawberry farm, on the Redwood Highway, another name for this portion of US Hwy 101.  These strawberries were AMAZING!!

Upton, Kentucky (Honorable Mention)

An old cabin in Upton, KY
An old cabin in Upton, KY
Sumoflam at Wonderland Rd. in Upton, KY
Sumoflam at Wonderland Rd. in Upton, KY
An old trailer on Wonderland Rd. -- not really a Wonderland...
An old trailer on Wonderland Rd. — not really a Wonderland…

Finally, on a back road trip to Elizabethtown for a concert in 2014, I set out to find Wonderland Road, which is in Upton, KY near Interstate 65 south of Louisville. I did find it, though most of the homes were trailers and old cabins. It really didn’t seem like a wonderland to me.  But, it is deserving of a mention here.

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Looking Back Series: An Uncertain Trip in Search of Waldo

Caddo Lake, Texas
Caddo Lake, Texas

This post is the first in an occasional series of posts looking back on many of my trip journals as posted on my Sumoflam Journals site, which I used for my travel posts prior to the creation of my Less Beaten Paths blog.   Since 2004 I have traveled tens of thousands of miles on the backroads of America and have posted 1000s of photos in dozens of trip journals.  The Looking Back Series will feature some of the highlights of these trips.

Uncertain, Texas
Uncertain, Texas

This edition will look back at a return road trip I took from Dallas back to Lexington on February 27, 2010.  The complete post can be seen here.  The map of the trip is below:

Keller, TX thru Uncertain, TX; Louisiana; Waldo, Arkansas and home to Lexington, KY

Feb. 27, 2010: Time to return home to Lexington. It was a long busy week in Dallas, but the trip home would promise to be an interesting and fun day. I left Keller fairly early so I could hit the sunrise as I drove east. I almost made it to Tyler, TX by sunrise and pulled off the road in an effort to get some nice shots before traveling further.

Sunrise near Tyler, Texas – Feb. 27, 2010
The early morning fog added to the intensity of this sunrise

After the sunrise, I was back on the road to Uncertain, TX. I was bound and determined to find Uncertain. Indeed, I was certain I would get to Uncertain. Heading east on I-20 I had to take Exit 604 and head north on Texas FM 450 towards Hallsville, TX. Once in Hallsville, I turned right on US 80 and continued east through Marshall, TX to US 59. From there, I went north for a mile or so to TX 43 and continued NE. I stayed on course until I got to Texas FM 2198. At the point, I turned right and a few miles up the road there it was…my first Uncertain sighting!! (See the Road Sign above…)

Uncertain, Texas in my sights

Uncertain is a village with an unusual name and it is located in an unusual place along the shores of Caddo Lake not too far from the Louisiana border. The town has taken advantage of the name and even has their own website. They call it “The City of Uncertain” (incorporated in 1961) but it is much more a small village, and many of the businesses appeared to me to be seasonal. There are apparently a number of purported reasons for the name but it appears that the most popular theory is the one that says — “once you get to Caddo you’re uncertain as to exactly where you are — and uncertain as to exactly when you’ll want to leave. One thing is for sure, you don’t go to Uncertain by Chance! It’s one way in and one way out” and I am certain of that since I drove the only roads myself. I arrived in February so it was still chilly, but, there was a lot of “fun” there. Following are a few of the signs I found around town:

The Uncertain Flea Market – Mouse Nose Doors!!
The Uncertain Inn – Uncertain, Texas
Uncertain General Store – Uncertain, Texas

And my favorite of all of the Uncertain signs!!

Church of Uncertain – now is that a faithless name??

There is even an Uncertain Tourist Department (if you can call it that…)

Uncertain, Texas Tourist Information Booth

Despite the draw of the name, the REAL draw to Uncertain is the scenery. Uncertain is on the shores of the eerie, yet picturesque Lake Caddo, which stretches across the Texas-Louisiana border.  It is the only natural lake left in Texas. The lake is filled with bald cypress trees that are draped and decorated with Spanish Moss. When I first looked at it I wondered if I might see the “Swamp Thing” and sure enough, there is even a sign for that!!

Swamp Thing sign in Uncertain, Texas
And let’s not forget the “Bigfoot Retreat”

Many claim that Caddo has been dubbed the “best photo spot in Texas.” Though some may question it, I certainly thought it to be one of the more interesting spots I have ever visited across these great United States. I took over 100 photos of the lake/swamp/bayou and even went beyond my normal routine and fiddled with some color settings in some of them to really make them interesting (and somewhat creepy….). Here are a few of the photos of Lake Caddo, which covers over 32,000 acres of channels, bayous and sloughs. I can imagine it would get pretty spooky late at night in mid-summer with the alligators swimming around and Swamp Things and Sasquatch waiting for you around each bend….

Scenes from Caddo Lake near Uncertain, Texas
A large cyprus tree stands boldly in Caddo Lake
Gator Haven? I don’t want to find out!! Caddo Lake, Texas
Spooky scene at Caddo Lake (after I fiddled with the color filtering a bit)
Easy to get lost in the maze of trees and moss and their reflections in the water

Even along the narrow roadways around Uncertain, there are interesting shots to be taken:

An old Chevy truck relaxes in the mossy sunrise
The narrow road through the mossy trees and pines

I made my way from Uncertain around Lake Caddo and into the Louisiana side of the lake.  Here are a couple more swampy photos from the Louisiana side near Pelican Bay, LA.

Caddo Lake as seen from near Pelican Bay Resort in Louisiana.
Twin Cypress trees bask in the February sunlight of Caddo Lake in Louisiana
One more swampy photo of Lake Caddo in Louisiana

In the area there were also a few “Uncertain” treasures — unique photo-ops:

The Shipwreck – One of the many “Hodge Podge” Cottages near Lake Caddo
The Hodge Podge Cottages office
Lots of Pelican statues in the area. I never saw a real pelican around the lake.
And the World’s Largest Tomato Soup can??

All good things must end and for me, with still a long drive back to Kentucky, I left the realm of Uncertain-ty and headed east, driving around the northern part of Caddo Lake and then north up the backroads of the northwest corner of Louisiana. From Uncertain I headed north on Texas 43 and then east on Texas 49 into Louisiana and over the northern leg of the lake. This took me to LA 1 towards the small town of Vivian, home of the Louisiana Red Bud Festival. This town was originally settled as a railroad stop and currently has a population of a little over 4000. It is typical of many small towns where poverty has hit, but, it is a clean town and has some originality.

Colorful historic mural – Vivian, LA
Flag Mural wall art – Vivian, LA

Continuing north I drove along Black Bayou Lake and then passed through the small town of Rodessa.  And yes, I had a purpose. What is it that draws someone to a small little town in NW Louisiana? Two strange frog statues atop pillars with Alabama and Georgia on them and a name…Frog Level. Though the frogs are not really fancy artwork, apparently, the Smithsonian has these catalogued. As the sign below notes, in the 1800s a town meeting was called by store owner Noah Tyson to name the town. Apparently, a man from Alabama, noting the frogs hollering in a nearby pond, jumped up and said “Let’s name it Frog Level.” And so it was. Later the town’s name was changed to Rodessa. The frogs were made by a guy named Buster Dunn and the monument, dedicated in 1976, was fabricated by the Fix-It-Well Company. I do wonder what the Georgia pillar is for. There really is no mention…

Frog Level Monument – Rodessa, Louisiana
History of Frog Level and Rodessa, Louisiana

After seeing (and actually hearing) the frogs at Frog Level, it was back on the road again. My next goal was to search for the whereabouts of Waldo. Many have spent hours doing “Where’s Waldo” puzzles, in search of the elusive beany topped thing guy with a red/white striped shirt. I even admit to have joined in the fascination many years ago. So, as I drove along the road home to Kentucky, I learned that Waldo might be in Arkansas. I went in search of AND finally found Waldo!!

I found Waldo!!
Waldo was in Arkansas (but could also be in Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Alabama, Wisconsin and Ohio)

From Waldo I really needed to push to get home at a decent very late hour, so from there it was back on freeways to Kentucky. But, despite the visit to Uncertain, it was most certainly an eventful 17 hours, which was the eventual amount of time to drive from Keller to Lexington.

Jimmy’s Drive-In, Stamps, Arkansas

And by the way, I finally did get a shot of pelican on the trip….

A lonely pelican in flight in southern Arkansas

Watch soon for another post in the Looking Back Series.  Next up will be the Erie Canal, Big Bridges and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (New York and Pennsylvania).

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