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
The U Towns
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.
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
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)
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)
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.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
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.
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:
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.
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 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:
And my favorite of all of the Uncertain signs!!
There is even an Uncertain Tourist Department (if you can call it that…)
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!!
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….
Even along the narrow roadways around Uncertain, there are interesting shots to be taken:
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.
In the area there were also a few “Uncertain” treasures — unique photo-ops:
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.
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…
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!!
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.
And by the way, I finally did get a shot of pelican on the trip….
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).
As I have traveled the many back roads of the U.S. and Canada I have seen hundreds of places to eat, many of the are the normal fast food places (we all know THEY are). But, there are also many other unique Mom and Pop shops, small drive ins, BBQ joints and burger places. I have covered the main stops from my last 8 or 9 years of travel, but there are many more I have passed along the way and a few that I didn’t cover in the previous three posts. I will touch on them here, though most of them with a photo and a comment or two. Enjoy!
The Leftovers – More of the Places I have been
I ate here in early August 2012. It was across the street from my hotel near Atlanta and I love good Mexican food. This is one of those places frequented by the migrant Mexican laborers. No English spoken here. But, the food is AMAZING and the cost was excellent.
The Huevos Rancheros is made with a very spicy green sauce. In fact, the lady there kept apologizing to me and I kept telling her that “picante” is better. I grew up on hot stuff. But, the faint of heat may want to avoid this one and get the tacos on fresh corn tortillas instead.
My wife and I visited the Poke Sallet Festival in Harlan, Kentucky a couple of years ago and, of course, while there we had to try out some Poke Sallet (The term is an old Southern reference to the cooked young leaves of the poke weed. Sallet comes from Middle English and refers to a mess (another Old or Middle English term) of greens cooked until tender.)
Not every place you stop to eat at is a real building. There are those food wagons and trucks that serve a variety of goodies. There are plenty in Canada as well. I frequented one place in Paris, Ontario just for the one and only thing he made – poutine. Poutine is a common Canadian dish (originally from Quebec), made with french fries, topped with brown gravy and cheese curds.
Poutine must be the original heart attack on a plate (or styrofoam container). The rich mixture of thick brown gravy and melted cheese curds on top of a heaping pile of greasy fries is yummy and fattening as can be.
Speaking of interesting food, how about Pea Meal? Yes, that is another Canadian specialty. I got my best taste of a Pea Meal breakfast at the
Pea Meal is actually a type of bacon that can be found in Ontario. The name reflects the historic practice of rolling the cured and trimmed boneless pork loin in dried and ground yellow peas, originally for preservation reasons. Since World War II or so, it has been rolled in ground yellow cornmeal. It is low in fat, and slow cured and really really good!! I thought I could not find anything as good as sausage from our local producer. They take choice meat, order casing from dcwcasing.com/ and produce sausage that reminds me of a homemade dish.
Some Interesting Places I Should Have Visited
The above two places may be peculiar and even uncertain, but get a load of these three Chinese restaurants I have come across in my travels…
I think Hung Far Low is a real winner for a Chinese Restaurant name. By the way, it is only about 2 blocks away from Voodoo Doughnut in Portland.
Then there are the American places with odd names like Stinky’s (above) and those below.
We all know about Popeye’s Chicken, but, how about Wimpy’s Hamburgers? I’ll gladly pay you Thursday for a hamburger today 9though I’ll bet that deal doesn’t work at this Wimpy’s!!)
I hope they aren’t making BBQ Frog…. And how about a few more places….
Eat in a caboose at Choo Choo!!
Apparently there is another Choo Choo Bar in Omaha, Nebraska. No relation to the one above.
OK…you gotta go to Hell (MI) to eat here….and here is what they offer you….
And here are a couple more places
This is the home of the Holey Burger, but they also have hot dogs and ice cream cones. Yum…
Then, there are the BBQ places that I wish I could hit up. These have some great names…
Soulman’s mantra: ‘We’re Not Stingy With Our Meat!”
Big Bubba apparently also runs a Catfish place down the road…
And just a couple of more places I have passed over the years
And the famous neon cowboy on top of it….
And finally…how about the Chuckwagon? They have a “4 Meat Buffet”