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 V Towns
Back in 2007 I had occasion to visit a friend of mine in Alberta, Canada. One of the side trips we tool was to the town of Vulcan, which has taken full advantage of its name and the association with the TV show Star Trek. Vulcan is a town located midway between the cities of Calgary and Lethbridge inthe prairies of Southern Alberta, Canada. The population of the town was 1,940 in 2006, and the population of the county, which is also named Vulcan. See more about my Vulcan visit HERE. Live long and prosper!!
Last week I posted about a place near Sweet Grass, Montana called Jerusalem Rocks. About 70 south of there is a town called Valier. It is a small town of about 700 and really does not have a whole lot there. But, just outside of town is another outcropping of hoodoos and formations in a place called Rock City. I wrote about this and other similar places in a post HERE. But, you may also want to check out my complete post on my Montana US Highway 89 adventure HERE.
In 1975 I made weekly trips from Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah for work as a record/tape distributor. I loved the drive and Vernal was actually a nice place to visit every week. In the early 2000s I once again visited with my family as we ventured to the Dinosaur National Monument. Along with my trips, I would drive the switchbacks form Vernal and over the area known as Flaming Gorge. This is beautiful country and well worth the visit. It has been many years since I have been there, and I hope to get there again soon!
On a family trip in 2014, we drove through the town of Vandalia, Illinois as part of our return trip home. Our main reason for coming here was to see a fire breathing dragon…made from metal. But, Vandalia is so much more. This is where Abraham Lincoln kicked off his career as a politician. It was the western terminus of the National Road, one of America’s first highways. The Kaskaskia Dragon was a load of fun for the grandkids too!! Check out my full trip report with lots of photos HERE.
In the summer of 2014 I cruised down the Blues Highway and ended up spending the night in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I woke up early the next day to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park before heading further south on Highway 61. The park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863 and also commemorates the greater Vicksburg Campaign, which preceded the battle. The expansive park includes 1,340 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile tour road, 144 emplaced cannons, a restored gunboat, and more. A must see for Civil War enthusiasts, but also a great place to learn about a facet of American history. Besides the park, the town has a great Coca Cola memorabilia museum and a number of murals along the river wall. You can see many more photos and a more detailed writeup about my visit in 2014 HERE.
Versailles, Kentucky (Honorable Mention)
Living in Lexington, Kentucky offers many wonderful opportunities for “Staycations.” One great place to visit nearby is the lovely and historic town of Versailles (pronounced Ver-sales) which is on US Highway 62 west of Lexington. Versailles is well-known for its quaint, small-town beauty, beautiful horse farms and Kentucky’s famed bourbon distilleries, including the famed Woodford Reserve. Many of the famed Bluegrass Horse Farms are in Woodford County and near Versailles. I have never written a blog post about Versailles, but I would highly recommend a visit there if you come to Kentucky. Plan the trip in April and go to the races at nearby Keeneland Racetrack then take the Bourbon Trail. Check out my 2013 blog post about Horse Farm Country with many photos about horses, horse farms and the Horse Capital of the World — right HERE.
Vincennes, Indiana (Honorable Mention)
In the summer of 2001 my family took a trip westward to Utah (including the trip to Vernal noted above). Early in the trip we went through Vincennes, Indiana to visit the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. Founded in 1732 by French fur traders, Vincennes is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in Indiana and one of the oldest settlements west of the Appalachians. It sits at the intersection of US Highway 41 and US Highway 50. George Rogers Clark (November 19, 1752 – February 13, 1818) was a surveyor, soldier, and militia officer from Virginia and the highest ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the American Revolutionary War. He served as leader of the Kentucky (then part of Virginia) militia throughout much of the war. Clark is best known for his celebrated captures of Kaskaskia (1778) (Way before the fiery dragon noted above!!) and Vincennes (1779) during the Illinois Campaign, which greatly weakened British influence in the Northwest Territory. Because the British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Clark has often been hailed as the “Conqueror of the Old Northwest”. his younger brother William was the “Clark” in the Lewis and Clark expeditions. This trip was well before my travel blogging days, but the Memorial was definitely one of our more memorable experiences on a trip across the country to see history.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
The final day of our five day whirlwind trip to Nebraska and back began in Columbia, Missouri and took us through St. Louis and then some interesting spots in Illinois along old Route 66 and then eventually home to Lexington. Following is our final day route:
Columbia was a pleasant surprise. A beautiful college town with lots of murals and color and historical buildings, like the administration building for the University of Missouri (shown above). Before we headed down the road towards St. Louis, we took a brief drive around Columbia. Here are a few shots:
We drove by Shakespeare’s Pizza and they have a very unique long painted wall of art on the outside of the shop. Here are a few close-ups of bits of the wall. This wall was painted by Columbia artist Ned Vail and members of some of his art classes.
Besides Shakespeare’s Pizza there were a few other colorful items in town:
New Mexico artist Howard Meehan built Keys to the City in 2010 for the city of Columbia. The 19-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide sculpture, one of 11 Columbia Percent for Art projects, is made of structural steel and placed atop concrete bases holding color-changing LEDs.
From Columbia it was time to head eastward towards St. Louis. I have driven this stretch of Interstate 70 well over a dozen times, so we pressed forward to our next destination – The Butterfly House at the Missouri Botanical Garden in Chesterfield, Missouri’s Faust Park.
In the front seasonal gardens is a giant butterfly sculpture called the Mysterious Monarch, which is a 28-foot tall butterfly created by St. Louis sculptor Bob Cassilly in 1997 and given to the Butterfly House by Rosemary and Joe Shaughnessy in honor of their grandchildren.
The Butterfly House is GREAT and absolutely fascinating. It is well worth a visit, especially if you are with kids. The museum section has a number of kid-friendly exhibits and an extraordinary video presentation about butterflies. But the best part is the tropical conservatory. It has a controlled environment that houses nearly 2,000 tropical butterflies in free flight and a number of unique tropical plants not seen in most locales in the U.S. As many as 80 butterfly species and 150 tropical plant species can be seen. Following are a number of shots we got of butterflies and plants while in the conservatory.
The Blue Morphos is common to South and Central America. The blue only shows when they fly; the underside of their wings is brown with several eyespots.
Just a short walk from the Butterfly House is the St. Louis Carousel, an original carousel created by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia in the 1920s. The Carousel was installed in 1929 at the Forest Park Highlands. When the Highlands burned to the ground in 1963, the carousel was the only thing left standing. Howard C. Ohlendorf purchased the carousel to prevent it from being dismantled and donated it to St. Louis County Parks in 1965. It is a throwback to the olden days….my grandkids got to enjoy the ride on this old fashioned wonder.
After a few rides on the Carousel, it was back on the road. We headed into St. Louis for a stop at the Brown Shoe Company. This company is the home company for a number of shoe brands (inclduing Famous Footwear, Dr. Scholl’s, Naturalizer, Life Stride and more) , but we were only going to visit to see ONE shoe…..
From the Big Shoe it was on to Downtown St. Louis. All of us were excited to visit the Gateway Arch (no link since the US Government is still shut down as I write this). On the way we made one more stop at a unique, quirky place…The Christman Studio and Sculpture Park and Joe’s Cafe in the Skinker Neighborhood of St. Louis. This is like the birthplace of quirky art and other kitsch.
Bill Christman was trained as an artist, has taught and made art, and has worked for years in the design and production of signs, murals, billboards, exhibits, sculptures, assemblages and theatrical scenery. He’s the Proprietor of Beatnik Bob’s, and the Director of the Museum of Mirth, Mystery, & Mayhem at St. Louis’ Ultra Quirky and OffbeatCity Museum (I wish we had gone there on this trip!!!!!! See more here). He is also the owner of Christman Studios and the Impresario of Thursday Nite Music at Joe’s Café in the Skinker/DeBaliviere Neighborhood.
The studio is apparently closed except on Thursday evenings, but you can at least take a peak through the gates of the back yard. What a menagerie awaits as you gander at all of the goodies behind the fence and around the fence.
Finally, on to downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch….
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a 630-foot tall (and 630 foot wide) monument and is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. It is also the world’s tallest arch. The Gateway Arch was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. Construction began on February 12, 1963, and ended on October 28, 1965,costing US $13 million at the time. The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967. Currently, the Gateway Arch is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with over four million visitors annually,of which around one million travel to the top. I had the opportunity to go to the top in 1997 and what an adventure that was. Here is what I saw back then…
Much of St. Louis has changed over the last 16 years. It is interesting that the photos above were taken on Sept 14, 1997. Our visit this time was on Sept 13, 2013, almost exactly 16 years later.
Our visit this time was on a beautiful sunny day with a few clouds. I got a few shots of the arch closeup and then we were on our way across the Mississippi River.
From the Arch parking we lot we headed down the river and took a drive around the arch to get us back on to Memorial Drive heading north. We then took the Eads Bridge across the river.
We figured there has to be a park on the other side of the river that would give us a view. So, after crossing the Eads Bridge it put us onto Riverpark Dr. in East St. Louis, Illinois. We followed Riverpark Dr. to S. Main St. and took a right. We followed Main to W. Trendley Avenue and took a right. This took us right into Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, which offered us a spectacular view of the Gateway Arch and St. Louis. Though we got to see the Arch, we were not there at the right time to see the Gateway Geyser which explodes 8000 gallons of water per minute to a height of 630 feet (the height of the Gateway Arch), which makes it the tallest water fountain in the United States.
After a nice visit to the big city to see the big arch, we veered eastward toward Staunton, Illinois to the famous Henry’s Ra66it Ranch on Old Highway 66.
Henry’s Ra66it Ranch (the 66 is intentional) celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with its emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s Trucklines “Humpin’ to Please” trailers next to a replica of a vintage gas station.
Copper Dock Winery is on Pokey Road and has a 15 foot tall Giant bunch of Copper Grapes, ripe for the picking!! From Pokey we headed NE on I-70 (along the old National Road) towards Vandalia, about a 30 minute drive.
Vandalia is a historical Illinois town. From 1819 to 1839 it served as the state capital of Illinois. And, early on, it was the terminus for the legendary National Road. The road, also known as the “Road That Built the Nation”, was created in 1806 by legislation signed by President Thomas Jefferson. Sometimes called “The Cumberland Road” and “The Old Pike”, it was the only road completely built with federal funds. Originally winding from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, the National Road opened Illinois to settlement. Today, the Illinois National Road stretches 164 miles from Marshall to East St. Louis and is mirrored by U.S. Route 40 and Interstate 70. Today the National Road stretches 824 miles.
The Vandalia State House was the fourth Illinois state house (The first (1818-1820) was at Kaskaskia, the state’s first capital. The second (1820-1823), third (1824-1836), and fourth (1836-1839) were at Vandalia.). The present one is the oldest surviving capital building in Illinois. It is significant because of its association with Abraham Lincoln, who served in the House of Representatives at the time.
The “Madonna of the Trail” statues are a series of 12 statues that can be found along the original National Road and now all the way into California. I have only visited one, but they are now on my “To Do” list as I travel to different destinations. They honor the pioneer heritage of the mothers that traveled across the country. The following is from Wikipedia’s article on these monuments.
There is one monument in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Highway The monuments in order of dedication are:
Springfield, Ohio—July 4, 1928
Wheeling, West Virginia—July 7, 1928
Council Grove, Kansas—September 7, 1928
Lexington, Missouri—September 17, 1928
Lamar, Colorado—September 24, 1928
Albuquerque, New Mexico—September 27, 1928
Springerville, Arizona—September 29, 1928
Vandalia, Illinois—October 26, 1928
Richmond, Indiana—October 28, 1928
Beallsville, Pennsylvania—December 8, 1928
Upland, California—February 1, 1929
Bethesda, Maryland—April 19, 1929
As of 2005, all 12 monuments are still available for public viewing, although several have been relocated short distances due to highway improvements, etc.
From downtown we made our way to the…..
One of our trip highlights and, significantly, the last stop on our long 5 day trip, is the huge Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon in Vandalia. This monster was the brainchild of Kaskaskia Supply owner Walt Barenfanger. This 35 foot long beast is not only a nice piece of metal art, it is also FIRE BREATHING! Yes, go across the street to the Liquor Store or over to the Kaskaskia Hardware store and get a token for One Dollar, stick it into the self-service coin box and this guy’s eyes light up red and he breathes REAL fire for about 10 seconds!!
Since 2001 the Dragon has been anchored on the corner of Rock Island Ave and Progress Way, just off of US 40/Veteran’s Avenue. (see complete details at Roadside America).
And thus the five day Midwest Adventure comes to a close as my daughter, three grandchildren and I make our way back to Lexington. I did get tired, so I thought I would let my little Lyla drive the rest of the way home. What a great trip this was!!
Some roadside assistance provided by our friends at……