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.
Ric’s Grill – Steak in Water Tower – Lethbridge, Alberta
Route 66 Soda / Route Beer – Mokena, Illinois
Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
Restroom Hiker Mural – Damascus, Virginia
Other Restroom Fun – Story, Indiana; Hopland, California; San Francisco, California; Cleveland, Ohio; Cypress, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Nebraska City, Nebraska; Ashland, Montana; Frenchglen, Oregon
Rock City – near Valier, Montana
Geographical Center of North America – Rugby, North Dakota
Roosters Roosters – Needville, Texas; E. Peoria, Illinois; Seymour, Missouri; Eldon, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Granbury, Texas
Roadhouse Relics – Austin, Texas
Russell Flat Holiness Church – Sand Springs, Kentucky
Regent, North Dakota – Home of the Enchanted Highway
Russell’s Point, Ohio
Roswell, New Mexico
Rocket Rest Stop – Elkmont, Alabama
Ride the Ducks – Seattle, Washington
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Cleveland, Ohio
Real Quiet Lane – Lexington, Kentucky
Red River Gorge – Slade, Kentucky
Rachel the Golden Pig – Pikes Place Market – Seattle, Washington
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.
There is a difference between quirky and offbeat in my mind. Quirky is typically off the chain and unexpected, or even downright weird. On the other hand, as noted in my O is for Offbeat post, the offbeat and odd things are typically recognizable.
Obviously, there is a fine line between what is quirky and what is offbeat. I think we all make those determinations ourselves. In this post, I will offer up a few Quirky things…those that I think are beyond offbeat and into the realm of quirky.
I’ll start off with a biggie…a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts. Why quirky? Because who would ever think of making a 65 foot tall statue totally out of bicycle parts?
The artwork, entitled “Cyclisk” was created in 2010 by Petaluma, California-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 pounds. It is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture.
In fact, there are many “quirky” scrap metal art projects to be seen around this country. Some are small and others, like Cyclisk, are huge.
One such example at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, WA. Owner Mike Hammond is a muffler repairman, a musician and a metal artist. I visited his shop back in 2007.
I first met Mark at a Trailer Park Troubadours concert the night before in Dayton, WA. After talking with him, we headed south to Walla Walla to check out his quirky art. What a load of fun that was!
Since then, over the past 10 years, I have run into other quirky metal art in diverse places. You never know what you’ll see on the back roads of America!
I could likely post a hundred more pieces of scrap metal art found around the country, but there are other quirky places to cover.
Perhaps one of the most unusual and quirky places I have ever been to is the Screaming Heads of Midlothian Castle in Burk’s Falls, Ontario, not too far from Algonquin National Park. This entire project was begun by school teacher and artist Peter Camani. He is a Secondary School teacher, but has also spent over 25 years constructing Monolith-like sculptures in the shape of giant heads, which are scattered throughout the property. A two-headed dragon sits atop the chimney of his Midlothian Castle and he has a version of the See/Say/Hear No Evils greet visitors.
There are more than 100 “screaming head” sculptures, each one at least 20 feet in height. According to Wikipedia, Camani says he “built his otherworldly creations as a warning about environmental degradation. With his paintings already hanging in such coveted places as the Vatican and Buckingham Palace, he decided to focus his energy on realizing a vision of significantly larger proportions.” See my original post HERE.
Of course, there are also quirky sculptures to be found all over the place, just like the metal ones. Here are a couple more I have come across.
Quirky is not only centered on art. There are many quirky places. I came across Boudreau’s Antiques on US Highway 2 near Odanah, WI that was covered with “stuff.” That alone was a drawing card for me to drop by…but alas, it was closed.
And they don’t have to be antique shops either. How about the quirkiest of all eateries in the US… Hillbilly Hot Dog in West Virginia?
And another of the quirky treasures of this country is the Hamtramck Disneyland in Hamtramck, MI, near Detroit
Along these same lines of quirkiness is a family yard in Woodstock, Ontario.
Then there are places that defy description. One such uber-quirky place is Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN.
One man’s life dedication to his parents draws people from all around to see this unique and absolutely quirky massive structure made of steel pipes and steel pieces and a large painted water tower that says “Mindfield Cemetery.” This large piece of art work is the work of one Billy Tripp, who, in 1989 began creating this monument to his parents.
This place must have taken 1000s of hours to build and it is an absolute maze of metal. I was fascinated.
And another place, in Meadville, PA has hundreds of pieces of art created from old repurposed roadsigns.
Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville. In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322
I am assuming by now that you, the reader, has determined that there are some really over the top quirky places out there. Though Hillbilly Hot Dog takes the place for quirky eateries, a couple of burger joints in Washington and Texas take a close second and third.
The outside of Fat Smitty’s is quirky enough. But go inside and there are many more surprises….1000s of them hanging all over the place.
And in Cypress, TX there is the Shack Burger Resort, another over the top hall of quirky eating.
Head to Cincinnati for the quirkiest grocery store experience you may ever get. Jungle Jim’s is more than a grocery store, it’s a destination! There is over 200,000 square feet of shopping and 10s of 1000s of product choices from all over the world…. and the most unique restroom entrance in any store.
I guess I need to add the quirkiest 30 mile drive in the United States as the last piece. That would be the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota. Some humongously quirky pieces of art along a 30 mile stretch of road north of Regent, ND.
This is one of my all time favorite tourist destinations. Took me many years to finally get there, but I am glad I did. I have a great detailed post about this on my blog if you are interested. See it here.
By the way, Geese in Flight has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records. This piece was erected in 2001 and weighs over 78 tons. The main structure is 154 feet wide and 110 feet tall. The largest goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. On a clear day this structure can be seen from nearly 5 miles away!
So much quirk and so little time and space. Time to take a breather and enjoy the ride…through quirkville.
As I mentioned in my previous post, along the way to Red Bluff and Woodflock, we made a stop at Real Goods in Hopland, CA. The place was so unique and fun that it deserved its own special blog post.
The Real Goods Store got its start in 1978 with a focus on solar equipment. According to their website, the store was originally envisioned as a one-stop-shop where people could find everything they needed for their remote homesteads. The store began with the sale of the first retail solar panel in the United States and the humble goal of changing the world.
This is of particular interest to me as I worked in the Solar Water Heater industry in Japan from 1989 to 1991 for Asahi Solar Corporation. During that 2 1/2 year stint I represented the company on visits to China and the United States, in conferences and exhibits and more.
We also sponsored two college solar cars in the original GM Sunrayce in 1990 (Colorado State’s Stelar V and Arizona State’s Sun Devil Cruiser) and brought the cars and their teams to Japan to compete in the Asahi (TV/News) Solar Car Race in Kobe, Japan. Further, during my work I assisted in the installation of the first solar water heater on the Hopi Indian Reservation. Working with the company, I was also instrumental in the company adding solar electric panels to their new headquarters building in Oita, Japan in 1991.
With my involvement in solar, I also purchased a copy of the Solar Living Source Book back in 1990, while attending the Solar Energy Conference in Denver, CO. Real Goods founder John Schaeffer published his first edition of The Solar Living Source Book in 1982. It was written as a one-stop information source for renewable energy and sustainable living. The Source Book is a comprehensive reference for the layperson on renewable energy technologies and sustainable living. It is now in its 14th Edition and has sold over 700,000 copies.
Little did I know that when I visited Real Goods on this trip that I would also have the opportunity to meet and speak with John Schaeffer, the founder of Real Goods and also the author of this Solar Living Source Book. In fact, I now have the latest edition which was kindly signed by Mr. Schaeffer and he was also kind enough to get a picture with me.
Initially, I was not aware that we would be making a stop at Real Goods (nor did I even know of its existence!). But Carla surprised me. Knowing my penchant for quirky and unique places, she thought this would be a good place. As we pulled into Hopland, immediately I could tell that a unique place was coming up. First thing I saw on the side of the road was a “Needing to Pee?” sign. HA! I had never seen one of those before. Other signs included:
“Real Goods Solar Living Center”
“Everything Under the Sun”
“Soothing ponds and Oasis”
“Greenest Store on Earth”
Soon we were turning into the Real Goods entrance, which is also home to the Solar Living Institute. I got pretty excited about the “solar” part though didn’t have much time to look at that AND the store.
First thing that caught my eye as we pulled into the parking lot was a giant metal sculpture which looked like a dragon with a square Victrola speaker head. Turns out that this sculpture is called “Horn Serpent” by Upper Lake, CA artist Diego Harris. I am always enthralled by scrap metal sculptures such as this (and sometimes these are plain metal sculptures…not made from scrap metal). this one was a doozy!
From there I went to the store. They were supposed to have “Weird Restrooms,” which would be a “must see” quirky adventure for me.
I needed to use the restroom anyway…the red sign provoked me, I promise!
I also caught an interesting sign in the restroom, though there were no examples of this to be seen in the restroom.
I got a kick out of “The Toilet Sink” sign. Many probably don’t get it, but I can assure that Julianne and I do get it. We actually HAVE ONE!! When we remodeled our home a couple of years ago, we were going to have a small half bath. We thought back to our days in Japan and VOILA! We found one here in the use made by Caroma called a Profile Smart toilet. A bit pricey but perfect for our needs.
Just around the corner from the “Weird Restroom” is an even stranger contraption, a funky drinking fountain…
And, from what I understand, there are many other quirky things I missed on the grounds (due mainly to our lack of time there) including trees growing out of cars (The Memorial Car Grove). This is where the rusting hulks of 50s and 60s “gas hog” cars have been turned into planter boxes for trees and flowers! These ‘grow-thru cars‘ are a fitting counterpoint to the ‘drive thru‘ redwood tree a hundred miles north. I am sorely disappointed to have missed this one since I have been to a number of other car art places such as Carhenge, Cadillac Ranch, Rabbit Ranch and “Spindle” (which no longer exists).
The inside of the store is a menagerie of uniqueness with all sorts of items that homesteaders can use. They have bee keeping equipment, composting toilets, self help books, solar chargers, etc. Truly a fascinating, one-of-a-kind store (and website).
I was fascinated with the ‘see thru” working beehive. I have never seen anything like it and to watch the bees hard at was amazing!!
They also sell all of the equipment needed to do your own beehives.
Real goods is probably the most comprehensive TRUE “do-it-yourself” store I have ever seen.
I am really glad to have been able to stop here and recommend that anyone driving along the Redwood Highway (US Hwy 101) near Hopland, CA stop by this unique store and Solar Education Center. Unlike me, plan a couple of hours rather than a quick 30 minute stop!!