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.
Let’s start this off with a Whispering Bang!!
Whispering Giants – art by Hungarian artist Peter Toth – Idaho Falls, Idaho; Bethany Beach, Delaware; Murray, Utah; Red Lodge, Montana; Ottawa, Illinois; Hopewell, Illinois; Paducah, Kentucky; Astoria, Oregon; Ocean City, Maryland; Iowa Falls, Iowa; Utica, Illinois
Over 62 of these around the U.S. Here are the ones I have seen:
Wigwam Village – Sleep in Wigwam – Cave City, KY
Wahkeena Falls – Corbett, Oregon
Wupatki National Monument – near Cameron, Arizona
Water Buffalo – Cebu, Philippines
Murals of Welland, Ontario
Winner, South Dakota
Wyoming Dinosaur Center – Thermopolis, Wyoming
World Trade Center (before 9/11) – New York City
One World Trade Center (after 9/11) – New York City
Wall Drug – Wall, South Dakota
West Virginia Capital Building with the gold dome – Charleston, West Virginia
Wonderland Road – Upton, Kentucky
Winter Wheat – Sparta, Ontario
White Sands National Monument – east of Alamagordo, New Mexico
Walnut Ridge, Arkansas
Wendy’s Museum – Dublin, Ohio
Wigwam Drive-In – Ravenna, Kentucky
Washington Court House, Ohio
West Side Theater – Newman, California
Wimpy’s Hamburgers – Dallas, Texas
Walcott Castle – Walcott, Iowa
Wind Farms – Shelby, Montana; Nekoma, North Dakota; Adair, Iowa; Bloomington, Illinois; Iona, Idaho; Rugby, North Dakota; Port Burwell, Ontario
An old cabin falls apart in the midst of the giant wind turbines of the Glacier Wind Farm near Shelby, Montana
Watkins Glen State Park – Watkins Glen, New York
Mount Washington – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
West Yellowstone, Montana
Whiskey Rebellion – Washington, Pennsylvania
Webster Falls – Hamilton, Ontario
White Castle, Louisiana
Working Women mural – Welland, Ontario
Wolf Creek Pass – Colorado
Wind River Canyon – Wyoming
Walking to the Sky Sculpture – Pittsburgh, Penssylvania
Washington Monument – Washington, D.C.
Willie the Walleye – Baudette, Minnesota
What Cheer, Iowa
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.
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 W Towns
Lots of fun things to see in the little town of Wharton. My main reason for visiting Wharton was to visit the Tee Pee Motel, a retro throwback to the 50s and 60s. According to their website, “The Teepee Motel was originally built in 1942 by George and Toppie Belcher to serve travelers heading across Texas on State Highway 60. The Teepee operated for 40 years, until the Interstate Highway system and a new era of travel routed customers away from the motel in the early 1980’s. The motel eventually closed and would remain so for over 15 years. Another notable set of items are a number of murals painted by Independence, Texas mural artist Dayton Wodrich. He has done at least five murals in Wharton (though I only saw four when I drove around town). You can see my full post about this trip HERE.
When visiting Ontario, Canada, one of the main attractions is Niagara Falls. But not too far west of there is the town of Welland. The
town of about 50,000 people was long associated with an inland canal from Lake Erie, but more recently is known for its large “outdoor art gallery” of more than 25 murals, some of which are 3 stories high.
I have been to many towns with murals and am finding that this is a great new tradition by cities and towns. My first mural sighting in Welland was a huge painting on the side of Sears at the Seaway Mall. This mural depicted the entire history of the area and was so big
I had to take a number of photos to get it. You can see a portion of it above. The other thing of interest is the HUGE Welland Canal Lift Bridge, which towers over the town. Read more and see quite a few other mural shots in my July 2008 post HERE.
There are many roads into Yellowstone National Park and I have taken most of them. One of the most scenic is the drive west out of Cody, Wyoming on US Highway 14/16/20. This takes you into Yellowstone through the small and very scenic community of Wapiti. It is home to the famously unique Smith Mansion high up on a hill overlooking the valley. This 40 year old structure was the brainchild of Wyoming artist Lee Smith. Smith spent his life, and eventually tragically ended it building this unique house for his family. He fell to his death at the age of 48 in 1992. The home is 5 stories tall, has numerous staircases and rooms and hidden entrances. Check out the complete post from my 2013 drive from Gillette, WY through Cody and Wapiti into Yellowstone HERE.
Wall, South Dakota
There are many roadside attractions in the United States that are advertised by billboards for miles and miles before the attraction. However, in my recollection, none of them have the far reach of Wall Drug in South Dakota. I can remember as a teeneager seeing signs that said “Where the Hell is Wall Drug?” and “Wall Drug 1200 miles,” etc. Even on a 2005 visit to Black Earth, Minnesota, there was a Wall Drug sign on a boot shop noting that it was 718 miles away. Our visit in 2005 was fun and there really is a lot to do there for a place in the middle of nowhere. Check out more about it in my 2005 post HERE.
Walla Walla, Washington (Honorable Mention)
As I have noted in other posts, in 2007 I took a trip to Washington with my son Solomon to work with Antsy McClain on some shows he had out there. On one of the days off we took a side trip to Walla Walla, Washington, specifically to go see the Melody Muffler shop and all of the great pieces of art made from mufflers and car parts. A few examples are shown above. You can see more and the whole story HERE.
Walcott, Iowa (Honorable Mention)
Somewhere on Interstate 80 there is a truck stop…a HUGE one…the largest one in the world. It sits in the small town of Walcott a few miles west of Davenport. I have visited there three times since it is a convenient stop along the Interstate. Not only does it have the Truck Stop, but in town there is an old castle, a few interesting scrap metal sculptures and a neon sign or two. I have even spent the night in this town. You can read more about my trips HERE and HERE.
Waldo, Arkansas (Honorable Mention)
In the 1990s “Where’s Waldo” became a fad. Well, I found one of the Waldos in Arkansas on a trip in 2010. A few shots are above, but the bigger story of that trip is HERE.
Worland, Wyoming (Honorable Mention)
I visited Worland, Wyoming on the same trip as Wapiti above. The real drawing card to this town is the big Mammoth Statue they have there. There is also a museum. Definitely worth a visit if you are going to be anywhere near.
West Montrose, Ontario (Honorable Mention)
I mentioned the covered bridges of Madison County above in the Winterset section. And in my X Town post I’ll be reviewing more covered bridges in the Xenia, Ohio area. But, my interest was piqued in 2008 when I visited the one shown above. This bridge, the West Montrose Covered Bridge, is the longest in tact covered bridge in Canada. You can read more about this bridge and many more of my visits to places around Ontario in 2008 in my 2009 Retrospective post HERE.
Winner, South Dakota (Honorable Mention)
I am always the sucker for visiting towns with fun names. I couldn’t resist visiting Winner, SD on the Oyate Trail in 2013. I definitely wanted a photo with the sign. What I later found out is that there was a major multi-million dollar Powerball winner that lives in Winner and had bought his winning ticket in Winner. So, Talent, Oregon may have had a finalist on America’s Got Talent, but Winner, SD has a Powerball Winner. Winner also claims to be the Pheasant Capital of the World, but Gregory, down the highway from Winner also lays claim to the same. You can see the entire story and more photos HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
After a great three days in Galveston, it was time to get back on the road. I would head north to Houston, then on to Austin and eventually into Fort Worth.
Texas is a BIG state and there is lots of ground to cover. My first day would cover some backroads from Galveston and meander my way into Houston where I would stay overnight with my uncle.
There were things I had planned to see along the way and found a few things along the way as well. I figured that I may not get this way again (south of Houston) for a while, so I took advantage of a full day of driving to see some parts of Texas that many may not really get to.
My plans were to drive to Alvin, but along the way I came across an interesting house in Santa Fe, Texas. I had to stop and get a few shots. I discovered an unusual huge estate right on TX Hwy 6. It is called the Pignataro Estate, though many call it a castle.
According to an article I found from the Galveston Daily News, September 20, 1981, the home was originally built in the 1930s by a widow of a well-to-do Danish immigrant. It has since passed hands a number of times and has been owned by the Pignataro family since the 1970s. This larges estate apparently has 26 rooms and a number of other amenities. Following are a few more shots of some of the many white cement statues in the yard.
It is places like the Pignataro Estate that make it so worthwhile to take back roads and see the sites. After my brief photo shoot there, I continued north to Alvin, Texas, the birthplace of famed pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Alvin is about 25 miles southeast of Houston, and like Santa Fe, it is a town originally built around the railroad. Currently, there are just under 25,000 residents in this town known for its connection to Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan spent a good part of his youth living in Alvin and playing Little League Baseball there and even became a famed high school pitcher at Alvin High School, where some players refused to go up to bat against him because of his amazing fastball. A Hall of Famer now, he serves as an adviser to the Houston Astros organization.
After the brief visit in Alvin and headed south to Angleton to visit the first of the Big Three statues in southern Texas. Angleton is home to the Stephen F. Austin statue, which stands 76 feet tall from the base.
Since I wrote extensively about the Stephen Austin statue in an earlier post, I am just including a couple of photos here.
While at the Stephen F. Austin Statue park, I came across a couple of what I have learned are Cattle Egrets. Smaller than a Great Egret, I saw them foraging in the grasses. I saw some of these birds in a horse field in Louisiana as well. Unique looking, beautiful birds. Cattle egrets exploit drier and open habitats more than other heron species. Their feeding habitats include seasonally inundated grasslands, pastures, farmlands, wetlands and rice paddies. They often accompany cattle or other large mammals, catching insect and small vertebrate prey disturbed by these animals.
From Angleton I headed to the small town of Lake Jackson, TX, to find my way…literally! The “main drag” of Lake Jackson is called This Way and they also have a That Way. Here are a few fun shots of these unique road names and the story behind them. (And, by the way, Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul spent most of his childhood in Lake Jackson…and he found his way to Kentucky and the US Senate!)
All streets radiating from downtown Lake Jackson end in the word “Way.” Among the streets are Center Way, Winding Way, Circle Way, and Parking Way. There is an intersection of two streets named This Way and That Way. In the same spirit, a local church near Bess Brannen Elementary placed a small sign in their driveway named His Way. There is also an Any Way.
And then there is the old British Phone Box on This Way
Speaking of out of place, as I headed out of town on my way to West Columbia, TX, lo and behold, what do I see driving in front of me?
The next stop in my roundabout tour of SE Texas was in West Columbia, which was known as the First Capitol of Texas. The first Congress of the Republic of Texas was convened in West Columbia on October 3, 1836, when the town was still just named Columbia.
I always have a penchant for old theaters and the Capitol Theater in West Columbia is a classic.
This old theater was first open in 1937 and by 1941 it had its name changed to the Capitol.
From West Columbia I made my way to Damon, TX up Texas Highway 36. I have a friend in Lexington named Damon so I had to stop and send him a shot or two for fun!
Damon was actually a unique little place. Even the old road signs were still in use and had character, but weren’t too legible.
From Damon I returned east on Texas Highway 1462 towards Rosharon, TX with a quick turn off on TX 762 to visit the Brazos Bend State Park, known for ts alligator sightings. I had visited places in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier on this trip in hopes of seeing alligators, but never got to see any. Maybe this would be the charm!
Maybe I’ll find that elusive gator yet!
And walking around the swamp area I got another gator view.
The State Park had a couple of miles of rads and a few swampy areas.
With my Gator Sighting checked off my bucket list and totally hot and sweaty after my hike around the pond, it was back in the car and on to Rosharon, TX. Didn’t plan a stop in Rosahron, but I couldn’t resist a couple of shots of the Cherokee Rose Trading Post.
After my quick drive by, I back tracked and headed up Hwy 36 towards Needville, TX on my way to Wharton. Along the way I saw a good old vintage neon sign for a roadside cafe called “The Jay”, in Needville.
From Needville, I headed west towards Boling and Iago.
Nothing in those two towns but the signs were interesting!! Then it was on to Wharton. Lots of fun things to see in little Wharton.
My main reason for visiting Wharton was to visit the Tee Pee Motel, a retro throwback to the 50s and 60s. According to their website, “The Teepee Motel was originally built in 1942 by George and Toppie Belcher to serve travelers heading across Texas on State Highway 60. This was an era of grand roadtrips, family adventure, and American innocence. The Teepee operated for 40 years, until the Interstate Highway system and a new era of travel routed customers away from the motel in the early 1980’s. The motel eventually closed and would remain so for over 15 years.
Another notable set of items are a number of murals painted by Independence, Texas mural artist Dayton Wodrich. He has done at least five murals in Wharton (though I only saw four when I drove around town). Following are a couple more…
Wharton has a great old courthouse and theater in town as well.
After my visit to Wharton I then headed northeast on US 59 and eventually made my way to the outskirts of Houston into the Sugar Land area where I visited the second of the three Texas Giant statues, this one, the giant Quan Te Am Bo Tat statue at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center. The statue was designed an build by New Orleans artist Mai Chi. She escaped from Vietnam in 1989 and spent four years in a refugee camp in Indonesia.
From the Vietnamese Center I headed to my uncle’s for an overnight in Houston.
Next post will cover Houston to Austin via the heart of Texas.