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 T Towns
On a trip to Kansas City back in November 2011, I returned via some back roads in south central Missouri. My main destination of choice was Tightwad, Missouri. This is an unincorporated town of about 65 or 70 people. The village’s unusual name is said to stem from an episode in which a store owner cheated a customer, who was a postman, by charging him an extra fifty cents for a better watermelon. Some sources claim the transaction involved a rooster rather than a watermelon. However, there is really nothing definitive. Nonetheless, the town is fun. Perhaps the biggest point of excitement was the Tightwad Bank, which at the time was a real bank (their website says that the closed on June 29, 2015 to become Tightwad Financial, Inc. and moved to Overland Park, KS). According to its original website, the bank was founded on September 5, 1900 as Reading State Bank, a Kansas chartered commercial bank. On March 27, 2008 the bank opened a full service branch in Tightwad, MO and changed its name to Tightwad Bank. You can see my 2011 post HERE.
One evening a few years ago we were watching the well known TV Competition show “America’s Got Talent,” when they introduced one of the competitors and indicated he was from a place called Talent, Oregon. I knew then that I had to find a way to that town! In April 2012 I had that opportunity while on a business trip to southern Oregon. Called “The City of Talent“, I am not sure how much talent there actually is here. With a Talent Police Department, a Talent City Hall and even a unique “Shoe Tree,” it is certainly a unique place to go to find some Talent. See my full post about Talent HERE.
Toad Suck, Arkansas
On a road trip to Texas and Arkansas in 2007, we wound our way from Memphis into Arkansas and found a place called Toad Suck (after already visiting Booger Holler – see the B Towns post). Like many odd named communities, Toad Suck has a small population.
“What does “Toad Suck” mean anyway? Well, the answer is quite simple… Long ago, steamboats traveled the Arkansas River when the water was at the right depth. When it wasn’t, the captains and their crew tied up to wait where the Toad Suck Lock and Dam now spans the river. While they waited, they refreshed themselves at the local tavern there, to the dismay of the folks living nearby, who said: “They suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads.” Hence, the name Toad Suck. The tavern is long gone, but the legend and fun live on at Toad Suck Daze”
Check out my post of the entire 2007 trip including our visit to Toad Suck HERE.
I first visited Thermopolis, Wyoming in 1972. As a 16 year old, I was disenchanted with things at home in Bozeman, Montana and decided to “run away” from home. I hitchhiked my way from Bozeman to West Yellowstone, where I helped a family move things into a truck. They gave me a ride as far as Thermopolis, where I continued on through Wyoming’s Wind River Canyon, riding with a nice Native American lady, who got me into southern Wyoming. I eventually caught my final ride into Denver, where we used to live. Obviously, I got in trouble and returned back to Bozeman.
I again found myself in Thermopolis in the summer of 2014. This town is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. From the south Thermopolis is the gateway to Yellowstone Country, and coming from the north it is the gateway to the Wind River Canyon. See my full trip from Cody to Carhenge via Thermopolis HERE.
Teton Valley and Tetonia, Idaho
In 2013 I was blessed to make 2 trips to Rexburg, Idaho for work. During those times I made it a point to visit the Grand Tetons from different angles. One of the wonderful places to do this was in the Teton Valley and from Tetonia. The views are amazing and the mountains are splendid. Check out the entire trip post HERE.
Tuba City, Arizona
As I have noted in other posts on this blog, in the 1980s I was a tour guide for Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff. As part of my work I took may tourists on excursions into Navajo and Hopi country. Heading north on US Highway 89 out of Flagstaff and then catching US Highway 160 east, the first major town is Tuba City. Next to Flagstaff, it is the second largest city in Coconino County (which in land area is the second largest county in the United States) and is located on the Navajo Reservation. Continuing east on US 160 the drive eventually gets you to Kayenta, the gateway to Monument Valley. Instead, take AZ 264 south and you head towards the three mesas of the Hopi Reservation. In fact, the name of the town honors Tuuvi, a Hopi headman from Oraibi who converted to Mormonism. The Navajo name for Tuba City, Tó Naneesdizí translates as “tangled waters”, which probably refers to the many below-ground springs that are the source of several reservoirs.
Tuba City is also kind of the gateway for a spectacular canyon known as Coal Mine Canyon, which is accessible about 15 miles away on AZ 264 on the way to the Hopi Reservation. I have literally visited there a couple of hundred times. The canyon is one of many remote, little-visited sites in the Southwest where the main interest comes from the detail of the rock – the colors, forms and textures of the eroded sandstone – rather than the large scale appeal of such grand places as Zion and Monument Valley. Coal Mine Canyon is first sighted about 15 miles from Tuba City, and the usual viewing area is reached by a half mile drive along a dirt track – narrow and bumpy but fine for all vehicles – that leaves highway 264 between mileposts 336 and 337. This track leads to a new-looking 2 story residence, but the canyon rim is a little way to the right, at the end of a side track that passes an isolated windmill and water tank, ending at a parking area next to a rather forlorn picnic spot consisting of a few concrete tables & chairs surrounded by bare red earth within a fenced enclosure.
Tornado, West Virginia
In 2012 I made another road trip to North Carolina and took a side road through West Virginia for the sole purpose of driving through a Hurricane and a Tornado. Hurricane is a bit west of Charleston, WV. Once there, take US Highway 60 southeast and about 16 miles down the road you can drive through Tornado. Officially, Tornado is recognized as Upper Falls, WV. But there are still signs for Tornado. You can see my trip report about my visit to these two places HERE.
During my 2008 time in Ontario, I was invited to the 10th Annual World Crokinole Championships by then Tavistock Mayor Don McKay, one of the officials at that year’s event. I was greeted by Mayor McKay and also met Tavistock Gazette Editor Bill Gladding. Both were gracious enough to introduce me to this game. The championships are held in this small town as this is where the game was apparently invented in the 1870s. Crokinole (pronounced croak-i-knoll) is an action board game with elements of shuffleboard and curling reduced to table-top size. Players take turns shooting discs across the circular playing surface, trying to have their discs land in the higher-scoring regions of the board, while also attempting to knock away opposing discs. Historically, the game of Crokinole got its start near Tavistock. According to the Crokinole website, “the earliest known Crokinole board was made in 1876 in Perth County, Ontario, Canada. Several other home-made boards of southwestern Ontario origin. You can see my complete report of this June 2008 HERE.
The town of Tomahawk, Wisconsin is located on US Highway 51. We ventured into this colorful town during a 2012 visit to Wisconsin. We had just finished visiting Jurustic Park in Marshfield (see the M Towns Post) and were on the way to Rhinelander (in my R Towns post). Tomahawk has a nice big Moose, a BBQ Place called the Butt Hutt and a lovely Eagle sculpture in the downtown area. Read about the entire trip HERE.
Tripp, South Dakota
Tripp, South Dakota really offer s very little, but it has a great name for a Road Tripper!! Its all in the Tripp right? Located on South Dakota’s Oyate Trail, which basically follows US Highway 18 across the state. It is between the town of Menno to the east and the lovely Lake Andes to the east. See more about the Oyate Trail Drive HERE.
The summer of 2014 was a great travel year for me. I made four big trips, one of which was to Galveston, Texas via US Highway 61, the Blues Highway in Mississippi. If approaching from Memphis, then one of the first stops worth making along the highway is in Tunica. Tunica is huge resort town with a number of hotels and casinos. But it is also home to the Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is built in a rustic train depot, circa 1895. It is filled with guitars, maps, souvenirs, etc. Definitely worth a stop. See the report on my first leg along the Mississippi Blues Highway HERE.
Tioga, Texas (Honorable Mention)
Tioga is a small town in Texas near Sherman and Denison on US Highway 377. It is the birthplace of country music legend and former California Angels owner Gene Autry.
Ten Sleep, Wyoming (Honorable Mention)
OK. If you found a town named Ten Sleep, wouldn’t you include it in your post? This town is located near Ten Sleep Canyon which is on US Highway 16. It is located in the Big Horn Basin in the western foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, about 26 miles east of Worland and 59 miles west of Buffalo. I drove through here in 2013 on my way from Idaho to Dallas. I left Gillette, went through Buffalo and eventually made may way into Worland. See my full trip post HERE.
Torch, Ohio (Honorable Mention)
Finally, there is the small blink your eyes and you’ll miss it place along the Ohio River known as Torch, Ohio. Torch is not too far from Coolville, OH (see my C Towns post). (Ironically, the first town north of Coolville on Ohio 144 is called Frost…I did not go there). I could not find anything to provide information as to how Torch got its name. As for the little chapel in Torch, I did some research and came to find that it was built by Lloyd Middleton of Coolville. The non-denominational small chapel (its only 10 ft. by 14 ft.) is open 24/7 and anyone can go in to pray and seek respite. A more detailed writeup of the church’s history and the Ohio River drive can be seen HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
After a marvelous time in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, it was time to head east through the high deserts of Wyoming and across Nebraska and eventually back home to Kentucky.
After a restful evening at the Moose Creek Lodge in Cody, Wyoming, I was ready to hit the road running early the next morning. I had visited Cody in 2013 and so I didn’t spend a lot of time, but I did want to get back over to the Buffalo Bill Center and take some pictures of some of the numerous statues there.
After about 30 minutes in Cody, I was soon heading southeast on Wyoming Highway 120 towards Thermopolis. This is a scenic drive through rolling hills of sage brush.
I drove through the town of Meeteetse (Where Chief’s Meet) and then on to Thermopolis.
The drive from Meeteetse to Thermopolis is generally through high desert grasslands and hills. This is the vast interior of Wyoming, the open range land of ranchers and of solitude. You’re more likely to encounter more antelope than cars along this route, which was my case (which I did!!)
As the drive gets closer to Thermopolis, there are numerous unique rock formations which break the monotony of the seemingly endless sage brush grasslands. These open up to layers of mesas which provide a visual texture for miles. (OK, I lied, there were more cars than antelope – see photos below!)
Hwy 120 ends in Thermopolis. This town is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. From the south Thermopolis is the gateway to Yellowstone Country, and coming from the north it is the gateway to the Wind River Canyon.
Of course, I always keep my eyes peeled for unique things when I drive through a town. Here are a couple of good ones.
Since I was pushing to get to Carhenge before dusk,I rushed through Thermopolis and proceeded east towards the Wind River Canyon on US Hwy 20.
US Route 20 is actually the longest highway in the US, spanning 3365 miles across the country from Newport, Oregon through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and ending in Massachusetts.
The Wind River Canyon drive follows US 20 along the Wind River for about 14 miles and into the depths of the canyon, sometimes 2400 deep. It is amazingly scenic as the highway winds it’s way around 34 miles of bends and through Rock carved tunnels, finally opening up near Boysen State Park and ending up in the small town of Shoshoni.
I have been through this canyon twice before and have always been amazed at the engineering genius of gnawing a path through this wild gorge. There are even a number of pullouts that provide unique views up and down the length of the canyon.
As I left the canyon, the spacious Boysen Reservoir was to my right (looking West) and beyond the lake in the distance were the snow capped peaks of the Wind River Mountain Range. Gannet Peak, Wyoming’s highest mountain at 13,804 feet, is part of this massive range that stretches about 100 miles from north to south. There are more than 40 named peaks over 13,000 feet in this mountain range. US Highway 26 and US Highway 287 skirt this range to the east in Wyoming through Dubois and Lander. I hope to drive those roads sometime in the future.
Just past the south end of Boysen Reservoir, US 20 continues into Shoshoni and the southeast towards Casper. Shoshoni had the appearance of a dying town to me. There were a few old buildings with some nice Native American murals, but the town really appeared dead.
The Sand Creek Massacre Trail in Wyoming is dedicated to the remembrance of the Sand Creek Massacre which took place on November 29, 1864. The trail follows the paths of the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne in the years after the massacre. It traces them to their wintering on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Riverton in central Wyoming, where the Arapaho remain today. The trail passes through Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper, Shoshoni and Riverton. The trail was dedicated August 6, 2006
Heading east on US Routes 20/26, I immediately drove by a number of unique rock formations along the side of the road. The sandstone pillars have been eroded away over centuries of time to create these nice designs.
US Highway 20 then provides us with a typical long drive through the sagebrush of Wyoming…
It is a bit of drive, but fortunately, there is a rest area east of the small town of Hiland. A couple of nice history signs as well.
About 4 miles from the rest area on the south side of the road is a turnoff to Hell’s Half Acre (near Powder River, WY), a large scarp with deep ravines, canyons, caves, rock formations and hoodoos. I have a love of these types of things. I was so very disappointed to see a chain link fence keeping visitors from being able to grasp the full extent of this place.
It was here that I met a new friend…a fellow traveler, a fellow photographer, a fellow blogger. A a professional photographer, Derek Ace does some amazing work. You can see some of his best work HERE. Turns out that Derek is from Middleton, Wisconsin, which had me talking right away since Middleton is also the home the National Mustard Museum, one of my favorite places (see my post about this from my old blog). You can really get a nice sense of Derek’s work from his Facebook Photo stream. I am glad to have made his acquaintance on this trip and I am looking forward to what I believe will be an amazing set of photos from HIS visit there.
Not too far east of Hell’s Half Acre is the little dot on the map known as Powder River, Wyoming. There are probably less than 40 people here. However, there was one place that took me back…and in the middle of nowhere too.
Apparently, as late as 2005, this place was being used a strip joint and oil workers, folks from Shoshoni and nearby Casper, would venture their way to this hole in the wall place. It closed in November 2005 and now sits as another ghost on a basically deserted highway in the middle in Nowheresville, welcoming the passersby.
I really didn’t have much time to spend in Casper, but I needed gas, so I stopped and filled up. While at the gas station, a giant Cloud Troll decided to show me the direction I needed to go in as I headed towards my next stop, which was Douglas, WY. (By the way…I LOVE looking at clouds!!)
From Casper I jumped on Interstate 25 to head east toward Douglas. This was one of the few Interstate ventures I took while on the road.
On the approach to Douglas, which is the “Jackalope Capital of the World”, there is a giant jackalope up on a hill overlooking Interstate 25. It is the first sign of Jackalope everywhere….
In the visitor’s center I was kindly greeted by Chamber Assistant Director Patty Morrell who took time to show me around, tell me a bit of history AND get me all set with my OFFICIAL “Limited Non-Resident Jackalope License”. She also was kind enough to slip me a Jackalope Sticker and a Jackalope pin.
The Visitor’s Center has a number of unique Jackalope goodies…here are a few
In 2006 there was a movie called “Stagbunny” about one man’s hunt for the elusive Jackalope. Here is the trailer (get ready to chuckle)
I should note that the Douglas Visitor’s Center also has some nice trains to look at if you are interested in these.
Before heading out of town I came across the White Wolf Saloon in downtown Douglas. Another great Kitschy place. Had to take a couple of shots.
Of course, I had to move on to get to Carhenge in time so I was back on US 20 heading east towards Lusk, Wyoming. US 20 and US 26 split at Orin Junction south of Douglas and that is where US Route 18 begins and joins with US 20.
This section of highway parallels the railroad tracks from Orin to Lusk and is pretty desolate, but there are a few things to be seen…
But, one of the more unique dots on the map on this stretch of highway is Lost Springs, WY. In 1976 the town was designated as the smallest incorporated town in America. At the time, its population was eleven. In 2007 I drove through and, at the time, it was one of only a handful of towns in the US with a population of 1. Here is a photo of me from that visit.
On this visit the town had boomed back to a population of FOUR….
I had hoped to actually drop into their Post Office/Shop, but they were closed. Nevertheless, here are a couple of shots of Lost Springs today (I took some in 2007 too).
Back on US 18/20 I continued east. Lots of highway and long trains and even an old truck stop in the middle of nowhere.
From Manville it was on to Lusk, Wyoming. Yet another small town on the road, Lusk boasts a population of about 1500. Just a stop on the railroad tracks, it does offer one unique site….an old wooden train water tower.
The old water tower was originally built in 1886 to furnish water for the Fremont, Elkhorn, Missouri Valley Railroad Steam Engines. The town of Lusk was established at the same time. The wooden tower is round, with a diameter of about 25 feet. The tank is about 25 feet high on a 25-foot base. The structure is believed to be composed of Douglas fir, while the tank itself is redwood. It is apparently the only surviving structure of its kind in Wyoming.
After a brief stop in Lusk it was eastward towards Nebraska, with a flyby past Van Tassell, the last town in Wyoming.
And into Nebraska I rolled….
This section of US 20 is also called the “Bridges to Buttes Scenic Highway” and runs for about 200 miles across northern Nebraska. This is Nebraska in its rawest form, as the subtle and rolling sandhills transform into striking and majestic bluffs and buttes.
From the rolling hills, the scenery opens up into beautiful buttes on the approach to Crawford, Nebraska.
After the long drive from Casper through the prairies of eastern Wyoming, I had to make stop in Crawford, “The Garden Beyond the Sandhills.”
From Crawford I headed southeast on Nebraska Highway 2 towards Alliance. This highway was a nice drive through the small town of Hemingford, Nebraska.
I loved the little police station in downtown Hemingford. One of the smaller ones I have seen.
From Hemingford it was on to Alliance, one of my main destination goals for this trip….
My object in Alliance was the famed Car Art spot “Carhenge.”
Due to the nature of this great roadside attraction, I have actually done a full blog post on Carhenge. You can see that HERE. So, I’ll just add one last photo below…you can see the rest on my other post.
From Alliance I still had a ways to go as I continued on Nebraska Hwy 2 towards my final destination for the day, Grand Island, Nebraska. This section of Hwy 2 is also known as the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.
The drive from Alliance to Grand Island was still about 272 miles so I was literally driving into the sunset over the beautiful rolling Sandhills of Nebraska. The Sandhills represent the largest remaining grassland ecosystem in the United States that is still virtually intact for both flora and fauna. It is the largest sand-dune area in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest grass-stabilized dune regions in the world. I wish I could have taken more time to see it, but I did get to enjoy a fabulous sunset as I passed the small town of Hyannis, Nebraska.
I continued for a couple more hours on Nebraska 2 finally arriving in Grand Island about 1 AM after a drive of about 720 miles and on the road from 7 AM to 1 AM – 18 hours. Yes, I was tired, but I was certainly happy with the wonder of the day’s journey.