8154: Unique Discoveries and Unplanned Adventures

In early 2020 I traveled across the country over the course of three weeks with my daughter and three grandchildren.    During this trip we traveled 8154 miles across 20 states and visited over 100 destinations, saw all sorts of animals, all sorts of geography, 10 National Parks and Monuments, various state parks, oceans, deserts, mountains, beaches, grasslands, canyons and more. This is the third of a few posts about some of the fun from this EPIC Road Trip.  In this post I’ll introduce you to some of the unique places we happened upon on our back roads travels. Enjoy the Read! Enjoy the Ride! (all photography by David “Sumoflam” Kravetz and, when noted, Marissa Noe)


One of the reasons I like traveling on back roads is because I almost always come upon unique places that weren’t in my travel plans, but were fun and memorable discoveries.  Admittedly, some of the places noted here were actually part of the plan, but were way different than the expectation, so I included them.  I hope you find an interest in these and can visit some in your own travels.  All of the places noted are in the order we hit them on the trip.


Shawneetown Bank State Historic Site – Old Shawneetown, Illinois

After we crossed the Ohio River into Illinois from Kentucky on KY Hwy 56, we drove into Old Shawneetown, Illinois.  It would just be another pass-thru town, as far as we knew.  But, as we crossed over the bridge, I could tell that the place had a little bit flavor, so we took a drive in.   It turns out that this small little community was one of the first communities settled in Illinois.  In fact, after the American Revolution, Shawneetown served as an important United States government administrative center for the Northwest Territory. Shawneetown and Washington, D.C., share the distinction of being the only towns chartered by the United States government.

This way
Old Greek Revival Bank in Shawneetown, IL

Shawneetown is the home of the first chartered bank in Illinois.  It was originally a log cabin, but was replaced by a brick house in 1822.  Later, the Bank of Illinois came in and in 1839 began construction on the massive bank building that still stands today on hill overlooking the Ohio River.

Grandkids take a peek into the windows of the old bank, which was closed to visitors.
A shot of the interior of the bank through the window. (photo by Marissa Noe)

The bank and other institutions in the building were closed in the 1930s. It still stands as the oldest structure in Illinois that was built specifically as a bank.  It was added to the Register of National Historic Places in 1972.  You can read more about it HERE.


Knight Museum and Sandhills Center – Alliance, Nebraska

Alliance, Nebraska is famous for one thing – the unique car art sculpture known as Carhenge. I have written posts about this place and it is featured prominently in my third book.  Because of that, I was invited to visit there in January and do a presentation and a book signing.  Because the Carhenge gift shop is closed in the winter, my presentation would be done at the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance.

Getting ready to do my presentation at the Knight Museum in Alliance, Nebraska

I didn’t know much about this lovely and well-designed museum in downtown Alliance.  Like many smaller town museums, it has all sorts of things including pioneer memorabilia, Native American artifacts, railroad history and a great genealogy center with massive records.  While I prepared for my presentation, my grandchildren and daughter meandered through the museum.

Landen taking a look at an old implement.
The grandkids walk through some of the Knight Museum displays
Metal sculpture of a Sandhill Crane, one of my favorite birds.


Welcome to Pringle, South Dakota

We woke up the next morning in Alliance and made our way north on US Hwy 385 to head to Wind Cave National Park.  Along the way we took a detour into Pringle, South Dakota…  I like unique town names and I like Pringles Potato Crisps.  So, as we drive into this small little community of only about 110 people, we came across a massive pile of old bikes.  As we got closer, I found that this was intentionally designed as a sculpture.  Since it was cold out, we actually just took a few shots from the car.  But I wanted to include it here as a prime example of what one can find in the middle of nowhere.  This sculpture is just north of the US 385 and Nebraska Hwy 89  junction and is easily seen from the highway.

Giant bike sculpture in Pringle, Nebraska
Alternate view of the huge bicycle sculpture in Pringle, Nebraska


Buffalo, Wyoming mural

From South Dakota we cut through the northeastern corner of Wyoming including a swing through Buffalo on Interstate 90.  This became a nice little stop because of the many murals.  More for my photo collection!!

Large Buffalo mural in Buffalo, Wyoming. I love this one.  This was painted by Gamma Gallery, a freelance street artist from Denver, CO
Welcome to Buffalo, Wyoming mural
Horse Mural – Buffalo, Wyoming


Welcome to Montana Tech – Butte, Montana

Butte, Montana is an old mining town and is a treasure trove of history with many old buildings, a plethora of ghost signs, a giant old copper mine pit and the World Museum of Mining. Since the Mining Museum was closed, we continued to drive through the campus of Montana Tech and came upon a sign for the Mineral Museum and decided that the kids needed to get out and take a break. I needed a small nap as well.  So, with limited parking, I parked close by and let Marissa and the kids out to go into the small museum, which turned out to be a lovely little free hidden treasure in Butte.

Parking for the Mineral Museum

The museum got its start in 1901 with about 200 mineral specimens, but now holds nearly 13,000. They display about 1000 different minerals and the museum has a small gift shop as well as several exhibits that describe Montana’s geology, earthquake activity, and local mining history.

Some of the minerals on display in the Mineral Museum (photo by Marissa Noe)
More unusual specimens in the museum – being inspected by granddaughter Joselyn (photo by Marissa Noe)


The Sweet Palace – World’s Greatest Candy Store

From Butte, we took a diversion for a scenic drive west on Montana Hwy 1 through Opportunity (yes, I wanted to visit this unique-named town) and then Anaconda.  We continued west and needed a break so we drove into the historic silver-mining town of Philipsburg, Montana.

Road through old silver mining town of Philipsburg, Montana

By this time, the kids were getting cranky and hungry. I pulled over on a side street while my daughter tried to referee the kids.  Just then I noticed a sign on the side of a building that said “Golden Rule” and then noticed it was on the side of “The World’s Greatest Candy Store.” So, I took the opportunity to sing a song to them called the “Golden Rule” by Carol Lynn Pearson.  It was one of the songs from her musical “My Turn on Earth.”  One of the lyrics basically rings out “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.”  I then told the kids that if they promised to live the Golden Rule on the rest of the trip that I would give them some money for the candy store.  They cheered up immediately (but I had to sing that song to them numerous times on the remainder of the trip!)

The Golden Rule Sign
The Sweet Palace

The Sweet Palace is chock full of all kinds of nostalgic candy, different kinds of taffy, chocolate goodies, local sodas and fudge.  Yes, this w as a “Kid in a Candy Shop” kinda place!

Sweet Palace – Lots of Goodies
Lots of candy
Sweet Palace – Chocolate
Joselyn tries to figure out what candy to choose from. So many!
Sweet Palace – use a basket
Don’t forget the fudge!


Ohrmann Museum in Drummond, Montana

So, we continued on our drive west Montana Highway 1 and as we neared the town of Drummond and the entrance back on to Interstate 90, I noticed a unique sign across the road.  I had to stop for a photo because it was one of those whimsical signs that I like.

Usually Open Sign, Ohrmann’s Art Gallery

Since it was “Usually Open,” we decided to drop by as it looked like there were some unique metal sculptures out front.  Once again, this was a delightful surprise stop.  The actual museum appeared to be closed, but we got out to look at the giant grizzly sculpture, the big turtle and then fun signs.  While we were looking, Bill Ohrmann came up to us and chatted with us and then let the kids go into the museum.  I relaxed in the car for a few minutes.

The Ohrmann Museum near Drummond, Montana
Fun sign at Ohrmann Museum – NO CHARGE!
Landen and Lyla enjoying a couple of the sculptures (photo by Marissa Noe)
Lovely scrap metal eagle and not so lovely selfie
One of the Horse Paintings in the museum. This was painted by Bill Ohrmann’s father (photo by Marissa Noe)
Bill Ohrmann with his giant grizzly
Blue Heron sculpture at Ohrmann Museum


Hobbit House in Port Orchard, WA (photo by Marissa Noe)

We finally arrived in Port Orchard, Washington on January 31 to spend a week with my daughter Amaree and her family.  While I worked each day, Marissa was able to go out and explore.  She had four days of adventures that I did get to accompany her on, but she did take her niece with them on a couple of trips. Luckily, there was a place locally in Port Orchard that has gained a bit of fame.  A visit to Brothers Greenhouses provided an opportunity to see a replica of a Hobbit House, as noted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  The Port Orchard Hobbit House is part of the larger display greenhouse displays.  In fact, they have a rooftop garden display on the Hobbit House.

Alternate view of the Hobbit House (photo by Marissa Noe)


Sea Discovery Center at Western Washington University in Poulsbo, Washington

Marissa and the children took another trip of discovery up to Poulsbo, Washington and made a visit to the Sea Discovery Center to check out the unique aquarium.  This is a hands on aquarium where the kids can see many unique sea animals such as starfish and other species. (All photos in this section by Marissa Noe)

Starfish at the SEA Discovery Center
Living coral at the SEA Discovery Center
Granddaughters Joselyn and Livvy playing with some of the unique sea life on display at the SEA Discovery Center


Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington

On yet another adventure, Marissa took her kids south to Tacoma for visits to a number of places.  One of the more unique places was the Museum of Glass, a truly enthralling place with a number of very artistic pieces. The museum / art gallery opened in 2002 and is now considered a Top Ten tourist destination in Washington. (all photos in the section by Marissa Noe)

Walking the glass art covered walkway of the Museum of Glass
Some of the unique glass art on display at the Museum of Glass


Downtown Bandon, Oregon

After we left Port Orchard, we drove along US Hwy 101 along the Pacific Coast in Washington and eventually into Oregon.  One of the places we came across was Bandon, Oregon, a cute little artsy town with murals, unique works of art and even an organization that strives to take ocean trash and make art of it.

Many of the buildings in Bandon have the rustic look
Big whale mural in Bandon, Oregon
Bigfoot is in Bandon too!
A nice wooden sculpture by the boat docks

One of the more unique discoveries we found here was the organization known as Washed Ashore, which is an art project founded by artist and educator, Angela Haseltine Pozzi in 2010.  The project came about when Angela first recognized the amount of plastic washing up on the beaches she loved and decided to take action. Over the past decade, Washed Ashore has processed tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches to create monumental art.  A couple of the pieces are on display in town.  Really unique.

Washed Ashore
A giant fish made completely of trash found on the shore.
This turtle (Natasha) is also a Washed Ashore project.


Trees of Mystery – Klamath, California

Admittedly, I had heard of Trees of Mystery, but on this trip I had totally forgotten about the place.  My opportunities to get to California were always scarce, so, we got lucky.  Well, as we drove along the US 101 to get to the Redwood forests, we came upon it.  Actually, the first thing I saw was a giant Paul Bunyan…the biggest one I had ever seen.  We were on a really tight schedule, but I really needed to stop, at least for a photo op with Paul Bunyan and Babe.  But, the Trees of Mystery has so much more to offer…I wish we would have had time to explore the museum, the forest walk, the Redwood Canopy Trail, and more.  And just think, this place has been here since the 1940s!!

Selfie with giant Paul Bunyan and the big blue ox at Trees of Mystery

This Paul Bunyan stands 49 feet tall, has a 52 foot round waist and weighs over 30,000 pounds. And I thought I was a big guy!!  And Babe is not a small guy either.

Paul Bunyan and Babe without me.
The sleepy Indian is their symbol


Alien Fresh Jerky, Baker, CA

After the Redwoods, lovely Pacific Coast drive along Big Sur and the Sequoias in the Sierra Nevadas, we made our way eastward to the Mojave Desert.  I had plans to stop in Baker, California for the World’s Largest Thermometer, but was stunningly surprised at what else was in this town that thrives on tourism.  A giant parking lot full of aliens waited to greet us from across the street.

The World’s Tallest Thermometer in Baker, CA

Alien Fresh Jerky was a great surprise…and a disappointment (it was closed when we went through early in the morning).  Unique buildings, a fun neon sign, a flying saucer and, best of all, all sorts of aliens!!  It looks like they are even going to create a new hotel that will be space themed.  FUN FUN FUN

Alien Fresh Jerky Shop, Baker, CA (notice the alien shadow on the front?)
Try the Invisible Jerky
I got to hang with some of the locals in Baker, CA (notice the reflection?)
Giant Alien Light posts at Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker, California
Alien enjoys the sunrise
Peace Out


Nipton, California

As we continued through the Mojave Desert, we cut off of Interstate 15 to head east towards Searchlight, Nevada via Nipton Road, which then turns into Nevada 164 (also known as the Joshua Tree Highway).  Along the way we stumbled upon the Magical Nipton Trading Post literally in the middle of nowhere.  Needing a restroom break and perhaps a cold drink, we decided to stop.  This was another totally unexpected, yet fun and whimsical stop for us.

Welcome to Magical Nipton

This place has a trading post, a motel and even teepees for staying, unique works of art and more.  It was well worth the stop.

Lots of goodies in Nipton Trading Post
Inside of Nipton Trading Post
The Nipton Trading Post
Giant Octopus in Nipton
“Transcendant Souls” by Nicole Ashton Martin  art piece in Nipton
A perfect 10 made out of shopping carts in Nipton – called “Perpetual Consumption” and was created by Australian artist Clayton Blake
You can rent a teepee for a night in Nipton
Martian Soda anyone? You can get it in Nipton


Joshua Tree Highway, Nevada Hwy 164

Many of us know about the Joshua Tree National Park in California, but I was not aware of the Joshua Tree Highway on Nevada Highway 164.  The route begins at the California-Nevada state line about 3 miles east of Nipton, California.  This was actually a surprise to me as we headed east to Searchlight.  Almost immediately as we crossed into Nevada in the very southern tip of the state, we were driving through a massive forest of Joshua trees.

A scene from the Joshua Tree Highway
Lyla in the Joshua Trees
Posing with the Joshua Trees (in my U2 Joshua Tree hat!)
Another Joshua Tree Highway scene
Lots of Joshua Trees


Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company – Holbrook, Arizona

When coming out of Holbrook, Arizona to head to the Petrified Forest National Park Rainbow Forest Museum by taking US 180 east, you can’t miss the huge collection of petrified wood on the corner of AZ 77 and US 180.  It’s a giant touristy stopover especially focused on petrified wood and petrified wood products known as Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company and is the perfect place to stock up on petrified wood since you cannot pick up specimens in the National Park.  This nearly 50 year old shop has been the place to get souvenirs, drinks, restroom break and more.

Take note!
Like anywhere else, they own the rights to all of the petrified wood.
Acres of petrified wood
You can cut and polished petrified slabs and stones in the shop
Small koi pond in the shop made with petrified wood

They have a series of signs that details how they get their wood all the way to producing the finished polished goods, all part of their museum section.

Part 1 – They own mineral rights
Part 2 – They dig and search for the best pieces
Part 3 – They clean and separate it
Part 4 – They cut it (read the details in the sign)
Part 5 – They wash and polish it. And its ready for the tourists.

If you visit this place, make sure to visit the restrooms for a fun (and perhaps freaky) adventure.

Have to visit the restrooms to see the bugs and bats.

And the outside even has some dinos

Dinosaurs at Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company in Holbrook, Arizona


Welcome to Oil City, Louisiana

After our visit to Uncertain, Texas and a ride through the swamps and bayous of Caddo Lake, we made our way to Louisiana and drove through Oil City, on Louisiana Highway 1. This was another fun little surprise as the town is like an outdoor museum of old oil drilling relics.

Oil City Water Tower
One of the Oil Derricks

Back in the early 1900s, the town had a reputation for being a wild place with many saloons, gambling, many drunks and many fights. But, the town survived numerous fires and other disasters.

Downtown Oil City
More oil wells


I am currently working on my FOURTH book, titled “8154” to represent the mileage of my epic road trip with family.  You can visit my Amazon Author Page to see my other books at https://amzn.to/3azY36l