Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs California

Back in the late 1980’s one of my favorite movies was The Bagdad Cafe. It’s a movie about a run down cafe/motel on Route 66, and definitely worth seeing. Anyway, the shooting location, which had been known as the Sidewinder Cafe (before the movie came out) is REAL, although it’s in Newberry Springs (the town of Bagdad which isn’t that far away was leveled after traffic was redirected from Route 66 to I-40, and before traveling the OLD route 66 became a thing) and this week I got to visit it.


As much as I love me some bumper stickers… I don’t like what they’ve done with the interior of the place






Harris Ranch; Coalinga, California

San Francisco really isn’t a steak town. Having grown up in Chicago, which IS, the whole time I was living in SF I kept wondering where a girl had to go to get a decent one (seriously in SF you pay a lot for very little when it comes to steak). That place as it turned out, was — according to all my friends — Harris Ranch, an actual cattle ranch (and the largest one on American’s west coast) about halfway between SF and LA off of California Route 5, that is also a store, a hotel, and a gas station.

IMG_5540.jpgThe thing that first strikes you any time you drive past Harris Ranch is that it’s something of an oasis in the desert. IMG_5542

The owners really have built something very grand out here in the middle of not very much, and I often wondered what the cost of it was in terms of their water bill.IMG_0444This is particularly true during the summers when California is traditionally completely dry (seriously, for those who don’t know, it is HIGHLY abnormal for California to get any rain during the summer months), and this is especially true these last few years which have been a growing drought; the greenness of the place really shocks your eyes.


That said, all along the way I kept seeing signs alongside the road saying things like, “is water wasted when it’s used to grow food?” And “This dust bowl courtesy of the federal government.” There’s apparently a political war going on between the conservationists, the farmers with regards to the water issue… but I don’t have the time or energy to delve into it here. (It’s important to remember that while the cities of California vote mostly democratic, the rural farm areas, such as where Harris Ranch is located tend to vote Republican.

IMG_5539That said, Harris Ranch clearly understand who their customer base is…. namely the rich customers who commute between SF and LA, some of whom are willing to put their money where their mouths are in terms of their concern for the environment by buying insanely expensive electric cars.IMG_0436

That said, there’s something new at Harris which wasn’t there last time I visited… a BBQ option at cheaper prices being sold out of the gas station part of the place.



Plus a selection of their steaks to go again, from the gas station’s mini-mart. IMG_0445If however you go to the main building (a really gorgeous hacienda type building), you’ll find not only a much bigger gift shop, but a butcher shop section in the gift store that’s about twice as big as what’s in the gas station — with more cut options, sausages, etc.


In this building there are also three different restaurants. The first is a bar, which offers up alcohol and slightly cheaper cuts of meat.


The 2nd is a family style restaurant, which is walk in, but again with the slightly cheaper cuts of meat, and a wider menu (to appeal to families) with kids, etc., where you can buy things ‘ala carte


And then the third option is their high-end restaurant, which normally requires reservations, has only their best cuts of meat, and the main comes with a selection of sides, a soup, etc. (NOT ala carte).



THIS is where I opted to eat, because in addition to better cuts of meat, which I wasn’t going to eat, it had a wider sea food selection. I got a bowl of gazpacho


For my drink I had their watermelon iced tea, and then for my main I ordered their scallops dish, which is intended to go ON TOP of the steak… and their vegetable platter.

The Soup was very good… and then I waited 45 minutes for my mains to show up. Finally (when my iPhone’s battery was starting to fail) I called over a waiter and asked “how many hours am I going to have to wait for my main dish?” The waitress who had taken my order over heard, ran over, apologized and then told me it was all her fault, she’d forgotten to put the order in. Her manager then came over said they’d have my food out in a jiffy, and that my bill was on them…. SO they screwed up big time, but as the food was free, I can’t complain too much…

That said, I was pretty unimpressed with everything I ate… So Harris, is great for the steaks but seems to have to get its act together otherwise.

Apparently they also breed horses

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Casa de’Fruta; Hollister, California

Casa de’Fruta in Hollister, California, has been a mainstay tourist trap on the route from San Francisco to Los Angeles, pretty much for forever (apparently they’re celebrating their 100th anniversary). It started out as a fruit and nuts stand and has since then expanded to being a multi building tourist trap with a market, a gift store, a coffee shop, a restaurants, and distractions for the kids. AND if you want to sleep there there’s both a motel and an RV park. That said, it’s a MAJOR tourist trap and really only good as a place to stretch your legs.


IF all you want to do is to buy fruit, I passed any number of mom and pop stands set up along farms in the area that probably have better prices… but they all lack the sort of tourist trap shtick that this place has.


I find it ironic that not only do they allow you to taste their wines (see below, they have their own brands) — they’ve actually begun to push them at you (just what every traveler should do before getting back on the highway)… while at the same time you’re no longer allowed to taste their nuts or candies before you buy them by the pound. (They used to, allow you to taste them, but no more)

IMG_0381That said, this place used to be all about the flavored almonds… but I didn’t see any for sale this time…. just a lot of wine

IMG_5446The place has actually become kind of huge — I don’t remember it being this big 20 odd years ago… the last time I was here

IMG_0382There’s now a set up for “mining gold” (even though the gold rush never really happened this far south of SF… it was more north) where you buy bags of the sluice to pan…


There’s a 2nd shop that mostly sells wine (again), gifts and some deli sandwiches and things that might go on said sandwiches


There are rides for the kids (a merry-go-round AND a train)


A building devoted to all things sweet and sugary (of course, it’s placed directly adjacent to the kids area) — and coffee for the adults (after drinking all that wine you’ll need it).


And now there’s a 24 hour restaurant, selling pretty normal diner types dishes. No I did not eat here.

Cemetery in a roundabout: West Des Moines, Iowa

Currently situated in the middle of the intersection at South 88th Street and Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines, Iowa (not far from I-80), lies the Huston Family Cemetery. It was named for James B. Huston, the patriarch of one of the first families to settle in Dallas County (in the 1840’s) and the LAST person buried at the plot (in 1889). The cemetery is unusual in that it now sits in the center of a roundabout in what was once a rural area, but that is no only about a mile away from a Costco, and as there’s already been one instance of a drunk driver driving through the site, it might end up being moved — although there is some talk of moving the roads instead.


The area which I’m fairly sure was completely rural a few years ago (like the other grave in a middle of the road I visited in Indiana) is to the graveyards detriment being developed REALLY quickly, according to the locals I spoke to … so much so that — like I already said–  there’s a Costco about a mile directly down the road (with a gas station, which I filled up at).


The Huston Cemetery consists of 19 graves that date back to the late 1880’s, and are located near to The family’s original home — which is still standing nearby. The home is HIGHLY historical, as it was once a stage-coach station, a tavern, the local post office AND a stop on the Underground Railroad. The family patriarch, James B. Huston, was the first attorney in Dallas County (where the graves are situated)


According the city’s website, the first two former slave girls, both named Harper, who apparently had “died on their way to freedom” were the first individuals buried there — although this is conflicted by a report from another site, which claims the two girls were part of family that was on its way to Kansas to become part of John Brown’s raiders. They were followed by James Huston’s wife, Nancy Hill Huston, and six of their children, all of whom died young — so there’s a sad story to be told from these stones.



Iowa 80 – The World’s Largest Truckstop; Walcott, Iowa

On interstate-80 in Walcott, Iowa, you’ll find Iowa-80, which is about four times larger than the average truck stop and as such is advertised as “The World’s largest Truckstop” (their’s no verification to their claim). That said, while its primary focus is on the diverse needs of truckers, it is definitely worth a stop to the average automobile driver on the Interstate 80 … if only because of some of its surprising attributesIMG_2527I used to drive through this truck stop on a semi regular basis back when I lived in San Francisco… and always used to be highly amused at the diverse selection of goods

This is the doorway automobile drivers first walk through, and it’s goods aimed at tourists


A large section of the “tourist” area is devoted to veterans and their families, and has pro-military bumper stickers and a display of military medals. IMG_2530

Many years ago I bought a collection of a different (and funnier) version of the “when it has to be destroyed” bumper sticker — which I STILL have on my car — only the original version was a variation on the FedEx advertising campaign, “when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight“… I was sad to see this newer version of the sticker had removed the world “overnight” and hence destroyed the joke.IMG_2543.JPGOn this same level of the store you’ll find their 24-hour all you can eat buffet restaurant, “Home cooking” (with ala cart options), a HUGE food court with a wide selection of fast food options (plus more shopping choices and a game room) — but none of this is the surprising parts… for that you have to check into the levels of the place (and its multiple floors) that cater to the truckers.


So for instance, while showers and a public laundry are normal services at truck stops (in addition to what this sign shows there’s also a TV lounge and a library upstairs, again, kind of normal for truck stops), what I’ve never seen before is one with a barber, dentist and chiropractor before… and I’ve stopped at more than a few over the years … nor have I seen one that has a theater with a constant stream of movies (although in this day and age that’s much easier to pull off than it was the first time I stopped here, over 20 years ago). While I was there they announced that the movie resident evil was going to start playing in the upstairs movie theater.


Then if you walk towards the Truckers entrance to the building (on the other side, and down a level), you’ll find another GINORMOUS super-store that has everything the discerning truck owner might want from basic comfort items that anyone who spends a lot of time in their car might want, to the ones someone who actually sleeps there might need:

IMG_2536To stuff that ONLY a trucker might be attracted to, in order to “Pimp out his truck” including different colored steering wheels, fancy chrome sidings and exhaust pipes,


multicolored lights and the obligatory sexy lady to put on your truck…. what’s kind of cool is that door of that yellow truck (which I SHIT YOU NOT, is sitting on a rotating floor — look at the ground beneath it, that continually ROTATES) is left open so that anyone can climb up and sit in the truck if they like… including children — although I didn’t see anyone actually do it.


One of the cool things they have down there is a customization “while you wait” shop that can make anything from bumper stickers to customer embroidered hats or shirts with any image you bring to them as photograph.


Also, if you have the time, in a seperate building BEHIND the Truckstop, you’ll find a museum dedicated to Trucking — I didn’t have time this trip, but intend to go there next time.

Jesse James Historical Site, First Train Robbery in the West: Adair, Iowa

Located a short distance off of Interstate-80, in Adair, Iowa, is a monument dedicated to the very first documented heist of a moving train in the west; this occurred on July 21, 1873. The thieves in question were the notorious gang of outlaws led by Jesse James.




Road is to the far left, then the 2nd road is the off ramp, then the memorial

The memorial is located near the top of a low hill, along side an off ramp type road, so that tourists don’t block traffic or cause accidents.

I found this short segment (2.5 minutes) of a longer “Biography” documentary about Jesse James, that focus on this train robbery… or you can read the explanation I found at the site:


Both sources make the point that this was sort of learning experience for the gang, in that their actions, jerking a rail out of place, resulted in a derailment of the train and the two needless deaths of  Engineer and the fireman, plus injuries to various passangers… i.e., they ultimately decided this method just made it harder than it had to be.


Along with the explanation of the robbery are some posters talking about local wild plants and a bit about the town.

Tree in a Rock: Buford, Wyoming

If you’re driving along Interstate 80, and are near the town of Buford, Wyoming (population of ONE), you’ll see signs saying “point of interest on left” (and which direction your driving won’t matter because it’s BETWEEN the lanes),

I am in the west bound lane of I-80, the cars on the other side of the divide are east bound

these are leading you to this phenomena of nature, a tree growing out of a rock. I’ve not much to say, but will let the signs speak for themselves.




embedded in the rock below the tree is this sign:




The following signs are about the geology of the area (the rocks)




That said, the location is set up like a round about, so if you find you can drive AROUND the tree and take off back in the direction you came from, if you need to.

tee in rock

Buford Wyoming; Population 1

Not much to say about this, Buford Wyoming, established in 1866 is the smallest town in America (population of ONE), and if you’re traveling along Interstate 80 between New York and San Francisco, it’s also the town with the highest altitute (along that route).


There’s supposed to be Deli there, but when I arrived it was all locked up…


That said it’s a good excuse to stop and stretch your legs

Local boy does good: Woodville Ohio

Let’s hear it for Civic pride in a home town boy! Passed this barn while road-tripping


The sign says:

Welcome to Woodville, OH (Ohio),
Home of (then the picture of the Space Shuttle)
Astronaut Tom Hendricks
Four time Shuttle Astronaut (Col. UASF)

and just left of his image in Red paint it says: Aim for the Stars!
(then I passed through the town which I think had one stop light)

World Largest Gavel? Columbus, Ohio

The “Gavel” is a whimsical piece of outdoor art by Andrew F. Scott, that some are on the web have declared the World’s Largest Gavel (although I’m not sure that’s true). According to it is 30 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 12 feet high… so pretty frigging big! IMG_3076.jpgIF you’re in or driving through Columbus it’s worth a stop see, in part because it’s located in a man-made pond/water feature located adjacent to the Ohio Supreme Court building.

IMG_2573.JPGI searched online for verification that the “Gavel” was in fact the world’s biggest, but other than it being called such by various websites (of the tourism variety) I didn’t find anything from let’s say the Guinness World’s Records people verifying it such.

Anyway, the Ohio Supreme court is a rather impressive building and worth looking at in its own right


The tower in the distance is the LeVeque Tower, the 2nd tallest building in the city

and it is right next to a very pretty river walk area, along the Scioto River. That and parking in the area was really easy to find — we arrived at about 6pm and had NO trouble at all finding a spot.

I loved the bunch swings

I didn’t really come to see Columbus this trip; rather my travel buddy and I were visiting Dayton, OH (about 1.5 hours away) and we arranged to have dinner with an old friend of his who used to live in San Francisco, but now lives in Columbus with her family. We’d arrived about a half hour early, so he said, “we’ve got a half hour to kill, what do you want to see?” (He was driving.) I quickly pulled out one of my travel apps Roadtripper, which allows you see what’s around right now, as well as plan in advance, and pretty quickly spotted this — and we all know how much I love big things.