Giant Abraham Lincoln (head) Memorial Monument: Laramie, WY

This rest stop (called Wyoming’s Summit Visitor Center) is located off of the Lincoln Highway aka route-30, aka Interstate-80,

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and has a very large big bust of President Lincoln’s head, IMG_2270and a small museum devoted to the local attractions, historical and naturalIMG_2269

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I couldn’t decide whose hair was worse that day, mine or the bears. Note the expression of slight amusement on the bear as he looks at my hair.

And then there’s the information desk where the staff member will help you plan your stay, or provide you with maps and/or pamphlets

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and is definitely worth stopping at when driving cross-country.

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The Lincoln Highway (which begins in New York City’s Times Square, and ends at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier) was the first transcontinental (although some of it was laid brick rather than paved concrete) roadway built for automobile use in America. This was back when our highways were given names instead of numbers, and tended to be a series of interlinking two lane roads that sometimes looped (see map) rather than the four lane unimpeded expressways (cross roads either go over or under) built during the Eisenhower Administration as part of our defence system (intended for quick evacuations of cities and troop movements in case of nuclear war).

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Since then the Lincoln was superseded by first Route-30 (two lane roads with intersections), and then Interstate-80. In this part of the country, all three are ONE road.

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But the main attraction is the Lincoln monument

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Anong’s Thai Cuisine: Rawlins, WY

Reputed to be the best restaurant in town according to yelp (and apparently part of a chain with branches in Laramie and Cheyenne)… I was hoping to find buffalo somewhere in town, but no such luck… As soon as you sit you get a small cup of Thai chicken soup with rice, with tones of lemon grass and cilantro …very tasty

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My Tum Yum came, it was big enough for a meal, and it had the sort of heat where on the first spoonful you don’t notice it, then on the 2nd its just very mild, and then that gets more intense with each spoonful— just like what I had in Thailand.

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In fact its one of the BEST Tum Yum soups I’ve had since Thailand. Then I had the chicken Lard Nah… this was the weakest dish of the meal. It was swimming in a soup rather than in thicker gravy… not sure what was up with that… and just not all that tasty. Also the noodles weren’t anything I was used to.

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For dessert I had the sticky rice with mango.

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This was a large chunk of sticky rice with a warm coconut cream gravy, one of the smallest 1/2’s of a mango I’ve ever seen and a dollop of whipped cream (??) … good but not great.

All in all a very respectable Thai place that would succeed even in Chicago with all the competition it’d face there… in Rawlins, I don’t doubt that it’s the best food in town.

Continental Divide

The Continental Divide or Great divide, extends for the most part north/west to south/east along the spine of mountains and high elevations of the North American Continent, and marks the line that separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean

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By Pfly – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12131177

There are in fact folks who as a ‘life challenge’ attempt to HIKE the length of the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) from the Mexican border to the Canadian one, and there’s no shortage of web sites devoted to how to go about doing that…. and it should not be confused with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) which has a movie called “Wild” staring Reese Witherspoon,

about a recent divorcée with no previous experience in hiking who decides to do it as a “journey of self-discovery and healing” … of course there’s a snowball’s chance in hell you’ll see me doing either of those…

There are a lot of these signs along the length of these phenomena of nature. So any time I find one, I’m going to add it here:

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West of Rawlins, WY on I-80
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On I-80, between Rock springs and Wamsutter Wyoming, near the Bitter Creek rest stop

 

 

 

 

 

 

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),

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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.

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embedded in the rock below the tree is this sign:

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

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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.

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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).

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

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

Our Lady of Peace Shrine: Pine Bluffs, Wyoming

If you’re driving along route 80, near Pine Bluffs Wyoming off on the North side you might notice this HUGE, 30 foot tall (37 if you add the pedestal) white statue, which you may or may not identify as the Virgin Mary…  off to the side of the road. According to one of the signs near it weighs 180 tons and is one of the largest Marian statues in the United States.

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I had to look it up:Beatitudes are the blessings listed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–11)

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And along side the stature (and closer to the highway) are these Stages of the cross [Note: a friend of mine who is a lapsed Catholic has corrected me, stations not stages… please excuse the error, I’m Jewish)

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Boys Town Nebraska & World’s Biggest Ball of Stamps

Boys Town (now more a Catholic organization for troubled youth than an orphanage) while a part of Hollywood movie history is also a very real place, and it is also a National historic Landmark (so designated in 1985)

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(got to love the above pedestal in their gift shop) and is located in Douglas CountyNebraska … think Omaha

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And, for those who have only know of this place because of the beloved movie classic of the same name starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, it is worth a one hour visit …

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Technically, it is still its own town (suburb — according to Wikipedia there are two families that live there, in addition to the six ‘households’ where the boys live… making up a total population of around 745 people, according to the 2010 census), but rather than being located near Omaha Nebraska, as it was when founded, it is now pretty much utterly engulfed by it.  (Just below Green Meadows, and west of the Sheraton)

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Like most Americans my age my knowledge of Boys Town Nebraska has till now been based ENTIRELY on the 1938 Hollywood biographical film. Apparently, the town had been called the “City of Little Men” before the movie came out — I vaguely remember it being described as such by the Flanagan character in the movie, but Hollywood had effectively ingrained the name Boys Town in the world’s consciousness, along with the sort of image branding money just can’t buy — so smartly, Flanagan changed its name.

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Lou Gehrig, Father Flanagan, & Babe Ruth

That said, what I knew about Father Flanagan, was entirely based upon the movie. He was a catholic priest who had founded a different sort of orphanage; in effect he had pioneered and developed a completely different paradigm that emphasized teaching children to take care of themselves and each other, rather than the traditional model of adults taking care of children… and my image of the man was indelibly formed by the Spencer Tracy’s performance. That said, I have to admit that because of recent events regarding the catholic church, and some of what I’ve learned on my previous travels (please click the link), that is no longer the case…

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Photo out my car window

My connection to the place, via my having seen the movie repeatedly while growing up [note: back before cable TV, when the TV world consisted of maybe 10 channels total, if you were lucky… it was one of popular movies that was in the public domain that local TV stations could run repeatedly, at very little cost to themselves], and as such, I was actually excited to see the place. In my mind’s eye it was going to be that same town from the movie, with a fire station and barber shop — all run by boys of varying ages… with very few adults to be seen… but no such luck.

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A “campus” as described in the sign above, is for the most part what I found, indistinguishable from any other ‘campus’ educational or business. Now granted, on the day I arrived the weather was both blistering hot AND humid, of the sort the drains your energy and sours your mood, and that might have been part of it. But my expectations were SO dashed upon my arrival… I didn’t even find anything resembling a ‘downtown’ with any businesses run by the boys,

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or even of them growing their own food (other than in the above historic photos, and these I found on line)… and the reality of what it had become kind of killed my excitement (well that and the heat).

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When you arrive there’s a “visitor” center that you’re directed to. From its gift shop you can get the map of the property, if you want to try touring it yourself. I had timed it wrong to do the tour, arriving at around noon, and the next one wasn’t until 2 o’clock. The woman at the gift counter, where you sign up for it said “if you don’t do the tour they might not let you into all of the buildings. We don’t necessarily have a docent standing there ready” Not even for Flanagan’s home, which is listed as a tourist location of note, on every website I looked at before arriving. (I didn’t have enough time to hang around for an extra hour to wait for it— I was cross country driving and had to be San Francisco by a set date)

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The gift shop has no shortage of branded items

However, she told me that if I went right now into the cafeteria (also in the visitor’s center) — it’s open to staff and visitors and apparently is very popular with locals —

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It’s easy to identify the boys town boys, they are the ones wearing button-down shirts and ties
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These local ladies play mahjong here every Tues and Fri 

I had been lucky enough to arrive to witness the swearing-in for five new boys to become citizens of the town (this link is to a page with a video where you see a little video about what that means). During the event I learned that all of the boys being sworn in had already been here between a few weeks in a few months before taking the oath.

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upper left, the boys to be sworn in, and the priest… and the ceremony

The priest began the event by sharing the history of the town with any visitors in the room (which included family members of the boys, as well locals who come here regularly…  The boys then all got up, took an oath, and then each talked about three things about themselves they want to work on while they are here, the thing that had been hardest for them since they arrived, and one other thing I’m forgetting what it was.

That said, I have to admit that as this was happening some part of me was shocked to realize how many priests were involved in the this program (some part of my brain hadn’t really made the connection that this was in fact a Catholic charity), and I found myself wondering to what extent if any the recent sexual molestation of children (with boys from troubled homes being at the top of the victim list) had touched Boys Town…  Only to find this,  and then THIS  …. which sort of soured my whole experience of what was happening…

IMG_2196I didn’t realize that the song, “he ain’t heavy he’s my brother” was actually inspired by a quote from here… that was also used in the movie,

Apparently, the one of the towns older boys was carrying around Howard, who was handicapped by polio, and abandoned by his mother (read the description in the picture above) … even though he wasn’t so small anymore and father Flanagan had asked him “isn’t he getting a bit heavy for you?” and the boy had answered, “He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’brother” and this image of what the town taught boys about their responsiblity to each other became the symbol for the town.

 

So, I wasn’t all that miffed about missing the tour or seeing Flanagan’s home, as the town wasn’t what I was expecting, and if it wasn’t going to be that, then the only other thing I wanted to see while there was THIS, which is located in the Visitor’s center right behind the gift store:
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I got the docent/woman working the gift shop to repeat her spiel into my phone, and let speech to text do it’s thing for me: “OK Father Flanagan started boys town in 1917 and was a stamp collector… he died in 1948 so this was even after his death in ’51 … anyway to honor him the boys started wrapping used stamps around a golf ball… so if you cut this huge ball in half you’d see it’s all stamps to the golf ball center. It weighs 600 pounds and it’s made up of 4.6 million stamps and it’s 32 inches in diameter …. they did it in less than two years” IMG_2219The wall immediately behind the ball is also impressive, it’s a floor to ceiling mural also made up entirely of used stamps.

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And then there’s a whole little museum area dedicated to the hobby of stamp collecting:

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And possibly because of his fame, and the fact that he was stamp collector himself, this happened:

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And apparently someone at boys town was collecting baseball cards, because there’s a room dedicated to that too

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On the way out of the building to my car I noticed this, they have peppers as decorative plants, which I thought was kind of brilliant.

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Albert, The World’s Largest Bull: Audubon, Iowa

Albert the Bull is located along side a trailer park in Audubon, Iowa. This nine times larger than life-size Hereford Bull is 53-year-old, and stands 28 feet tall. It is 15 feet wide between the horns, and weighs 45 tons; and, unlike most of the other big things I’ve found which are usually made from fiberglass, Albert the Bull is made from concrete with a steel work frame.

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I was traveling alone when I passed by here, but I managed to waylay a passing teenager into taking my picture for me.

That said, there’s something equally imposing about Albert that you can’t see from the above photo….

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Actually, come to think of it, he reminds me of a guy I know…

 

The Gemini Giant: Wilmington, IL

The Gemini Giant is 28 feet tall fiberglass “bit Thing” named after the Gemini space program of the 1960’s, located on Historic Route 66, (it was one of the very first major highways in America, was built in the 1920’s … and is also known as the Will Roger’s Highway, the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road).  This roadside attraction was built during the very beginning of the space race as a way to lure travelers off the road with a photo opportunity, in the hope that they’d stay long enough to buy a hotdog or a drink.

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The statue stands directly adjacent to Route 66 (yes, really, it’s the nondescript two lane road in the picture)

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and is in the parking lot of the Launching Pad restaurant (which was once a drive-in)

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The restaurant was built in 1956 at which point it was a 600 square-foot shack…they actually hired Hopalong Cassidy (well, the actor who in the 1950’s played the character in a series of sixty-six movie serials based on the character, William Boyd) to come and cut the opening ribbon (Boyd is the one in the cowboy hat)

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(According to the owner of the Launching Pad, who was thrilled to share the places history with me, after the show ended Boyd had gone to the studio and bought the licensing rights to the name Hopalong Cassidy for $450,000, a lot of money in those days… and in a few short years turned it around into $5 million by putting his picture and name on lunch boxes. I will note that Wikipedia disputes some of this but hey…)IMG_2160.JPG The new owner went on to tell me that the same family owned it for the next 50 odd years, passing it through the generations (and it was always wildly successful that whole time, open from around 7am to midnight — at least I think that’s what he said — with a staff of 20, and always doing good business) until 2010 at which point they sold it to somebody outside of the family who ran the business into the ground in the course of two short years (by buying cheaper ingredients, refusing to run the air conditioning, etc, all in an attempt to increase his profit margins I assume). As such, this Route 66 landmark business quickly went broke as its bread and butter local customers abandoned it, and has stood empty until this new owner bought it in 2017. The new owner is financing it solely from his own pocket and with any money he’s made by merchandising the image on T-shirts and bumper stickers and what not.

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He tole me he has licensed the image of the giant (something the previous owners never bothered to do), so that nobody else can replicate it and he has tracked down all the old recipes for their dishes and intends to have the kitchen up and running in about two months. Till then, he’s filled the restaurant with a random collection of memorabilia intended to keep visitors happy. IMG_2164.JPG

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Even without the restaurant up and running, he told me that nn a slow day he says an average of about 200 people showing up in the store/resturant, while on a fast day it’s 500 to 800 people coming in from all over the world because they’ve heard about this place. Just during the time I was there, for about half an hour at about 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I saw a Chinese guy and a French couple stop in to check the place out, all of whom were folks that were road-tripping Route 66 on motorcycles.

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A Big Man on a Bike, called “Will B. Rolling”: Port Byron, Illinois

Not much to say about this, it’s a very big (30 foot) fiberglass statue of Victorian man riding a vintage bicycle called a Penny-Farthing, so-called because its two wheels were of very different sizes and looked like you were holding a penny coin (small) up to farthing coin (large)…. Its located in the tiny riverside town of Port Byron, IL. Usually, the “Big Things” sculptures on my blog have a bit more whimsy to them than this one did… Not sure why this failed to do so, but it did. As such, this one really didn’t “make me happy” in the way the other fiberglass statures tend to and unless you’re needing a break on your cross-country drive, I don’t suggest it.

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I learned about it from the traveler’s web page, Atlas Obscura and since it was ‘almost’ directly along the route I was intending to drive anyway, and at exactly about a point where I was going to need a break anyway (about once every hour or two, just to stretch the legs), I went.

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According to Atlas, there are actually two of these (not identical), this one in Port Byron Illinois and the second, called “Ben Bikin”,  located in Sparta Wisconsin, that have spawned a 300 mile bike tour that zig zags cross-country from one statute to the other, called the Will to Ben Bike Tour.