Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Seven Wonders (Natural and Manmade) of US Route 6

US Route 6 runs clear across the United States through some spectacular landscapes.  It also touches areas, some remote, where brilliant and brave engineers and construction workers risked their lives to build a never-before-seen marvel.  Here are SEVEN WONDERS - both manmade and natural - to see on US Route 6.

Fort Hill
Cape Cod National Seashore, MA
1.  Cape Cod National Seashore, Cape Cod, MA: A National Park established by President John F. Kennedy, the National Seashore takes up nearly 75% of the whole of Cape Cod. With endless Atlantic Ocean views, wide sandy beaches and spectacular dunes, visiting the National Seashore should be on everyone's bucket list.

2. Kinzua Bridge/Viaduct, Smethport, PA;  - about 4 miles off of Route 6 outside of Smethport, the remains of the Kinzua Bridge took my breath away. It is difficult to fathom the extent of the destruction unless you actually see it in person.  In 1882, Octave Chinute (who also worked with the Wright Brothers) designed the bridge aerodynamically using no cross-braces. At 300 feet off the Valley Floor it was the highest bridge on the profitable New York - Erie Railroad line.  In 2003, a freak tornado tore it apart.  Now, visitors walk out onto the "Skywalk" and can stare into the valley and  the twisted remnants of the bridge - at no charge.

World's Largest Geodesic Dome
Henry Doorly Zoo
Omaha, NE
3. World's Largest Geodesic Dome, Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NE: The“World’s Largest Geodesic Dome” contains both the “World’s Largest Indoor Desert” and beneath it “The World’s Largest Indoor Swamp.”  Yes, the zoo has the skyride, a miniature steam train, a tram, lots of animals in lots of habitats.  OK, it’s a ZOO, for goodness sakes.  But the enclosed deserts, caves and swamps in the dome set this place apart from all others I’ve seen.  There are sand-dunes big enough for ATVing inside!  And lots of exotic birds (like the Kookabura), mini-deer, meercats, pumas, roadrunners, quails, teals, fox, rattlesnake.  Any animal that lives in the desert lives here. Staying on a concrete path, you can’t get lost, which is helpful because downstairs in the nocturnal “Kingdom of Night” exhibit, it gets pretty dark as you descend to caves and then swampland where you’re practically blind as a bat, but with lots of company; there are fruit bats in droves. It’s like being in a haunted house, but with great, big-eyed animals and swimming beavers instead of ghosts.  Some little kids were screaming to get out.  I thought it was the coolest thing.

Continental Divide
Loveland Pass, Colorado

4. Loveland Pass/Continental Divide, ColoradoThe switchbacks, hairpin turns and heart-stopping drop offs are all part of the fun of Route 6 up and over the Continental Divide in a 22 mile stretch called Loveland Pass. Even in summer the drive might feature pea-soup fog and a bit of icy precipitation, but that won't stop hundreds of skiers from barreling down the still-operating Arapaho Basin, nicknamed A-Basin – the highest skiable terrain in the United States. 
Loveland Pass skirts the Eisenhower Tunnel.  The Tunnel prohibits tanker trucks, so those fire-traps on wheels have to negotiate the hairpin turns and switchbacks as well. Be prepared.

Glenwood Canyon on I70
Glenwood Springs, CO

5. Glenwood Canyon, CO on I70/US 6; A triumph in road engineering, this portion of I70 was completed just 20 years ago. Segments of the Glenwood Canyon roadway are cantilevered over the Colorado River, and I70 follows the very curvy path of the river, like a 14-mile side-winding snake.  In some instances Eastbound runs above Westbound lanes.    While driving, I saw a very long freight train hugging the canyon wall as well – on the opposite side of the river.  Cars and train were mirroring each other – a seemingly impossible and elegant dance. 

Colorado National Monument
Grand Junction, CO
6. Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction, CO:   This is not a man-made sculpture or little ole plaque, but what should be (and what is in line to be) a new National Park.  Columns of Red and white Navajo sandstone and Green Shale have eroded to form otherworldly shapes in the 11 canyons among the striated and weathered sandstone, and you can take day hikes or drive on an incredible 26-mile paved road. Though National Parks in Utah and elsewhere grab much of the "splendor of nature" attention, the Colorado National Monument rivals Arches, Brice or Zion in magnificence. 

Alabama Hills
Lone Pine, CA
7. Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA; Rock formations ready for their close-up.  Every single silent western, singing cowboy movie and later the movies that made John Wayne and Clint Eastwood household names all look the same – setwise.  That’s because they were all filmed in these strange, rounded sandstone formations called the Alabama Hills, just a couple of hours from Los Angeles.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our President and A Supermodel on US Route 6

Atkinson, IL
Last month, President Obama visited the tiny farm town of Atkinson, IL.  Naturally, this being a US Route 6 blog, I had visited the wonderful farm community back in June and was greeted warmly by locals.   When Obama visited last month, he was welcomed with similar graciousness (and lots more of it, of course!) - and newscasters had this to say about his time there:

"President Barack Obama was in the small farm town of Atkinson, Illinois Wednesday talking to locals about jobs, the country's deficit, and regulations put on farmers.

President Obama in Atkinson, IL

He was at a town hall meeting at family owned business Wyffels Hybrids on Route 6.

He arrived at Wyffels around noon and was met by the Wyffel family, U.S. Congressman Bobby Schilling, and State Senator Mike Jacobs.

The president proclaimed as he took the podium it's good to be home. His main purpose there was to talk to folks in middle America about his plan for the future and answer their questions."

Along with many other pertinent issues, Obama had the following to say about Lisa's Place, an Atkinson restaurant I visited and wrote about here.

"I want to thank Lisa of Lisa’s Place.  Where’s Lisa?  (Applause.)  Is that Lisa?  Because Secret Service had to shut down the road and do all this stuff, I know some of you guys have not been able to enjoy her outstanding food.  So as a consequence, my staff has been I think trying to eat up as much as possible.  (Laughter.)  My understanding is I’ve got a pie coming.  Is that correct?  (Applause.)  What kind of pie?  Coconut cream and a cinnamon roll?  (Applause.)  I’m very excited about that.  (Laughter.)  Coconut cream is one of my favorite pies.  So thank you."

Yes, Route 6 plays a large part in our county's history and present - a thoroughfare that spans our country from East Coast to West Coast, bringing Bold Faced Names and the rest of us "Little People" through large cities and small towns. 

And sometimes, when a president shows up, or a supermodel drives too fast, US Route 6 becomes ancillary news.

According to yesterday's report out of Barnstable, MA: 

Barnstable Pottery
Barnstable, MA
"Gisele Bundchen (jih-ZEHL' BUN'-chen), supermodel and wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, was stopped for speeding and given a verbal warning by a Massachusetts state trooper.
State police spokesman David Procopio says Bundchen was going about 70 mph in a 55 mph zone on state Route 6 in Barnstable when she was stopped Saturday."

Gisele Bundchen
FILE - In this June 9, 2011 file photo

Yes, Gisele was stopped and reprimanded - but unlike the rest of us, that simple warning made national news.  I can honestly say I kept within the speed limit while on Route 6 in Cape Cod, but I can't say the same about the rest of my cross-country drive.  I, too, was clocked going 70 just east of the Colorado line in Nebraska.  But unlike Gisele, I was issued a hefty fine rather than a slap on the wrist. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Google Alerts and Readers Comments; Staying Current on US Route 6

US Route 6 is a both a timeline of US history and forever changing through time.  Though my six week trip remains in my rear view mirror, it has hardly faded from my memory.  I'm constantly updated on goings-on through friends I met along the way, readers comments and Google Alerts.

Most Google Alerts have to do with ho-hum roadwork.  There seems to be plenty of infrastructure rebuilding on this old highway.  I saw lots of it going on back in May and June, necessitating several long detours (well-marked for the most part).  Other alerts have to do with building permits and commercial activity along the road.

I also read about deadly car and motorcycle crashes - generally in the Eastern part of the country. (Route 6 isn't called "Suicide Six" in Connecticut for nothing). For the most part, these crashes involve pedestrians or other vehicles, with one glaring exception.

Hallet's Ice Cream
Cape Cod, MA
In the wee hours of August 3rd, a drunk teen drove through a plate glass window,  demolishing one of the oldest ice-cream soda fountains in the country: Hallett's.

 Back in May - on the first day of my cross country drive, I wrote the following and took video - and devotees of this old fashioned ice-cream shop swear it will be rebuilt.  But the old Hallet's of Cape Cod will never be the same again:

Share a decadently awewome old-fashioned ice-cream soda at 100-year-old Hallet’s, 139 Main St. Yarmouthport,  which has been dishing out hand-mixed ice-cream sodas for over 100 years. If those wide, warped original floorboards could talk, they’d expound upon the generations of soda-fountain lovers who stopped in for a cool, creamy, sinful sip. Still in operation by members of the Hallet family, come soon for one of the best ICS’s you’ll ever draw through a straw.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Harps, Harmonicas and Harmonies on US Route 6

Music; Scheduled, Random, Classical, Rock and Kitsch on Route 6

Post Office Cabaret
Provincetown, MA

ICONS - Post Office Cabaret
Provincetown, MA

ICONS - Post Office Cabaret
Provincetown, MA
1.  The Post Office Cabaret;  Provincetown, MA.  It’s raining Drag Queens in Provincetown, MA – the official beginning (or end) of US Route 6.  Some are so amazingly talented, they warrant their own show.  I happened to be lucky enough to catch ICONS at the Post Office Cafe– a side-splitting lip-syncing send-up of Madonna, Brittney, Whitney, Kelly, Gaga and other troubled and self-involved pop luminaries.  Four men – two gorgeous, two hubba-hubba hunks – prance, gyrate, flip hair, flex six-pack abs and otherwise entertain formidably for over an hour.  All I can say is “wow.”  Even my not-easily-impressed college sons had a great time.

2.   Dave Darby; Harmonica, Vocals at Mulligans in Coal Valley, Iowa.  Dave is Iowa’s Route 6 Director, photographer and champion   He also happens to be a guest vocalist and mouth-harp player in the band, Identity Crisis.  I came along to watch him do his thing – a very fun evening of no wine, no women, just song….and beer.  

3.    Katherine Siochi, student at Julliard, NYC, Harp- Chestnut Charm B&B, Atlantic, IA.  A fortuitous, random encounter led to my videotaping this quite bewitching practice session.  Mother/Daughter team Katherine and Ann Succi were the only other guests besides me at the Chestnut Charm B&B.  Before heading to NYC and her first year at Julliard, Katherine spent the summer competing and performing around the county.  Here, she was getting ready to perform in national musical competition nearby and permitted me to capture her on video, much to my delight.  Sometimes, serendipity trumps travel planning for sublime moments.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Six Route 6 Towns Rise From the Ashes After Natural and Economic Disasters; A Formula For Success

Provincetown, MA

In the mid-1800's, Provincetown, MA on the Easternmost tip of Cape Cod was a thriving maritime and fishing community and the region's most populated harbor.  The "Portland Gale" of 1898 - a hurricane-force winter storm - changed all of that in just two days. The Gale decimated Provincetown's fishing industry, turning wharfs and boats into splinters and sweeping them off into the sea. It killed over 600 people and rendered Provincetown a dangerous place to keep a fishing fleet.

Provincetown, MA Dunes

But instead of bemoaning its fate, the folks in Provincetown launched a tourism campaign, lauding the area's natural splendors.  Soon, bohemians and artists came, including painter Charles Hawthorne who started the Cape Cod School of Art and taught for the following 30 summers. As students came and then stayed, Provincetown became a year-round art community.  In 1915, Eugene O'Neill mounted his first play on an East End Provincetown wharf, and when, in 1916 The Boston Globe ran the headline "Biggest Art Colony in the World in Provincetown" - the town's reputation as an artist mecca was chiseled in stone.

I was recently asked if, on my Route 6 journey, I detected a theme in the more economically successful communities.  Though a complex issue, my first gut response was  - "yes, those that attract artists."

Provincetown is now one of the greatest, gayest, fun resort towns in America, getting the formula right early on.  But not every area of the country is as lucky - natural beauty-wise - as Cape Cod.  Yes, it attracted artists, but those artists came for a REASON; to paint the achingly gorgeous landscape at the edge of the world.

                                           Post Office Cabaret ICONS Show, Provincetown, MA

Though Provincetown is a Tourist Industry success, I did discover other struggling cities and towns that have emerged from or are digging out of economic despair:

1.  Provincetown, MA; See above

Frank Gehry Design
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland, OH
2. Cleveland, OH: Once a laughable mid-country city on the lake, Cleveland has never been the same since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came to town. It's taken awhile, but if you haven't been there lately, you might not recognize the place.  There are major sports stadiums, world class museums endowed by deep pocketed philanthropists, college buildings designed by internationally renowned architects (ie. Frank Gehry design for Case Western Reserve University), and constantly-being-renewed neighborhoods bursting with cutting edge restaurants and overflowing taverns all within a few miles of each other; rendering this compact city one of the most exciting on Route 6.

Olga's Cafe
Coudersport, PA

Olga's Yarn Gift Shop
Coudersport, PA

3.  Coudersport, PA; Here's where one couple can make a difference.  I wrote about Olga Gallery Cafe and and Bistro in this post.  Young and artsy, Olga and her husband John Snyder opened a feast-for-the-eyes, bursting with yarn and color gift shop/pub/venue for live music and people from near and far are hearing about little Coudersport, PA.  The Snyders took a chance, offer the best food, craft beer and home-made one-of-a-kind crafted clothing and gifts, and are nearly singlehandedly bringing a sagging downtown back to life.

John Deere Pavillion
Moline, IL

Moline, IL

4. Moline, IL and the Quad Cities: Moline's got the Mississippi River, John Deere's headquarters with its immense and free interactive museum, one of the oldest soda fountains in the country, a water taxi to transport you around, and a lot of great tourist-draws - a city on the cusp of tourist popularity.  I wrote about my impressions of Moline here, and I expect the quad cities will be discovered by the rest of the country soon.

Pour House
Friend, NE

Pour House Vintages
Friend, NE

5. Friend, NEentrepreneur and screen-writer, Carrey Potter has set up a lovely wine-tasting bistro called Pour House within a slowly-being-restored Friend Opera House.  The small town “Opera House” is a grandiose moniker for the factory-type building that served as a theater and gathering place for residents who craved culture on the Plains.  Many of these Opera Houses across the Midwest are in decay, but Carrey is turning back the clock in little Friend, NE.  The Pour House featuring nine Nebraska wines and others draw people from 100 miles away.   Carrey loves to play on words, reflected in the names of her house vintages; Betty White, Sknow White and Little Red Wrightinghood (which has a sweet snap a bit like a wine cooler).  Soon to open - if not already - is an art gallery next door; Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.  

6.  Ashland, NE: Last but not least, I wrote the following about great little Ashland:

A friendly, artistic, pretty, open-minded, proud, wonderful small town. The Willow Point Art Gallery and Museum features a “Four Season” taxidermy’d woodland animal diorama, with a big polar bear as most popular draw.  Owned by Mary Roncka and her artist-husband Gene, soothing music and a small waterfall gives the shop a spa-like feel.  There, I met Roger Bratt, feisty Marti Fritzen and elegant Peg Lutton; officers in the Ashland Historical Society.   They told me about local golden boy, astronaut Clayton Anderson, and the fact that Ashland has six buildings on the National Historic Register.  The town is on the Ox Bow Trail –a limestone ledge on the Salt Creek River where Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail wagons could cross and not sink into the muck. Ashland has a worldly crossroads character, in spite of its small size.

Cheri O'Kelly, owner, Cheri-O's
Ashland, NE
Roger Bratt at Cheri-O's
Ashland, NE
Kim Cooper, artist, Cooper's Art Gallery
Ashland, NE

Glacial Till Winery Tasting Room
Ashland, NE

Marti Fritzen and Peg Lutton
Ashland Historical Society
Ashland, NE
 Downtown is small but surprisingly sophisticated. Cheri-O’s Coffee House and Ice Cream Parlor, owned by a fun-loving Cheri O’Kelly since 1999 has earned quite a following with tasty sandwiches and shakes in an adorably whimsical room. "It's a great place for grandparents to share a malted with their grandkids and teach them about the good ole days," Cheri told me.

On just one main street, there are several art galleries; Willow Point is one and Cooper Studio and Gallery in a former old Grocery Store is another.  There,  I met artist Kim Cooper and fell in love with one of his acrylic nature pieces, so I just had to buy it.

Right across the street, The Glacial Till Winery Tasting Room enticed me with its name alone.  I was even more impressed when I walked into a swanky, streamlined bistro ($5 for 3-5 tastings) with ANOTHER art gallery upstairs; seemingly out-of-place, again, in small-town Nebraska. 
To get the full Ashland experience, have a sandwich at Cheri-O’s, a taste of vino at Glacial Till, peruse the art at Willow Point and Coopers and walk slowly down Silver St.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ten Offbeat and Unexpectedly Cool Attractions on US Route 6

Drive 3,652 miles across the United States and you’re bound to find a few oddball attractions.  As I made my way from the tip of Cape Cod, MA to the southern shores of California, I discovered a country full of singular, unsung, oft-times unknown sites.  My snippets are meant to whet your appetite to visit. Over time, I’ll highlight my full collection, but for now, I’ll start with these 10;

1     1.   “When the Chips are Down, The Buffalo Is Empty,” proclaims a bumper sticker for sale at the Creamery Brook Bison Farm in Brooklyn, CT, owned by Debbi and Austin Tanner.  With dozens of buffalo on the range in rural upstate Connecticut, this seemingly out-of-place farm brings a bit of the Wild West to genteel New England. Visitors are welcome to check out the livestock and purchase fresh meat.    

White's Tavern, Private Property
Andover, CT
        2.   Whites Tavern in Andover, CT is now in private hands, but in the 1770’s, when America was fighting for its freedom, it was the TGI Friday’s of its day.  After moving in owners Lorraine and Dale Busque found and had translated French General Rauchambeau’s Revolutionary War-Era journals subsequently discovering that George Washington’s ally feasted, drank and stayed overnight in White’s Tavern both on his way to and then back from meeting Washington’s troops along the Hudson River.

Harness Racing in Goshen, NY

  3.    Harness Racing Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY; who knew?  What at first appears to be a strange esoteric sport is, upon further inspection quite engaging.  And so is this museum, which has one of the best “virtual rides” I’ve ever experienced.  What began as a pissing contest (OK – a RACE) between wagon-driving farmers grew into a fast-paced, internationally regulated horseracing competition.  There’s a track out back and if you’re lucky you can watch horse and buggy-riders going through their paces.  

Zippo Case Museum
Bradford, PA

4.   Zippo Case Museum, Bradford, PA; OK so it’s not officially on Route 6, but this quirky homage to the “windproof lighter” is worth the 20-mile detour.  Trust me.  From the American Flag made out of hundreds of lighters to the professionally filmed Zippo story, this museum/gift shop should be on many bucket lists.


Children's Chicken Coop Church
Troy, PA
5   5.   Children’s Chicken Coop Church, Bradford County Heritage Museum, Troy, PA; This tiny church and its teenage preacher were featured in a 1939 issue of Life Magazine. Started by a 13 year old who felt that local ministers were too "high falutin'" and spoke down to kids, he cleaned out a chicken coop and opened his own place of worship.  The Heritage Museum itself is jam packed with historic stuff and has much to recommend it, but this well-preserved piece of our country’s religious past is sincerely cool and miniscule.

PennDOT Mural/Fence
Meadville, PA
(Photo From Wondermachine)

       6.  PennDOT Fence, Meadville, PA; New England has stone walls, Meadville has old Pennsylvania Department of Transportation route, street and highway signs.  A mosaic-like “fence,” crafted out of these colorful sheets of steel, rings the PennDot Headquarters property.  Right on busy Route 6 and tough to stop, you can appreciate the artfulness while driving past.  

         7.   Linesville Spillway, Linesville,  PA; “Where Ducks Walk on the Fishes Backs.” Gross.  Weird. Unsettling. But very, very popular.  

Merry Go Round Museum
Sandusky, OH
         8.   Merry Go Round Museum, Sandusky, OH; Watch wood carvers in action and learn what makes carousels so captivating - and then ride one!!   A perennial favorite of children (and your inner-child), the carousel has an interesting place in American History and this Post-Office-Turned-Museum tells the story well.  Sandusky is best known as home to the humungous Cedar Point Amusement Park, but when you get tired of the sticky crowds, see how it all began...

9      9.   Windmill Museum, Kendallville, IN; Before widespread use of electricity, windmills generated enough power to pump water, grind meal and otherwise make light work of a farmer’s labors.  Farmers and ranchers sought the best-functioning heavy-duty windmills and one well-respected manufacturer was located in Kendallville.   The Windmill Museum has collected a variety of these softly creaking utilitarian appliances in one place and the effect is one of Zen serenity – much like strolling by a burbling brook.

Annie Oakley Perfumery owner
Renee Gabet
Ligonier, IN
      10.  Annie Oakley Perfumery, Ligonier, IN; The fact that there’s a bone-fide perfumery in Indiana (rather than NYC or Paris), let alone in LIGONIER, Indiana (as opposed to say, a larger metropolitan area like Indianapolis or even Bloomington) is staggering enough. But the further fact that said perfumery is incongruously named after a women known more for her sharpshootin’ rootin’ tootin’ than a refined, sweet-smelling lifestyle places Annie Oakley Perfumery in the category of “Gotta See This Place and Smell the Goods!”  And those goods certainly do smell great.  My custom made "Malerie No. 6" is ideal for me. To top it off, owners Renee Gabet and her husband, Charles have carved out a little slice of Provence in the Midwest and imbued it with fragrant panache.  Open for tours. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Internationally Known "Cornfield 500" - Monster Truck Competition - Takes Place Labor Day Weekend in Columbus, PA Right On US Route 6

Monster Truck "Bad Habit" earned a place in Guinness World Book history when it caught 208 feet of air at the Cornfield 500 last year.  If you come to Western Pennsylvania this weekend, you might catch history in the making once again when "Professional Rednecks," Blair and Sabrena Miller, host their annual big truck competition.

Bad Habit

I met the Millers while traveling on US Route 6 and made this short documentary with them.  Their home sits right on 6, and so does the cornfield-turned-dirt-pile used for the annual, internationally known big-wheeling contest.

Good luck to all the drivers!  I'm sure it will be a blast.