Total Distance: 8,017 miles
States Visited: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, West Virginia, Connecticut.
Favorite State: South Dakota. Much less Jesusland out west than I expected-a farm here and there bearing anti-abortion billboards but nothing worse than that. Full of really big things! Really big jackalope statues, really big buffalo statues, really big actual buffalo, really big ludicrously outdated dinosaur statues, really big laser shows projected on the side of a mountain, really big drug store that sells buffalo burgers and buffalo hot dogs, really big building made out of corn. Also an abundance of statues and carvings of every single president- yes, all of them! And they don’t overlook the lesser-known presidents like Warren G. Harding or losery goth presidents like Franklin Pierce. This state’s got it all. Clearly the most entertaining state in the union. Consider these examples:
Crazy Horse, SD
Rapid City, SD
The aforementioned Franklin Pierce, a failure as a president but far more talented at Goth than any other.
They had lesser-known presidents at every street corner in this neighborhood. Who could forget James Buchanan?
Least Favorite State: Connecticut- even driving all the way across the country and back didn’t reveal a more vile state than our nearby neighbors.
Least Favorite State Runner Up: Kentucky. Way too much Jesus. Jon would have said Utah on this one because their beer is barely legal and limited to Bud, among other reasons he can tell you about. Still full of Jesus, but the Jesus People there don’t bother me because they’re a different kind of Jesus People. They keep to themselves and wear their funny underwear and marry their wives. They’re not in my face trying to convince us to teach kids in school that believing in evolution makes you a Nazi and that the earth is 6,000 years old. That’s the kind of Jesus people that Jesus himself probably wishes to crucify- they seem to cluster around the Kentucky area.
Favorite City: Chicago, of course- I vowed eternal love for Chicago many years ago. And Seattle- Among other things, they have trolls living under their bridges.
The troll asked me if he would ever see me again. I hope so. A lot.
Least Favorite City: Reno. I thought the Saddest Place on Earth had to be Waterbury, CT, but Reno made me want to drown my troubles in chum. At least Waterbury doesn’t try to pretend it’s a fun place.
Best Wax Museum: I traveled far and wide and on this trip alone I saw five different attractions containing human figures enacting events in American history and I’m proud to say that the finest wax museum in the country is still the Salem Witch Museum of Massachusetts. Primarily because of the wax model of Giles Corey. They have an ancient tape recording of him being pressed to death by enormous rocks, refuse to confess to being a witch. His pained moan of “Moooooore….weights!” never fails to make me erupt in uncontrollable laughter. Anyone feeling like going this year? Maybe around January when there’s nobody else there.
Best Wax Museum Runner-up: Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, SD. Can’t say enough good things about it.
This picture desperately needs a caption, but I discovered I’m not clever enough to come up with one.
In one display they gathered a Hall of Loser Presidents, forced to stand together in this exhibit because no one voted for them:
Many of the presidents were commemorated in scenes reflecting important events during their presidency. George W. Bush was the only president with two dioramas-one for 9/11 and one for the 2000 election. That one showed him cringing as an enraged Al Gore gave him a verbal thrashing. The description on the wall stated that this was “an extraordinary election that was too close to call.”. Mm-hmm.
This was all they could come up with for Jimmy Carter:
And this was the best they could manage for Lyndon Johnson:
Roadside America stated about this display “The last place Jackie wanted to be was standing next to her barely cold husband’s replacement.”
I’ve got to hand it to them, though, for not neglecting a single president. Some of the lesser-known olde tyme presidents were reduced to glass coffin displays, but they were indeed all there.
On the other hand-
Worst Wax Museum: Scheels Sporting Goods in Sparks, NV. I commend Scheel’s for being a larger-than-life affair of utter gaudiness, complete with a Mount Taxiderma and a Ferris Wheel, but despite Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Jefferson being talking and animatronic, the presidential figures themselves are barely recoginizeable.
Seriously, who is this supposed to be?
Most likely a founding father-type, but seeing as they spent a few kajillion dollars on making their store into a family fun park of presidents and taxidermy, you’d think they could have sprung for a better sculptor.
Best Monument: Crazy Horse. I was last there in 1986 and it didn’t look like anything except a mountain. My mom said back then that maybe someday when I was a grown-up I could see it again and it would be finished. Now they have Crazy Horse’s face, which is impressive progress. They let me take a cantaloupe-sized rock straight from the mountain for a buck as a souvenir. Not like the uppity Mount Rushmore that had signs saying “IF YOU DARE TAKE A SINGLE PEBBLE FROM ANY LOCATION IN THIS PARK YOU WILL BE ARRESTED FOR TREASON.” My new souvenir Crazy Horse rock will go right next to the giant heavy Crazy Horse rock I picked up in 1986 when I was nine. I liked Crazy Horse back then, too- I told him that I would come and see him again someday and it took me 23 years to make good on my promise. But you know Crazy Horse- he is extremely patient. This time around I asked if I would live long enough to see him completed and he said we would both have to wait and see.
Best Monument Runner-Up: This one:
Worst Monument: Ethically, it would have to be Mount Rushmore, I guess, even though I love both really big things and things shaped like presidents. But they really fucked over the Native Americans and were total anuses about letting me take a teeny little rock as a souvenir.
Best Attraction: Centralia, PA deserves its own post, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it. You’ll have to wait for Jon to cover it- he’ll do a good job. If you don’t know, Centralia, PA is a town that has been on fire for 45 years. The fire is expected to burn for another 20,000 years. The population in Centralia was 9 as of 2007 and I think we saw all 9 of them, plus a bichon frise. Other than that is has been long since abandoned. There were ominous plumes of tire-smelling smoke rising from the ground on which we walked. This is the queen of sites for Abandoned-Stuff Exploring.
Runner Up: Berkeley Pit in Butte, MT. I am so happy I found this place- thank you, Atlas Obscura. Originally a coal mine, it is now the world’s largest toxic waste pool. The tour was only 2 bucks and definitely worth it. Like Centralia, it is both toxic, a former mine and deserving of its own post.
Worst Attraction: Bandon, OR. I spent a couple hours here while Jon got the car serviced. I was here longer than I was at the Berkeley Pit. But it had to be done
Worst Attraction Runner Up: If we had actually partaken in the tour instead of just snagging the picture, it might have been this:
As for the Worst Attraction Runner Up that we actually visited, I’m tempted to say the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. But it danced artfully on that gossamer line between “Utterly Horrible” and “So terrible that it’s relentlessly hilarious and would be a crime to miss.”
It was a wax museum tour of the history of Nebraska.
Nebraska began when a bunch of pioneers kept busting wheels and getting their wagons stuck in the mud. Then they kept dying of cholera and dysentery.
Then they started driving horseless carriages and using the telegraph, and then you turn a corner and without warning you’ve been transported to the 1960s, ordering from a diner waitress in a pink uniform, a waitress named Gladys who calls you “hon”.
Gladys is the final exhibit, so you can only assume that that’s the last thing of interest that’s ever happened in Nebraska. Other than the completion of the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.
Best Dinner: We tried to eat as often as we could at restaurants that had as much taxidermy as possible. This was not hard to do at all. The ol’ west *loves* taxidermy! Look- they even have taxidermy in their pharmacies!
But none of this delightfully abundant taxidermy could hold a candle to the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. It also happened to serve the finest (and the priciest) food we consumed on the trip, including the dinner served at my brother’s wedding in Oregon. I was able to add a new animal to the “Animals I’ve Eaten” list. This time it was a rattlesnake appetizer that was reminiscent of, but superior to, the “White Trash Cheese Dip” served at Bukowski in Inman Square. I also had elk and two quail. They probably mount the heads of the animals served at dinner up on the wall.
The Buckhorn Exchange has over 500 taxidermed animals (I counted 19 pronghorn deer viewable from my chair alone) and is the oldest restaurant in Denver, shooting animals, eating them and stuffing them since 1893. They’re really proud that they have the Denver Liquor License Number One. And did I mention the food was incredible? As long as you eat meat, I guess. I counted the number of vegetarian options on the entire menu- 1 side dish (artichokes) and 4 desserts. If you don’t like rattlesnake, buffalo, elk, quail or alligator, you are SOL here. All you can do is feast your eyes on the endless taxidermy.
Though Jon might have voted this one as the best dinner:
It was in Madison, Wisconsin but I can’t remember what it’s called. Something to do with brats. He was quite content that evening.
Best Dinner Runner Up: In Des Moines, Iowa:
Worst Dinner: The Awkward Restaurant in Port Oroford, OR. Bleah. Jon can tell you all about, but I’ll never forget the nine plates of disgusting pasta, each weighing 6 pounds.
Worst Dinner Runner Up: Somewhere in California on a really twisty mountain road:
Worst Dinner 2nd runner-up: Coos Bay (?), Oregon:
3rd runner up: Covington, KY
Actually, the zza we had there was perfectly fine. It was just the fact that we were in Kentucky that pained us.
Best Billboard: Variations of these graphic billboards were all over Montana. Amazing.
Best Billboard Runner-Up: Rapid City, SD:
Worst Billboard: The goddamn crap plastered all over Jesusland. And the one for the Creation museum somewhere in southern Ohio. Those things offend me deeply and I’m not joking in the slightest. In South Dakota they had ancient hand-painted billboards advertising fossil museums saying they were MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD! Good for South Dakota. I had a horrible fear that they were going to try to say their dinosaur fossils were 6,000 years old like the fossil caves in West Virginia do.
Best taxidermy:The Buckhorn Exchange won for best dinner, so I have to give this one to Scheels Sporting Goods in Sparks, NV. Mount Taxiderma. Especially because I feel a little bad about trashing their animatronic president collection.
Worst taxidermy: Kearney, NE
Best Outfit: Jon’s America-Belt. He wore it while visiting Mount Rushmore to demonstrate his patriotism and did not take it off from South Dakota until we finally hit the cosmopolitan west coast.
Check it out!
Worst Outfit:: Did I mention that my brother got married at a New Age resort in Oregon? Well, he did. And there was a Guest House where we were all supposed to meet in the evening to play Blokus or to read Celtic mythology or use the Medicine Woman Tarot cards while listening to breathy new age women sing fake Native American chants. I found a pair of reflexology gloves there and we reenacted 1920s cartoons with them.
Best new friend: Chicago, IL
The cicadas are really aggressive and bird-hungry in Chicago, but Jon let me carry this one around on my shoulder so it could be my pet for the day.
Worst new friend: Keystone, SD
Best Thing Ever: Wall, South Dakota-
What can I say? There are certain things that will win me over under any circumstances. They include taxidermy, great apes, animatronic great apes or animatronic anything, presidents, fossils, dinosaurs and really big fiberglass statues on the side of the road. And once you leave New England, America seems to have all these things in abundance. What an awesome country.