Roadside Attractions (Notebook)

When one thinks of the west, images of soaring mountains, rugged canyons and wide open spaces often come to mind. But there is another side to the left half of the country. A kitschy side. An odd side. A strangely absorbing side.

Driving around Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, one can find pyramids, giant women and scripture laden cabooses. You just have to know where to look.

Idaho

Birthplace of Television, Rigby
At the age of eleven, Philo T. Farnsworth moved with his family to Rigby where he worked on his uncle’s farm. It was there that he learned how electrical motors worked. One day he was plowing potato fields when the parallel rows inspired his idea for television scan lines. Over the years 125 patents were issued to Farnsworth including one for the invention of television.

The museum hosts a collection of old TV tubes, some of Farnsworth’s personal items and awards, and a bronze bust of the inventor.
Tuesday-Saturday 1 – 5 pm
Adults $2, Children (16 and under) $1
Jefferson County Historical Society Pioneer Museum, 118 W 1st St. South
208.745.8423

Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR-1), Arco
On December 20, 1951 the world’s first nuclear reactor produced enough energy to light four 100-watt light bulbs. It was the first usable amount of electricity from nuclear energy.

Although EBR-1 shut down in 1963, you can still take a self-guided tour of the reactor and the building that houses it. The main control room and the rest of it, look like something out of the Jetsons. It is what people thought was futuristic in the 50s. There is also the “hot cell” behind thirty-four layers of oil-separated glass and outside you’ll find two reactors built to develop a nuclear engine for a long range bomber. The idea was for it to fly non-stop for 5 days—there were even menus planned for the crew. The plane was never built.
Free
US Hwy 26/20, between Idaho Falls and Arco

Evel Knievel’s Snake River Jump Site and Monument, Twin Falls
In 1974, Evel Knievel famously attempted to jump the 500-foot deep‚ quarter mile wide Snake River Canyon on a steam-powered “skycycle”—a rocket-powered motorcycle. Because of a parachute malfunction, Evel crashed on the jump, but got away with only a broken nose. You can visit a monument and the Buzz Langdon Visitor Center from which you can view Evel’s earthen ramp two miles up the river.
Mid-March—Mid-October 8 am-8 pm daily
Free
858 Blue Lakes Boulevard North
208.733.9458, www.twinfallschamber.com

Giant Woman, Blackfoot
A giant statue of a blonde woman stands in front of Martha’s Cafe, hoisting a sandwich platter. She’s only a few blocks from the World Potato Exposition.
Free to view, extra to eat
851 S Broadway Streey
208.785.4199

Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot
Featuring Idaho’s Famous Potatoes®, the Idaho Potato museum is the home to everything potato. From the world’s largest potato chip, to the first potato planted in Idaho, to potato history, the growing and harvesting process, nutrition, trivia and educational potato facts—if it’s potatoes you’re looking for, this is the place. Every out-of-stater (who is also a paid adult) gets a box of hash browns to take home.
April-September 9:30 am – 5 pm (Monday-Saturday), October-March 9:30 am – 3 pm (Monday-Friday)
Adults $3, Children (6-12) $1, under 6 free, Seniors $2.50
130 NW Main Street
208.785.2517, www.potatoexpo.com

Montana

Berkeley Pit, Butte
This former open-pit copper mine, turned tourist attraction, is about a mile and a half wide, 1,780 feet deep and contains 900 feet of acidic water laden with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. Not surprisingly, it is one of the country’s largest Superfund sites.

The Anaconda Mining Company opened the mine in 1955 and it was later bought out by the Atlantic Richmond Company (ARCO) who operated it until its closure in 1982. After the pit was closed and the water pumps were removed, nearby ground water filled the pit, decaying the rock walls and releasing heavy metals.

The water in the pit is so toxic that in 1995 it killed over 300 snow geese that mistakenly landed on it. Visitors can view the mine from a platform located above it.
Mid-March—Mid-September 8 am-8 pm daily
$2
East end of Park St.
Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce, 406.723.3177

Big Red the Ox, Bozeman
Big Red was the last Ox to pull freight over Bozeman Pass. After he died in 1910, he was stuffed and is now displayed on the wall of Powder Horn Sportsman’s Supply amongst dozens of other dead, stuffed animals.
Monday-Saturday 9 am-6 pm, Sunday 11 am- 5 pm
Free
35 E. Main St., Bozeman
406.587.7373

Hobo Bible Art in a Caboose, Culbertson
A deserted Great Northern caboose was left in a rail yard where it became the home of an anonymous hobo. He illustrated and annotated his interpretation of the Revelation to St. John on every interior space in the caboose using felt-tip pens.

The museum hosts life-sized displays of various Old West scenes, such as a barbershop, homesteader kitchen and home life and old time saloon.
June-August 8 am – 8 pm daily, May and September 9 am – 6 pm daily
Free – Donation
One mile east of town on US Highway 2
Culbertson Museum, 406.787.6320, www.culbertsonmt.com/museum.htm

Our Lady of the Rockies, Butte
Dedicated to all women of the world, especially mothers, this 90-foot tall Virgin Mary sits atop the Continental Divide above Butte. She is only second in size the Statue of Liberty. At night you can see her from miles around, thanks to the lights that shine all night long.

She was completed in 1985 by an all volunteer work force. The road to Our Lady is private, so a bus tour is required.
June-September bus tours leave at 10 am and 2 pm (Monday-Saturday), 11 am and 2 pm (Sunday)
Adults $12, Juniors (13-17) $9, Children (5-12) $5, Seniors (55+) $5
3100 Harrison Ave, Butte
406.782.1221, www.ourladyoftherockies.org

Steer Montana, Baker
Steer Montana weighs in at 3,980 pounds making him the world’s largest steer. This Roan Polled Short Horn Breed is 5’11” in height, 10’4” in length and 9’2” in girth. Early ranchers tell the tale that Steer Montana grew into such a large animal because he was feed grain mash (a leftover product from the local bootleg liquor trade).

Before Steer Montana’s death a local rancher, Mr. Jack Guth, raised and used Steer Montana in stock shows and circuses. When he finally passed they “strung him up on a windmill,” stripped the carcass, and preserved the hide in a tank of brine.
June – September 9 am – 5 pm daily, October – May 9 am – 5 pm Friday – Sunday
Free—Donation
723 South Main
O’Fallon Historical Museum, 406.778.3265

Wyoming

Ames Brothers Pyramid, Laramie
The Ames Pyramid is a sixty-foot-tall stone-block monolith constructed in 1882 to commemorate Union Pacific railroad businessmen/politicians Oakes and Oliver Ames. Not long after the monument had been constructed in their honor, the Ames brothers were found to have been involved in several financial scandals related to the building of the railroad, in fact, Oakes was known as the “King of Frauds”.

The pyramid was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and giant portraits of the Ames Brothers, chiseled into opposite sides near the apex of the pyramid, were sculpted by August St. Gaudens, the man who later designed the US $20 gold piece.

The tracks that ran by the monument were relocated to the south, leaving the pyramid standing alone. At the time of the construction of the railroad the Ames brothers’ company in Massachusetts was the largest manufacturer of shovels in the country. Today, known as Ames-True Temper, it is still the world’s largest manufacturer of non-powered lawn and garden tools (a category which of course includes shovels).

Be sure to stay in the fenced area, or you’ll be trespassing on private property.
Daylight hours.
Free
Exit 329 off I-80. Head south and east on Monument Rd until you come to a sign with an Ames Monument arrow. Bear left onto the gravel/dirt road, about one mile to the pyramid.
Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources, 307.777.6323

Emperor the Penguin, Cheyenne
Little America, a giant gas station and travel plaza, was named after Admiral Byrd’s camp on the South Pole. In 1950, the owners decided it would be apropos to have a live Emperor penguin as the mascot for Little America and they had one shipped from Antarctica. Sadly, the penguin did not survive the trip, so they had it stuffed. Emperor the Penguin now sits in a glass case in the Little America Hotel lobby.
All hours
Free
2800 W Lincolnway
Little America Hotel, 307.775.8400, www.littleamerica.com/cheyenne/

Mother Featherlegs Monument, Lusk
Mother Featherlegs was a prostitute who lived near Lusk, Wyoming and was murdered during a robbery in 1879. Her grave has been called the only monument in the United States to a prostitute.

Mother Featherlegs and a live-in companion established a whorehouse along the Cheyenne-Black Hills trail, at which establishment gambling and whiskey were supplied in addition to sex. Her companion, who called himself “Dangerous Dick” Davis, claimed to be a hunter and trapper, but spent most of his time lounging around the house instead.

The house, little more than a dugout near a stream, soon became a refuge for bandits from the surrounding area, and they would frequently entrust jewels, money, and other valuables to the madam for safe-keeping.

Her red granite tombstone reads, “Here lies Mother Featherlegs. So called, as in her ruffled pantalettes she looked like a feather-legged chicken in a high wind. She was roadhouse ma’am. An outlaw confederate, she was murdered by “Dangerous Dick Davis the Terrapin” in 1879”.
Daylight hours
Free
About 10 miles south of Lusk on the Old Cheyenne Trail
Niobrara Chamber of Commerce, 307.344.2950

World’s Largest Elkhorn Arch, Afton
Spanning four lanes of traffic, the World’s Largest Elkhorn Arch is seventy-five feet across and eighteen feet above the road. The arch is constructed of over 3,000 elk antlers, which at today’s prices would cost over $300,000.
All hours
Free
N Washington Street
Star Valley Chamber of Commerce, 307.883.2759

World’s Largest Jackalope, Douglas
In the center of town, perched on a pillar, sits an eight-foot Jackalope—the world’s largest. Part jackrabbit, part antelope, this mythical creature is found in tourist destinations around the west, but the largest one resides in Douglas.

Douglas declares itself “Home of the Jackalope” and celebrates with Jackalope imagery on billboards, hotel signs, and a park bench in front of the police department.
All hours
Free
Corner of North 3rd Street and Cedar Street
City of Douglas, 307.358.3462

Big Sky Journal
Summer 2008

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