America, Roadside Attractions & 4,735 Miles (Part Three)

This is the final part of a three-part series on my recent cross-country road trip. Be sure to check out part one and part two for more of the story.

When we last left off, we were tasting wine in Iowa and then making our way across the state to stay with our friends Becky and Dan in Indianola. Up until this point in my life, my experience with Iowa included a part in the chorus of The Music Man at age 12 where I uttered the line, “Good morning, Mayor Shinn”  and a college semester in London through a study abroad program put on by Central College in Pella, Iowa. My semester in London did not involve a stop at Central, but I was part of a program that included many students who went to school there and had grown up in Iowa–a childhood much different than mine growing up in the LA area. Because of this, Iowa has always been on my list of places to visit.

Indianola is home to Simpson College, a small liberal arts college founded in 1860. Our visit included a stroll through the beautiful campus. Our friends took us to an amazing local ice cream shop called The Outside Scoop. Our time in Iowa also included meeting Tim’s high school friend Andy and his family for lunch in Ames–a city I only knew because of it’s mention in a song from The Music Man (Yeah, a lot of what I knew about Iowa before this trip came from that musical). I knew they were cool people as soon as I found out we shared an obsession with Hamilton. We laughed a lot and enjoyed a tasty lunch before Tim and I headed to Des Moines for a visit to the Iowa State Capitol, which all our Iowa friends told us was one of the most beautiful capitol buildings–they were not wrong. My favorite parts were the suffrage memorial and the law library, which made me feel like I was in the library of a certain school of witchcraft and wizardry.

After a couple days in Iowa, we once again hit the road for a drive across Nebraska that would end with a night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The drive was around 650 miles, so we made sure to plan several stops at Roadside Attractions along the way to break out the long, flat drive.

Before leaving Iowa, we found an Easter Island head hanging out in a park. Our stops included a photo op at the GI Body Shop in Grand Island, Nebraska. There’s a yard full of cartoonish cars up on polls that will bring a smile to even the most road-weary face. We made a quick stop at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island in search of more information of a story of two boys from 1864 that we read about on the Roadside America app. Nat and Bob Martin had been shot by Sioux Indians. One of the arrows pierced both of them and joined the brothers together. They tumbled off their horse and were left for dead in a ditch, but they managed to survive and make it back home. Both survived well into adulthood. In front of the museum, you can see a statue of the two boys joined together by that famous arrow, and if you drive about 15 miles from the museum, you can find a marker in the spot where the boys were temporarily joined together.

Our trip also included a quick stop in Gothenburg, Nebraska for a visit to a sod house and some coffee for me. According to the guest book at the coffee shop, they recently had a famous visitor there.

After spending the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming, we made our way to Salt Lake City, Utah via a number of roadside attractions that involved stops at two Little America Hotels in Wyoming. Little America is famous for its taxidermy Emperor Penguin. Back in the 1930s, the owners had originally wanted Emperor the Penguin to be their live mascot, but he did not survive the journey from Antarctica, and now his glassy eyes stare out at visitors from his home perched on a fake block of ice in a glass case. Our drive that day took us along the Lincoln Highway–a stretch of road presided over by the president himself.

Perhaps one of my favorite stops on this leg of the trip was the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, Wyoming. This was another excellent find from the Roadside America app. What drew me here was the story of George Parrott (also known as Big Nose George) and the shoes made from his skin. Back in the late 19th century, Big Nose George got quite boastful about his criminal exploits, which led to his arrest. He attempted to escape jail by attacking his jailor, but the jailor’s wife heard the commotion and was able to coax Big Nose George back to his cell with the help of a pistol. Masked men broke into the jail and “rescued” Big Nose George, but his rescuers were not really rescuers at all. They turned out to be a lynch mob and poor George met his end strung up on a telegraph poll.

The story does not end there. Legend has it that because of the size of George’s famous nose, extra pressure was required to close the lid of the coffin. Even though George was finally squeezed into the coffin, he would not yet get peaceful eternal rest. Doctor Thomas Maghee and Doctor John Eugene Osborne decided to steal George’s body to study his brain for criminality. This was not quite enough for Osborne who decided to use some of Big George’s skin to make a pair of shoes and a medical bag. You can see the shoes at the museum. Big George’s skull cap was also sawn off and presented to Maghee’s young assistant, Lillian Heath, who would go on to become the first female doctor in Wyoming. They kept his body in a whiskey barrel, where his remains were discovered in the 1950s.

Go to the museum to learn more about Big George’s story, but also be sure to check out all the other interesting items, and spend some time talking to the staff. We had a nice conversation with the museum director who told us all kinds of fun facts about Carbon County and even played the 1913 Edison phonograph for us. Local legend has it that Edison got the idea to invent the lightbulb during a visit to Rawlins.

After a night in Salt Lake City, Utah, we made our way across the Nevada desert and ended our trip in Reno, Nevada, where we visited Tim’s family and picked up his niece for a week with us in Southern California. No sooner were we back to our regular lives than we were both planning for what big road trip we would take next, but all those will have to wait for another time. The real world calls and not every day can be spent on the road, but we will head out again soon. After all, the world is full of stories, and we only saw 4,735 miles of it.

For anyone planning a road trip, I highly recommend the Roadside America app. I am not being paid to endorse their app or website; I am just a huge fun. I opted for the full version (includes attractions in the U.S. and Canada) at $8.98–less than what you would pay for most travel books. You can get just one region for $2.99 if you don’t want the full version, but I would recommend getting all of it to inspire future travels.

Pictures of the Iowa Capitol and the cars on polls in Nebraska are by Tim. All other pictures are by me.

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