tourism

The (Not So) Impossible Road Trip

Icy snow is covering our town. So we spent the holiday weekend just dreaming of places we want to go and making a list of new and old favorite sights we want to see in the new year.

The Impossible Road Trip – An Unforgettable Journey to Past and Present Roadside Attractions in all 50 States” turns out to be a great aid to our adventure planning

When the book by Eric Dregni first showed up at our house, we thought the “impossible” in the title meant the book was all about historic roadside attractions and quirky destinations across the United States we’d never get to see.

But now that we look closer, we see that the long-gone spots mentioned here simply offer context for all the corny, quirky, and unique places that are still around.

Like the Big Duck in Flanders, NY. The World’s Largest Buffalo Monument in Jamestown, North Dakota. The Cardiff Giant in Cooperstown, NY, And many places across the country where you can spot statues of dinosaurs, muffler men, and Paul Bunyans

Here’s a look inside the book, which includes infographic maps, themed roundups, and some wonderful photographs taken by the late architectural critic and photographer John Margolies.

We checked to see if some of our favorite attractions in Washington were included and were pleased to the Zillah’s Teapot Dome Gas Station and Seattle’s Hat ‘n’ Boots included. (These photos are not from the book).

Courtesy VIsit Yakima

Visit Victoria, B.C; see a bony-eared Assfish

Victoria Boney Eared Ass fish

Bony-eared Assfish from the Royal B.C. Museum

With the Canadian dollar currently worth just 69 US cents, now is a good time to take that vacation up north.

One of my favorite Canadian cities is Victoria, B.C., which is just a one-hour float plane ride or a 3 hour high-speed passenger ferry ride from my home base of Seattle.

And my favorite place to visit in Victoria is the Royal B. C. Museum, which is filled with world-class exhibitions and permanent galleries – and which has lots of treasures tucked away in the vaults.

There’s an admission charge to enter the museum (well worth it), but there’s a new gallery – the Pocket Gallery – that is free for everyone and filled with objects from the collection that are rarely or never put on view.

The first Pocket Gallery exhibition, Finding Fishes, features beautifully crafted replica fish and preserved fish collected from the BC coast and among the specimens on display is the Bony-eared Assfish, the first of its kind found anywhere in BC.

What to do in Denver

I spent a few days poking around Denver while waiting for the new Westin to open out at the airport and, thanks to the enthusiastic folks at the Colorado Tourism Office, Visit Denver and a host of others, found plenty to keep me entertained and planning a return trip.

Here’s a quick look at a few places I had a chance to visit.

DENVEr LEOPOLDBros

If you’ve got someone driving you into the city from the airport, plan your arrival to coincide with the Tasting Room public hours at Leopold Bros. distillery, on the way into town. On the menu: tasty, award-winning, small batch whiskies, gins, vodka, liqueurs and a few other spirits all made right there.

In town, I stayed at the Crawford Hotel, located inside Denver’s historic, restored Union Station.

Denver Crawford

The station’s Great Hall – which has more than a dozen restaurants, bars and boutique shops – serves as the hotel’s lobby and has become a living room-style gathering spot for locals. Upstairs, some of the 112 rooms are “Pullman-style,” in a nod to the heyday of train travel, with ‘classic” and roomy “loft’ rooms rounding out the other options.

The Oxford Hotel, which first opened in 1891, is a block from the train station. In the lobby you’ll find a cozy, wood-burning fireplace and a caged canary (a holdover from the days when miners were frequent guests) and, upstairs, this vintage “business center.”

Guests who take the time to type a letter can have it mailed for free.

Denver Oxford

While in town, I visited the bigger-than-I-imagined Denver Art Museum, spending most of my time with the Western American Art collection, and toured Hostel Fish, where they have a fresh, modern take on the classic hosteling experience.

denver hostel fish

In addition to meals inside The Source and AvantiF&B, two multi-merchant venues, I sat down to dinner at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, a popular restaurant and music venue in a former brothel, and visited the wizards at The Inventing Room dessert shop, where chef Ian Kleinman whipped up some crazy treats, including chocolate cinnamon nitro popcorn.

Denver _InventingRoomNitroPopcorn

Back at Denver International Airport, I made sure to arrive well ahead of my flight so I could enjoy a meal at Root Down,, in the center core of Concourse C.

The menu there is “field to fork” and the decor is very definitely fun and funky.

Denver AIrport Root Down

On the road: Deadwood and Wall Drug

Wall Drug Jackalope

Two South Dakota spots I recently visited – Deadwood and Wall Drug – face with the classic tourism challenge: how to get people to come visit. And then visit again.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I put together for CNBC:

Since its Gold Rush-era founding in 1876, the South Dakota frontier town of Deadwood has been through several booms and busts.

Yet it retains a veneer of the Wild West and keeps fresh the stories of legendary residents such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.

But Deadwood is trying not to live up to its name: the town that helped spawn a popular cable series is looking for a shot of something new.

“All destinations need to evolve over time, even those that that wish to remain the same,” said Alan Fyall, a professor in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Since November, 1989 — the year that Deadwood joined Las Vegas and Atlantic City as a cohort of then U.S. cities with legal non-reservation gaming — more than $18 billion has been wagered in the town. That activity has generated millions of dollars in tax proceeds to restore historic buildings in Deadwood, and to promote tourism statewide.

But despite the addition of keno, craps and roulette this past summer, Deadwood is no longer confident of its winning hand.

Recently, state data showed the city’s gaming revenues have plateaued, prompting some officials to suggest the town has to adapt to a more competitive landscape.

“Gaming is now ubiquitous nationwide, and Deadwood can’t just rely on gambling or its Western culture anymore,” said South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard

On that score, Deadwood’s Revitalization Committee recently commissioned a 96-page action plan that contains recommendations on how the town can capitalize on its history and place in popular culture.

Deadwood’s popularity is at least partly attributed to HBO’s three-season-long “Deadwood” TV series (which was canceled in 2006 but is still popular online) and attractions such as Kevin Costner’s memorabilia-filled Midnight Star casino and restaurant on Main Street.

“The town has so many things going for it beyond gaming,” said Roger Brooks, whose tourism consulting firm put together the revitalization report. “Plus, with a name like Deadwood, it doesn’t get much better when it comes to being able to stand out.”

Brooks would like Deadwood’s Wild West-themed streets to be more authentic and pedestrian friendly. He’s also urged the town to create a central plaza where regular entertainment and activities can take place. Meanwhile, the town’s business community is grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns and rallying around those recommendations.

“We developed 55 action items from the report, and have been busily working on making them happen,” said Mike Rodman, executive director of the Deadwood Gaming Association and a member of the Revitalization Committee.

Currently, the town is building a new welcome center and in town more technology-friendly parking meters now accept credit cards and cell-phone payments.

“We also cleaned up our signage, put up baskets of flowers on the street lights and wrapped some electrical boxes to make them less visible,” said Rodman.

Next on the list: finishing plans for two downtown plazas and raising the $8.8 million needed to move that part of the plan forward, said Rodman.

Meanwhile, at Wall Drug

Deadwood may need to change, but Wall Drug credits its success to remaining pretty much the same.

Now a block-long oasis of kitsch visited annually by more than a million visitors traveling along a lonely stretch of Interstate 90, Wall Drug got its start in the 1930s when the owners of a struggling drug store put up highway signs advertising free ice water.

Thirsty Depression-era travelers pulled over for refreshments and purchased ice-cream and other small items while they were there.

Over the years, Wall Drug evolved into one of the country’s most famous pit stop, with a cafe, restaurant, art gallery and shops that sell everything from postcards and T-shirts to jackalope hunting permits, turquoise jewelry and high-end cowboy boots and western wear.

Dozens of free, photo-friendly attractions were built as well, including a giant jackalope, a replica of Mt. Rushmore, a shooting gallery arcade and a giant Tyrannosaurus rex that roars to life every 15 minutes.

The ice water is still free, the coffee is just 5 cents and many grandparents make a point of reliving their childhood Wall Drug experience with their grandchildren.

“My father and my grandparents wanted Wall Drug to be someplace where people could stop, have a nice meal and enjoy themselves without spending much money if they didn’t want to,” said Rick Hustead, current Wall Drug chairman and the oldest grandson of founders Dorothy and Ted Hustead.

“Our guests spend on average two and a half hours here and 50 percent of our business is repeat customers, so we must be doing something right,” Hustead added.

Wall Drug coffee