The House on the Rock, Area 3

Area 3 of the House on the Rock includes new views of the Carousel, Organ Room, Inspiration Point, Doll House Room, Circus Room, Galleries, Doll Carousel Building and the Japanese Garden.

After touring Area 1 and Area 2, you have experienced a lot. Your mind cannot possibly process it all — and probably can’t store much more information. You’re likely exhausted and perhaps dehydrated, like I was. But, like me, you bought the ticket for the Ultimate Experience, so you keep on moving…

The Doll Carousel is much like the main Carousel, but it features Dolls — just as magnificent, but in smaller, G-Rated ways:
Small Carousel. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

A small cafeteria area with free water — needed after miles of walking — leads back outside to Inspiration Rock. A rock formation Alex Jordan would visit to contemplate his dreams.

Inspiration Rock

Back inside there are more mind-numblingly immense and intricate robotic bands…

Robotic band. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

Massive and ornate sculptures made of red lanterns, trees and copper drums…

Red lamps and drums. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

And a giant electrical machine dedicated to Nikolai Tesla…

Red chandelier. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

You also get a close up, elevated view of the large Carousel at the end of Area 2, in all its incredible, anatomically correct, magnificence.

Exit the door near the naked woman wearing the goat mask (I’m not kidding), and Area 3 ends with the Japanese Garden and the Gift Shop. The House on the Rock tour begins with a garden and ends with a garden. A perfect circle of sorts….

Garden. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

What else can I say?

Go see it for yourself. I’ve heard it’s featured in the Neil Gaiman book American Gods. The fudge sold by the gift shop is delicious. The staff is kind and helpful.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, WI

The House on the Rock, Area 2

I covered the basics of the The House on the Rock, its creator Alex Jordan, and its “Area 1”, in a previous post (entrance, the Original House, the Infinity Room). I’ll discuss Area 2 in this post, and area 3 in a subsequent post.

Area 2 begins with another outdoor transitional area — a small pond and mill wheel — which leads to the Mill House. Stop for a moment and think about how Alex Jordan put a pond on top of a giant chimney of rock…
Millhouse

The Mill House is reminiscent of the Original House — dimly lit, stone, warmth, the things Alex loved.

Next comes the Streets of Yesterday, a replica of the downtown of a 18th or 19th century town, with shop after shop reconstructed down to the most minute detail. If you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, it’s very much like the town where Harry obtains his wand — winding streets, dimly lit, windows framed with dark wood framework, each shop stocked and decorated with precise detail. The Street leads to several automated, robotic machines. Deposit a token and get your fortune told, or hear a song played by a gigantic, steam-powered locomotive calliope. The Streets of Yesterday appear to be the first area of the House on the Rock specifically built as a tourist attraction. The Original House was built by Alex Jordan for himself, but the rest of the House on the Rock is Alex sharing what he loved with the rest of the world.

Fortune teller automata at House on the Rock

Robotic musical locomotive at the House on the Rock

The photos I’m adding to my posts about the House on the Rock really cannot convey its magnificence. They don’t accurately portray the scale of the House, the lighting, and of course not the sounds (a huge part of the House), the temperature of the air, the smells, and the energy and excitement of the other tourists around you. Every photo you see — try to imagine it 4 times larger than you think it would be. Try to imagine yourself within it.

After Streets of Yesterday comes Heritage of the Sea. This was my first “Wow! out loud” moment. Imagine a wing of a three-story shopping mall, with every store-front replaced with display after display of intricate ship models and maritime artifacts — boat parts, anchors, diving suits, military items. In the middle of this, is a massive, life-size sculpture of a squid attacking a whale. The whale & squid are larger than the Statue of Liberty — that is how huge they are. HUGE. An inclined path winds around the perimeter of the sculpture, with the maritime artifact display on your left, and the whale on your right.

Whale vs Squid at the House on the Rock

Whale vs Squid at the House on the Rock

Next comes the Tribute to Nostalgia, Music of Yesterday, and Spirit of Aviation. Hallways filled with showcases featuring pop-culture items (like Spittoons) lead to a large room featuring large displays of large items: a massive steam engine, multiple cars, including one covered in tile instead of paint, massive neon signs, and even a house filled with a collection of photo cameras. This area reminds me of the show American Pickers — it’s like everything they picked ended up in this area of the House on the Rock.

Ceramic car. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

There’s a restaurant at this point, so fill up on food and beer if you need to. At this point you’re about half way through…

The Music of Yesterday features multiple room-sized automated, robotic bands — all of which you can play with one of your tokens. Each room is exquisitely decorated with ornate furnishings, many are draped in red velvet, lit with red and golden chandeliers (except the Blue Room), and some are inhabited by a cast of robotic musicians. These displays are amazing to look at, but their true magnificence lies in the automation that powers the music played by the robotic bands inside each room. I’m not sure if it’s steam, pneumatics, electronics or a combination of all three, but I’m pretty sure each runs off of the same type of paper-roll musical program that self-playing pianos utilize. Not only are these displays robots, but they’re also the forerunners of computers.

Tigers. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

The Spirit of Flight is similar to the Heritage of the Sea, but instead of maritime artifacts there are aviation artifacts and models of planes.

Model planes. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

The next WOW! moment comes with the Carousel room. A carousel, for those that don’t know, is a rotating carnival ride, featuring a variety of animal sculptures — typically horses — that you ride, illuminated by incandescent bulbs of light, accompanied by festive calliope-style music. It’s a fantastical device, and typically the most magical and enchanting ride at a fair or carnival. The carousel a the House is the world’s largest, and likely the most magnificent. Common themes experienced so far in the tour of the House coalesce in the form of the Carousel: the vibrant reds, the festive, automated music, the use of lighting to create dramatic moods, and life-like sculpture.

Sadly, you cannot ride it. 🙁 It’s for your ears and eyes only.

Carousel. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

The difference between the Carousel and the rest of the House, so far, is it introduces fantasy into the displays. Look closely at the animals of the carousel and you’ll see that many are not the typical horse or zoo creature: chimeras, sea-demons, and centaurs spin round and round. Look up, and you’ll see Valkyries and Harpies. Many nude or partially nude. Some will blush. The Carousel represents a transition from the real (Streets of Yesterday, Heritage of the Sea, Spirit of Aviation, Tribute to Nostalgia) to the unreal — from the concrete to fantasy.

On the left side of the Carousel room is a dragon’s mouth — and what is more fantastical than a dragon — which leads to Area 3.

Dragon's Mouth. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

This tribute to the House on the Rock with continues in part 3.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, W

The House on the Rock, Intro and Area 1

the House on the Rock Magnet
Refrigerator magnet souvenir.

The House on the Rock, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is a mecca for anyone who appreciates fantastical roadside and tourist attractions. I remember first learning about it from Roadside America, and then hearing about it from friends. Once you’ve seen the muffler men, you’ve shopped at South of the Border, you’ve toured Graceland, and you’ve seen the outsider art displays that make the American dream real, you have to make the pilgrimage to the House on the Rock. If you start with it, everything else — no matter how remarkable — will pale in comparison.

True to its name, the House on the Rock, is a house perched high atop a chimney of rock in a forrest in south-western Wisconsin. It’s much more than a house, though — it’s also gardens, museums, massive sculptures, music halls, an amusement park (look but don’t ride), a restaurant (feel free to eat), all on or next to a massive rock. The house began in 1945 by Alex Jordan as a personal retreat (perhaps amplified by a desire to challenge to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate), which grew to become a tourist attraction in 1961, and then grew more, and evolved, and morphed into the magnificence that exits today.

The House a fantastic dream, told over the course of one man’s life, manifested into reality. It’s a cabin that became a Lewis Carroll novel. It’s Disneyland, if Walt built it with his own hands.

Dragon Vases

Arrival

The feeling that you’re somewhere different begins with the drive to the House. Starting in Madison, Wisconsin, I traveled from urban, to suburban, to rural farmland, and finally woodland areas. The journey is no simple trip — it’s like traveling through different eras of human civilization. Turning off route 23, and up House on the Rock Road, farmland abruptly transitions to wilderness — even the types of trees change. Deciduous trees are joined by evergreens, and form a tunnel-like canopy, amplifying the sensation that you are entering another world. Along the way massive vase-shaped planters appear, each inhabited by flowering plants and guarded by dragons.

The parking lot itself its a transitional space: macadam tilted ever so slightly because it was poured and flattened atop a hill, flanked on the right by a grove of evergreen trees with visible black trunks, thrusting from blanket of fallen, rust-orange pine needles. Massive dragon flower pots punctuate the lot. It doesn’t feel normal, but it also doesn’t feel wrong.

The gateway to the House on the Rock is a relatively-normal building where you can buy tickets, and freshen up. There you’ll purchase your pass, and receive tokens to operate various exhibits inside the House. There are hints that you’re about to experience something fantastical — like a stream that runs through the lobby, and the maritime artifact collection in the mens’s room. Nothing amazing — only hints.

There are two types of passes: 1) for parts 1 & 2 of the House, and 2) “the Ultimate Experience” for parts 1, 2 & 3. Depending on how late in the day you purchase your pass, you’ll receive a warning that you should consider not getting the Ultimate Experience because the House is just that huge. And it turns out that it is that huge, so you will have to hustle to get through all three areas of the House. Even-though I was short on time, I chose the Ultimate Experience, because I didn’t want to miss a thing. YOLO.

Tokens you’ll receive to operate many of the automated musical machines inside the House:
souvenirs #houseontherock

The Original House and Infinity Room

Walkways though gardens lead to the Original House — now is your time to cleanse your mental palate for what you’re about to see and hear.

Have you ever seen a movie or cartoon where the protagonists are shrunken down, and injected into a human body? Walking though the original House is like a walk through the mind of creator Alex Jordan. It’s dimly lit; it’s warm; there are many organic twists, bends, folds & pockets; many blood reds and visceral browns; it has a unique smell; and art, sculpture & music form moments of a dream.

Alex’s thought-process are preserved in the alcoves, walkways, and stairways. The architecture, in most places, embraces the shape of its rock foundation. The house surrenders, in some places, to rocks which literally jut form the floor, and in other places the House spirals away from the rock to escape it. We see what Alex adored and valued in life: knowledge in the form a library of books; ornate art and sculpture from Asia; complicated, mechanical, robotic musical instruments; the warmth of light from Tiffany lamps, and red & brown velvet furnishings; the comfort of a cosy alcove. It might be the ultimate “man cave”.

The House has a distinct smell, in some areas. Kind of like an attic, or the inside of a wall. A sort of sweet n’ sour odor of aging cellulose fibers. Nothing repellant, but it’s definitely a presence. I collect old things: books, mid-century LP records & lamps — they all come with their unique bouquet of odors — so I can relate.

I got lost three times… a testament to the hypnotic experience of walking inside someone’s dream. Maybe I didn’t want to leave?

Books, Tiffany lamps, art from Asia, brown woods:
Bookcase

One of the dozens of robotic musical bands, a wooden dragon, red velvet, and a rock jutting from the floor:
Dragon + Automated Band + Rock Outcrops in the Living Room

The Original House leads to the Infinity Room, a glass and steel structure that juts out 218 feet away from the Original House and rock foundation, and over the valley bellow. It was completed in 1985, 40 years after the Original House began construction. Near the end you can look down a the valley through a window in the floor. This attraction will be avoided by those with a fear of heights.

Alex was not a prude, so it’s fair to speculate that the Infinity Room might represent a phallus. Or simply another extension of his dreams made real. Or it might just be an amazing way to give tourists an spectacular view of the forrest and rock he loved.

Infinity Room - House on the Rock

This tribute to the House on the Rock continues in part 2 and part 3.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, WI

Circus World in Baraboo Wisconsin

On June 12th, 2017, I found myself in Baraboo, Wisconsin looking for periodical cicadas, attempting to verify their existence in that city. I found no cicadas, but I did come across the Circus World museum/historic site. Driving past Circus World, it didn’t seem that compelling: the buildings were bland and seemed unexceptional.

Circus World in Baraboo WI

I parked across from the museum so I could inspect the trees in a park for cicadas — from that vantage point I could see into the grounds of the museum — I could see an elephant, a circus tent, and trains of circus wagons. That was enough to make me think “okay, that looks interesting, I’m here, I’m not finding any cicadas, I might as well go inside”.

Perceiving the value of something often requires a new perspective.

One hundred years ago circuses had a lot less competition — no Internet, no video anything, no radio, no plenitudes of delicious foods, no giant amusement parks, no touring rock, country or rap groups, no NASCAR, no air conditioning, or easy to obtain birth control. If you lived in a rural community 100 years ago, and the circus came to town, you went to the circus. You put down your hammer, gathered up your kin, and went to see “the greatest show on earth”.

Enter the circus tent, and you enter an alternate dimension. The circus represents a mirror world. Each ring, or circle (circus), is a mirror laid flat, in which a distorted & amplified view of the ordinary world appears. At the circus, ordinary animals, like dogs, horses & bears perform tricks; extra-ordinary animals from foreign lands, like monkeys, elephants, tigers & lions, appear in the flesh; mysterious humans of extreme dimensions, attributes and skills amaze unexperienced minds; clowns — representing everything an adult is not allowed to be: silly, playful, foolish, loud, colorful, outlandish — pour from tiny cars to delight child and adult alike.

I have to imagine this experience was quite healthy for the spirit, mind and even body. The circus comes to town and takes you away from the day to day grind of a difficult life; it makes you laugh; it shows you sights you might never otherwise see; it blows your mind. The circus picks you up in its primary colored arms, and shows you the truth of what the world is, and what it can be. It offers the gifts of joy and perspective. And maybe you can have an affair with the strongman or tattooed lady.

Clown - Circus World, Baraboo, WI

The modern world has few mysteries. The Internet offers millions of hours of footage of ordinary & rare animals performing tricks. Want to see an extremely tall man fly through the air? Just turn on ESPN. The “Tattooed Lady”? She’s your best friend. Adults behaving like clowns? They’re everywhere today (perhaps they always were). We have entered the mirror world.

Today we have no need for the Circus, because we have 24/7 access to the amazing & mysterious, silly & insane. As Madge would say “you’re soaking in it”. And because we’re inside it, we’ve lost some perspective.

So what about Circus World?

Considering Circus World as a whole, the bland exterior works perfectly. At that point, the visitor is outside the circus. Even the entrance to Circus World is unexceptional — a simple gift shop and ticket booth and bathrooms. But one step beyond these operational necessities, you enter the Circus World. Bright lighting and white walls, switch — in an instant — to shadow and spotlights illuminating circus scenes and artifacts: a maze of brightly-colored circus posters and banners; elaborate displays of mannequins (human & animal) donned in glittering circus attire. Visions of the circus, frozen in time. But it only gets better once you step outside.

Monkey Circus

Circus costumes for performers and elephants

Once outside, you have two options: 1) make a right and explore, what I’ve called the “bland” and “unexceptional” buildings, or 2) cross the river and enter the circus world. I chose to ease into it, and headed for the buildings.

Have you ever met someone who looked totally ordinary — plain clothes, common haircut, average physique — and have them tell just the most amazing story about their life? I have. Some people, and some things look ordinary, only to contain and protect what they hold inside. It turned out that the buildings visible from outside Circus World once held circus equipment and animals from every continent — while they appear ordinary and utilitarian, they were built to hold the heart of the circus itself. Today these buildings continue to house treasures — each is a museum to an aspect of the circus. One holds massive and detailed dioramas depicting circus performances and circus train yards. Another holds a museum of famous clowns and clown equipment. Another features the costumes of circus performers from around the world. Another has tributes to famous circus animals, like Silver King, the most famous circus horse of all time.

Giant Hammers used by Clowns

A model of the circus at Madison Square Garden

Back outside, and across the river, and you’ve entered the living circus. There you’ll see the circus tents, elephant, and horses, and performances by acrobats, clowns, and Ryan Holder and his magnificent family of captive bread Bengal-Siberian tigers (I pulled that last sentence from their website). The performances are so good, you’ll probably forget to take a photo like it did. Plenty of delicious carnival foods are available as well.

The circus wagons were my favorite exhibit at Circus World. The grounds of the museum feature dozens of of these ornately shaped, colored and decorated wooden wagons that once held glamorous circus performers, exotic animals, and yes, even clowns and equipment. Some wagons featured bars to allow folks to see the animals inside. Some contained complete, automated musical machines — steam-powered calliopes that played the loud, festive and other-worldly music of the circus. There are even buildings where the wagons are restored and repaired — it must take great skill to preserve and replicate the amazing carved woodwork of these wagons. Pure whites, blood reds, rich golds and silvers, fiery oranges, uncommon blues, and the occasional John Deer tractor green, gilded with gold, of course — the colors of these wagons stand out from the beiges and grays of the ordinary world.

Golden ornate circus wagon

Arthur Bros Circus Wagon

Link: circusworldbaraboo.org.

Location: 550 Water St, Baraboo, Wisconsin.

More Photos:

Circus World, Baraboo, WI

Official Bad Art Museum of Art

Who’s to say that a particular piece of art is “bad”? You, that’s who.

Art is best when it is able to change our state — state of mind or state of emotion. If a piece of art can make you feel joyful, energized, comforted, disgusted, curious, fearful, motivated, relaxed, inspired, satiated or terrified, it is good art. If art makes you feel nothing or leaves you unchanged, it is bad art. But keep an open mind — because something you perceive to be bad, might be good — you just lack the knowledge, experience, and perspective to see the good in it.

The OBAMA room

This brings us to the Official Bad Art Museum of Art a.k.a. O.B.A.M.A. (no relation to P.O.T.U.S.), a small museum located in the Cafe Racer, a bar / coffee shop / small music venue, located in Seattle, Washington.

The art in the Official Bad Art Museum of Art is really more “tacky” or “kitschy” than “bad” — black velvet, glitter, cloying, bizarre, outmoded, or in poor taste. All these qualities are capable of putting a smile on someone’s face — either a grin borne of genuine adoration or a smirk born of irony. Either way, the art is capable of changing a person’s state, and is therefor not truly “bad”. It’s fun to call it bad art, though, so I won’t pass judgement on the name of the gallery.

Here is some of the “so bad it’s good” art to be found at O.B.A.M.A.:

A Glittering Elvis:
Glitter Elvis

A Cute Pooch on Black Velvet:
Classic pooch on black velvet

An Unbelievable Jesus Made of Peeps:
Jesus made from Peeps

A Fluffy Cat:
Fluffy Baby

Anthropomorphic Poodle Lady:
Poodle Lady

The Cafe Racer itself is a comfortable, little beer, booze and coffee bar. The people there were friendly. I enjoyed having the option to enjoy some delicious beers and strong coffee. Stop for the museum, stay for a drink and some conversion.

A wish all bars offered good coffee, in addition to booze.

###

I was last there in the spring of 2009.

Jackson, Mississippi

On the third day of my Spring 2015 road trip, I arrived in Jackson.

( Read more about the scientific aspects of my road trip on Cicada Mania. )

My destination was the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science (2148 Riverside Dr, Jackson, MS). The location was particularly vexing for my GPS, which led me through a maze of lumpy streets, the surface of which rose and fell with an amplitude of about a half a meter. It was as if I was driving over frozen waves or ski slope moguls.

( An aside: My in-dash GPS is good, but it isn’t great. It probably isn’t as great as Google/Wais is, but I’m not going to risk my life and the lives of others squinting at a cellphone screen, or juggling one in my hand while I drive. I do use Wais when I’m stuck in traffic though. )

The Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences

Two Headed Snake

The Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences was nice. Their best attractions were their live fish, reptile and amphibian environments. They had a two-headed snake, and more cute baby alligators than you can imagine.

The live fish exhibits were particularly fascinating and enchanting. Definitely a perfect atmosphere to chill out in after a long drive on a hot day.

Catfish and Gar

Trails behind the museum led to the LeFleurs Bluff State Park. The trails wound through what seemed like miles of woodland, past alligator infested lakes and the Pearl River (which I will assume is also infested with gators). My “desk potato” body was out of breath by the time I navigated all the trails and returned to the Museum.

Here’s a video of some of the many natural wonders you’ll find in LeFleurs Bluff State Park:

Maybe it is wrong to say “alligator infested lakes”. It is their home, and has been for millions of years.

( My condo is a “Dan infested condo”. )

The Hotel

Needing a place to stay, I found the nearest Hilton, and said “I’m a Hilton Hhonors member, what have you got for me”? ( Two h’s in Hhonors, BTW. ) Membership has its privileges and I got a penthouse suite, floor 14. Great view of the city. I liked that the desk chair looked like it was made in the 1960s.

If “classy” has a spectrum, the Jackson Mississippi Hilton falls on the “swank” side of the spectrum, rather than the “posh” side. This is the room:

Jackson Mississippi Hilton

It’s “swank”, right? Look at this chair. That is a swank chair.

Swank Chair

The highlight of staying in the a penthouse suite was that Ms. Diva was in the suite next to mine. How did I know Ms. Diva was next to me? Her Bluetooth name gave her away. I got to meet Ms. Diva in the hallway, and she looked like Janet Jackson, which seems appropriate.

Most of the hotels/motels I stayed at had breakfast in the lobby, but the Jackson Hilton had its own classy dining room. And breakfast was not free. Rule of thumb: if breakfast is in a dining room, it is not free; if it is in the lobby, particularly if there is a lobby waffle maker, it is free.

I was amazed by the amount of pickup trucks in the parking lot of the hotel. Pickup trucks seem to be the new SUVs — everyone has one because they’re handy for hauling shit back from Costco and Ikea.

Dracos

After deliberating where to eat for about three hours, I settled on Dracos’s which is a seafood joint in the same parking lot as the hotel.

Draco’s claim to fame is their charbroiled oysters. In the spirit of trying everything at least once, I gave them a shot. And guess what: they’re freaking amazing. Oyster + butter + parmesan cheese + charbroiled flavor = amazingly delicious. I can’t lie.

How Lucky I Am

I was done exploring LeFleurs Bluff park & the museum, I’d met Ms. Diva, I’d had amazing oysters, so it was time to go. I stopped by a chain pharmacy (can’t remember if it was a CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreens, and not that it matters) to load up on water, Red Bull and some snacks. At the front of a checkout line was a gentleman in a wheel chair. He did not simply have a broken leg; if was apparent that he suffered from considerable physical and neurological disorders. Every moment of his transaction with the cashier was a struggle; finding the change, handing it to her, holding the soda he had purchased — all a struggle. A second and third cashier opened their registers, and the rest of us customers were able to check out quickly. I left before the man in the wheel chair, and turned back to notice that he was stuck in the automatic doors. I held the door open for him, and he was finally able to leave.

I am thankful for how lucky I am to have been born with a relatively sound mind and body, and that I am able to drive around the U.S., pretty much anywhere I want to go without much effort or resistance. I’m a lucky guy.

Raleigh, North Carolina

Crepe Myrtles

It is impossible to write about Raleigh, North Carolina without mentioning the Crepe Myrtles.

Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) are flowering trees imported from Asia. They seem to average about 10 feet in height, come in pink, red, purple & white, and are literally everywhere in the Raleigh area.

C to the R to the E to the P to the E

The sheer number of crepe myrtles is shocking. Now you’re thinking that I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m not. If you live in the area, you’re probably numb to it: “the sky is blue, the grass is green, and everything along the sides is pink.” But for an outsider driving into North Carolina, the experience is sort of like the “star gate” scene in 2001, a Space Odyssey, but instead of stream of colored lights, it is a stream of flowering trees.

If that reference is to obscure, just imagine driving through a pink tunnel made of flowers.

Gardiner, NC, Suburb of Raleigh

I stayed at a Best Western in Garner, NC. The hotel was fine: pool, “lobby breakfast”, quiet, comfortable rooms, and plenty of parking. Garner, NC, the city, is essentially a highway encrusted with strip malls and big box stores, surrounded by a web of winding, hilly forrest roads. That is my perception of it. I visited the local Walmart to check out the locals. While the Walmart did not have the bins of fireworks that I was hoping for, they did have isles of snack cakes, beer (which let to this), and the hair brush & computer mouse I needed.

An UTZ truck in the parking lot of the Walmart: UTZ truck

Raleigh Museum of Natural Sciences

The primary place I visited while in Raleigh was the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. As museums of Natural Science/History go, I would put it somewhere between the American Museum of Natural History and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; all are good, but the North Carolina one falls in the middle.

The first thing you notice when approaching the museum is the massive planet Earth/globe. It is massive enough to be mentioned in Roadside America:

North Carolina Museum of Natural Science Globe

Inside the Museum you’ll find four floors of Natural Science exhibits, most if not all, focused on North Carolina fauna, flora and geology. The massive whale skeletons, and arthropod zoo, were most impressive.

Blue Whale Skeleton at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh NC

Whale Skeleton in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

The arthropod zoo in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Arthropod Zoo Bees

Other than that I also was impressed by:

  • The hummingbird exhibit
  • The live snake and amphibian exhibits
  • The massive sea shore and forrest replica/reproductions
  • Graphics that explained the different areas & layers of North Carolina geology
  • The large assortment of taxidermied animals
  • The gift shop was solid. I bought a squid replica, and admired an electric fan shaped like a fox.

Fox squirrels are massive — almost size of a house cat — I did not know that.

Fox Squirrel in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Rambling Around Town

When visiting a city, I like to walk around the town without a plan or compass, with the goal of stumbling upon some interesting sights and experiences. I like to visit the stores & restaurants locals frequent; sit on park benches and observe the local vibe like a local would; try to see the city through a local’s eyes.

During my three hour ramble around Raleigh, I discovered a giant acorn, a sand castle 200 miles away from the ocean, and world-famous Clyde Cooper’s BBQ. Clyde Cooper’s BBQ had pork skins, which I get for my sister’s chihuahua from time to time. The chihuahua is passionate about eating parts of other animals.

Giant Acorn in Raleigh NC

Sand Castle in Raleigh NC

Clyder Coopers in Raleigh NC

Worth Mentioning

It is worth mentioning that I visited Raleigh right after all Confederate flags and memorabilia were removed from State/Government buildings, including museums. Had I visited weeks earlier, I may have had a different experience.

Chapel Hill and Snack Cakes

Little Debbie

Earlier this year I visited North Carolina to meet a famous cicada expert (Bill Reynolds of the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC). While I was in the Raleigh area, I decided that it would be a good idea to visit Chapel Hill, NC. I had not been to Chapel Hill since the 1990s, and at the time I had a blast, so I felt it was worth a second visit.

Chapel Hill has spawned many interesting music acts, but perhaps their most iconic is Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS). SCOTS is a perfect mix of elements of rock, psychobilly, country and novelty music — it’s like they took parts of each, and made something better than the sum of the parts. One of my favorite SCOTS songs is Camel Walk, which features the lyrics:

OWWWW WEEE, Little Debbie, Little Debbie
I’m a comin on home, baby, ’cause you make me wanna walk

The problem is the Little Debbie, Little Debbie part. Problem you say? Yes, because I became momentarily obsessed with Little Debbie snack cakes. The problem with that is when I eat too much Little Debbie snack cakes, it saps my energy. Realistically speaking, you should only eat one dessert a day — and not buy two or three boxes of snack cakes, and some Pabst tall-boys, and then spend the majority of your vacation watching YouTubes and napping in a hotel room (a little hyperbole, but close enough to the truth).

So, to recap, you can see how my unrestrained mind works: 1) Visit North Carolina, 2) think about visiting Chapel Hill, 3) think about Chapel Hill’s best band SCOTS, 4) think about their song Camel Walk and its lyrics about Little Debbie snack cakes, 5) go to Walmart to buy a USB cable but leave with Pabst and boxes of snack cakes, and 6) hang out at the hotel — instead of Raleigh or Chapel Hill — because I ate too many snacks.

My North Carolina Breakfast of Champions

Learn from my mistakes: no matter how delicious banana cakes are, limit yourself to one a day. You will appreciate them more, and you will get more our of life.

That was a massive tangent. Back to Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill is the perfect college town. They have all the right ingredients.
√ Music venues.
√ Music stores.
√ Brew pub(s).
√ Museum(s)
√ A variety of non-chain restaurants.
√ (I will assume) book stores.
√ a College (UNC).
√ better weather than most states north of North Carolina.
√ an interesting local culture featuring unique art, music and food.
√ College students.

Visting Chapel Hill for the second time was like visiting a movie set after watching a really awesome movie about it. So what do I mean by that? Well, last time I visited I was with friends, we partied, drank, played cards, went to amazing local restaurants, bars and music events — heck, my friends and I even danced on stage at a SCOTS show! SCOTS drummer David Hartman (dating a friend at the time) took me to a favorite BBQ joint. You couldn’t ask for a better Chapel Hill experience.

Visting in 2015, all the right elements were there: the Local 506 bar, CD Alley, the brew pubs, the restaurants with their painted goats, colorful band flyers and stickers festooning every vertical surface. I’ll say it again: it was like visiting a movie set of a movie I’ve already seen. (Now I’m thinking of the NLP technique where you step outside a memory and view it objectively, but lets not go down another tangent.) Sobriety, daylight, time limitations, and a lack of companions made my visit decidedly different — but I still had fun.

Goats and Music in Chapel Hill

What I enjoyed about Chapel Hill this time around:

  1. CD Alley (405-C W Franklin St): a great little record store, with a good selection. Appropriately, I bought a CD of SCOTS’ Zombified album (which is great Halloween rock n’ roll music). CD Alley feels like an authentic record store: cramped, dark, decorated outside with stickers and fliers of local bands — for a music obsessive, it feels like home.
  2. Carolina Brewery (450 W Franklin St): good brewpub. I had the Firecracker lager (I think), which was tasty.
  3. Local 506 (506 W Franklin St): they were closed, but it was great just to stand outside the door and take in all the interesting, multi-colored band flyers
  4. All the interesting stickers and band flyers all over town. Some people don’t like graffiti, especially when it is done to their property without their consent, but in a college town it just makes sense. Light poles and mail boxes would look naked without it.

Stickers and Band Flyers of Chapel Hill North Carolina

Even though my second Chapel Hill visit was not as “epic” as my first, there was one thing that made it special — one thing that I would not have experienced the last time around, and that is the Ackland Museum (101 S Columbia St,). Ackland was around last time I was in town, but leisurely enjoying a well-curated museum was not on my agenda in the 1990s.

Ackland is a wonderful medium-sized museum with an well-balanced diversity of art spanning many centuries and styles, from the ancient…

Lion art hasn't changed much in the past 4000 or so years.

… to ultra modern…

Glitter Deer in the Ackland Museum in Chapel Hill NC

And in-between.

Nam June Paik

A video posted by Dan Mozgai (@danmozgai) on

So what did we learn:

1) Go easy on the snack cakes, but do enjoy them from time to time.

2) If you return to a place you’ve been in the past, don’t expect it to be the same, but do enjoy it for all that it is.

3) Sometimes you get more out of life when you take it fast, but it is also enjoyable when you take it slow.

The Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois

The Superman Museum (37.152684, -88.732646), or technically the Super Museum, in Metropolis, Illinois, is both a museum dedicated to Clark Kent/Superman and a comic book store/souvenir shop.

Superman Museum

Outside the brightly-colored (red, blue & yellow of course) brick building you’ll find a phone booth (just in case Clark needs to change), a green car reminiscent of the car on the cover of Action Comics #1 (the debut of Superman) and some contraptions that let you take a photo of your head on Superman or Supergirl’s body.

Phone Booth

Inside you’ll find a museum, and a comic book store skewed towards Superman and DC Comics. The best purchasable items are the glow in the dark Kryptonite rocks and the Kryptonite candy.

This Super Museum is worth a visit if you’re in the area, and I suppose it would be a must-visit destination for super-fans of Superman.