Bucket List: Stonehenge & the American Replicas

bucketliststonehenge

Stonehenge

I was 17 years old the first time I traveled outside the country and visited England. The trip itself was a whirlwind of long bus rides and historically relevant sites that overtime have blurred into one another. Among the many stops was a lengthy visit to Stonehenge in Wiltshire. As one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world, there are more theories surrounding this circle of stones than I care to either think about or try to relate to you, so I’m not going to try.

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I remember the tour as boring, the French guide (really England?) as being rude, and the structure itself as being far less spiritual than I was lead to believe. Even so, I wasted rolls of film snapping photo after photo as I walked circles around the black ropes, and nearly missed my tour group leaving for the next location on our itinerary. Like the pyramids in Egypt or the Parthenon in Greece, Stonehenge deserves a visit not for the questions that surround it, but for the simple fact that man was able to create something awe-inspiring and seemingly otherworldly. So awe-inspiring in fact, that Americans have taken it upon themselves to create more replicas of this famous destination than you probably even know exist. Being a lover of all things strange, and never one to snub a roadside attraction, the following replicas are sure to be a part of my next road trip.

Carhenge

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Flickr Photo: © SortOfNatural – General Motors??

Built to match the proportions of Stonehenge in England, Carhenge in Alliance Nebraska was built using recycled cars from neighboring properties by Jim Reinders during a positively unforgettable family reunion. Constructed on his own property, all 38 of the cars that make up this iconic replica are classic American automobiles from the 50’s & 60’s, and are continuously painted a flat gray to ensure their preservation with the passing of time and to help them closer resemble the color of the stone used at the original “henge”. Once seen as an eyesore by the locals, Alliance has very much embraced Carhenge as being a part of their hometown, and voted to purchase the property back in 2013. The inventive replica now boasts its own visitors center/gift shop and even hosts a few other art installations at the nearby Car Art Reserve.

Truckhenge

Flickr - Truckhenge - Jake Bellucci

Flickr Photo: © Jake Bellucci – Rise Up

Located on the Lessman Farm in Topeka Kansas, this strange roadside attraction in America’s heartland was not actually inspired by the famous Stonehenge we all know and love, or even created to look like it. Instead it was conceived as an ode to Carhenge in Alliance Nebraska, and Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas, although it doesn’t appear to resemble either. After having a disagreement with local government officials, owner Ron Lessman created Truckhenge in an unorthodox answer to being asked to pick his trucks up. He did one better. He buried each one in concrete and spray painted politically themed questions and phrases on their sides. The county officials didn’t find it very funny at the time, but in 2006 the installation was officially deemed an art park and seems to be secure for the foreseeable future. Today the farm also includes a pond stocked with fish, neighboring Beer City made of concrete and beer bottles, and even the Truckhenge musical festival.

Foamhenge

Flickr - Foamhenge - Steve Freeman

Flickr Photo: © Steve Freeman – Foamhenge

Created by fiberglass sculptor Mark Cline in Natural Bridge Virginia, Foamhenge is said to be the only exact replica of Stonehenge that exists in the United States. Each large, yet light and easily sculptable piece of Styrofoam was shaped to match an original piece still standing at Stonehenge in England, before being placed in the correct astronomical location and set with concrete and steel pipes. Since Styrofoam isn’t biodegradable, it’s not likely that this replica is going to be disappearing anytime soon. Even so, there are signs posted around the replica to remind visitors that the material is in fact foam, and that messing with it will come at a cost.

Stonehenge II

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Flickr Photo: © Dr._Colleen_Morgan – DSC_0127.JPG

Although creator Al Shepperd and neighbor Doug Hill never made a Stonehenge I, they did create this near replica out of plaster and wire meshing in the middle of Shepperd’s field. The replica itself is hollow inside and just shy of the dimension of the original in England, but unlike Stonehenge, it comes equipped with its own Easter Island heads that were created after Shepperd visited the island on vacation. When the field was sold in 2010, the new owner wanted to nothing to do with Stonehenge II and almost knocked it down. Luckily the Visual Arts Center in nearby Ingram Texas purchased the art instillation and rebuilt Shepperd’s vision in town near a local baseball stadium.

Sam Hill’s Stonehenge

Flickr - Sam Hill Stonehenge - Great Beyond

Flickr Photo: © Great Beyond – Day 146/366 Stonehenge

Built not as a replica of Stonehenge, but as a memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I, Sam Hill’s Stonehenge was built by the railroad magnate of the same name in the early 20th Century. Having been misinformed about the original Stonehenge in England being used for sacrifice, Sam Hill decided it was the perfect structure to commemorate the sacrifice of soldiers overseas, and set out to construct the memorial where the small town of Maryhill, Washington once sat (now overlooking the town with the same name).

Although the monument is said to be astronomically aligned, Sam Hill wasn’t interested in building a replica, and set about to improve upon the famous structure with his modern technology. Made out of slabs of uniform concrete that were mortared into megaliths, Sam Hill created a conceptualized version of what he thought Stonehenge was intended to be, and filled in every broken or missing piece. Although the link between a war memorial and Stonehenge might leave you scratching your head (as it did me), the gumption required to build such a memorial in the first place is a good enough reason to visit if you happen to be in the area.

Disclaimer: These quirky options are only a small portion of the actual Stonehenge replicas that scatter the United States. I recommend visiting roadsideamerica.com for a comprehensive list of all the options my wacky country has to offer.

Formula 1 & The Texas Capital

This is probably going to seem like an odd thing for me to be writing about for a myriad of reasons, but thanks to a visit from one of my older brothers I spent part of my weekend taking in the Formula 1 US Gran Prix. My brother Thomas arrived in town on Thursday and got to attend all three days of Formula 1 events at the Circuit of the Americas track, and thanks to some scheduling issues with my cousin I was granted a free ticket for the qualifying races on Saturday.

Now since I live in the U.S…. and I’m a girl, I’ve never been to a formula 1 race, and can almost guarantee I haven’t intentionally watched a race on television. Obviously this means I’m not a die-hard Formula 1 fan, but let me follow that by saying I have a lot of respect for the sport and for the absolutely insane men who strap themselves into land-based rocket ships for a living. Our morning began with a car ride, some traffic, a school bus turned shuttle and lots of walking, but we arrived with plenty of time to watch the end of a practice round for the Ferrari’s competing as part of the Gran Prix.

Next was the first of two Formula 1 qualifying rounds that really tested the limits of my camera and eyesight as the cars (remember those land-based rocket ships I told you about!?) zoomed past in search of one of the 16 spaces available. My camera wasn’t quite quick enough, so I don’t have any photos to show you from this section, as I hadn’t quite worked my timing out yet and don’t possess a professional camera with an impressive shutter speed. So once this round was over we took a walk to the Austin 360 stage to see the Sick Puppies perform a free concert.

Then it was the last qualifying race for the Formula 1 cars, and by some miracle I was able to capture a few cars on camera as they sped by. I got an impressive shot of both Red Bull racing cars as they came around the turns in front of where we were sitting along with the video screen showing the on-board camera from one of their cars.

After the Formula 1 cars were done, there was the final qualifying race for the Ferrari’s (not pictured) and a finale featuring antique Formula 1 cars from the 1960’s – 1980’s.

Later that evening I met up with some friends on 6th, which is bar/club central in Austin and was jammed packed on this particular night thanks to the normal weekend madness with a little international twist thrown in for flavor. It was a fun night which ended with me losing my voice and learning first hand how much it costs to get your car towed to one of the shady facilities in the area … trust me when I say it’s not worth the price.

MONDAY

Since I spent Sunday at work, the rest of this post will be taking place on Monday. I had the day off, so my brother and I did a little sight-seeing with our aunt and uncle. Up first was Mt. Bonnell which isn’t actually a mountain but rather a large hill given the name Mountain because it’s one of the highest places you can go in Austin. We took the short walk up the rocky ramp-like path that provides absolutely beautiful views of not only Austin, but also the hill country to the South, and the million dollar houses along the river just at the base of the Mountain … I mean hill.

Afterwards we headed out for some BBQ because it’s the Texan thing to do, and made our way to downtown Austin for a little tour of the state capital building.

In case you forgot which state you were in while taking a stroll through the capital building, there are plenty of stars emblazoned on chairs, ceiling tiles, door knobs, hinges, and lights to remind you. To top it off they always add the word Texas to anything any everything they can, including the floor and ceiling of the famous dome you see in photos of Austin. Despite the over-advertised feeling the building brings to mind, it was kind of cool to have a glimpse of the rooms laws are passed in and walk through the stone and wood-paneled hallways of a historic building. If that’s not enough to make you want to visit, then maybe the word FREE will help set a trip to the capital building a little higher on the list.

The Umlauf Way

Let me start by apologizing for my recent lack of blogging in the last few weeks. I finally found a small form of income, which will hopefully help keep me here in Austin, and has been keeping me busy as of late. Hopefully I will be making up for my lack of blogging now by writing about my newest touristy-type activity here in Austin. Having a free weekend from said acquired job, I decided to head into the city to check out the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in Zilker park. The place itself is named after the famous American sculptor Charles Umlauf, and all of the sculptures found on its grounds were donated by the artist himself back in 1985.

As some sort of cosmic gift for the hard time life seems to be giving me, I found myself arriving at the sculpture garden and museum on a free day that left $4 in my pocket and increased the good mood I was already experiencing. Sadly, despite my hopes that the universe still held some fondness for me, I later learned that this phenomenon happens every first weekend of the month in Austin… and applies to all museums in the city.

The museum promotes itself as a child-friendly place, but with all the nude statues, biblical figures, and frankly downright creepy images everywhere you turn, I’m not sure I’d recommend bringing your children here. While they might not have a clue what they’re looking at, it’s still probably not their idea of a fun afternoon and there are much more child-friendly places to visit in Austin.

If you’re not planning on bringing your children here, it’s a nice little museum to visit if you have a little time to spare. It took me about 20 minutes to walk through the entire garden area despite the crowd the free weekend brought along with it.

My favorite statues were “Icarus” and “Seated Bather” above, as they seemed to grab my attention and attract the light in more interesting angles than most of the others scattered about the shady grounds. They also seemed to be two of the statues that attracted the most attention from some of the other visitors the afternoon I was there. Since I was already in Zilker park, I spent a little time enjoying the afternoon sun in one of the many open areas available, before heading back to Round Rock for dinner with my extended family.

AAA-LAMO

If my slightly misspelled, yet important title didn’t give away the subject of this post, then obviously you’re not a  history buff or from Texas. While I’m neither from Texas or a history buff, I still made a point to add the Alamo to my travel list solely based on the hype surrounding the building and the battle that took place there in the 1800’s. The Alamo is by far the most important building in Texas for one very simplified reason: without it, Texas might not have become independent of Mexico.

Since Texas is now my home for the foreseeable future, the importance of this building seems relevant to my life. So my aunt and uncle graciously drove me 2 hours from Austin with the unenthusiastic warning that the Alamo, is a rather unimpressive building… and they were right!

With that being said, it’s still a pretty cool place to visit keeping in mind its downtown location and entry fee of $0.00. Plus, there is an interesting museum set up inside with displays full of old letters, objects owned by David Crockett (which prompted me to sing the theme song both out loud and in my head for the duration of our visit), and plaques dedicated to all those who died fighting for independence.

After leaving, we grabbed some lunch at the river walk just across the street from the Alamo and down a few stairs, before heading towards some of the Missions a few miles away. After dodging a TON of construction that had us driving in circles, and through neighborhoods now full of detour traffic, we finally made it to the Mission Concepcion. The parking lot of the mission was completely empty, giving us the first sign that the beautiful mission standing in front of us might not be open… and it wasn’t, thanks to the Governmental shutdown which just went into effect.

DSCN3261Thanks to the relentless and stupid feuding of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, all National parks in the country are closed including every Mission in San Antonio. Leave it to the government to ruin tourism for all of the citizens and foreigners who could care less about politics and agendas, and really just want to see some cool stuff. Luckily, this particular mission isn’t enclosed with a large stone wall like a few of the others in the area, so we were at least able to walk around the outside and appreciate its beauty.

While our day might have ended on a disappointing note, thanks to a bunch of old people who can’t agree on anything, overall it was a nice day. I can now say that I have been to the Alamo, and am one destination closer to completing my list of places to see.

Among The Wildflowers

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors thanks to my job hunting efforts, so in order to keep my sanity, I decided I needed a little time away from my laptop. There are a lot of options to keep me busy here in Austin, and thankfully some hiking nearby, but with only a few hours to spare, I decided to take a trip out to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas Austin.

For any of you who aren’t sure who Lady Bird Johnson was, let me take a moment to refresh your memory or even teach you something new. Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, or Lady Bird Johnson,  was the wife of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, and a native Texan widely known for her conservation efforts and love of wildflowers, which brings me back to the reason I’m writing this post: I too love wildflowers! It’s the only reason a person finds themselves driving 25 minutes into the heart of Austin to visit a garden full of native flowers … that is unless you happen to be a guy racking up brownie points by making your favorite lady happy, at which point you should just ignore the first half of this sentence and take one for the team.

Anyway, since it’s already September I wasn’t expecting there to be a lot of wildflower growth, so I wasn’t disappointed with what I found at the center when I arrived. With that being said, there were still lots of beautiful things to look at. Currently the center is under construction as they add a new exhibit, so their two main trials are closed, which was a little bit of a let down since I would have liked to walk through them, but with plenty of flowers, butterflies, bees, and sculptures around to keep me occupied, I hardly had time to miss them.

I felt at home among the cacti in the main courtyard of the wildflower center and loved the large metal containers filled with overflowing flowers. It was a fairly pleasant day, not too hot by Texas standards, but just hot enough that there weren’t a lot of people wandering around the grounds. There were covered walkways, plenty of benches set back in the growing plants, and lots of pathways taking you to the various areas of the small garden.

I even managed to find some mushrooms growing sporadically in a section of the butterfly garden. Overall, it was a pretty good visit and well worth the drive. I’m definitely going to make a point to come back again during the Spring  and Summer months to check out what the gardens have to offer, but for now I will leave you with an extra gallery of flowers and cacti to brighten your day.