Panguitch, Utah, USA.

Panguitch proved a gem of a destination. “Panguitch” is a first people word meaning “big fish”. White pioneers first settled in the surrounding attractive and fertile valley in March 1864. However, the first winter was exceptionally cold and challenging, the latter not least because the crops planted earlier in the year had failed. Seven men braved the elements to bring flour from Parowan, 40 miles away, along what is now roughly Highway 20. The snow was so deep that they had to abandon their oxen and wagon. They reached Parowan by placing a quilt on the deep drifts of snow, walking to the end of the quilt and then putting down a second quilt before retrieving the first one. This became known as the Panguitch Quilt Walk and is still celebrated in an annual festival in the town.

The village was abandoned during the Black Hawk War, but resettled in 1871. As the settlement grew, a brick factory was built. The people who made the bricks were not paid with money; instead, they were given bricks in exchange for their labour. This enabled the factory workers and other townspeople to build the large and sometimes elegant brick homes that still stand today. In 2006, all of Panguitch was listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. Although close to the border with neighbouring Iron, Panguitch is the administrative centre for enormous Garfield County and, fittingly, the county’s elegant courthouse is made overwhelmingly with brick.

Panguitch is larger and more prosperous than Tropic, but, like Tropic, is enclosed by land which lends itself well to arable farming. For about five blocks along Main Street almost every building is old and/or attractive, but more old and attractive buildings exist elsewhere in town. The motels are full of character and most have tall metal roadside signs designed to catch the eye with interesting names, sensuous curves and bright lights. Ghost signs and painted adverts cover many a wall, and among the businesses that seem to do quite well are some antique shops, a smokehouse, a diner, a drive-in, a supermarket, a state liquor store and a small cinema with a cafe in the front, which, among other things, serves very good ice cream. We found the local people, whether genuinely local or in-comers from other more crowded parts of the US, very friendly and happy to share with two UK citizens insights about the town and the surrounding area.

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If you have enjoyed “In Search of Unusual Destinations”, have a look at “The USA: Landscapes and Urban Spaces”, which has posts devoted to some of the things that have preoccupied this blog, but from the perspective of only one nation state. Have fun – and I also hope that what you have seen and read have proved informative.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.

We stayed at Super 8 Motel close to where Skelly Drive meets Peoria Avenue. The room cost $49 a night before tax (because we stayed for two nights the whole bill came to $107). The cost included free parking, a small breakfast and use of a small swimming pool. The hotel was managed by a Hindu family that had come to the USA from Kenya via the UK. We found to our surprise that Tulsa has two mandirs. Amazing.

Tulsa was one of the trip’s surprises for all the right reasons. Downtown there are some excellent early 20th century buildings which have benefited from the region’s past oil wealth. Once you have identified an interesting building (e.g. Atlas Building, South Boston, near where about half a dozen equally interesting buildings exist), enter the lobby, explain to people on reception that you are interested in architecture, and enjoy the interiors and their elaborate decoration. Lavish use will have been made of marble, bronze, stained glass, mosaic tiles and paint, the latter probably to immortalise an important historic event associated with the region.

Also visit Brady Street where there are more notable buildings.

For lunch, try New Atlas Grill in the lobby of Atlas Building (mains from $7), and, for drinks and snacks with a difference, try Kokoa Kabana, 507 South Boston. Kokoa Kabana specialises in all things chocolate. The ice cream is amazing, as are the sweets.

The suburb of Mapleridge, south of downtown and surrounding the Philbrook Museum of Art, is a very attractive area in which to drive or walk around, and the blocks along South Peoria Avenue close to 41st Street have some interesting shops, cafes and restaurants all easily accessed from nearby free car parks. This district is called Brookside, and among the places worth trying for food and drink is Charleston’s Restaurant, 3726 South Peoria Avenue. Because steaks, seafood, pasta, burgers and sandwiches are available, there is something for almost everyone. Burgers and sandwiches cost from $8, ribs and steaks cost from $17 and specials (which include fish) cost from $12. Starters, soups and sides are all good value. The atmosphere inside is lively and, if you sit at the excellent bar, you will soon be chatting with local people.

If looking for a more conventional diner, try Goldie’s Patio Grill (which has eight branches across town. We ate at 4401 South Yale Avenue). Starters cost from $5, burgers cost from $6, platters cost from $9 and sandwiches cost from $7. Goldie’s serves beer and is excellent value for food or drink.

Another district worth visiting, not least for food a little out of the ordinary, is along East 15th Street (especially in the area known as Cherry Street), which is not far from downtown. Although not quite as appealing as Brookside, there are, nonetheless, two or three good cafes for tea, coffee and light snacks; and Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, 1413 East 15th Street, serves Irish and English beers and sixty menu items at prices between those at Goldie’s and Charleston’s. One last location for interesting food is Brady Street just west of downtown. This area is emerging as an area with art galleries, cafes, restaurants and specialist shops, all of which are located in old buildings with an industrial or a commercial character.

We know that one of Tulsa’s nicknames is “the buckle of the Bible Belt”, but we found the town a wonderful place to visit, and not just because of the cost effective accommodation or the excellent eating and drinking options. Downtown has some stunning buildings and, along the Arkansas River, a pretty park is popular with people who like to walk, run or, if so inclined, pick up a free bike to cycle along the extensive cycle paths. Oh yes. If you have a car cross the Arkansas River, preferably on Interstate 44. The views are excellent.

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Murals, Texas and Louisiana, USA.

Murals are found in American settlements of every size, from the very smallest to the very largest. They exist in economically deprived and economically privileged settlements, and derive from just about every ethnic group that possesses American citizenship. Murals may recall the history, the achievements, the torments or the aspirations of a people or a place. They may recall a single remarkable individual or a characteristic, perhaps even stereotypical, dimension of a community’s day-to-day existence. They may highlight injustice, hope, forgiveness, pride or remarkable human endeavour. They may be conceived to bring together once-fragmented communities that seek to put real or imagined grievances firmly behind them, or they may be a work of art with no obvious message, a work of art conceived by an individual or a group.

The following photos show murals in the Texas settlements of Del Rio, El Paso, Houston, Independence, Lufkin and Pilot Point. The seventh photo is of Shreveport in Louisiana.

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Painted Adverts and Ghost Signs, Texas, USA.

The wonderful tradition of painting signs on walls may be dying out around the world in general and in the USA in particular, but it is amazing how many such signs can still be encountered, especially in places where respect for old structures persists, or where financial constraints deny developers the opportunity to replace old buildings with modern ones. Our recent trip to Texas revealed that many painted signs survive in the Lone Star State. Below is a selection of old and not-so-old painted signs from Nacogdoches, Pilot Point, Fort Worth, Abilene, Lockhart, Bastrop and Giddings.

Painted signs are most commonly referred to as painted adverts or, if old and fading, ghost signs. Here in the UK, Love Local Landmarks, an English Heritage-backed project, has been successful in gaining local listing status for two of Hackney’s most famous ghost signs (Hackney is a borough in north London). The Blooms Piano sign and the Waterman’s Fountain Pen sign on Stoke Newington’s Church Street have been singled out for their aesthetic or artistic merit, and for their historical significance. The impact of the listing is that the borough council must now “think about their heritage significance when considering planning applications that affect them.”

This is great news. I hope that many other painted signs secure similar protection around the world.

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Sheds, Silos and Elevators, Texas, USA.

In American states such as Texas, where the plains dominate so much of the landscape, you cannot avoid the sheds, the silos and the elevators, most of which lie beside the railroads so grain and other agricultural produce can be transported easily and quickly. Often the largest buildings in the locality, even when surrounded by what qualifies locally as a town or a small city, the sheds, the silos and the elevators have an austere beauty all of their own, not least when passed by one of the many mile-long freight trains that criss-cross the continent. The sheds, the silos and the elevators in the photos below are in Paris, Amarillo, Dalhart, Dimmitt, Lubbock, Lockhart and Giddings.

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Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas, USA.

As a recent post suggested, Texas has three must-see natural wonders, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park. Being must-see, the aforementioned do not qualify as unusual destinations, but I think a handful of other natural wonders do, Caprock Canyons State Park included.

Caprock Canyons State Park is not a large park, but it has some remarkable landscapes within its boundary. It also has a herd of bison, but, sadly, we did not see it, the hot temperatures driving the animals to seek shelter among trees far from where visitors go if they stick to the trails.

We drove along all the asphalt roads within the park marvelling at the valleys, the peaks, the creeks, the flora and the birdlife. We also followed two trails so we could engage more intimately with the landscape. Outstanding visibility – small puffs of high altitude white cloud hung in a deep blue sky – ensured that the visit would never be forgotten. Needless to say, the caprock, more resistant to erosion than the softer rock below, is the main reason why the dramatic canyons and their peaks exist, but we had not realised just how orangey-red so much of the softer rock was going to be. Such rock against the deep blue sky and puffs of white cloud ensured visual delight wherever we looked. Moreover, cacti and other plant-life beside the trails provided a stunning contrast in colour because of the different shades of green, emerald and celadon included. Some cacti were in flower, those with yellow and crimson petals being the most eye-catching. There were also some bluebonnets.

A lake near the visitor center provides a more conventional counterpoint to the magnificent scenery elsewhere inside the park, but we did not linger long to examine it. After the two trails within the canyon itself, we walked along the canyon rim.

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Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas, USA.

Texas has three must-see natural wonders, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park. Being must-see, the aforementioned do not qualify as unusual destinations, but I think a handful of other natural wonders do, Monahans Sandhills State Park included.

Monahans Sandhills State Park is exactly what its name suggests, an area of sandhills which, in places, deceives you into thinking you have been transported to part of the Sahara Desert. By the time of our visit the temperature had risen to over 90 degrees fahrenheit and the sun shone from an almost cloudless sky. A combination of the heat and the light reflecting off the pale yellow sand made for an unforgettable visit, not least because very few other people were around. An excellent interpretation centre explains to visitors about the geology, history, flora and fauna of the area, and how the sandhills are constantly altered as the wind sculpts them. Occasionally, grasses and miniature havard oak trees help to bind some of the sandhills together, but there are also places where absolutely no vegetation exists. A nature trail near the interpretation centre provides an insight into the remarkable plants, wild flowers included, that somehow survive where the sandhills have yet to encroach. We learned that the havard oak and honey mesquite trees might grow only a few feet tall, but their roots can extend 60 feet underground to survive extreme droughts.

As we walked over the sandhills, we saw that a lot of animal tracks and burrows exist, indicating that various creatures live in the inhospitable environment, rattlesnakes included. We also came across a still-operating, large nodding donkey overlooking a picnic area.

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