Story and photos by TAMRA BOLTON // March/April 2017
One of the best parts about spring break from school and family road trips is discovering unusual places and attractions. In my many years crisscrossing the country, I’ve found quite a few of these treasures.
One of my favorite things to investigate when I’m out on the road is quirky museums. Here are five of the best — filled with plain old-fashioned fun!
1: LEE’S LEGENDARY MARBLE MUSEUM
Housed in a small unassuming storefront in tiny York, Neb., Lee Batterton’s Marble Museum is heaven on earth for marble collectors and aficionados.
Not only does Batterton have over 1 million of the orbs in his collection, but he has some of the rarest and most valuable marbles anywhere.
Batterton is a walking encyclopedia of marble history, marble manufacturing and of course, marble collecting. Most days, he and his staff can be found sorting, dusting and cataloging his vast displays.
Batterton is a joy to visit and you can find him behind the counter most days at the museum. He also sells and trades marbles and is willing to talk shop and negotiate with interested marble collectors.
2: YPSILANTI AUTOMOTIVE HERITAGE MUSEUM
Home of one of the original Hudson auto dealerships, this historic building in Ypsilanti, Mich., has displays of Hudsons, Chevy Corvairs and a Tucker.
The Tucker (only 51 were built, of which 47 survive) and the Corvairs were made in Ypsilanti, Mich.
You can also drive a few blocks from the museum and see the home of Preston Tucker, the auto designer, made famous by the 1988 movie “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” starring Jeff Bridges.
Preston Tucker’s grandson, John Tucker Jr., is still involved in the Heritage Museum and is the president of the Tucker Club.
3: HOLT HERITAGE MUSEUM
In their 80s, Bill and Ramona Holt are live wires, operating their amazing museum, by appointment only, just outside of Missoula, Mont. They love talking to their visitors about the hundreds of cowboy, rodeo and Indian artifacts they have collected over the years.
Want to see John Wayne’s boots … how about Willie Nelson’s … or Roy Rogers’ … or Chuck Norris’? Famous cowboys, rodeo stars, country music stars, politicians and movie stars’ boots are all here.
Several presidential pairs reside here, including a pair belonging to Ronald Reagan. Dolly Parton’s tiny boots are here along with those owned by Chet Atkins, Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood and many others.
Tom Mix’s saddle and hat are also part of the Holts’ collection along with dozens of artifacts telling the story of the American West. Located at the crossroads of the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Nez Perce Trail, the Holt Heritage Museum is worth the short drive.
Be sure to call ahead and make an appointment, so Bill and Ramona can show you around. Bill is the only rodeo announcer ever inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame located in the Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. Both Ramona and Bill are living repositories of Western, Indian and rodeo history and are happy to answer your questions.
4: WEGNER CRYSTAL MUSEUM
A scenic drive will take you into rolling hills, down a curving country lane to Wegner Crystal Mines and Museum just outside of Mount Ida, Ark..
Richard Wegner has created a fascinating interactive experience the whole family can enjoy.
In this beautiful country setting, you can pan for minerals and gems in a genuine miner’s sluice and dig for your own crystals in their open pit mine which is a short ride to the top of the hill in Wegner’s specially designed vehicle.
There, you can find crystals of all sizes and shapes to take home…you might even find a real treasure, like some of Richard’s more adventurous visitors.
The museum is a treat to explore, brimming with unusual varieties of crystals and gems, including an 8-foot tall, 4,000-pound amethyst that you have to see to believe!
A trip to Wegner Mines and Museum is a real treat and best of all, you can take home the gems and crystals you find.
5: THE WYOMING TERRITORIAL STATE HISTORIC SITE
Although it’s not called a museum, it is by definition a wonderful example of an entire complex of structures and contents that tell a story and inform.
This prison, constructed in 1872, is one of the oldest buildings still standing in the state of Wyoming. It’s most infamous prisoner was No. 187 — Butch Cassidy.
It was the only time that the outlaw was incarcerated and numerous photos of Cassidy and his gang adorn the walls of the prison, along with their life stories, which contain some amazing details.
Prison life back in the late 1800s was especially harsh.
In the wintertime, temperatures inside the prison cells were only 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperatures and in Laramie, they typically dip to negative 20 degrees, with highs only in the 30s. The warden and his family, however, had a much more comfortable existence, enjoying all the comforts and luxuries available in the 1870s West.
Located just off of Interstate 80, the Wyoming Territorial Prison is an entertaining and educational stop for anyone traveling west this year.
Wherever your vacation time may take you, look for the unexpected…it might just be the highlight of your trip! Happy trails!
Tamra Bolton is an East Texas freelance writer. See more of her stories on inmagtexas.com and parade.com.