Top 3 Places In The US To Experience LEGO-Mania This Summer

LEGOs – show me a man, woman or child who doesn’t love these little plastic building bricks and I’ll show you three exhibitions that will impress them to pieces this summer.

National Building Museum's Towering Ambition LEGO exhibitLEGO® Architecture: Towering Ambition
National Building Museum, Washington, DC

Through September 3, 2012
The LEGO exhibit “Towering Ambition” has been wowing visitors to Washington, DC’s National Building Museum since 2010. On display is the LEGO artistry of Adam Reed Tucker, one of only 11 LEGO® certified professionals in the world, who re-created 15 of the world’s most famous buildings and monuments out of toy bricks. See scale models of the Empire State Building, Gateway Arch and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, also known (for the time being) as the tallest building in the world. For the final months of this exhibition, three DC-area design companies have contributed equally intriguing LEGO builds of other iconic landmarks which collectively total more than 75,000 bricks.Sculptures Built with LEGO® Bricks
Reiman Gardens, Ames, Iowa
Through October 28, 2012

Beautiful Reiman Gardens, the largest public gardens in Iowa located at Iowa State University in Ames, invited Sean Kenney, another LEGO-certified artist, to create 27 nature-inspired sculptures arranged in 14 displays. A hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower, a bumblebee, a monarch butterfly, fox, a moth orchid, and a bison with a calf are just a few of the incredible LEGO builds throughout the grounds. The sculptures range from six inches tall to eight feet tall and approximately 500,000 bricks were used in the exhibition.

LEGO Hummingbird at Reiman Gardens

Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick
Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Florida
Through August 19, 2012

Sculptures ranging from lovers embraced in a kiss to Mount Rushmore make up this eclectic exhibition in Hollywood, Florida, featuring the works of master LEGO builder Nathan Sawaya. Many of Sawaya’s past works, such as his LEGO replica of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, have earned him permanent exhibition space at museums around the world. So this show of mostly new works will be worth checking out.

Of course, in addition to these three exhibits, LEGO enthusiasts can visit several official LEGO venues throughout the United States. There are now LEGOLAND theme parks in Florida and California as well as four LEGOLAND Discovery Centers in the U.S. (and four more worldwide).

[Photos: National Building Museum; Flickr user McLeod; Art and Culture Center of Hollywood]

Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

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Five states where you’re most likely to hit a deer this fall

Leaf-peepers are about to hit the road in force – as they always do this time of year. While soaking in the burning foliage colors with your eyes, it’s only too easy to forget you’re behind the wheel, a situation that can lead to disastrous consequences. There are some states where beautiful foliage and deer prancing on the streets just seem to go together, according to a study by insurance company State Farm. So, if your autumn plans include scoping out the trees, make sure you look out for deer, too.

Here are the five states where you’re most likely to wind up with Bambi on the hood of your car if you aren’t careful (with the likelihood of doing so):

1. West Virginia: 1 in 42 (I didn’t see this one coming!)

2. Iowa: 1 in 67

3. Michigan: 1 in 70

4. South Dakota: 1 in 76

5. Montana: 1 in 82What’s particularly surprising is that none of the states usually considered to be leaf-peeping destinations made the top five, let alone showed high risk of deer collisions. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are low-risk, with New York, Vermont and Maine only showing medium risk. You’re more likely to wash venison off your hood in Arkansas than you are in New Jersey, a state where deer corpses are not uncommon on the side of the road.

Interestingly, the number of miles driven by U.S. motorists, according to State Farm, has grown only 2 percent in the past five years … while the number of deer/car smacks has surged 20 percent. From July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010, there were approximately 2.3 million collisions between deer and vehicles. The average cost for an incident was $3,013.

[Chart via Terms + Conditions: Insurance Industry Blog]

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Corn Palace to the Jolly Green Giant: 10 Midwest roadside attractions you must see

America’s heartland is home to plentiful crops, rolling hills and orange sunsets. You can find a Dairy Queen next to a cherry tree and park yourself in front of a drive-in movie on a hot summer night. There’s also the world’s largest bottle of ketchup, and enchanted highway and the Jolly Green Giant…. wait, what?

It’s true, travelers. The Midwest is home to many quirky attractions that might seem downright weird, but make for great roadside fun. Here are 10 that are worthy of your time:

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle – Collinsville, Illinois
Along the Mississippi River in tiny Collinsville, Illinois, stands the world’s largest catsup bottle. It was built in 1949 and used to serve as a water tower for the Catsup factory that once existed there. The Catsup tower is 170 feet tall and located next to Route 159.

Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz – Liberal, Kansas
Whether you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz or simply appreciate the classic film, dropping by this Land of Oz museum is a must. This roadside attraction is located in Liberal, Kansas and visitors can tour a replica of Dorothy’s house in addition to the actual Land of Oz. Don’t forget to say hello to the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow.

Jolly Green Giant – Blue Earth, Minnesota

Even those who aren’t a fan of vegetables will be mesmerized by this 60 foot tall replica of the Jolly Green Giant. It rests alongside I-90 and Highway 169 in Blue Earth, Minnesota and was built in 1979 to celebrate the city’s canning business.Enchanted HighwayRegent, North Dakota
This 32 mile stretch off I-94 in North Dakota is appropriately dubbed the Enchanted Highway. It was designed by Gary Greff, a ND inhabitant, who wanted to improve the tourism business in the state. The highway features a variety of quirky sculptures, including a giant family made of tin and massive statues of insect and animals.

World’s Largest Easel / Van Gogh replica – Goodland, Kansas
Located along I-70 in the town of Goodland, Kansas passers by can ooh and ah over a 768-square foot replica of Van Gogh’s Three Sunflowers. In addition to being the world’s largest Van Gogh reproduction, it’s also the world’s largest easel.

The House on the Rock – Spring Green, Wisconsin

It may seem a bit dangerous, but don’t be fooled. the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin is home to an eclectic collection of armor, pipe organs, the world’s largest carousel, fiberglass elephants and pretty much anything else your brain can think up. The house itself is perched atop a rock (hence the name) and located at 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green Wisconsin.

The Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota
If there’s one thing the Midwest is especially known for, it’s got to be its infinite supply of corn. Visit the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota and you’ll have all the proof you need. The entire palace-shaped building is constructed of thousands of bushes of corn, grass and grains and is re-furbished annually.

Precious Moments Chapel – Carthage, Missouri
Collector or not, the Precious Moments Chapel is definitely worth checking out. It’s located in Carthage, Missouri and consists of dozens of Precious Moments statues and paintings in and around the chapel. Visitors can stop by from 9 to 5 p.m. on 4321 S. Chapel Road off I-44.

Villisca Ax Murder House – Villisca, Iowa
The Ax Murder House in Villisca, Iowa is coined one of the scariest places on Earth for a good reason. There, an unknown butcher is said to have crept into the house (owned by Josia Moore) to kill Moore, his wife and their six children. The house, located at 323 East 4th. Street, has since turned into a reportedly haunted museum.

Heidelberg Project – Detroit, Michigan
The Heidelberg Project, located at 3600 Hedelberg Street in Detroit, is just as cool-looking as it is beneficial to the Earth. It’s essentially a giant sculpture made of random trash and debris. The urban junkscape consists of cars painted and filled with trashed stuffed animals, painted pieces of plywood and an entire house decorated with brightly colored rubbish.

Wendy Gould is a writer

Three Midwest parks to cater to your summertime plans

The Midwest may not have the mega-parks of the National Park Service, but they’ve got something you won’t find at top tourist attractions: solitude. You won’t find huge waterfalls or towering mountains in the midwest, but then again, you also won’t have to wait in line for jockey for a camping space. You’ll find peace, quiet and an abundance of wildlife often unappreciated. If you’re looking for something a little different this summer, take a drive through America’s heartland and check out these three midwest parks:

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry, Iowa
There is a small exhibit area with a movie theater and plenty of very knowledgeable rangers in Effigy Mountains. The hiking trails that cover the area take you past American Indian mounds and deposit you on rocky outcroppings overlooking the majestic Mississippi River. Eagles, egrets, herons and hawks regularly fly the skies in this area and you might run into a few deer while you hike. The trails are moderately strenuous and some are handicap accessible. Make sure to take You must go to Firepoint, if it’s possible. On inclement days, this trail is often closed but the view is stellar. Camping is not allowed at the park, but there are many campsites in the area. Saint Croix National Scenic River, Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin
In the fall the colors of the trees along this river will take your breath away. Largely unknown, even in the area, this area offers camping, hiking and canoeing with an eye toward complete immersion in nature. I recommend starting at the beginning, at the park headquarters in St. Croix Falls. In the summer, the park gets crowded, especially on weekends, and camping space is on a first come, first serve basis. Cell phone service is dicey in the area, but that’s part of the appeal. Keep an eye out for eagles, as well as fish, deer, bats and more stars than you’ve ever seen in the night sky.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Michigan
Hiking in the sand is completely different from hiking trails in the forest. For starters, regular hiking boots feel like dead weight while climbing the dunes of this magnificent park. Start at the visitor center in Empire. Get a map and your bearings and head out along the scenic drive. Read all the information and follow the trails where you can. Admire the changes in the flora between the parking lot and the lakeshore. Be careful, because on really windy days, it can feel like you’re being sandblasted. There are tours available to two adjacent islands and a lighthouse (not often seen in the midwest). The park is open all year and the dunes are beautiful in every season.

Deb Montague is a writer.