Update: The Cathedral of Junk lives on!

This has not been a good week for roadside oddities. First, Ohio's Touchdown Jesus was razed by God himself, and now the City of Austin, Texas, has forced the closure and dismantling of the long-standing Cathedral of Junk.

The immense, interactive, multilevel sculpture comprising countless found items — crutches, mailboxes, bicycles, bottles, typewriters, you name it — has stood for 21 years as one of Austin's most loved folk-art sculptures and a definitive example of the attitude that gave rise to the city's motto "Keep Austin Weird."

Unfortunately, city officials threw a wet blanket on the installation back in March when they began ordering changes and demanding permits. Since that time, the Cathedral's creator, Vince Hannemann, along with a small army of volunteers, had been working to bring the sculpture up to code and keep it open. The city had even been fairly cooperative in extending deadlines to make preserving the iconic structure possible. The Austin mayor himself contacted Vince back in May to try to help things along. ... Continued

Lo, it is a solemn day for lovers of religious-themed roadside attractions, for today one of the most recognizable of our nation's giant Jesuses is now nothing but a charred metal frame.

The 62-foot-tall "King of Kings" statue that once rose from the pond outside Monroe, Ohio's Solid Rock Church was struck by lightning last night and set ablaze. The figure, which many detourists lovingly nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus" or "Drowning Jesus," had little chance of survival due to its highly flammable plastic-foam and fiberglass construction. (Video below.)

Motorists are already feeling the loss. So many gawkers were stopping along Interstate 75 this afternoon that highway patrolmen were forced to begin issuing citations just to keep traffic moving. Reports indicate that some visitors were scooping chunks of molten Jesus from the pond as souvenirs.

Yet, the church has already announced plans to rebuild the iconic statue. "It will be back," said co-pastor Darlene Bishop, "but this time we are going to try for something fireproof." ... Continued

I've just been informed by a fellow detourist and fan of Weird Texas that the Cathedral of Junk, Austin's towering backyard monument consisting of old bicycles, typewriters, crutches and tons of other metal detritus, has come under fire from the city government!

Despite its being a part of the Austin landscape for the last 20 years, the city, in response to a recent complaint, gave the Cathedral's creator, Vince Hannemann, notice that he must either bring his creation up to local code or they will destroy his property.

I spoke with Hannemann today and he said there were absolutely no issues when he talked to officials as recently as six months ago, but they've now taken a firm stance against his unapproved, permit-lacking structure. It's another sad example of a city failing to recognize its true cultural landmarks. ... Continued

The proliferation of GPS receivers, smart phones and netbooks have changed the way we plan and execute our road trips. Me, I'd say they've improved things dramatically, especially when it comes to making tangential stops and finding nearby places to eat and sleep.

Still, there are those times when connections fail us and we're left in the dark. Plus, we mustn't forget that there are still those of us without such high-tech devices to help us along the way.

In such cases, Google Map Buddy from Augmented Reality Software can be a huge help. Using Google's online repository of maps and satellite imagery, GMB allows you to select a region, then automatically creates a large-scale, high-resolution image ready for print.

Use it to create a big paper map for your next excursion or, if you like, print out a giant aerial view of your home town for a nice wall display. Maybe even make a poster of the entire U.S. that you can use to stick pins in all the places you've been. ... Continued

Weird Arizona fans should be well familiar with the decaying "meat rocket" that sat for years off Highway 69 in Prescott, Arizona. Purchased years ago by local Steve LaVigne, the 1950s-era rocket that once advertised Luer Quality Meats in parades across the country had been waiting patiently among a collection of vintage trucks and buses, its future up in the air.

On a return trip to Prescott for a recent book signing, I tried to get in touch with Steve to cash in on a promise to get a look inside the Luer Rocket and to find out if he had any new plans for the Space Age missile. Problem was, the contact information I had for him was out of date and I was unable to reach him.

However, by an amazing coincidence, Steve happened to be shopping at the Costco that was hosting the signing on the very day I was there, and spotted the image of the rocket on page 237 as another patron was flipping through the book. Once we each realized who the other was, we began to chat enthusiastically about the rocket, and that's when I learned the bittersweet news: the Luer Rocket was gone! ... Continued

In Weird Arizona, I wrote about the sad demise of Twin Arrows Trading Post, a long-lived roadside establishment east of Flagstaff known for its iconic pair of giant projectiles. When I last photographed the site in September 2005, both arrows' points were gone and only one flaking fletching remained. It looked as though the Twin Arrows would disappear forever.

Yet, when I passed them today on an excursion between book signings, I was hit with the unexpected. I assumed that, by this point, nothing would remain but two leaning utility poles. Still, I felt compelled to stop by on my way east. My jaw dropped at the sight of their Lazarus-like resurrection.

There they were, completely rebuilt and shining with a fresh coat of brightly colored paint. It was a miracle! The trading post and its connected Valentine diner were still in disrepair, but the famous arrows had been restored as I had hoped for years they would be. ... Continued

A big thanks to all the Phoenix residents who stopped by to chat with me and grab a personalized copy of Weird Arizona on Saturday. I had a great time meeting everyone and hearing about your adventures.

Now, for those of you waiting to hear about the Prescott and Tucson dates, I've finally gotten confirmation. They are as follows:

Prescott
Saturday, January 23
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Costco at 3911 Highway 69

Tucson
Sunday, January 24
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Costco at 6255 E. Grant Road

By the way, I'm told that if you don't have a Costco member's card, you can ask for a day pass.

Weird Arizona fans! I'm current in West Texas on my way to the Grand Canyon State to attend book signings for your favorite travel compendium!

I'll be in Phoenix on Saturday the 16th (that's this Saturday!) at Costco from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The address is 2450 E. Beardsley Road.

I will also be at Costco stores in Prescott and Tucson the following weekend, Saturday and Sunday, the 23rd and 24th, but which one occurs on which date has yet to be determined, so I'll let you know as soon as I do.

See you there!

On my most a recent, and final, research trip to the Sooner State for my upcoming book, Weird Oklahoma, I traveled to the panhandle to visit the especially welcoming city of Hooker.

I'm always pleased to run across a town with a name that infects me with prurient giggles, but the fact that Hooker has embraced my sophomoric humor pleases me even more. They've turned fourth-grade humor into a booming tourist industry, hawking souvenirs covered in double entendres.

As a preview to Weird Oklahoma, I've posted my story of Hooker, Oklahoma, along with a collection of photos I took while I was there. Enjoy!

There are few words that could adequately describe the awesomeness of what I consider one of the most beautiful toys I've ever seen.

An unnamed reader of Motoblog, an Italian Web site geared toward motorcycle enthusiasts, sent in pictures of a Vespa rocking horse he built for his nephew, Diego. Mind you, it isn't a refashioned scooter built from scrap Vespa parts, but a work of art built to scale and handcrafted from fiberglass and metal.

Diego, don't you ever, ever sell that thing. Except to me.