Keith Sutton: Redneck wonders

It began 2,200 years ago when Antipater of Sidon created the first list we know as "The Seven Wonders of the World." Awesome marvels such as the Pyramids of Khufu, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes were included.

In 2007, people worldwide cast 100 million votes to choose the "New Seven Wonders of the World": Rome's Colosseum, India's Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Jordan's ancient city of Petra, the Inca ruins of Peru's Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue and ancient Mexico's Mayan city of Chichén Itzá.

Unfortunately, most of us can't visit these faraway places. We need a closer-to-home version, a list of wonders here in the U.S. so breathtaking and so quirky, they invariably make visitors reach for their Primatene Mist.

Here you have it: The Seven Redneck Wonders of the World.

Hydro Glow Bridge

Rednecks like to leave their Christmas lights up year-round. Perhaps that was the inspiration for Clarksville, Virginia's Hydro Glow Bridge, a fluorescent tribute to Southern ingenuity.

Clarksville officials wanted the Highway 59 bridge across Buggs Island Lake to serve as the city's gateway, and someone came up with the idea of lighting it to accomplish that end. Light it they did, but in a most unusual way. Each bridge pier has four green Hydro Glow fishing lights on it -- two underwater and two above -- 76 in all.

When the lights were turned on in 2006, the city not only had a unique gateway, it had created a one-of-a-kind nightfishing attraction. The lights attract baitfish, which in turn attract largemouths, crappie, catfish and other gamefish. The gamefish attract anglers who are pumping millions of dollars into the local economy.

This one's too pretty to miss.

Coon Dog Cemetary

In 1937, Key Underwood sadly buried his faithful coon dog, Troop. They had hunted together more than 15 years. The burial spot was near a camp where coon hunters gathered to share hunting strategies, tell tall tales and compare coon hounds. Those comparisons usually began and ended with Troop, the best around.

Troop loved that camp, and Underwood decided he should spend eternity there. He buried the hound in a cotton-pick sack and marked the grave with a rock on which he had chiseled Troop's name and the date.

From this hunter's devotion to his dog was born the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery, the only graveyard of its kind in the world. More than 185 coon dogs are now buried here seven miles west of Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Visitors can stop and pay respects to some of the finest dogs that ever lived. Info: www.coondogcemetery.com.

Editors Note: To read Don Barone's account of his visit to the Coon Dog Cemetary, click here.

Biggest Fly Rod and Reel

On June 12, 1999, Tiney Mitchell of Port Isabel, Texas, finished building the world's largest fly fishing rod and reel. Recognized as a Guinness World's Record, the rod is a whopping 71 feet long with a reel 4 feet in diameter. It can be seen at the end of Maxan St. in Port Isabel.

If only it were a giant cane pole instead.

The Big Texan

In 1960, the Big Texan Steak Ranch opened on Route 66 in Amarillo. Its Old West architecture and towering sign of a long-legged cowboy soon became major landmarks.

One evening, a hungry cowboy ventured in bragging he was so hungry he could "eat the whole darned cow." Owner Bob Lee started cooking him steaks. When the cowpoke finally got full, he had consumed 4-1/2 pounds of beef. Lee vowed from that day forward the dinner would be free to anyone who could finish it in one hour.

Folks have been trying ever since -- more than 42,000 at last count, including more than 7,000 who succeeded. Winners include an 11-year-old boy, a 69-year-old grandmother and champ Joey Chestnut who ate the entire meal in 8 minutes, 52 seconds!

The meal -- shrimp cocktail, salad, baked potato, bread and 72-ounce steak -- was originally $9.95. Today, challengers pay $72.00 for the experience. But there's not a full-blooded redneck who can pass the Big Texan (now on I-40) without stopping in to try gulping down a gargantuan steak that inspires both fear and excitement. Info: www.bigtexan.com.

Mississippi River Levees

You might say it's the U.S. version of the Great Wall of China, but the Mississippi River levee system wasn't built to stave off barbarian invasions. It was designed to protect nearby cities and farmlands from flooding.

Together, the 24- to 50-foot-high levees stretch over 3,500 miles, extending on the west bank from Allenville, Missouri, to Venice, Louisiana, and on the east bank from Hickman, Kentucky, to Venice. They run through portions of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Building this levee system, the world's largest, is recognized as one of the most incredible engineering feats in history. And much of it was done with mules.

Beer Can House

John Milkovisch, a retired railroad employee, started work on Houston, Texas' Beer Can House in 1968. Sick of mowing the grass, he already had covered his yard with unique landscaping features made by inlaying thousands of marbles, rocks and metal pieces into concrete and redwood.

With that completed, he turned to the house and began adding aluminum sidingaluminum beer can siding, that is. Over the next 18 years, the house disappeared under a cover of 50,000 flattened beer cans, a convenient medium considering John drank lots of beer ("Whatever's on special," he always said). He linked pull-tabs to make curtains that chimed in the wind. Cans were made into walls or sculpted into whirligigs.

The newly renovated Beer Can House can be seen at 222 Malone St. in Houston.

World's Longest Fishing Pier

When the new Sunshine Skyway bridge was built over Florida's Tampa Bay (connecting St. Petersburg with Sarasota), the original bridge was turned into fishing piers. The South Fishing Pier, 8,400 feet long, is the world's longest fishing pier and has parking for 571 vehicles. The North Fishing Pier (3,360 feet) has parking for over 200 vehicles.

The piers are so long you can literally walk to offshore fishing for deep-water species. Common catches include grouper, king mackerel, snook, tarpon, sea bass, Spanish mackerel, cobia, sheepshead, red snapper and pompano. A man landed a 1,200-pound shark there a few years ago, the stuff of which legends are made.

Both piers are open 24/7 year-round. Info: http://skywaypiers.com.