Roadside Attractions (and Distractions)…a Road Tripper’s Observations

With the convenience of air travel theses days, I feel like my generation and younger generations are neglecting one of the more stimulating and educational ways to find travel and adventure – the road trip.  I’m not talking about a day trip, though I really enjoy those, rather I’m talking about a good week or more long of tearing up the pavement, passing semi-trucks, and stopping at random, cheesy attractions along the way.  As I’ve been at home recovering from my knee surgery last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my long road trips over the years.  Why do I think it’s important to hit the road?  What are the great things and what are the big annoyances?  Plus, I’ve gone through my photo files and pulled a small collection of roadside treasures, likely the first of several, that maybe will inspire you to take a car journey of your own in the near future!

What I like about roadtrips:
  • Discovery and adventure: I feel it is so important to get out and see things first hand, especially when it comes to my home country.  How many Americans reading this can say that you understand the underwhelming experience of actually seeing Mt. Rushmore?  You thought it would be a lot bigger, right?  After college, I drove back to the west coast along a route that followed part of the Oregon Trail.  I saw the actual ruts of the wagon trains, worn down in the rocks, and saw names of those migrating people carved on rocks.  Speaking of rock carving, did you know that in Montana, there is a rock where William Clark, of Lewis and Clark expedition fame, carved his name?  It’s called Pompey’s Pillar, and it is only an hour away from where General Custer had his “last stand” at Little Bighorn.
  • Finding inspiration for future tripsIt’s way too often the case that I just don’t have time to stop everywhere I want to stop.  Or that I see something visiting a city, like the starting point of Route 66 sign in Chicago, that gets me excited for a new road trip!
  • AAA Triptiks and Guidebooks:  I am a big dork about AAA material.  The Guidebooks are amazingly detailed.  When I drove across the country my last year of college with my dad, we made it a rule that the passenger had to read all the details about a state once we crossed over a state line.  The old Triptiks, or route map flipbooks, were much better for providing descriptions of towns along the way, compared to the new printout or online version.  We found crazy things to see just off the highway, like a sod hut or a museum with the ceremonial spike that connected the east and west portions of the Transcontinental Railroad (it’s in Utah, by the way).  And it was because of AAA material that I have the random trivial fact about Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana: the replica based off of the foundation of his home is actually a foot longer than the foundation despite the two being next to each other.  Hmm…did someone forget to measure first?
  • The beautiful geology of the U.S.:  This is something you can only understand in person.  I still, to this day, always think that a river must be nearby if I’m going downhill because of the history of the way the land was made over time.  If you want to have your geologic mind blown, you can’t miss the Southwest quartile of the U.S. – especially Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.  I also love a state like Oregon, where you can travel east from coastal shore, through the forested coastal range into a lush river valley, over the Cascade range with its gorgeous mountains and volcanoes, and end up in the high desert.  I just nerded out on your again!
  • Roadside attractions:  I think you can use your imagination on this one.  They can get pretty weird and fun! Or look at some examples below.
  • Easy to travel with the pooch:  More and more hotels are becoming pet friendly.  One of my favorites, because the chain does not charge a fee, is La Quinta.  This can come at a price sometimes, though, of cleanliness.  Of course, paying a fee doesn’t guarantee pet rooms are cleaned properly either.  My dog got fleas at one of the fee hotels I stayed at in California – not sure which one but I know it was a nicer hotel or appeared to be.  You can find other pet friendly lodging options at http://www.petswelcome.com or http://www.bringfido.com.  I’ve even taken the pup to Canada without hassle, just a copy of his rabies certificate.
  • Funny or ridiculous advertisement boards…like the one below for example.  A shop to find a bra or swimsuit and get a mastectomy??  Huh?

Of course, there are always pitfalls of road trips.  What I don’t like about roadtrips (which is mostly related to bad driving situations):

  • Trucks passing on a two lane highway and causing traffic and speed continuity issues that can be dangerous.
  • Driving in rain and snow storms…no, here’s a worse scenario, driving in the rain or snow behind a semi-truck (spray, unpredictability, etc.).  Hello Colorado’s I-70!!
  • “Speed monitor” drivers in the fast lane….please the rule is only go left to pass!  I don’t get why it is so hard to understand this concept.  It is crystal clear in Europe.  In fact, it is actually dangerous to stay in the fast lane in Europe because so many drivers still will want to pass you even if you are 20 mph over the limit.
  • Unaware drivers
  • Not removing snow from the top of a car and creating a flying snow trail
  • Too much fast food – it gets old after awhile.

OK, let’s get back to the fun stuff.  As I mentioned before, here are some of my favorite roadside attractions (and distractions for the really oddball stuff).  Hopefully, one or more inspire you to get behind the wheel and drive off on your own adventure!

Jack Rabbit Trading Post (Arizona I-40 exit 269, southside)

 Twin Arrows (Arizona I-40 exit 219, southside)

 Stewart’s Petrified Wood (Arizona I-40 exit 303, northside)

 Leaning Tower (Texas I-40 exit 116, northside)

Fremont Troll,  Seattle WA

Cabazon Dinosaurs (I-10, California exit 106)

Paul Bunyan, Redwood Forest (Trees of Life), Klamath CA

Drive-Thru Redwood Tree, Leggett CA

Giant Stuffed Sea Otter Dressed as Harry “Otter”, Monterey CA

Peanuts Statues in Santa Rosa, California – the last hometown of Charles M. Schulz (Hwy 101)

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