Posts Tagged ‘driving’

It’s not always bad news…

Mullinville, Kansas

Reason #38- Roadside Attractions

One sunny afternoon in the flat plains of Central Kansas, we came across a field with hundreds of kinetic and other metal sculptures.  I had heard that there were unusual roadside attractions in the Midwest, but this was the first time I was taken aback by one.  Mullinville, Kansas, is a small town on U.S. Highway 400 and its claim to fame are these “totems,” as their creator, a reportedly ill-tempered M.T. Liggett, calls them.  They are made from junked farm machinery, car parts, road signs or railroad equipment.

From the giant dinosaurs in Cabazon, Calif., to “Carhenge” in Alliance, Neb., to the massive “Geese in Flight” metal sculptures in North Dakota, surprises around the bend will usually delight, if not impress.  There’s a giant elephant in New Jersey, the world’s largest thermometer in the California desert, and mammoth statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox, throughout North America.  Bring your own spray paint and help decorate the upended relics at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

There are literally hundreds of these attractions scattered all over America, many on out-of-the-way back roads, and are the hope of each county or town near their location.  What makes them special is the quirky or humorous nature of the creations, the more unexpected the better.  For example, the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn doesn’t really cut it any longer, but New York State’s “World’s Largest Garden Gnome” will definitely have you cracking a smile.   Beneath an overpass in Seattle, there is a cement statue, the Fremont Troll, so large that a full-size VW bug fits in its clutched hand. 

There also seem to me popular themes to these attractions.  Treat yourself to a visit to the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, S.C., or to the Little A‘le‘inn, a roadside café and motel on the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada.  Huge dinosaurs can be found in nearly every state, as can the “World’s Largest” almost anything. 

There’s a Foamhenge in Virginia, a replica of Stonehenge in  Washington State, the aforementioned Cadillac Ranch and Carhenge, and other “Henges” of various types across the country.  There are also umpteen metal horse, elk and buffalo statues on the plains and rolling hills of the Midwest and the deserts of Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona, some with Native Americans in chase.

We’ve seen bowling ball gardens, hot-dog-shaped cafes, coffeepot or teapot gas stations, giant rocks in a myriad of shapes, and a “city” of round rocks.  Ghost towns seem to be everywhere, as are an abundance of outdoor museums of farm and ranch equipment, and strange man-made structures like Bishop’s Castle in Colorado.  Many have expressed fascination with the over-painted Salvation Mountain in Slab City, Calif., or the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama.

All told, we wouldn’t enjoy life on the road as much without at least some of these respites from dreary highway travel, helping make the road less traveled much more fun.


Interestingly, my closing quote typifies why interesting roadside attractions are so often missed by tourists.  It was attributed to Gilbert K. Chesterton, an English writer who lived during the turn of the 20th century.  He wrote, appropriately, “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

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It’s not always bad news…

Reason #22- Back Roads

From the first moment I received my driver’s license when I was a 16-year-old kid in Southern California, the back roads were calling me.  Perhaps that was because of the crowded city life, or perhaps I longed to be free from the congestion of L.A. traffic.  One thing was sure, once I took off for my first exploration of the Mojave Desert, I’ve always tried to avoid Interstates and major highways.

Now, freeways do have a great purpose — they get you from point A to point B in the fastest time possible, even if some of that time is spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  On a long trip, to completely avoid Interstates may add days to the journey, perhaps not a problem if you are retired, but definitely a consideration if just on vacation.  You can always count on gas stations, truck stops and fast food, not to mention bathrooms, along a freeway or highway, not so much on the less-traveled roads.  However, on the freeways, what you miss!

Dictionary.com defines a back road as “a little-used secondary road, especially one through a rural or sparsely populated area.”  The “rural” part is what makes it fun.  From the forest roads of Colorado to the country hamlets of Upstate New York, from Texas’ narrow “farm-to-market” routes to Oregon’s scenic coastal byways, the pure pleasure of seeing nature, wildlife, country living, farmland and quaint Main Streets is totally absent from a jaunt on I-70 or I-95.

Certainly, half the fun of parking our fifth wheel in a new (for us) region of the country, even during the pandemic’s “stay-in-place” orders, is exploring from our truck without any destination in mind (we often self-quarantined in the pickup), and our satellite navigation system almost completely ensures we won’t get lost. 

The quirky “World’s Largest” items in rural towns, the awe-inspiring fields of kinetic sculptures, the pure majesty of a redwood forest or a rugged coastline, the jaw-dropping views of the tallest jagged peaks, or a thunderstorm you can see 50 miles away, all of these things are experiences most likely missed on an Interstate highway.  I take most of my photos of landscapes, wildlife, wildflowers and interesting rural scenes on these expeditions on back roads.

Something interesting to do, which we plan on attempting in the future, is to take U.S. Routes 66 and 20 from end to end.  The famous Route 66 was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System and begins and ends in Santa Monica, Calif., to the west and Chicago, Ill., to the north.  Most of us have been on parts of this historic highway already, but few have taken it from start to finish.  Likewise, Route 20 is truly coast-to-coast, spanning 3,365 miles with endpoints in Boston, Mass., and Newport, Ore.  Our living in Western New York gave us glimpses of this rural highway and we saw much of the western portion when we camped in Oregon.  Both of these routes have been usurped in some sections by freeway, and it can be quite a task to try to stay on the original routes as much as possible, but even that process can be fun (if you like maps and navigation).


My ending quote for this topic comes from Down Under, where Australian writer Robyn Davidson said, “By taking to the road, we free ourselves of baggage, both physical and psychological. We walk back to our original condition, to our best selves.

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It’s not always bad news…

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, the polarizing 2020 Presidential campaigns were being waged and merely living in America was becoming a gloomy prospect, I attempted to mitigate the dread surrounding us by focusing on the many joys and delights we could still enjoy, hopefully lifting spirits and soothing the soul. While carefully researched, every essay in this collection includes personal reactions that supplement and enhance the factual content. The result in interesting reflections and an affirmation that we can be positive and find joy in the most difficult of times.

I especially need these affirmations right now, as many of you know, since I lost my wife to cancer in December. I hope you enjoy them- my book info is at the end.

Reason #2- Driving

There’s a lot about driving people dislike, i.e., traffic jams, accidents, tickets, and more.  They don’t call it “road rage” for nothing.  But, it’s not all bad.

In fact, I’ve LOVED driving since I first sat behind the wheel.  My dad owned a gas station and I started working summers there when I was twelve.  The service station was also a U-Haul dealer and by the time I was 14, I was moving those big U-Haul trucks around the lot and getting them parked.  I bought my first car when I turned 16 and got my license.  It was a 1962 white Econoline pickup, and I drove that truck with glee for a couple of years before buying a muscle car when I was nearly 18.

My 1970 Plymouth Duster was my “coming-of-age” car.  Having pegged out the speedometer at 120 mph numerous times, I can only guess what its top speed was.  I was young and invincible, and my driving showed it.  However, starting a family made me much more aware of the dangers of speed and I reined myself in.  By the time I was into my 20s, that Duster had carried us to San Francisco, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, Modesto and Merced in the Big Valley, and Joshua Tree National Forest and even Ensenada, Mexico, and all points in between.

I was a true explorer and have been ever since.  No wonder we moved into our RV the moment we could.  Since then, the sights have been innumerable, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

According to Faceandbodydesign.com, driving has been shown to be very good for your mental state. Research has shown that getting behind the wheel of a car may reduce dementia risk and offer other health benefits for the elderly.  As we age, we may also benefit from driving a car, both boosting cognitive function and staving off conditions like dementia.  It may also halt the aging process.  Had I only known, I could have stayed young forever.

Let’s not forget that this country would be very different had it not been for the automobile.  Driving a few miles on Route 66 or U.S. Highway 20 can give you an appreciation for the mass westward exodus from the East Coast city life America experienced.  What would the 50s and 60s have been like without a car, drive-in theaters or drive-thru fast food restaurants like In-N-Out and A&W?  I can tell you one thing, the West Coast would have been reserved only for the wealthy, as average families in the East and Midwest could only save up for annual western vacations.

No, driving is a guilty pleasure that I will hopefully never have to give up.  With 85 being the new 65, I will do everything I can to be safely behind the wheel well beyond those years.


I’ll close with a quote from Tom Hanks:  “Growing up in northern California has had a big influence on my love and respect for the outdoors. When I lived in Oakland, we would think nothing of driving to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz one day and then driving to the foothills of the Sierras the next day.

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I was discussing the three-day drive across Texas we’ve taken in the past and wondered how that stretch compares to other states.  I decided to let Google Maps be my guide as I looked throughout the country for similar treks for the nine longest in-state drives.

I created a few ground rules, such as any route candidate for my list being calculated as the shortest drive between two cities or towns. This means that there may be longer routes to or from unincorporated towns not showing on Google Maps.  I can’t do much about that.  I only utilized routes that stayed within the state being researched.  A few shorter routes may have existed through neighboring states.  Also, traffic, season and weather don’t affect distance, so I kept to miles instead of hours.

One last point – I didn’t research all 50 states.  Obviously, states like Hawaii, Rhode Island and Delaware won’t be on any longest drive list.  But as I calculated the most extensive drives in states like Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia and North Carolina, it became clear that most candidates were less than 400 miles.  With the 9th largest stretching 629 miles, I could visually rule out dozens of states.

Here’s the list, ranked shortest to longest:

9.  Oklahoma-  Kenton to Tom- 629 miles

Many of the states on this list are of medium size compared to the rest of the country but have irregular shapes that provide longer routes.  This is true of Oklahoma, where we start at the edge of the panhandle and drive cattycorner to the bottom of the pan, covering over 600 miles.  The route only utilizes a few dozen miles on an interstate (I-40) and flows through Oklahoma City smack dab in the middle of the Sooner State.

8.  Michigan-  Copper Harbor to Erie Township- 631 miles

Situated at the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or U.P., is Copper Harbor on Lake Superior, and it’s now on my bucket list to visit.  On the other end of the drive is a small town near Ohio on Lake Erie.  In between, the Mitten State will provide a variety of sights and views of three of the Great Lakes.

7.  Nevada-  Laughlin to Denio- 698 miles

It was surprising to see Nevada on this list.  Laughlin is found near the state junction points of Nevada, California and Arizona in the far south of the Silver State. Almost 700 miles north is Denio, a small town at the Oregon border.  Along the way, you’ll see some of the state’s desert and scablands, Las Vegas and other gambling meccas, and many miles of secluded highway. 

6.  Montana-  Troy to Ridge- 721 miles

I did expect to see the Big Sky Country in the Top 9, but the surprise was that it wasn’t longer than a few others on the list.  Troy is in the northeast corner near the Idaho border, sitting in the middle of the Kootenai National Forest.  Over 700 miles southeast is Ridge in the opposite corner.  The two towns show a stark contrast in environments, with Troy in the midst of fabulous forested mountains and Ridge reminding more of the barren hills of the Dakotas. 

5.  Idaho-  Good Grief to Fish Haven- 827 miles

Another panhandle, another long drive.  At the far northern edge of the Gem State is the best city name on this list, Good Grief.  Because the most direct route takes you through Montana, we had to calculate traveling through Boise to stay in Idaho to reach the southeast corner of the state at Fish Haven.  This takes you along several mountain ranges and forests until you reach the capital city, then the scenery becomes more scrub-like. 

4.  Florida-  Muscogee to Key West- 840 miles

Let’s face it, panhandles give states an edge to get on this list, and the Sunshine State is no exception.  Like Oklahoma, we begin on the far eastern edge of the panhandle in the town of Muscogee, then head west to the body of Florida before driving south, all the way to the Keys.  The distance between the two is so far that Google shows the direct flying time to be almost four hours.  The inland drive will repeat the same scenery for much of the trip, except for the time you are near the ocean.  On this jaunt, south is best, as it includes West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, the Everglades and Key West, many of which are on most people’s bucket lists.

3.  Texas-  El Paso to Orange- 858 miles

Now we see the state that started it all, Texas, and its 3-day straight shot east from El Paso, all on I-10.  The Lone Star State is vast and mostly barren, though green by comparison to much of the southwest.  Hundreds of miles after leaving El Paso, you’ll finally reach San Antonio, the 7th largest city in the country, and about 3 hours later, Houston, the 4th largest.  Orange is just across the state line from Lake Charles, LA, and is hurricane susceptible.

2.  California.- Smith River to Winterhaven- 1008 miles

Not far from the Oregon coast is Smith River, California, a continuation of the fabulous northwest coastline.  This path takes you south along the coast until you reach San Francisco, then it heads inland through wine country and the Big Valley, before hitting the Los Angeles metropolitan area.  From there you travel east, then south towards Mexico, ending up in Winterhaven, next to Yuma, AZ.  You’ll see a wide range of panoramic views of ocean, coastline, vineyards, agriculture, historic cities, theme parks, and southwestern deserts.  It’s never a bad time to take in a thousand miles of the Golden State.

1.  Alaska-  Homer to Prudhoe Bay- 1074 miles

As we all expected, the Last Frontier takes the top spot for providing the longest in-state drive.  Interestingly, the longest route I could locate included just the main body of the state, since so much of Alaska is inaccessible by car, even in the summer.  Speaking of summer, that’s the only season most of this route is safe.  But, the views!  Prudhoe Bay is on the Arctic Ocean and was built atop the tundra.  This route is almost 1,100 miles in length and just about every mile has dramatic views.  Like many awe-inspiring landscapes, photographs along this byway simply can’t do them justice. 

Honorable Mention-  Missouri- Watson to Cottonwood Point- 560 miles

At nearly 600 miles long, the Show-Me State was just out of the Top 9, but the odd-shaped state still deserves a mention.   In the far northwest corner, Watson is more like Nebraska than Missouri.  The lack of a direct route to the southeastern notch forces the route to take a bit of a zig zag, traveling south along the Nebraska and Kansas state lines, hanging a left in Kansas City and a right at St. Louis, then south along the Illinois line and the mighty Mississippi River.  This would definitely be an interesting drive.

Now, then, these are the longest drives in the country that don’t cross state lines.  Many of these are now on my future to-do list, if not my bucket list.  I trust you have the same interest.

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