As a kid, I never heard anyone talk about road trips. The trips my family took were just "trips." It was a given that we'd be traveling by automobile, except for the rare occasions when we used the rail passes my physician dad earned by caring for the families of Santa Fe Railroad employees.
But now when I hear "road trip," the term conjures up all the wonder and mystery of those childhood excursions. I'm sure my parents planned routes, destinations and sight-seeing stops along the way, but I just hopped into the backseat—aware only in the vaguest sense of where we were going—and waited to see what would unfold.
Now I'm the one doing the planning, but I still like to leave plenty of room—and plenty of time--for mystery and discovery. That's why you won't be hearing from me for a few weeks. Ray and I will be heading off on a road trip, not quite sure yet when we're leaving, when we're returning or exactly what we'll do, other than visit some relatives and attend a family wedding.
When we decided to allow a little extra time for this expedition, my mind began roaming to past trips and some of the unusual sights we've seen, some by design, some by accident.
On our first trip as a couple—a swing through Northern California in the early '90s—we spent a good bit of time searching San Francisco for a wave-activated acoustic sculpture called the Wave Organ, a quest that turned out to be far more interesting than the organ itself. I'd read about the environmental instrument—the creation of two Exploratorium artists in residence—and imagined spooky, whale-like sounds echoing over the shore. A can't-miss destination for sure. But this was in the days before easy internet look-ups, and though my Bay Area friends had all heard of the Wave Organ, no one knew quite where it was. One finally ventured that it might be somewhere in the Marina District, so we headed in that direction, stopped strangers on the street (none of whom knew where it was either, even when we were getting warm) and listened for those eerie sounds.
After much searching, we found a tiny sign: WAVE ORGAN, with an arrow pointing toward a jetty that extended into San Francisco Bay. (The words on the sign had been graffitied into a suggestive remark involving "Simon Says," and the arrow into a crude illustration, in case readers didn't get the joke.) We had a laugh, snapped a picture of the sign and hurried on, still wondering why we weren't hearing anything.
It was because there was nothing to hear. Not unless you crouched or lay on the ground and put your ear right next to one of the sound-transmitting tubes. Then you heard a surfy sound something like you'd hear if you put a seashell up to your ear. Whoop-dee-do. But you know what? We created such hilarity taking pictures of each other squatting or sprawled out on our sides, cupping our ears, it didn't matter that what we heard was less than marvelous.
And my excitement compounded that evening when we checked into our motel and there, in the parking lot, was the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. What's more, we passed a French's mustard factory in Springfield, Missouri the very next day. Sadly, there was no enormous mustard bottle out front. However, we took a different route on our way back to Michigan and passed a farm silo decorated like an oversized Coca Cola can in Kansas, so my happy meal was complete.
Then there was the time we were driving through Nevada on our way to meet friends in Lake Tahoe. In one otherwise forgettable stretch of I-80, we caught a glimpse of an assemblage of concrete and junk that begged to be explored. At least it begged me to explore it, and Ray knew me well enough by then to find the nearest turnaround and head back. The conglomeration turned out to be Thunder Mountain, the work of one Frank Van Zant. Car windshields, old TV screens, typewriters, colorful bottles and a wild assortment of other items were set into the concrete walls of a rambling, three-story structure, and foreboding concrete sculptures guarded the grounds. Now, that was spooky (especially since we were the only visitors at the deserted site).
It always seems to be mid-day and at least 90 degrees when we come across one of these wonders. Ray, bless him, never complains as I dawdle, photographing every detail from every angle.
That's why, along with pictures of more typical attractions like Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful and the Golden Gate Bridge, our photo albums bulge with images of places like Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park in Foyil, Oklahoma, and S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, which has such a hold on me, I'm giving it a major role the novel I recently started writing.
Stay tuned for more about the novel, but since I'm working reaaaaaaaallly slowly on it, stay tuned in the shorter term to find out what we'll discover on our ROAD TRIP!
In the meantime, you're invited to share some of your travel memories. How do you like to travel, and what kinds of sights do you keep an eye out for?
8/17/2016 08:15:33 am
Oh, how I enjoy your posts. The ketchup bottle got a laugh, but your ear to the Wave Origin tube really was amusing. Hahahaha. I am especially excited to dig into the first chapter of your new novel!
8/18/2016 08:31:54 am
You may have to wait a little longer for that first chapter, Susan. I discovered last night that in the process of merging files to take along on my laptop, I accidentally wiped all the latest work I had done on the novel project. I tried every file-restoring method I know of this morning, and nothing worked. Looks like I'll have to try to re-do it from memory. Good memory test, but very frustrating, especially since I really liked the last stuff I'd written.
Wondrous photos! They actually made me giggle at some of them. You are an adventurous pair. The best thing about choosing a destination is not always the destination but the journey getting there. Loved your side trips. Yes, we love to travel too and brought home tons of photos from our trip to the HOT Southwest in June. I put some together for a video on the Grand Canyon National Park. Photos are great for capturing the memories and the fun. Enjoyed yours very much...Have fun on your next trip!
8/18/2016 08:34:19 am
Looking forward to seeing your video, Janet. But I'll have to wait awhile, because I used up this month's data allowance downloading updated maps for our new GPS (grrr), and I've almost used up the extra data I added to get to the end of the month.
8/17/2016 01:44:50 pm
This is going to be such a fun trip! Thanks for taking us along :)
8/18/2016 08:34:48 am
You're good company!
8/17/2016 04:02:24 pm
What a fun post! Enjoyed your adventures and look forward to reading about the current journey. Have a great time!
8/18/2016 08:35:46 am
Thanks, Sue. It's good to have something like this to look forward to right now.
8/18/2016 04:30:53 pm
You'll be pleased to know the Totem Pole, just up the highway from Lily Hill, has been refurbished and the Blue Whale, just down the highway, has been given new life with a new coat of paint and much needed landscaping! Have fun on your trip!!
Sally C Kane
8/22/2016 06:45:50 pm
What a delightful journey into the offbeat and unexpected. The spirit of you and Ray exploring these serendepitous sights makes it fun to be invited in. Postcards from your 50's past to your signature present really added to the TripTik. Thanks and Happy Trails on your present trip.
9/5/2016 12:10:33 pm
What fun you have on your travels! So many of these I want to add to my 'Want to See' List. Enjoy your wandering.
9/14/2016 05:25:39 pm
Somehow, the more I see, the longer my "Want to See" list gets!
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Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.