With the passing of another Labor Day, summer is officially over. And as the nights get cooler and the leaves begin to show tinges of red and gold, I am already nostalgic for my favorite summer pastime, picking fruit. A typical summer in Philadelphia is not complete unless I have coerced Keith and various friends and family into a July morning spent picking blueberries under a blazing sun at Linvilla Orchards. While a good portion of our work ends up eaten at the Orchard, we usually reap 10 or more pounds for the freezer, enough to last the rest of the summer (with some serious rationing).
This summer we found ourselves at Flathead Lake, Montana, at the height of cherry picking season. I love cherries.
I have been known to eat an entire bag in one sitting, making myself sick from their sweet and sour deliciousness. And at $6 per pound, I have even proposed that Keith and I create a separate line item in our budget solely dedicated to supplying my summertime habit.
So when the chance to pick our own cherries for $1 per pound appeared on the side of the road, we jumped on it.
13.6 pounds later (not included what we ate while picking) we filled our coolers and hit the road north for Glacier National Park with our very own taste of summer.
America is a big country. Really big. And in the middle, the rolling green hills of the east give way to the seemingly endless plains, crops and occasional tractor until you hit the jagged edges of the Rockies a thousand miles later. But just as the landscape falls flat and your eyelids start to droop from staring at miles of straight, black asphalt, little gems of Americana make their appearance. Like mirages of a watery oasis, these “only in America” sights beckon you off the interstate and into a parallel travel universe.
The SPAM Museum, Austin, Minnesota I did not grow up eating SPAM. I have no nostalgic memories of mom serving meat product from a can. In fact, I never even tasted SPAM until we veered off Interstate 90 and into the SPAM Museum. Here we were, lured in by the free admission and the opportunity to stretch our legs, tasting samples after viewing a movie on the glorious history of SPAM. Mostly, for those of you curious non-SPAM eaters out there, it tasted like salt. A lot of salt, with perhaps an undercurrent of ham.
The museum itself is actually very well done. There are many exhibits ranging from the evolution of the SPAM can’s packaging to a chronicle of SPAM’s advertising campaigns from the 1940s through the 1990s. There is even an interactive exhibit where you can test how fast you’d be on the SPAM assembly line, inserting a pink felt block into a SPAM can and then ensuring the proper label adheres. (Due to our poor performance, I don’t think either of us would be justified in pursuing this alternative career path.) The museum’s website claims that the “SPAM knowledge that you will gain is priceless.” Need I say more?
The World’s Only Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota
We first heard about the Corn Palace from Keith’s mom, who showed us pictures of this ode to corn that is redecorated each year in a different theme. Seriously. This was something we absolutely had to see for ourselves. Just as the sun was sinking in the western sky, we arrived at what is essentially an indoor arena covered in murals made entirely of corn. In the middle of the arena, is, of course, the ubiquitous gift shop.
This year’s theme, “Through the Ages,” depicts different modes of transportation through time. From sailboats to segways, stagecoaches to snow mobiles, the exterior of the Palace is covered in murals handcrafted out of naturally colored corn, grains and grasses. Approximately 500,000 visitors each year come to this “agricultural show-place of the world.” And I bet you didn’t even know it existed.
Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota
Yet another gift shop cleverly disguised as a must-see tourist destination, Wall Drug is impossible to pass by without at least a look. For hundreds of miles, the interstate is littered with Wall Drug billboards, enticing the weary traveler to stop at “America’s Favorite Roadside Attraction.” Promises of free ice water and 5-cent coffee dot the landscape until it becomes inevitable that you will stop. And you will stop, along with thousands of other tourists.
And when you do, you will find yourself inside a massive structure filled with everything from candy and fudge to western belt buckles, spurs and hats. Galleries of western art and steer heads line the wood paneled walls. Stained glass, pottery, bobble heads and fool’s gold compete for your tourist dollars. You can easily get lost in this swirl of souvenir chaos.
We never did find the free ice water or the bargain coffee, but we did manage to brave the crowd for a few scoops of homemade ice cream before hitting the road again. Wall Drugs is not for the timid. But on a hot summer day with miles to put under your wheels, it is a spectacle of Americana most worthy of a stop.
What other great slices of American are out there for us to uncover? Please share in the comments below.
Riverboat cruises, baseball games and day hikes were just a few of the fun activities we squeezed in during our week in Cincinnati before heading west on our grand road trip.
Usually, when we come back to Cincinnati it revolves around one holiday or another. With both of my parents and much of the rest of my family still living in Greater Cincinnati area we usually make one or two trips out a year. One of the best things about this trip has been the opportunity to spend more time with family without the frantic rushing around that comes with the holidays. I would highly recommend anyone considering a career break or extended travel to use the time you have at the beginning or end of the trip to visit with family. Well, that is if you enjoy your family’s company.
One of the first things we did once we were in town was to spend a beautiful evening on the Ohio River aboard a B&B riverboat for a charity dinner cruise. Starting the evening with a buffet dinner we quickly moved out to the outside decks to take in the city views and eventually the beautiful sunset sinking below the western horizon.
One of the great views we had while on the Ohio River was the new Cincinnati Reds Ballpark. While I was in town when the old Riverfront Stadium was imploded in 2002, I had yet to make it to a game in the new stadium. By a happy coincidence, while we were home the Reds were running a promotion offering half price tickets to teachers. A good friend of the family, Craig Smith, is a teacher in Northern Kentucky and is also a huge baseball fan. He offered to buy tickets for all of us and was able to secure great seats 15 rows back from home plate. And despite a brief rain delay in the 5th inning we saw an amazing game by the Reds with a 7 to 2 win over the Washington Nationals.
One of our final adventures in the Cincinnati area was a day hike in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Yellow Springs is about an hour north of Cincinnati and its claim to fame is that the during the Christmas season the Clifton Mill, just south of town, is decked out in millions of lights. While it is not quite as postcard picturesque in the summer as it is in the winter, the hike along the Little Miami River was wonderful. The 5-mile path winds along the river and showcases southern Ohio geology, including erosion of the layered sedimentary cliffs and the fossils contained in them.
This trip to Cincinnati reaffirmed something that most people seem to agree with when we have asked them about it: the unique phenomenon of local residents never making the time to see the sights located in their own hometown. New Yorkers that have never been to the Statue of Liberty, Australians that have not made the trip to Ayers rock and Philadelphians that have never laid eyes on the crack in the Liberty Bell.
What attractions in your hometown have you not made it to that an out of town tourist armed with a guidebook would hit in the first 24 hours? Let us know in the comments below.
For more pictures from Cincinnati be sure o check out the Road Trip Pictures page here.