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Day 1

Big Trip 15 has begun and we kicked it off with a marathon day… almost 13 hours on the road!

(Our daily videos are back… one-two second clips to make a full day’s journey in less than 60 seconds!)

Coffee Pot building

Built in 1927, the Coffee Pot in Bedford, PA is an excellent example of novelty architecture once very popular along America’s roadways. The Coffee Pot is on the Lincoln Highway, the first road to cross the country. In fact, the Lincoln Highway includes many miles first driven by Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, the man who completed the first transcontinental road trip by automobile in 1903.

This shiny coffee pot-shaped building would hold about 51,000 gallons of coffee. What does it hold now? Memorabilia from the Bedford County Fairgrounds and a mystery.

What’s the mystery you ask? How do you get to the second floor?!? There are no stairs visible inside or outside the building. Just a door, up there next to the handle.

two people stand outside of a two-story building in the shape of an old silver coffeepot
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Flight 93 Memorial

Our second stop was much more solemn. The Flight 93 Memorial is a place I have been wanting to visit while also dreading it. I asked the kids and they wanted to see it so I added it to the list.

At the visitors center, you can follow the timeline of that day and everything that happened there. You learn about the passengers and crew of the plane. You hear stories of locals and first responders.

museum display inside Flight 93 Memorial Visitor Center shows photos taken after the plane crashed
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The displays walk through the timeline and events of September 11 and Flight 93.

After the visitors center, you can drive down to the memorial wall that lists the names of the passengers.

white marble wall with small American flags running along the base
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The Wall of Names is engraved with the names of the crew and passengers of Flight 93

It’s a very peaceful, quiet place. Plenty of time to reflect and honor the many losses of that day, both in Pennsylvania and everywhere.

On the way out, we stopped at the Tower of Voices. Unfortunately, it wasn’t windy enough for the chimes to blow and ring.

93-foot tall Tower of Voices at Flight 93 Memorial stands tall against the gray sky
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The Tower of Voices is a unique creation, featuring 40 different “voices” or chimes representing the forty passengers and crew members.

Big Mac Museum

Sadly the museum part of this McDonald’s was closed due to Covid and I had to stare longingly through the window at the World’s Largest Big Mac, unable to take a picture in front of it. But on the positive side, I did eat a Big Mac for lunch. And since no one else was there, I could take my time to read the exhibits that were outside the roped-off area.

14-foot high statue of a McDonalds Big Mac sandwich
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The World’s Largest Big Mac

Heinz History Center

When I wrote my post about Mr. Rogers I discovered that the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh has an exhibit featuring memorabilia and set items from the show. It was on the list for Big Trip 14 but didn’t make the final cut. As an added bonus to my delayed visit, I was able to see Nellie Bly at the museum too. If I had gone sooner, I would’ve missed that.

man sits in front of giant Heinz Ketchup bottle made out of many smaller ketchup bottles
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Molly Stark Park

Book club is featuring heavily in Day 1 of our trip this year. We read The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow and one of the characters was kept in a sanitarium against her will. The author was inspired by an abandoned sanitarium near where she lived. When I discovered that there was an abandoned sanitarium along our drive, in Molly Stark Park, I had to add it to the list. (And speaking of sanitariums, Nellie Bly is also well known for her undercover reporting of Blackwell Asylum in 1897 – 10 Days in a Madhouse.)

old brick building overgrown with ivy and surrounded by chainlink fence
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Day 2

Day 2 – a bit more reasonable but still fit a lot in. Spent 95% of the day in Ohio.

First Ladies National Historic Site

We started the day in downtown Canton, Ohio, at the First Ladies National Historic Site. The site includes two buildings. The Education Center included exhibits about the role of the First Lady throughout the years and a display of inauguration ball dresses worn by some of them. There was also a very interesting exhibit about dress designer Ann Lowe. There are also tours of the Saxton-McKinley home but we didn’t have time for a tour.

lit display of various replicas of First Lady Inaugural gowns
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McKinley Presidential Library and Museum

Also in Canton, Ohio is the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. In addition to exhibits about President McKinley, it also tells the history of Stark County, Ohio.

Animatronic models of President McKinley and First Lady in living room display at museum
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Harding Presidential Library

Ohio was home to several US Presidents and our next stop is all about President Harding. In just one stop you can visit the Harding Home and the Presidential Library. A couple miles away is the Harding Memorial.

two people stand in front of white brick building, Warren G Harding Presidential Library and Museum
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Vacation Mouse in front of President Harding's green two-story home
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Wyandot Popcorn Museum

Adding another unusual museum to our collection, the next stop was the Wyandot Popcorn Museum. They even give free popcorn on your way out!

antique red peanuts and popcorn cart
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Harding Memorial

My favorite presidential memorial that I’ve seen. I love that it has a tree inside and a view of the sky!

tree grows behind tomb of President and First Lady Harding with blue sky above
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Day 3

Day 3 – Easiest day so far.

Bob Ross museum

Ever since I wrote my post about Bob Ross, I have wanted to visit the studio where the Joy of Painting was filmed. The Bob Ross Experience at Minnetrista was great! We saw the very small filming studio and several of his paintings were also on display.

easel holds painting with reference painting hanging nearby
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While there, we were also able to learn about the Ball family (of the Ball Blue Book and canning jar fame). Now I know why Ball University is called that.

Rotary Jail Museum

The Crawfordsville Rotary Jail was the first of just 18 rotary jails ever built. Only three remain standing and this is the only one that still rotates. The tour was excellent and as it says on their website, there’s nothing like seeing it in person!

stuffed mouse in front of brick building with sign for Rotary Jail Museum
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rounded jail cell with bars and passageway
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(you can see the jail rotating in the daily video!)

Day 4-5

Grandma’s house

red and white bags of Kitchen Cooked potato chips on the grocery store shelf
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It’s not a visit to Grandma’s house without stocking up on my favorite chips!

Day 6

Day 6 – Back on the road with an early start.

SPAM Museum

Do you like SPAM? I do! So of course we had to visit the SPAM Museum on our drive through Minnesota.

a farmer with two pigs sculpture outside the SPAM museum entrance
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Jolly Green Giant Statue

“Ho, ho, ho… Green Giant!” This was another must-see in Minnesota, the Jolly Green Giant Statue. He’s very tall! There’s also a small visitor center with Green Giant memorabilia.

55-foot tall Jolly Green Giant statue towers above two people standing at his feet
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Ho, ho, ho… Green Giant!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum

The highlight of my day. We left Grandma’s at the crack of dawn so that we would be sure to arrive at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum before it closed. It was awesome!! I took so many pictures because I just didn’t want to miss a thing. After we saw the museum, we drove just outside of town to see where the dugout was on the Banks of Plum Creek. The actual site is on private property but there is a sign along the road.

looking down at the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum from the building across the street
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marble slab marks the nearby location of Laura Ingalls Wilder family dugout sits next to the road, in front of corn fields.
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Day 7

Day 7 – a long day on the road, driving across North Dakota, and a BIG day for sights (get it?)

National Buffalo Museum

When you drive across North Dakota, you should be sure to stop and see the World’s Largest Buffalo and the National Buffalo Museum.

two people looking very small as they stand in front of the world's largest buffalo statue
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Buffalo statue outside the National Buffalo Museum entrance
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Salem Sue

Another large item to see along the highway in North Dakota… Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow.

two people looking very small standing below Salem Sue, the world's largest holstein cow statue
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Enchanted Highway

When we started out the day we weren’t sure how we would feel by the end. We decided to go ahead and drive The Enchanted Highway even though it would add over an hour to our drive and we are so glad we did! Such a fun drive discovering all the giant metal artwork. Geese in Flight can be seen from the interstate and is currently the World’s Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture. From there, head south towards the Enchanted Castle and prepare to be amazed.

flying geese metal sculpture flying in front of what looks like an eye
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large metal fish and underwater plant sculptures stand high in the prairie
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Day 8

Day 8 – 500 miles and 2 National Parks

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our second trip to North Dakota and our second tour of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We lucked out this year and the bison were very close to the road. The prairie dogs were also active and adorable.

solitary bison grazing along the roadside in Roosevelt National Park
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Little Bighorn National Battlefield

After a long drive across eastern Montana, we arrived at Little Bighorn National Battlefield. The visitor center has a lot of information about the battle, representing both sides. There is also a National Cemetary there which I didn’t realize before we arrived.

rows of white headstones at the National Cemetery of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
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yellow grassy hills continue to the horizon
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Day 9

Day 9 – a short drive and we caught up with the missing passenger as she completes another soccer ID camp.

Missouri Headwaters State Park

We’ve been to the Mississippi Headwaters, so of course we had to see the Missouri Headwaters too, right? However, this was not one to walk across like the Mississippi River. Three rivers meet here – the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin – and become the Missouri River.

Vacation Mouse sits on wooden fence near the beginning of the Missouri River
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Mill Town State Park Overlook

The wildfire smoke was pretty bad but it was still a nice view from the Mill Town State Park Overlook.

railroad bridge over the river in the Milltown State Park river valley below
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Day 10

Day 10 & 11 – broke up our drive to Salt Lake City with an overnight stay at a friend’s house in Idaho Falls.

Idaho Falls

Did you know that Idaho Falls is a man-made falls? I had no idea! The locals are reportedly not that impressed with it but I thought it was pretty. There’s a nice park downtown along the Snake River to enjoy the falls.

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Day 11

Idaho Potato Museum

You can’t go to Idaho and not see the Worlds Largest Potato at the Potato Museum, right? We also saw the world’s largest potato crisp (aka pringle) inside. It’s a small museum but full of great history of the mighty potato. After your tour of the museum, you can enjoy a variety of potato snacks at the cafe.

three people stand in front of world's largest potato and Idaho Potato Museum sign
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Day 12

Day 12 – Salt Lake City

We went to Red Butte Gardens while Felisa was at soccer camp then did a bit of thrift shopping.

Red Butte Garden

We were originally planning to visit the Natural History Museum but the tickets were sold out so we went to Red Butte Garden instead. I love to see the different kinds of plants when we travel and the garden overlooks Salt Lake City and you can see for miles!

flowers and walking path through the garden
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view of Salt Lake City slightly obscured by wildfire smoke in the air
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Day 13

Soccer + Driving

Day 14

The LONGEST day…

Day 14 – another easy day planned. A quick college tour then a drive through Colorado National Monument before another short 5-hour drive to Colorado Springs.

Everything was going fine. We took our time driving around the college and through the monument then stopped for lunch before jumping on the highway. Which is when we found out the Interstate had closed overnight due to mud and rockslides.

No problem, we’ll take US50 instead. It’s a bit longer and not as easy of a drive – lots of mountains to cross and lots of 2 lane roads but very scenic. A 6-hour drive.

As it turns out, US50 is also closed due to construction (which I knew but had forgotten). We had driven 1.5 hours to Montrose when we realized we couldn’t get through. We were just 5 miles from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park at that point so decided to stop to make ourselves feel better about the detour – a bonus National Park.

The rangers gave us the detour route which required a backtrack of 30 minutes to the road that goes around the construction which adds even more time to the drive. It was a lovely scenic detour but we are starting to lose hope that we will make it across the Rocky Mountains.

map of southwest colorado showing detour route around road closure
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Finally, 13 hours after leaving our hotel, we arrived at my dad’s house in the dark and in the rain.

What a day.

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument is conveniently located off of I-70 between Grand Junction and Fruita. The views are fantastic and it’s always worth the drive through the park.

red rock formations extend to the horizon in Colorado National Monument
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The Black Canyon is gorgeous. While somewhat remote – it’s in the southwest corner of Colorado – the park entrance is only about 8 miles from US 50. When we realized that we weren’t going to make it through the road closure ahead, we decided to stop at the park for detour directions from the rangers and to let Felisa see it. (She missed this part of the trip when we stopped here two years ago.)

Still hard to photograph but just as awesome as I remembered it.

dark canyon walls beneath grassy plateaus
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Hermit’s Rest Overlook

The detour around the construction took us along Highway 92 and at the top we were treated to a spectacular view at the Hermit’s Rest Overlook. Now this is Colorado! Past the overlook, we continued on and eventually ended up back on US50 through Curecanti National Recreation Area.

looking down at a mountain lake and more mountains in the distance
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Day 15-17

Day 15-20 – Time to slow the pace and hang out with family. Oh and also go to more soccer camps.

Looking across Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak under blue skies
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I love Pikes Peak!

Day 18

US Olympic and Paralympic Museum

Colorado Springs has a brand-new Olympic museum – The United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum – downtown. The summer Olympics were underway so it seemed like the perfect time to visit. It is very fancy and high-tech with lots of interactive exhibits.

exterior of new olympic museum in colorado springs large white triangle over glass
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Day 19

One last day with Grandpa plus more soccer.

Day 20

Driving to NM

Day 21-24

Day 21-24 More family time. On the road to Texas tomorrow afternoon.

Sandia Mountain on the distant horizon under blue skies
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Day 25

Day 25 – Short drive to El Paso today. Drove through 2 colleges and saw the World’s Largest Chili Pepper.

Largest Chili Pepper

New Mexico is known for its chiles so of course we had to stop by to see the World’s Largest Chili Pepper.

three people standing in front of giant red chile pepper
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Day 26

Day 26-29 A lovely visit at the ranch. Saw the 2nd largest roadrunner on the way across west Texas.

Paisano Pete

Paisano Pete stands proudly in the center of town in Fort Stockton, Texas. He was the world’s largest roadrunner until he was unseated by a larger bird in New Mexico and now holds the title of World’s Second-Largest Roadrunner.

large roadrunner statue
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Historic Fort Stockton

Fort Stockton was an important fort during the Indian Wars and was staffed by the Buffalo Soldiers. It was also home to the US Army’s Camel Corps for ten years. There are a couple buildings still standing and the Guard House has a few exhibits about the fort’s history.

interpretive displays at Fort Stockton visitor center
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Day 27-29

Relaxing at the ranch…

Day 30

Day 30… The cows and sheep came out to say goodbye. Wasn’t that nice of them?

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mother and baby cow
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13 hours on the road. Why does Texas have to be so big? Drove through 3 college campuses (UT Austin, Texas A&M, Rice), one rainstorm, and several traffic jams and construction zones. We are in Louisiana tonight and continue eastward tomorrow.

Lone Star Kolaches

Texas Hill Country has a history of German and other European settlers. The Czechs brought kolaches to the area and this summer, on our 15th trip, we finally tried them. They are SO good! There are tons of bakeries around but we stopped at Lone Star Kolaches.

Day 31

Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens

Sometimes it can be tricky to find a good place to stop when driving across the south. The weather is so miserably hot and humid, we don’t want to stick around any longer than necessary. However, I wholeheartedly recommend stopping at the Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens. Tabasco is a family-owned business with a great history of civic participation and it was interesting to see how the sauce is made.

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On the day we were there, we could only buy combo tickets. We were originally going to skip the Jungle Gardens even though we bought tickets but we decided to do a quick drive through and it was great! We saw alligators and beautiful old trees.

alligator resting at the edge of the water
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Biloxi Lighthouse

The Biloxi Lighthouse was one of the first cast-iron lighthouses in the south. We missed the open hours but stopped to take a picture and dip our toes in the Gulf waters.

white lighthouse in median of roadway
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Day 32

Day 32 – A quick detour to the beach then a drive across the Florida panhandle. Dropped Bella off to stay with a friend in Jacksonville and the rest of us continued to Savannah for the night.

Gulf Islands National Seashore – Opal Beach

After a less-than fabulous beach experience in Biloxi, we were super happy to see the pristine white beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore. Opal Beach had bathrooms and plenty of parking so that’s why we chose it but the whole park is beautiful and it was very quiet when we stopped by early in the morning.

three people standing on white sand beach at the Gulf of Mexico
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Day 33

Day 33 – almost there. Today’s fun find is the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

Driving on I-95 in North Carolina is never fun so I was on the lookout for a backroads route and things to do. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park did not disappoint! I could have stayed there much longer watching these amazing creations spin in the breeze but when we’re this close to home, there’s no time for dilly-dally. Haha!

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park sign at the base of a large kinetic spinning sculpture
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Day 34


luggage piled in various locations in living room, black dog is lying next to the piles
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Home sweet home… someone is very happy to see us!

Big Trip 15 is complete! Our stats for this year:

  • 34 days
  • 23 states
  • 8500 miles

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  1. Cooper is indeed smiling. Your chronicle of Big Trip 15 enables us all to enjoy a ride-a-long virtually. Thank you.

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