This summer saw us hit the road in our trusty minivan (it’s the same one we started with back in 2006!) for Big Trip Lucky 13. Here’s a quick rundown of the points of interest along the way. As I get any corresponding posts written for various locations, a link will be added to this post as well.
We left Virginia and passed through West Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia again before stopping for the night in Ohio.
Herrington Manor State Park
Our original destination was Swallow Falls State Park in Maryland. Unfortunately when we arrived, we were told that dogs are not allowed in the park. I read online before we left that dogs are allowed on a certain trail but may have been confusing this park with another one. We turned around and went a couple miles back to Herrington Manor State Park which we had passed on our way to Swallow Falls. Rocco was allowed in this park so we decided to stop. The young man working the gate at Herrington Manor told us that Rocco was actually allowed on a path that led to three of the four waterfalls in the other park. He offered to give us directions but we decided to just cut our losses and see what Herrington Manor had to offer then get back on the road. The manor is long gone but there is a lake with boat rentals and a sandy beach for swimming. We walked across the dam and back then hit the road to continue our journey.
Our 39-second highlight video for Day 1
Today we drove through Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. We are still in the midst of a heatwave which makes it tough to stop for too long. I don’t want the dog to overheat!
Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum
The Pencil Sharpener Museum is just down the street from the hotel but it isn’t open yet when we were ready to get our day started (no thanks to the dog for waking us up super early!). To kill time we drove through the historic downtown area of Logan, Ohio. The Washboard Music Festival is held here on Fathers Day weekend every year. The festival had just ended the day before so the festive laundry lines were still hanging across the main road. I thought it was a fun decoration, especially the red, white, and blue themed lines.
After we looked around downtown and took a few pictures, it was time to head back to the pencil sharpener museum. It is a very tiny place but filled with a larger variety of pencil sharpeners than you could possibly imagine (more than 3400 of them!). We spent a few minutes looking for a favorite then it was time to get on the road and head out to our next stop.
Hocking Hills State Park
Before leaving home I checked the Hocking Hills State Park online to see if dogs are allowed. They are allowed on the Ash Cave trail so that’s the one we hiked. I intended to walk the easy, flat, short trail to the waterfall and back but the kids wanted to hike the ridge trail to the waterfall and then the flat lower trail back to the car. The hike was still short and fairly easy though there were a couple tricky spots along the upper ridge trail. The kids say this was one of their favorite stops. It definitely made for a quick, easy, stretch your legs stop. This area of Ohio is beautiful and not what you typically think of when you envision Ohio. I would think flat cornfields first but being closer to Kentucky and West Viriginia this is a more rocky, tree-filled area. (Click here to read about my Grandma Gatewood discovery related to the trail!)
Big Bone Lick State Park
Next stop is Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky, not too far from Cincinnati. By the time we get here it is mid-day and the heatwave is in full force. I had originally intended to walk on the short discovery trail near the visitor’s center but it was too hot. Instead we walked down to the megafauna diorama then took turns looking through the small museum at the visitors center. Big Bone is the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology and there are a few nice fossils on display. There is also a live bison herd at the park. Lucky for us they were hanging out at the near end of their pasture that day so we decided to walk the short trail over to see them. The hike to see the bison left us completely melted so we jumped in the car, cranked the a/c, and continued on to our final stop for the day.
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
On our trip last year, we saw Lincoln’s birthplace and his first childhood home in Kentucky. This year we followed Lincoln to his second boyhood home in Indiana. He lived with his family in this cabin from age 7 to 21. The original cabin is gone but the foundation has been uncovered and preserved in a brass casting. A replica cabin and farm are built nearby where the staff of the Lincoln Living Historical Farm dress in period clothing to demonstrate the daily activities at the farm for visitors to see and experience. We arrived near closing time and it was still exceptionally hot so our visit was not lengthy. The kids feel that we have now seen every possible Lincoln-related site there is to see except Ford Theater. I pointed out that we haven’t really explored his time at the state capital in Illinois, Springfield. What can I say – he was a very popular president and many parts of his history have been well-preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Our 52-second highlight video for Day 2
Today is spent on the backroads of Indiana and Illinois as we meander our way to Grandma’s house.
Our first stop of the day was in Vincennes, IN. This is a college town but when school is not in session at Vincennes University (founded by President William Henry Harrison in 1801), things are pretty quiet. Grouseland was built in 1804 and was the home of President William Henry Harrison when he was serving as the Territorial Governor of Indiana. It is a National Historic Site and the house is architecturally important as a Federal/Georgian style home which was the first brick building built in Indiana. Dogs are definitely not allowed inside. The kids were more interested in seeing the Red Skelton Museum so we stopped to take a picture and look around outside (since we were there we should at least stop and look, right?) before we went to the museum.
Red Skelton Museum of Comedy
Red Skelton was an American comedy entertainer best known for his national radio and television acts between 1937 and 1971, and as host of the television program The Red Skelton Show. He was before my time but my mom was a fan and she introduced me to his Pledge of Allegiance speech a few years ago. The Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy is located in Vincennes because that was his hometown. It is a very nice museum and I think that even if you are not familiar with his work, it is an excellent look at radio and television comedy entertainment during that era. I had originally planned different stops for today (Grouseland and another historic site in Vincennes) but saw a brochure for the museum in the hotel kiosk when we checked in last night (every hotel has a brochure stand for area attractions) and the kids decided they would prefer the museum. Who says this isn’t a democracy?!
World’s Largest Everything in Casey, IL
World’s Largest (fill in the blank) is kind of a theme in our travels. Over the years we’ve seen the largest ball of twine, largest easel, largest Duncan Phyfe chair, largest cedar rocking chair… you get the idea. While planning for this year I found the world’s largest rocking chair in Casey, IL then discovered that the world’s largest windchime was also in the same town. It was pretty much along the route so I added it to the plan. When we arrived in town we discovered that this little town has made an industry out of having the world’s largest everything – golf tee, pitchfork, mailbox, etc. We spent some time searching around town for the various items and found everything but the giant knitting needles but the clock was ticking and we were getting hungry so we decided we should get back on the road towards Grandma’s house. Knitting needles – we’ll be back! (Read more about our time in Casey and the “Big Things, Small Town” here.)
Our 48-second video of Day 3
Days 4 and 5
Chillaxin’ at Grandma’s house with my aunt, brother, and niece
Day 4 video
Day 5 Video
Walt Disney Hometown Museum
First stop today is the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Disney moved here when he was 5 years old. Marceline, MO was a big source of inspiration for his future designs in Disneyland including Main Street, USA and the trains. The museum includes a lot of family history, memorabilia, and scale models of the various lands in Disneyland.
Next stop is Kansas. The Oz Museum is a few miles north of the interstate in the small town of Wamego. The staff is super friendly and even let Rocco walk around the gift shop area. If he was smaller (ie able to be carried in our arms), he could’ve also gone through the exhibits. He is definitely not small enough nor calm enough to be carried so he walked around town, posed on the yellow brick road, then waited in the car (the weather was cloudy and cool so no risk of heat stroke) while we went through the museum. It was a very nice museum with memorabilia exhibits as well as large dioramas of the various characters.
Our 62-second video of Day 6
We’re only halfway across Kansas so we have many miles to cover today. We have to get Rocco to the kennel in Colorado Springs before closing time!
World’s Largest Czech Egg
The first stop is quick. The egg is outdoors in a park so no need to wait for it to “open”. All the neighborhood dogs are barking at Rocco so we do not dawdle. Time to get back on the road before all the residents are awake and mad at the tourists.
Barbed Wire Museum and Post Rock Museum
The Barbed Wire Museum is next on our list for the day. As we are driving along there are many signs refering to this as post rock country. Naturally we are curious what this means. Luckily for us, the post rock museum is part of the same complex as the barbed wire museum so we can learn about both! We arrive before the museums open so we check out the park next door while we wait. Inside we see more different barbed wire sections than you can imagine. Then we learn about the history of post rock. It is limestone that settlers cut to make fenceposts for their barbed wire fences. There are very few trees in the area but lots of limestone in the perfect thickness to be used as fenceposts. Such ingenuity!
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
Many long hours of driving later we arrive at Bent’s Old Fort near La Junta, Colorado. This was a fur-trading fort, not a military fort. Rocco is allowed to walk around inside the courtyard but not allowed into any of the rooms. Rocco even had his first golf cart ride from the parking lot to the fort entrance. He was not a fan but the rest of us were happy to have a ride in the heat. The fort is a reconstruction so in excellent condition. Plenty of displays and even some living history interpreters dressed in period clothing.
Our 64-second video of Day 7
Chillaxin’ with my dad
Day 8 video
After visiting a friend in Denver, today was spent driving across the Rocky Mountains. Always gorgeous!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A long beautiful drive with mostly scenery – not many cars or towns or services. We arrived at Black Canyon a little low on gas (eek!) but it all turned out okay. The canyon is very deep and steep. It was hot up on the rim so after walking out to the overlook and taking it all in, we were back on the road.
Our 52-second video of Day 9
Headed for Salt Lake City today.
Mike the Headless Chicken statue
Ryan discovered Mike the Headless Chicken in a book when he was in about second grade. We visited Fruita, Colorado, the hometown of Mike, several years ago and took his picture with the statue. Since we were passing through again this year we just had to stop for another picture with Mike.
World’s Largest Watermelon
Just another one of our random “world’s largest” stops…
Green River State Park
A spur of the moment stop. The watermelon was in Green River and when Bella saw that there was a river, she of course wanted to stop! We found the park and stopped to dip our toes in the water. There’s an interesting looking museum in town as well but we’ll have to save it for another time.
Our 41-second video of Day 10
We dropped Ryan off at the university for his student orientation then did some shopping for school spirit gear and some sight-seeing around town.
Utah Olympic Parks
Today we saw the torch and the stadium on campus at University of Utah. The next day we went to the slopes in Park City to see the ski jumps, bobsled track, and museum.
Rio Grande train depot
A quick stop at this old refurbished train depot to see an art exhibit. It was called Our Sacred Landscape and featured three different artists’ landscape-inspired art.
No trip to Salt Lake City would be complete without a stop to see the large Mormon temple. As non-members we are not allowed inside but the gardens outside are beautiful as is the architechture of the temple.
Our 30-second video of Day 11
Ryan’s orientation doesn’t finish until lunchtime so we spend some time in the morning checking out the Park City Olympic site before we go pick him up. Then it’s back on the road again.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
While planning our route I discovered this National Monument. I had never heard of it before but it is not far off the interstate so decided we should go. It was a beautiful park! Cedar Breaks features red rocks at a high elevation (about 10,000 feet). We entered the park from the north entrance after a steady climb (one part of the road had a 13% incline!) and lots of worries about “how close is that forest fire anyway?” (not as close as it looked thankfully). There are several overlooks along the road that goes from north to south through the length of the park. We took lots of pictures and made plans to return again to this great little park.
Our 62-second video of Day 12
Today is the long haul across the Mojave desert from St. George, Utah to the Pacific Ocean. (Wait, we drove across the desert on Day 13 of Big Trip 13? Good thing we’re not superstitious!)
Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car
First stop is at Whiskey Pete’s Casino at the Nevada/California state line. Inside the casino is the car Bonnie and Clyde were driving when they were ambushed and killed by police in Louisiana. We visited the ambush site (a deserted country road in Louisiana) a couple trips ago and now we’ve seen the car.
World’s Tallest Thermometer
The world’s tallest thermometer was recently refurbished and is back in the business of displaying the painfully hot desert temperatures for all to see. We stopped early in the day so the temperature was only 96 degrees. The thermometer is 134 feet tall so we had to go across the street to be able to get it all in the picture.
20 Mule Team Museum
We have been driving past this museum in Boron for years and as an occasional borax user I was curious. The town is small and the museum is tinier. The staff member was very friendly and Rocco was allowed to come through the museum with us so he didn’t have to wait outside in the desert heat. Now that I’ve been I can say that I would stop if I was passing by anyway but wouldn’t go out of my way to see it. There is also a visitor center at the borax mining site but we did not go there on this trip. I bought a bag of borax samples for $1.50 and satisfied my curiousity. A successful stop, right?
Our 65-second video of Day 13
Days 14 through 16
Reliving the good ol’ days of our life in California’s central coast area
Montana de Oro State Park
We spent most of our time here enjoying friends and food but we did take one morning to visit Montana de Oro. This state park is along the ocean and always a beautiful place to hike.
Day 14 video
Day 15 video
Day 16 video
Days 17 and 18
Driving back across the Mojave Desert. Spent the night in a KOA cabin in Williams, AZ. This year is the 5th anniversary of our first (and only other so far) stay in a KOA campground. That night in Wyoming was quite memorable and will be part of the family lore forever. A severe thunderstorm passed over us in our tent at the campground. We seriously considered abandoning the tent (which would then blow all the way to Kansas we’re sure!) at one point but we all (tent included!) survived.
Day 17 video
Day 18 video
Day 19 through 21
Mostly just chillaxin’ with the cousins but took one daytrip to Pecos to see Pecos National Historic Site.
Pecos National Historic Site
We’ve driven by the signs for this park several times. We decided it was time to take a day trip up to see what it’s all about. Pecos National Historic Site is situated in the Glorieta Pass, a key transportation route throughout history. The park has Pueblo Indian village ruins and ruins of an old mission church.
Day 19 video
Day 20 video
Day 21 video
A long day on the road from Albuqueque, New Mexico, to Van Horn, Texas.
Smokey the Bear Museum
Another spur of the moment stop. It was only a 20-mile detour from where we were. When you’re already in the middle of nowhere, what’s another 20 miles? We learned all about the history of Smokey the Bear and forest fires.
McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Farm
We had planned to stop here on a previous trip but rainy weather and flooded roads made us change the route. We have now seen the World’s Largest Pistachio and a pistachio orchard.
El Capitan Hotel
There is not much to see in Van Horn, Texas but the historic El Capitan Hotel is here so we walked through the lobby on our way to dinner.
Our 54-second video of Day 22
Driving across West Texas today on our way to the ranch.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
Fort Davis is one the best surviving Indian Wars military outposts. There are several buildings still standing and people are allowed to walk through a few of them. We were very glad for a cloudy morning to keep the temperatures down while we walked through the park. The drive from the park back up to the Interstate was also quite scenic.
Days 24 and 25
Chillaxin’ at the ranch
Day 24 video
Day 25 video
Leaving the ranch today and driving across the second half of Texas.
World’s Largest Spur
Our tour of “world’s largest” everything continues…
Waco Mammoth National Monument
Another stamp for my National Park System Passport! Waco Mammoth is the newest site in the park system. It has been run by Baylor University and the State of Texas for many years. It is an active archeological site and has lots of nice in-situ fossils in an air-conditioned dig site. (Yay for air-conditioning in the Texas summer heat!). Rocco was allowed on the trail down to the building but had to wait outside while we looked at the fossils.
Our 59-second video of Day 26
When you think of World War II POW camps, do you think of Alabama? Me neither. There actually were a few POW camps here in America. German POWs were brought from North Africa and other locations to several camps in America. Aliceville was the largest of eleven camps in the southeastern US. The camp is no longer here but there is a nice exhibit at the museum in town. The man who was working at the museum today was super nice. He allowed us to bring Rocco to the outdoor courtyard behind the gate to wait and even gave us a sneak peek of the traveling exhibit about Alabama that won’t open until tomorrow.
Our 33-second video of Day 27
The journey across the south continues…
World’s Largest Mattress
We first visited the World’s Largest Mattress a couple years ago. The kids really liked it – I mean, what’s not to like about a giant mattress you can jump and play on? – and they requested a return visit this year. The mattress is 38 feet wide by 80 feet long and is inside the Cotton Mill Interiors furniture store. The staff is very friendly and Rocco was even allowed to come inside with us (but not allowed on the mattress). Who knows – maybe we’ll be visiting the mattress again one day.
Our 42-second video of Day 28
Finally – our last day!
The kids are wondering why we are making a stop when we’re this close to home… I told them Rocco needs a walk and it won’t kill them to walk down to the river. We’ve driven through Danville, Virginia, before but haven’t stopped. The downtown area along the river is very nice. There is an 11-mile path that goes along the river. We walked across the bridge and back and then got back on the road.
Our 40-second video of Day 29
Home Sweet Home!
After 29 days on the road, we are home again. The minivan did awesome this year! The check engine light came on but it wasn’t anything serious and we were able to keep going. We covered 8,322 miles across 22 states.