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NPR's Third-Tier Road Trip Suggestions

by Hal Amen Aug 22, 2011
A series on NPR helps Hal Amen analyze his road trip philosophy.

Van Buren Elm
Plainfield, IL

A rock commemorates the spot where, in 1842, former President Martin Van Buren was tipped into the mud by a carriage driver…

* From NPR’s Honey, Stop The Car: Monuments That Move You summer road trip series

I don’t typically think of road trip destinations in terms of “tiers,” but there was a definite hierarchical structure that came to mind when I heard my first installment of “Honey, Stop The Car.”

On tier #1, you’ve got those iconic American places people have been driving to see since probably before the idea of “road trip” existed: Niagara Falls, the Washington Mall, the Mississippi, Old Faithful, the Vegas strip, Yosemite.

On tier #2, I’d put the roadside attraction, a kind of manufactured “destination” that seems to have been created specifically with the road tripper in mind: Carhenge, Wall Drug, any number of “Mystery Spots” (often found on old county roads just off of but completely hidden from modern state highway bypasses, thus permanently locked in an eerie 1950s decrepitude).

I’d have to put NPR’s picks on a tier #3 — with a title something like, “Historical half-oddities no one’s heard of or would want to drive to.”

I’d argue that there’s something “worth” seeing everywhere. What do you think?

But that’s needlessly harsh. My wife and I have done a lot of US driving in the past five years, sweating through the lower 48 in our A/C-less black ’98 Mazda Protege. If I had to distill those tens of thousands of miles of experience into a single takeaway, it’d be: There’s something “worth” seeing everywhere. I remember being just as engaged in contemplating the granite-block fenceposts of Nebraska’s Sand Hills (lack of lumber, I’m guessing?) as I was in staring at rock strata in the cliffs of Zion.

So I might not be into checking out the country’s largest Lifesavers roll in Gouverneur, NY, as highlighted on NPR, but I bet there’s a cool little coffeeshop with wifi down the street, or a city green for tossing some disc, or a sweet state park not too far up the highway that’s good for pitching a tent.

I guess my road trip philosophy would be: It’s all good.

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