It’s 3:30 a.m. I’m in Adair, Iowa, making my third U-turn on a quarter mile stretch of narrow dirt road, because supposedly, I’ve missed the turn. Again.
Katrina is in the passenger seat next to me, cuddled up in blankets and pillows. She moans and mumbles that she doesn’t think it’s here.
I pull over into a dim church parking lot and squint at the Google map I printed yesterday. The road should be right here. But it’s not. The memorial to Jesse James’ first train robbery in the west is nowhere in sight. I cuss a little at Wesley, our GPS, then sigh and plug in the next destination. For the first time, I wonder if all the people who told us we were crazy were right. Katrina settles back to sleep and I pull back on I-80, heading west.
Looking back now, our plan was a little crazy. We had four days free from school, and we wanted to drive to Boulder, Colorado from Huntington, Indiana. Google said the trip would take 19 hours and 6 minutes, one way.
Katrina picked Boulder because her favorite Tajik teahouse was there. I actually hadn’t realized that Tajikistan was a country, but it sounded legit so I went along with it. Really I just wanted to get my first taste of the American west.
I came up with the idea ten days before our break started. Our main challenge was the budget – $200 each. Using mapquest.com, we calculated our gas costs for the 2,336 miles to be $354 round trip. That left us with about $25 each for other expenses.
Here’s how we pulled it off. Katrina raided her mom’s fridge for food, and we ate out of a cooler all weekend. (Bring on the PB&J!) Her dad had some old friends in Denver, and although they hadn’t talked in 20 years, he gave them a call and they agreed to host us.
The only non-gas expense we had to pay was for our Tajik meal. And spending our $25 on that was totally worth it, let me tell you.
So that was the plan.
Except for one minor detail. Since over half of our time would be spent driving to Colorado and back, I had the bright idea of finding random, odd tourist attractions to stop at along Interstate 80 and, on the way back, Interstate 70.
That is why I was desperately searching for the site of Jesse James’ first train robbery at 3:30 a.m. in Adair, Iowa.
We never found that memorial, but, on the way to Colorado, we did stop at The World’s Largest Truck Stop, in Walcott, Iowa; the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument (hey, I didn’t name it) in Kearney, Nebraska; and The World’s Largest Plow and Sodhouse Museum, in Gothenburg, Nebraska.
I discovered all of our destinations on roadsideamerica.com, a charming site claiming to be “Your online guide to offbeat tourist attractions.” The site was great! Not only did it give the addresses, hours, cost and other information about each site we stopped at, but it was also peppered with traveler reviews so we knew exactly what to expect.
By that I mean that when I pulled into the World’s Largest Truck Stop, I already knew they served the World’s Largest Hamburger, had a Trucking Museum (call 563-468-5500 to verify the hours), and that Morris from Illinois thinks “the sticky buns and bakery are not to be missed.”
My biggest problem was picking which wacky destinations to stop at. At every stop Katrina and I made, we took a picture of ourselves with a bright green traffic cone. By the end of the trip we had a great collection of fun photos.
On Friday evening, twenty-two hours after we started driving, we arrived in Frederick, Colorado.
Exhausted from the trip, we knocked on our host’s front door a little nervously. After a moment it swung wide open, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by a giant ball of golden fur.
The golden retriever’s name is Spas, which is German for ‘fun,’ and he comes from a particularly high-quality bloodline. As we stepped in the door, Spas rolled over to be pet. Exhausted as I was from driving all night, I couldn’t resist squatting down to rub his belly. As I scratched, I noticed something unusual and tried to subtly but quickly bring my hand up to his ribs.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to warn you,” our host John said. “We haven’t had him neutered yet. We want to breed him and give some puppies to my granddaughter.”
John then proceeded to grab a navy blue strip of padded cloth and wrap it around poor Spas’ hindquarters.
“This is so he doesn’t go about marking things he shouldn’t be marking,” John remarked matter-of-factly.
I glanced at the tag on the doggy diaper. “Simple Solution!” it read. (Later I looked it up – it was a Simple Solution Washable Male Wrap from www.bramton.com – just in case you are interested.)
The next day, John took Katrina and me to see The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. It was about an hour and half drive. He talked most of the time, telling us stories from his younger days. The Garden of the Gods is a beautiful national park full of huge bright-red rock formations. There are paved paths winding throughout, and miles of trails to follow. The rocks were peppered with climbers, and the paths full of families, joggers, tourists and people walking their dogs. The website for The Garden of the Gods is www.gardenofgods.com.
After the Garden of the Gods, John took us about five minutes down the road to the headquarters of The Navigators, a non-profit organization that he used to work for. From there we hiked out into the mountains, starting off on private land then passing into Pike National Forest. If you like to hike, this area is absolutely amazing! We even saw some wild big horn sheep clambering through the rocky cliffs around us.
After the hike, Katrina and I headed to Boulder to eat dinner at the Tajik teahouse she loves. The cities of Boulder, Colorado and Dushanbe, Tajikistan have been sister cities since 1982. Dushanbe gave Boulder the Tajik Teahouse, and the city of Boulder built a Cyber CafÃ© and Friendship Center in Dushanbe to return the favor. The food at the teahouse was fantastic – you can find a full menu online at www.boulderteahouse.com.
So all that happened on Saturday. On Sunday morning, Katrina and I packed up the car and started the long journey home. We took Interstate 70 back east, and let me tell you, that interstate is BORING. It’s straight, flat, and empty. However, we did make good time, and we never encountered any traffic or delays.
On the way back, we stopped at the Wonder Tower in Genoa, Iowa (it was very sketchy); Buffalo Bill Kill Statue in Oakley, Kansas (it was huge); the Atomic Cannon in Junction City, Kansas; Truckhenge in Topeka, Kansas (although we couldn’t actually find it); and the World’s Largest Cross, in Effingham, Illinois.
We hadn’t actually planned to stop at the Wonder Tower. We were just driving along, when we noticed a gigantic wooden red-and-white tower on the side of the road.
“What the heck is that?” I asked Katrina.
“I don’t know,” she said. Then she added with a bit of excitement, “Want to stop at it?”
And so we pulled over at the next exit and backtracked for about a mile until we pulled up in front of the “museum.”
“No way,” I said. “We are not stopping here. Too sketchy. Let’s go.”
The “museum” looked like a series of old sheds attached to a house. In front of the entrance were listing folding tables covered in old glass bottles, rocks, and seashells. On the door was a hand-painted sign that read “TOWER MUSEUM.” The whole place looked like it could fall over at any moment.
Somehow, though, Katrina convinced me to go inside. We were greeted by an old man in a thick green jacket. The entire place was chock full of stuff. I mean, every single inch was filled with something. Old pictures, frames, knives, books, hats, cash registers, paintings, T-shirts, necklaces, petrified wood, dinosaur poop. We climbed up to the tower, where supposedly we could see six states, then got back on the road. The guy was super enthusiastic and very interesting to listen too. I am pretty sure he could have told a story for every artifact in that museum.
We pulled into Huntington exactly twenty hours after we left Colorado, and collapsed into bed. The trip had been beautiful, exciting, scary, boring, wonderful, nerve-wracking and awesome. It had been simply epic.
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