Welcome to the third installment of my family road trip. Since last Friday, we’ve left Chicago and driven back into Canada through U.S. Glacier National Park and into Canada’s Waterton National Park.
Chicago was beautiful– Navy Pier, Chicago hot dogs (warning: do not ask for ketchup), deep-dish pizza, the Chicago Times building, and Hamilton (which was amazing). However, we were soon on the road again.
It may seemed like a daunting task to keep two kids entertained on a road trip through rangeland and farms, even more so when the drive is six to eight hours a day. However, we found a number of great ways to pass the time and enjoy the drive.
At a small gas station in North Dakota, my dad bought us sheets of “Car Bingo.” Instead of numbers, these bingo sheets have squares filled with pictures (barns, cows, road signs, haystacks) that we had to find.
When spotted, there was a frenzy of activity as we marked them off on our cards. Finally, there was a sudden shout of, “Bingo” as my brother finally spotted the tow-truck that completed his sheet.
We also played “What Animal Am I?” taking turns guessing animals from cryptic clues and descriptions. Animals ranged from dogs, to antelope, to insects.
When our interest in guessing games waned, music came to the rescue.
Sometimes we listened to driving-themed mix–tapes that I burned onto CDs before we left; they have titles such as “Hand out the Window” and “Crazy Mix.” Phone playlists are all well and good, but when you’re driving through picturesque cornfields in Iowa, there isn’t always cell reception.
Other times, we re-wrote song lyrics to suit what we were seeing. Cadillac Ranch (a song inspired by a roadside attraction on Route 66) became “Rabbit Ranch,” while “24 Hours to Tulsa became “24 Miles to Our Hotel.”
I’m sure people in the cars next to us on the interstate really enjoyed our singing. What we lacked in pitch, we made up for in volume.
The scenery, wildlife, and livestock passed by with the sound of Life is a Highway providing the narrative.
Cattle, horses, bison, prong-horned antelope, gophers – the animals along the way also provided entertainment. I wonder if all families moo as they drive past cows?
We also saw a cow that was 38 feet tall and 50 feet long. “Salem Sue” is billed as the World’s Largest Holstein Cow; she gazes out over the town of New Salem, North Dakota from her hilltop vantage point.
Roadside attractions like Sue make for quick stops that are ridiculously fun. The World’s Largest Bison, a giant Hereford steer – many small towns take great pride in outdoing their neighbours by constructing bigger, taller or stranger roadside giants – like the “Gemini Giant.”
The 30-foot spaceman resides in Wilmington, Illinois. Don’t let Sinclair gas stations pass by. Sinclair’s mascot is a green brontosaurus, and many of the stations have dinosaur statues outside, primed for climbing. I don’t know if people are supposed to jump on the dinosaurs, but
I jumped on all of them. I also climbed a rhinoceros at Meramec Caverns.
Places like Meramec Caverns, only a stone’s throw from the highway, are great places to stop and smell the roses. The Ozark ‘mountains’ aren’t the Golden Ears, but they were interesting.
The National Parks have punctuated the trip. We travelled through breathtaking traditional parklands, like Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Dakota Badlands. The Abraham Lincoln House National Monument and St. Louis’ the Gateway Arch are also managed by the U.S. National Parks Service. All of the U.S. National Parks have free stamps, and we took full advantage of them.
All along our trip, I’ve been keeping a travel journal. It’s become a scrapbook full of handwritten reflections, postcards, maps, and ticket stubs. This journal is a chronicle of our adventures, and being able to share some of these experiences has greatly enriched the trip.
Marlowe Evans is a senior student at Thomas Haney
secondary and a member of the school’s student council.