- 2,088 air miles
- 3,232 driving miles
- 7 states
- 8 national parks
- 30 roadside oddities
- all in 9 days
About the trip
This trip wasn’t my normal summer trip. My normal summer national park roadtrip would take place a month later in August; this trip was really about attending the first Graham family reunion that was taking place near Rocky Mountain National Park. However, that didn’t mean that I shouldn’t mark off a few national parks along the way, right?
There were a few national park units in Kansas I hadn’t been to yet, plus one in Colorado that had been designated after I finished off that state, so I added those into the mix. Suddenly, it was making far more sense to fly into Kansas City, MO in order to get to Estes Park, CO—but then again, on my roadtrips, unexpected visits to additional states are not that uncommon, as evidenced by the extra five I managed to tack onto this trip in the end.
And so I set off on my trip. To be honest, none of the national parks I visited really spoke to me. Sure, Rocky Mountain is an amazing place, but it’s also not new or fresh to me; I’ve been there a half dozen times already. And the rest of them all reminded me of another park I had already visited: Fort Larned was like Fort Union, Chickasaw was like Hot Springs, Buffalo was like Obed, and so forth. I don’t want to sound dismissive of any of them, but on this trip, they weren’t the featured memories.
So what was a road trip adventurer to do while driving across a fly-over state between a few national park visits? Well, visit some roadside oddities, of course!
And a new past-time was born.
Now, I’ve stopped for my share of roadside attractions before, so that wasn’t new. In fact, I had already identified two stops, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the Geographic Center of the Contiguous US, in my initial trip planning. But it didn’t take long to really embrace the search for roadside Americana that dots the backroads of our prairielands.
I’ll admit, the Ball of Twine was an absolute blast and was probably the place most responsible for my zeal for the uncommon. I’ll bet that traveling alone might have played a role, too. And so it only took a random instagram comment about a place called Mt. Sunflower (reputed to be the highest point in pancake-flat Kansas) to earn a circle on the AAA map that denotes each of my stops.
Within a couple of days of landing, I had already adopted two new quests: visit all of the competing versions of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, and visit all of the highest points of flat states.
Many of the attractions I simply stumbled onto while passing by on a road less frequently traveled, like my favorite roadside attraction name: The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. Others called out themselves out on the map (“I wonder what Monuments Rocks is,” or “hmm, maybe I can find the USGS marker for where Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado all come together”). Many others I found on sites like roadsideamerica.com, whose app has secured prime screen placement on my iPhone.
Two final notes about traveling to all of the roadside oddities: I really enjoyed doing my best to document where I had been using the hashtag #ontheroadinthemiddleoffuckingnowhere on twitter and foursquare. I didn’t always have cell coverage so I couldn’t post every place I stopped, but it was fun when I could. Finally, I also had fun making a few short videos at some of the stops; a practice I’ll likely continue as well.
The Graham Family Reunion
Roadside attractions aside, the real purpose of the trip was to join in the first (at least in my lifetime) Graham family reunion. I may have been the last holdout to agree to come; I’ll be honest, I usually don’t visit cities or family members unless I’m headed to a national park nearby. However, this was a historic event for the family and one that may not present itself again any time soon. For most of my life, my grandparents lived across the city, which meant that most all of my extended family made regular visits to Arizona. Unfortunately, those days had passed, and I had already journeyed to the parks close to nearly all of the Graham clan.
Most of our time together was spent at the house that we rented in Estes Park, just outside the national park. We also managed a fun day driving and touring through the park, as well as a short hike around a lake before departing. It was really fun to hang out with family I don’t get to see very often, and I hope we manage to do it again in the next few years.
National Parks I visited
- Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
- Fort Larned National Historic Site
- Nicodemus National Historic Site
- Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
- Rocky Mountain National Park (Trail Ridge Road & Lily Lake)
- Chickasaw National Recreation Area
- President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
- Buffalo National River
Roadside oddities and other attractions
- Chase County Courthouse – longest continuously operated west of Miss
- Council Grove and associated historical sites
- Rock City
- The hole where the guy who killed the guy who killed President Lincoln lived
- Geographic Center of the contiguous US (and chapel)
- Nazareth Convent and public gardens in Concordia
- World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine (and the Twine Walk)
- Garden of Eden
- Bowl Plaza public bathrooms
- Jack Kilby Memorial
- World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things
- Pawnee Rock
- Santa Fe Trail ruts
- Rush Center, Home of the Largest St Patrick’s Day parade
- Barbed Wire Museum & Hall of Fame
- Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark
- World’s Largest Easel & Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
- Mt Sunflower – Highest Point in Kansas
- Kit Carson Lookout
- Panorama Point – Highest Point in Nebraska
- Tri-state boundary marker
- Eiffel Tower of Texas
- Oklahoma Truck Supply advertisement
- A partial recap of my “Roadside Oddities of the Prairielands” roadtrip via twitter