I just read another travel article about yet another reader’s poll selecting the “Top 25 Destinations in the World.” As you would expect, the “regulars” made the list Rome, Paris, London, New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo, plus a few other odd choices.
Now I know some of you will be upset with me, but I say these favorite destination lists are crap. I think people pick these cities because they are trying to impress their friends. “We were just in Paris…and it was so romantic, walking along the Seine at night, the sky aglow with lights from the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.” Well…that does sound pretty good, but Paris has an average of five muggers/pickpockets to every one tourist. You won’t read that in the guidebook…plus we know how the French feel about Americans. In fact, the French nickname for Americans is écume d’étang. (Look it up, I’m too insulted to say it out loud).
Another favorite destination was Istanbul, Turkey. Really? I know it was in the latest James Bond movie and Taken 2, but if you have seen either of these films or pictures of the Sophia Mosque…that’s it. If you want to watch a film about visiting Turkey before you go, rent “Midnight Express.” Hope you are fond of foreign prisons.
Marrakesh? A top 25 destination? Can’t see it, unless you are a huge fan of kebab, hot tea in the desert, and dysentery.
Now I have always been an advocate of travel to broaden one’s mind and have been to many of these destinations, but the positives these days are being outweighed by the negatives.
Just getting there is a hassle. Air travel has become an expensive nightmare with delays, crashes, cancelled flights, and surly attendants who make you turn off “Words With Friends” before they close the hatch. A few years ago, kids could visit the cockpit and earn a pair of wings. Now the pilots are hermetically sealed before anybody gets on board. A plane ticket used to get you a roomy seat, a hot meal, beverages, sometimes, even wine, and a movie. Now after your strip search, x-ray, cavity exam and repacking your carry on, you have to pay extra for everything…a roomy seat, food, your luggage, headsets, beverages…and now the latest airline revenue stream…pay toilets. Make sure you can hold it for several hours or bring a bag of quarters.
Or you could forget about flying & all these exotic locations, and do like Diana Shore used to tell us on TV every week, “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” To assist you in your selection, and to avoid all those nasty big cities filled with crime, garbage strike smells, and foreign cab drivers, I have put together my list of top ten, family safe, destinations in America.
1. Wall Drug, South Dakota — Wall Drug Store is known worldwide. Metro riders in Paris have seen signs for Wall Drug. So have rail commuters in Kenya, bus passengers in London, and visitors to the Taj Mahal. Famous for its billboards tantalizing travelers with offers of five cent coffee and free ice water, Wall Drug started as a real drug store in 1931 and has grown into a rambling collection of buildings and tacky displays. You can buy just about anything there, from aspirin to Black Hills gold jewelry.
2. Blue Hole, Ohio — The Blue Hole is a crystal clear, fresh water pond discovered by Indians in 1761, and located near Lake Erie. It is 75 feet in diameter, has a constant temperature of 48 degrees, with a dark blue hue and seemingly no bottom. Fed by an underground river, the water contains lime, soda, magnesia, and iron because of the surrounding limestone terrain and cannot sustain fish. (closed in 1990, but there is a similar sinkhole nearby you can visit).
3. Terlingua, Texas — a real ghost town, with a famous annual chili cook-off.
4. Rose Hill, North Carolina — World’s Largest Frying Pan, 15 feet in diameter, weighs two tons, can cook 365 chickens at a time. Sheltered under its own special gazebos with a large sign and explanatory plaque.
5. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia — 402,000 acres of swamp near Folkston filled with all kinds of birds, gators, elevated hiking trails, critters and canoe trips. Be sure to visit George, a 16 foot gator who lives at the bottom of the boat ramp next to the ranger station…but don’t bring your dog, even on a leash. It’s like ringing the dinner bell.
6. Manatee Springs, Florida — The spring is 25 feet deep, with a tremendous boil and a pool about 75 feet across. The spring and cave are popular for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, although the strong current is often reported as a challenge. Over 26,000 feet of cave passageway have been mapped, making it one of the longest systems in North America. A 11,074-foot dive in 1994 established a new world record. The conduits reach a depth of 90 feet and can be entered through 4 entrances in the park: the main spring and 3 sinkholes. The best part is the Manatees in the spring, easily spotted in the clear water. Just north of Silver Springs, where they filmed all the Tarzan movies.
7. Cawker City, Kansas — Home of the largest ball of twine, 17,886 pounds, a circumference of 40 feet, and a length of 7,801,766 feet. Big, but you should see the size of the cat that plays with it.
8. Dodge City, Kansas — Queen of the cow towns…you can smell the feeding pens as you roll into town. Don’t miss Miss Kitty at the Long Branch Saloon and order the steak, the big one, that hangs over all four sides of the plate. Try to forget the big brown eyes you saw at the feeding pens, while you visit boot hill, many a gunslinger’s last resting place.
9. Mall of America, Minnesota — Mall of America is the Hollywood of the Midwest, hosting more than 400 events each year in a giant complex of stores and entertainment.
10. Lone Pine, California — Since the early 1920s, 150 movies and about a dozen television shows have been filmed at least partially in the surrounding Alabama Hills, including Tom Mix films, Hopalong Cassidy films, The Gene Autry Show, and The Lone Ranger. Classics such as Gunga Din, Springfield Rifle, The Violent Men, Bad Day at Black Rock, the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns, How the West Was Won, Joe Kidd, Tremors, Joshua Tree, Gladiator, Star Trek Generations, Iron Man and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
You may have your own favorites, but you can’t go wrong with these. Happy trails!
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Richard Allan Jones is the author of the comedy adventure novel, “Drafted,” and the soon to be released “Party Favors.