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Reading travel guides and glossy brochures excites my inner child. This is dangerous, because my inner child is easily excited to begin with, and the prospect of exotic adventure can get me spinning like the Tasmanian Devil in those old Looney-Toons.
Gerda and I have driven across country a few times. Between points of interest (hereafter POI), I like to be on the road a minimum of ten hours, snacking as we speed along rather than wasting time in a lunch stop. We leave the highway only to refuel——or when we’re levitated, vehicle and all, into the belly of an extraterrestrial mother ship. Oh, and we stop to use a public restroom, because I can never persuade my darling wife that we should be catheterized for the trip, which would be ever so much more efficient.
When we arrive at the next POI, I expect everything to be as the brochures and travel guides promised, for in spite of more than a few disappointments over the years, I always give the writers of those publications the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to believe they indulge shamelessly in hyperbole or that, worse, they boldly lie about the charms of any POI.
The first time we put a radar detector on the dashboard and set out on a continent-wide battle of wits with the highway patrol, one of our POIs was the Grand Canyon. It’s widely considered one of the wonders of the world; therefore, we were so excited that we could barely tolerate the poorly designed roadways that would not allow us to safely travel at more than 95 miles per hour.
Late in the afternoon, tires smoking, we arrived at one of the most touted viewpoints, from which we were prepared to be awed by the grandeur of nature and the patient work of time as it had carved the land. We stood together at the viewpoint railing, gazing at the famous vista——for, oh, two minutes——until we could no longer pretend that the Grand Canyon was anything more than a giant hole. Then we got in the car and drove away in search of drinks and dinner.
I can almost hear you besotted lovers of nature howling, but in this case, I’m sorry to say that I won’t be persuaded that Mother Nature and her version of Igor, Father Time, created a work of art. Yosemite, yes. Yellowstone, yes. But not the fabled canyon. A hole is a hole, is a hole.
I’ve been told that to truly appreciate the beauty of the canyon, you have to go down to the floor of it, which requires a 9-hour mule ride in each direction. If a backside-blistering journey on a smelly mule is a condition of the experience, then I refuse to call it a Wonder of the World. There’s no tedious and dangerous mule ride to be taken to see Elton John perform in Vegas, or even to hear Celine Dion sing “My Heart Will Go On,” the love theme from Titanic, or to see the World’s Largest Prairie Dog.
Once, driving across county, somewhere in the West, Gerda and I began to see big come-on signs announcing only 110 miles to the world’s largest prairie dog. Every few miles, we’d see an update: only 102 miles to the world’s largest prairie dog. Only 99 miles, 94 miles, 87 miles. . . Perhaps we’d been on the road a long time that day and had run out of topics of conversation, but soon we became so curious that we could talk about little else: Just how big could a prairie dog be in order to deserve so much signage and such a build-up? Ten pounds? Fifteen? Twenty? Soon the signs promised that in addition to the animal freak, there was “gas, good food, gift shop, sourvenirs.” This had to be some humongous prairie dog if people bought souvenirs by which to remember it. Convinced that a speeding ticket would be a small price to pay if we could get to the World’s Largest Prairie Dog ten minutes sooner than we otherwise might, I increased our speed from 85 to 100 mph. Our sense of wonder reached dazzling new heights when a sign finally declared just 10 miles to the 1800-pound prairie dog. We were bound for disappointment, of course, because when we arrived at this POI, the prairie dog proved to be fifteen feet tall and made of concrete.
I won’t claim this was as big a disappointment as the Grand Canyon, but I was bummed. At least the 1800-pound prairie dog had been built in maybe a week or two, while Mother Nature took eons to carve her big boring hole in the ground.