Special to The Windham Eagle
A 3500-mile road trip from Prescott Valley, Arizona to Cumberland County that was memorable for all the right reasons has reminded me of the importance of fully appreciating where I live.
Many states possess assets Maine does not. Arizona, for example, encompasses three national parks: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro, not to mention Sedona, a mountain town located inside the Coconino National Forest that bills itself, perhaps because of its breathtaking surroundings, as a place of healing and spiritual renewal.
Neighboring New Mexico contains 26 peaks of 10,000 or more feet above sea level. It’s also home to Carlsbad Caverns. In addition, there are more miles (487) of Route 66, America’s first completely paved national highway, in New Mexico than there are in any of the other states along the road that links Chicago to the Pacific Ocean.
There’s not much unusual scenery in northwest Texas or the Oklahoma panhandle, but driving through the area confirms the ongoing significance of agriculture in America, as well as reiterating the vital role railroads still play in transporting homegrown American goods and raw materials from Point A to Point B.
Three different Kansas communities lay some sort of claim to The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, a farm girl who gets swept away from her prairie home by a tornado. Wamego, a town of 4876, is home to the Oz Museum; Sedan’s 859 citizens can boast that their village has the nation’s longest yellow brick road; and Liberal, a comparative metropolis that’s home to 19,731 souls, contains “Dorothy’s house.” And for those wishing to drive the entire length of Route 66, well, 13 whole miles of it lie in Kansas.
Missouri’s numerous attractions include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Harry S Truman presidential library and museum in Independence, and two museums at the corner of 18th and Vine Streets in Kansas City, one devoted to Jazz and the other to the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues. It’s also home to a peculiar little town called, peculiarly enough, Peculiar.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas bills itself as “The Switzerland of the Ozarks,” and driving the winding roads in and out of the picturesque hamlet will explain why.
Memphis, Tennessee is home to a Civil Rights Museum that stands at the site of the Lorraine Motel, the venue where Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down from across the street by an assassin in 1968. Another Memphis landmark: Graceland. But judging by the mostly vacant mini mall located adjacent to Elvis Presley’s dwelling, it seems that the King of Rock and Roll’s fan base is dwindling these days. Perhaps Elvis’ aficionados are aging, but the cost of visiting his mansion and its surroundings (check out Graceland.com for prices) might be what’s got his remaining admirers all shook up.
Anyone visiting Virginia should find the time to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s remarkably preserved primary plantation. It’s a “must-see,” and not just because of the remarkable job that’s been done preserving the home and surrounding acreage. The site contains an incredible amount of important historical information about the nation’s third president (and the chief writer of the Declaration of Independence), but it doesn’t gloss over any contradictions involving the man who championed freedom yet owned over 600 slaves during his lifetime.
There was plenty to see and do in the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England too, but after 10 fun-filled days on the road it felt great getting back to where I belong. Or as Judy Garland/Dorothy Gale presciently noted 82 years ago, “There’s no place like home.” <