One year on the road: A few of our most surprising finds

Bruce and I are marveling at the fact that we’ve been on the road for one year as of today!

Airstream living

365 Days living in a tin can!

While our first month or two on the road were a big adjustment to a nomadic life, we now find it hard to imagine what it will be like to settle into just one place again.

An anniversary is a perfectly good excuse to share some of the experiences we’ve had that inspired genuine awe. People ask us all the time to name our favorite place—an impossible question to answer (and, writing this from Santa Fe, New Mexico, we still have a lot of beautiful country to explore and share). But we can certainly tell you about a few places that we’d never heard of before, that knocked our socks off.

Natural places:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, along Lake Superior on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: a 42-mile stretch of Lake Superior on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that unfolds an unforgettable panorama of kaleidoscope sandstone cliffs. You can see it from the water by kayak or boat, but I highly recommend going as the sun is setting.

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park, at the south end of Saratoga Lake in upstate New York

Watkins Glen State Park is an awe-inspiring path through a gorgeous gorge in New York’s Finger Lakes region. As the stream drops 400’, you’ll gawk at 200’-high cliffs and meander over and under 19 waterfalls, and even through a couple of them. It’s a steep but popular path—go if possible when school is in session!

Needles Highway, Custer State Park

The Needles Highway, in Custer State Park, South Dakota

The Black Hills of South Dakota were, for us West Coasters, a surprise—stunning rock-scapes, rich with history and free-ranging wildlife. Forget Mount Rushmore. Go drive the twisting Mountain Road and precarious Needles Parkway. On the way, get out and hike the Cathedral Spires Trail.

Buffalo roam free in Custer State Park in South Dakota

Free-roaming buffalo in Custer State Park, South Dakota. OK, this is a subset of the Black Hills, but it merits a separate mention. The bison herd owns the park, but you may also see elk, two kinds of deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and if you’re not lucky, mountain lions and feral burros. (If you’re there in September you can witness the annual buffalo roundup, which helps the park manage a healthy herd.)

Yellowstone National Park

Where the buffalo roam in Yellowstone National Park

Free-roaming buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. That’s right: more bison running free. There’s something so memorable about 50 or 60 buffalo sauntering up the middle of the road and forcing all the cars to wait. I won’t even mention any other-worldly natural wonders of Yellowstone, since you’ve already heard so much about them, right?

Flume Gorge, at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Flume Gorge, at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Flume Gorge is an 800’-long crevasse at the base of Mount Liberty in Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire. Granite walls loom up to 90’ overhead as you climb between narrow gorge walls. Just as appealing are the tenacious, almost sensuous trees with roots searching across rocks for soil to sink into.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off Key West, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park, part of an archipelago hanging off the tip of Key West, Florida; you ferry (or float plane) out 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to describe how it feels to flop down on the toasty-warm, sugar-white sand after snorkeling the turquoise reefs that surround the island. Bonus: there’s a big old brick fort to explore!

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore, in Georgia’s sea islands

Cumberland Island National Seashore. Imagine what the Georgia sea islands looked like before the developers invaded, with a jungle of pines, palms, and Spanish moss-covered live oaks, dense with palmetto undergrowth. Pristine beaches and salt marshes. Grazing wild horses; scurrying armadillos. Ruins of old Carnegie mansions and an early-1900s Settlement for black workers. And no cars allowed.


Man-made places:

Ashlin Parker,  Ellis Marsalis Band, Jazz Fest in

Ashlin Parker with the Ellis Marsalis Band, at Jazz Fest in New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz Fest is a little like I imagine Woodstock would be if it was in the Caribbean, with just as much dancing in the mud, but less free love. And you’re in New Orleans, not some upstate NY farm, so the food is waaayy better. Actually, it’s almost nothing like Woodstock—it’s better organized and there are more kinds of music for every taste.

Ranger Steve, Little Bighorn Battlefield—CROP_3033 - Version 2

Ranger Steve Adelson, in front of Last Stand Hill at Little Bighorn battlefield, South Dakota

Ranger Steve Adelson’s battlefield talk at Little Bighorn National Monument. With Last Stand Hill, the rivers and valleys of Little Bighorn spread out before you, Ranger Steve brings the fated battle to life from every side—that of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, and that of the defeated George Armstrong Custer and the US Army’s 7th Cavalry. We love the knowledgeable, passionate National Park rangers!

Red's Eats Wiscasset Maine

The best lobster rolls are at Red’s Eats, Wiscasset, ME

The lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. Seriously, a whole succulent lobster on every fresh baked roll, and a 45 minute wait in the line winding around the street corner shack at 41 Water Street. Worth driving across the country for.

Doctor Doom's Fearful, Universal Studios

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, will winch you up, up, up 200′, taunt you with a moment of weightlessness at the top, then let you go—and gravity takes over. A free-falling object has an acceleration of 9.8 m/s/s, downward (on Earth anyway). Which is as fast as anything can drop, which you’d know if you’d passed physics.

National Civil Rights Museum, Lorraine Motel

The National Civil Rights Museum, in the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee

The National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee, is a powerful testament. It illuminates the entrenched culture of racism and animates the dynamics of the 1960s that built up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, in which the museum is now housed. If you have a pulse, it will quicken.

New York City High Line

The High Line, New York City’s glorious elevated park

The High Line, in lower Manhattan, NYC, is a wonderful walk in a 1.5 mile linear park that puts an elevated section of abandoned New York Centrail Railroad back to excellent use. It’s probably the most expansive, creative urban landscape architecture I’ve seen. The first time you walk it you get a new perspective on the city; as someone said, it’s like a secret garden in the sky.

Burnside Bridge, Antietam battlefield

The Burnside Bridge, part of the Antietam battlefield at Sharpsburg, Maryland

Antietam, the Civil War battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. If I had to pick just one battle site to explore, it would be Antietam. Not just because the story is hugely moving; not just because it was the single bloodiest day in US history, with more than 22,000 casualties. But because it encapsulates all the hubris, lack of imagination, and blindness of generals across the landscape of war. And yes, there are also examples of brilliance and courage.

If it was a little hard to get started on this nomad existence, it will be harder to stop (which we plan to do, however temporarily, in a couple of months). And believe me, it was hard to choose just a handful of places to share with you here.

All the time we hear people say they’ve always wanted to take off and see the country—to do what we’re doing. There’s no telling what awe-inspiring discoveries you’ll make when you go. They key is to just go—in the immortal words of Dan Wieden, “just do it.”


All photos: © 2015 Sue Cummings and Bruce Howard. All rights reserved.

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