Chippewa Herald * August 19, 2004

Great American Road Trip still alive and well

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

I can identify with those families whose kids are spread out across the country. For a while this summer, our oldest four kids were scattered in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, respectively. A few seconds later, they switched to Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Then, of course, they took turns standing in ALL FOUR STATES at ONCE!

Yes, we made it to "Four Corners," the only spot in America where four states touch in one spot. The ambiance at the five-dollar-a-head tourist destination in the middle of nowhere was a little underwhelming. But there was joy in the journey.

Our kids are now at the perfect ages for traveling -- our oldest, at 14, does not yet have a steady job, while our youngest, "four and a half," no longer needs a stroller. Having kids the right ages, along with my freedom to take some long-delayed vacation time from work, could mean only one thing this summer: ROAD TRIP!

Our mode of transportation was not quite as elegant as our MOAV ("Mother Of All Vacations"). That's what we called the trip we took in 2000 for my six-week sabbatical from SGI, where we covered 7000 miles in six weeks of uninterrupted family bliss. We rode in the lap of luxury, in a 29-foot motor home rented from Fox RV. That trip was simply awesome.

But Fox no longer rents RVs, so this time we pulled our Coleman pop-up trailer behind the trusty ARNEBUS. It was a little cozy with seven of us in that mid-sized camper, but 80% of our kids are still small enough to squeeze together into tight spaces.

It's going to be tough trying to fit a description of our trip into the remaining words of this column, so I'll just give you a few highlights:

  • We covered 3750 miles in 16 days, took 1202 photos, and got full credit for 13 states (WI, MN, SD, WY, CO, UT, AZ, NM, TX, OK, KS, MO, IA).

  • Some favorite spots in the first couple days of the trip include the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, and Wall Drug near Rapid City. (It's amazing that there are two places like that ON ONE HIGHWAY!)

  • We finally got to see the Laura Ingalls pageant in De Smet, SD. This is a small town off the beaten path that was the setting for four of the "Little House" books, which we've read aloud at countless bedtimes over the years. (As we were entering one of the Ingalls' houses, our four-year-old asked if we would get to meet Laura and Pa.)

  • Rapid City's Reptile Gardens was a hit, as always. Where else can you see alligator wrestling in the Midwest?

  • The patriotic lighting ceremony at the World's Largest Barbershop Quartet (a.k.a. "Mt. Rushmore") got some help from above the night we were there. Right during the climax of the National Anthem, a bolt of lightening struck behind the monument, followed by bone-rattling thunder. Talk about surround sound!

  • Quick stops in Denver included the REI outdoor-equipment store (for hiking and backpacking gear), which is now housed in an old railroad depot, and Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant with indoor cliff-diving shows.

  • Our longest stay was in our former stomping grounds, the Colorado Springs area. The tourist destinations around there are great, but no comparison with the joy of seeing old friends (and witnessing the great wedding of Amanda Carpenter and Nate DeKoning, our excuse for the whole trip).

  • After hearing about Philmont Scout Ranch my whole life, I finally got to see it! This is an incredible spread of 132,000 acres in the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico that is owned by the Boy Scouts of America. It is backpacking Mecca for Boy Scouts everywhere. If you're lucky enough to win a reservation by a lottery system, you still have to wait two years. But after seeing it firsthand, we are going to start doing our best to get a slot for 2006 or beyond.

  • The flash-flooding in Kansas didn't dampen our spirits; we were just thrilled to see only FIFTY DEGREES in Kansas in July!

  • The highlight for our eight-year-old was when the Mayor of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas declared July 23, 2004 as "David Arneberg Day." His Honor presented David with an official certificate and mementos at a City Hall ceremony. The occasion? It just happened to be David's 3000th day of life. (It didn't hurt that the Mayor is married to my wife's sister and was tipped off in advance about the big day.)

Next year we plan to head the other direction for vacation, as our kids have never been east of Chicago. We are confident that the upstate New York birthplace of Laura Ingalls' husband (the setting for the book "Farmer Boy") will be as interesting as Laura's hometown, for fans of the "Little House" books.

But is there anything interesting to see in New York City, Boston, or Washington, D.C. that can compare to Wall Drug and the SPAM museum? Stay tuned.


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