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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Road trips: exploring and simply meandering

Catie Clark
Posted 5/9/24

The almighty road trip is a favorite activity in my household. Journeys too often get second billing to destinations. For that reason, the road trip gets top billing in my house. Many a weekend has …

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Road trips: exploring and simply meandering


The almighty road trip is a favorite activity in my household.
Journeys too often get second billing to destinations. For that reason, the road trip gets top billing in my house. Many a weekend has been lost to jumping into the truck and taking off. A destination is optional. Sometimes we drive too far and have to stay overnight somewhere.
We have found many new and interesting places by asking the simple question: “I wonder where that road goes?” We have also discovered potholes, rattlesnakes, ugly scenery, terrible food, and flat tires.
Some of the best discoveries have been names. One of my recent favorites is Home on the Range, N.D. The friendly N.D. Dept. of Transportation even has sign on the Interstate for this famous place.
If you exit I-94 at Home On The Range, hoping to find all those deer and antelope from the song, you won’t find anything other than a few cattle and some houses. Notably, you’ll also find a huge sign made out of white-painted rocks. The rocks spell out the words “Home On The Range” on the side of Sentinel Butte. To add to the discouraging words about this faux destination, Sentinal Butte is only around 100 feet high.
You might think the “Home On The Range” sign was to lure unsuspecting road trippers to a local eatery, gas station, or tourist trap. If so, you would be wrong. There are no services whatsoever, either at the exit or at Sentinal Butte. Go figure.
A few miles down the interstate from the Home On The Range exit is the exit for “Rough Route.” Needless to say, we didn’t explore that one.
Sometimes a name is enough to spur a road trip. We visited many wide spots in the road because of good names, like Trout, Idaho, a patch of sagebrush desert with neither river nor fishing pond. Many other places on our visitation list include Nowhere, Okla., Uncertain, Texas, and Wequetequonk, Conn. I dare anyone to say Wequetequonk three times fast!
I wasn’t on this trip, but the long-suffering spouse took a train to Wales just to say he had been to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. On the other hand, he wasn’t on the trip when I took the Austrian postal bus to visit the villages of Unterstinkenbrunn and Oberstinkenbrunn (Lower and Upper Stinking Wells). I regret to report that the wells have been retired for over a century and the water treatment plant has equipment to remove that rotten egg smell.
When road tripping, we avoid interstate highways if possible. Doing so may add an hour or two to a trip, but the rewards are worth it. By taking older, slower highways, we discovered a wonderful little museum dedicated to firefighting aircraft in Greybull, Wyo., a scenic route across Nebraska that doesn’t put us to sleep, the first railroad tunnel in the U.S. in Pennsylvania, and a road that follows the San Andreas Fault for over 100 miles through rolling hills filled with cattle ranches.
Taking a back road can uncover a hidden community with a great name, like Earth, Texas. This community of a few hundred has painted its water tower so it looks like the head of an alien. Visiting planet Earth jokes abound on murals down the one-street business district. The post office has a special hand cancellation stamp that says, “I visited Earth!” The postmaster told us that they entertain stamp collecting tourists every month but that the crunch usually comes in April, around Earth Day.
Navigating without a map can be fun but having a map won’t save you from mishaps. We discovered the worst road I have ever driven because of a map. We were driving one day out on the lava plains of southern Idaho. The road we were on wound its desolate way between lava flows, ground fissures, and basaltic shield volcanoes. We hadn’t seen anyone for hours. We wanted to get back to civilization.
Consulting my newly acquired Bureau of Land Management map of the area, I noted a road crossing a lava flow that would return us to the nearest town in about an hour. The alternative route would take two and half hours. The long travel times are indicative of how good these roads are. I dismissed the notation for “4x4 only.” We were in my big Chevy Silverado 4x4, and I wasn’t worried about a little four-wheel driving. My hubris came from three decades of off-road driving experience from my previous career as a rocktologist.
I made for the road and immediately regretted it. It was thankfully short, less than a quarter mile, but easily the worst road I have ever driven. It was as if someone had taken a grader through a field of boulders. I should have stopped to take a picture but I was afraid the truck would get stuck if I did. It was one of the few times I was grateful for the destination because the journey had been a slog.