Have you ever been in a phase of life that found you taking a road trip, up or down or back and forth, on the same roads, over and over for a period of time?
I think we all probably have, whether that’s driving from the country into the city and back again, or vice versa, or driving between two cities for work, or even doing some sort of cross country trek to visit family or friends more than once.
It doesn’t really matter where that is in North America, chances are good everyone sees two things on these regular drives.
The first is roadside attractions. You know, the signpost that advertises Pedroland on the
North Carolina-South Carolina border, where you can buy fireworks (there’s a full service shop where you grab a full-sized cart to pitch your explosives into), bad Mexican food and even worse souvenirs to mark your drive on the I-95.
It’s been there as long as I can remember, clearly a great diversion for little kids on a long drive, as the billboards for this place start 150 or 200 hundred miles from “South of the Border” in both directions; they’re filled with catchy, punny phrases to entice you into finding out what really is there underneath Pedro’s legs. It’s kitschy and tacky, but if there are kids in the car, probably a necessary stop.
Or, Wall Drug in South Dakota. Same deal–billboards for miles and
a place known for its
5¢ coffee and free ice water, as well as not-for-free buffalo burgers and Black Hills gold (as in, “there’s gold in then thar hills!”). A fun place to stop for sure, and I’ve done so many times. My mom even bought me a jackalope there for my birthday a few years back. He’s a beauty.
But those are both stops right off the Interstates-super convenient, and usually super busy. What about the ones that are a little harder to find…like the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine in Kansas? Or the Roswell UFO crash site–which I just found out was opened for the first time in more than 70 years to the public? That one might be easy…if Roswell, New Mexico itself wan’t off the beaten track.
You’d have to know where to go, and perhaps go out of your way to see the roadside
attraction nearest to where I grew up. The Big Duck, meant to highlight the significance of Long Island duckling to the local economy, has moved around a bit, but today sits on a back road–one that locals take all the time, but I promise you that the city people stick to the highways in their rush to get back and forth from New York to the Hamptons. And they probably never stop to see the duck (and they surely don’t know that his little red eyes that light at night are the tail lights from a ’55 Chevy).
Bottom line is that we always seem to be in a hurry when we see the signs that tell us to stop and have a look at something interesting–a museum (on the subject of ducks, I did see a sign once for a decoy museum in Havre de Grace, Maryland that I still hope to go back to one day), a vista or viewpoint, or just something silly or quirky.
The other thing we can’t avoid when we’re driving is roadkill.
Sure, we may be able to dodge being the responsible party ourselves, but my guess is that, at some point in your driving career, especially if you’re North of 50, you been unfortunate enough to take out a little critter (not as unfortunate as the little critter, mind you, but you know what I mean). Might have been a bird, or a mouse; some of us have been really unlucky and have collided with something bigger than a squirrel or a rabbit. But that’s a story for another day.
I remember the first time I did a driving tour of eastern Texas. To this day I have never seen a live armadillo, but I can sure tell you that they are the squirrels of the south when it comes to not making it across the highway.
And I know I always feel sad when I see a little guy on the side of the road.
But what happens to all of that wayward wildlife? I always assumed it was picked up–eventually–by a highway crew and carted away to…I dunno…I guess…a special repository for roadkill?
What a sad end.
Hey wait: what if you could combine these two things–dead critters and roadside attractions??
Say hello to the Gopher Hole Museum of Torrington Alberta.
It’s not a big place, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s about 15 minutes off the highway that runs between Edmonton and Calgary. And for a couple of decades, I drove past the sign that advertised the museum and the town–always in a hurry.
A few years ago on a Sunday afternoon, my friend Kim and I decided to go have a look.
We drove up to Torrington, which from Calgary, takes about an hour and half.
It’s a quiet little town, with only a few shops, including an incredible chocolate maker named Bob. ←Here he is in his shop.
His company is called Bob’s Big Boy Chocolates, and the packaging is priceless; it’s a photo of him as a little boy, with a fancy suit and curly hair a la Little Lord Fauntleroy (to whom he likens himself on his packaging).
And the chocolate is killer. Coconut and milk chocolate, dark chocolate with nuts, massive peanut butter cups. Yup, we tried them all.
Then we headed over to the museum. That’s all there was left to do.
We clearly weren’t the first people to visit; in fact, they have one of those maps where people stick a pin in their hometown, and it was jammed.
There was a lady there who took our $2 admission and, before inviting us into the darkened rooms, she explained that all of what we were about to see was roadkill. Fixed up roadkill. Which meant the gophers were not killed to be part of a show; rather, starting in the mid 90’s, their little bodies were rescued from the side of a highway and given new lives (albeit not the ones they had or maybe had hoped to live out) as characters in several dozen dioramas depicting what gophers do when they’re not darting across the road:
On the one hand, it was weird, in a good way.
But really, how is this weird? You go to big museums and see stuffed animals all the time. Just because they’re gophers and they were roadkill, does that make it strange? I mean, how do they get the big animals in the science museums?
You really don’t need more than half an hour to see the whole thing, and that’s if you spend time examining each exhibit, and taking photos.
So, my advice? Slow down, take the detour, make the stop. You’ll see something new and you’ll probably have fun doing it.