A to Z Challenge: Reflections #atozchallenge

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]During the month of April 2016 I participated in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge had each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays.

This was my first opportunity to really participate in this annual event, which just completed its 6th year.  It was not easy!!  I had to not only post something daily, but also create a theme and stick with it.  And, in my perfectionist way, I wanted to make sure there were plenty of photos and commentary.  I wrote in such a way to draw people to the more detailed posts, where ever possible. 

It was a load of fun and I completed the challenge.  Not sure how many actually did, but it was certainly tough, yet fulfilling. 

What I really loved about the event was being able to communicate and link up with others doing the same thing.  I have made some new friends on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  I have found some interesting blogs to follow and also have a few new followers.

I most certainly look forward to participating again next year.  Now to start thinking of a good theme for next year.  May actually take a long time!!!

A BIG Thanks to Arlee Bird and her wonderful team!!

My blog was number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts took readers across the back roads of America to many unique towns.  See what other bloggers posted about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016

Following is a complete listing of each with the banners associated with each post’s link. Click on the Lettered Banner to go to the specific post.

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The A Towns: Amarillo, TX – Adair, IA – Alzada, MT – Alamogordo, NM – Alligator, MS – Alliance, NE – Ada, MI – Akela Flats, NM

 

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The B Towns: Bemidji, MN – Boring, OR – Blackfoot, ID – Burk’s Falls, ON – Booger Holler, AR – Brownsville, TN – Babb, MT – Blackwater, MO – Bena, MN – Bucksnort, TN – Bugtussle, KY – Bugtussle, TX

 

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The C Towns: Cactus Flat, SD – Centralia, MO – Cape Elizabeth, ME – Climax, NC – Climax, KY – Choteau, MT – Cave City, KY – Charm, OH – Chelsea, MI – Champaign, IL – Cut Bank, MT – Caledonia, ON – Cut and Shoot, TX – China Grove, TX – Cool, TX – Coolville, OH

 

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The D Towns: Douglas, WY – DeForest, WI – Discovery Bay, WA – Dublin, OH – Dublin, TX – Dragoon, AZ – Denton, TX – Durant, OK – Danville, IL – Dallas, SD – Denver, NC – Damon, TX

 

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The E Towns: Earth, TX – Eureka Springs, AR – Elbe, WA – Easton, PA – Eldon, IA – Egg Harbor, WI – East Peoria, IL – Embro, ON – Eagle, CO – Endeavor, WI

 

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The F Towns: Flagstaff, AZ – Friendly, WV – Friendship, AR – Flippin, AR – Fair Play, SC – Fergus Falls, MN – Feely, MT – Flippin, KY – Fly, OH – Four Way, TX – Future City, IL

 

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The G Towns: Gainesville, TX – Gothenburg, NE – Guthrie, KY – Gregory, SD – Galata, MT – Glasgow, MT – Glasgow, KY – Gardiner, MT – Gillette, WY – Granbury, TX – Grand Forks, ND – Gravel Switch, KY – Gilboa, OH – Georgetown, TX

 

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The H Towns: Hell, MI – Hamtramck, MI – Hamilton, ON – Hatch, NM – Hico, TX – Hopland, CA – Hoboken, NJ – Hugo, OK – Hershey, PA – Home on the Range, ND – Hamburg, IA

 

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The I Towns: Indian Head, SK – Intercourse, PA – Ironwood, MI – Independence, MO – Idaho Falls, ID – Iona, ID – Inverness, MT – Iron River, WI

 

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The J Towns: Jamestown, ND – Joseph, OR – Jeffersonville, IN – Juneau, AK – Jackson Hole, WY – Janesville, WI – Jackson Center, OH – Jamaica Beach, TX – Jamestown, NY

 

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The K Towns: Kemmerer, WY – Keystone, SD – Ketchikan, AK – Kensington District, ON – Kadoka, SD – Kremlin, MT – Kirkwood, MO

 

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The L Towns: LeClaire, IA – Lake Nebagamon, WI – Lesage, WV – LeRoy, NY – Lizard Lick, NC – Lake Jackson, TX – Lost Springs, WY – Langdon, ND

 

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The M Towns: Mt. Horeb, WI – Meadville, PA – Metropolis, IL – Marshfield, WI – Moenave, AZ – Mystic, CT – Montrose, SD – Minot, ND – Mitchell, SD – Mapleton, ON – Medina, NY – Moose Jaw, SK – Mars, PA

 

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The N Towns: Nicholson, PA – Nekoma, ND – Natchez, MS – Neah Bay, WA – Nauvoo, IL – Newport, OR – Newark, OH – Normal, IL – Nice, CA – New Salem, ND

 

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The O Towns: Only, TN – Old Orchard Beach, ME – Okay, OK – Oil Springs, ON – Oak Creek, CO – Oacoma, SD – Odd, WV – Onawa, IA – Oddville, KY

 

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The P Towns: Pella, IA – Peculiar, MO – Pierre Part, LA – Point Pleasant, WV – Paris, KY – Paris, TX – Paris, TN – Paris, ON – Port Orchard, WA – Powder River, WY – Paducah, KY – Port Gibson, MS – Palmyra, NY – Perryville, KY – Paxton, NE – Pembroke, NY – Penn Yan, NY – Ponder, TX

 

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The Q Towns: Quincy, IL – Quartzsite, AZ – Queen City, OH (Cincinnati) – Quicksand, KY

 

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The R Towns: Roswell, NM – Regent, ND – Rhinelander, WI – Rabbit Hash, KY – Raton, NM – Red Lodge, MT – Riverside, IA – Rugby, ND – Rudyard, MT

 

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The S Towns: Steubenville, OH – Stanley, ID – Sedona, AZ – Santa Rosa, CA – Staunton, IL – Sisters, OR – Seymour, WI – Santa Claus, IN – Sandwich, NH – Sweet Grass, MT – Shakespeare, ON – Stratford, ON – Sikeston, MO – Success, MO – Soda Springs, ID

 

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The T Towns: Tightwad, MO – Talent, OR – Toad Suck, AR – Thermopolis, WY – Teton Valley, ID – Tetonia, ID – Tuba City, AZ – Tornado, WV – Tavistock, ON – Tomahawk, WI – Tripp, SD – Tunica, MS – Tioga, TX – Ten Sleep, WY – Torch, OH

 

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The U Towns: Uncertain, TX – Uncasville, CT – Upper Lake, CA – Ukiah, CA – Upton, KY

 

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The V Towns: Vulcan, AB – Valier, MT – Vernal, UT – Vandalia, IL – Vicksburg, MS – Versailles, KY – Vincennes, IN

 

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The W Towns: Wharton, TX – Welland, ON – Wapiti, WY – Wall, SD – Winterset, IA – Winner, SD – Walla Wall, WA – Worland, WY – Walcott, IA – Waldo, AR – West Montrose, ON

 

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The X Towns: Xenia, OH – Lexington, KY – Cotopaxi, CO – Oxford County, ON – Texarkana, AR – Texline, TX – Rexburg, ID – Exie, KY

 

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The Y Towns: Yampa, CO – West Yellowstone, MT –  Yellville, AR – York, NE

 

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The Z Towns: Zanesville, OH – Zelienople, PA – Zurich, MT

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A to Z Challenge: The M Towns #atozchallenge

During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016

MThe M Towns

Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

Welcome to Mt. Horeb, WI
Welcome to Mt. Horeb, WI
A giant troll sculpture greets you at the Mount Horeb Welcome Center. Created by Wally Keller
A giant troll sculpture greets you at the Mount Horeb Welcome Center. Created by Wally Keller
Ahhh..trolls
Ahhh..trolls
Another Mt. Horeb Troll - for good measure
A Mt. Horeb Troll – for good measure
One of dozens of HUGE trolls in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
One of dozens of HUGE trolls in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
Grumpy Troll Brew Pub and Restaurant, Mt. Horeb, WI
Grumpy Troll Brew Pub and Restaurant, Mt. Horeb, WI

There is no better place to catch some trolls than in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Indeed, the main attraction for the town are the trolls. The town has created a “Trollway” along Wisconsin Highway 151 with many large carved wooden trolls visible from the road. Many of these were created by local artist Michael Feeney. We found a few on our visit….  Click here for a nice map of the town, with all of the trolls and other attractions.  Click HERE to read more about my 2012 visit and see more trolls.

Meadville, Pennsylvania

Sumoflam and Road Sign Flowers
Sumoflam and Road Sign Flowers
Road Sign Flower Garden in Meadville, PA
Road Sign Flower Garden in Meadville, PA
Stop sign flower in Meadville, PA
Stop sign flower in Meadville, PA
Balloons and more
Balloons and more
Roadsign art in Meadville
Roadsign art in Meadville

Traveling Interstate 79 North towards Pittsburgh, you can hop off of Exit 147 onto US Highway 19 and head towards Meadville.  Not too far off from there you will run into something interesting.  Along the road there is a giant menagerie of roadside art…all made from repurposed roadsigns that PennDOT had donated. Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville (photos below). In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322.  See more photos and more of the story HERE.

Metropolis, Illinois

Welcome to Metropolis, home of Superman
Welcome to Metropolis, home of Superman
"Super" Family Trip - Metropolis, Illinois
“Super” Family Trip – Metropolis, Illinois
Sumoflam with Superman in Metropolis, IL
Sumoflam with Superman in Metropolis, IL
The Giant non-Superman Statue in Metropolis, IL
The Giant non-Superman Statue in Metropolis, IL

Many of us have grown up hearing the name “Metropolis” and associating with the big city that Superman.  Well, there is actually a town in Illinois called Metropolis and they celebrate their Superman status with an entire town square dedicated to Superman and a newspaper called the Planet. See more in my post about Metropolis from 2012 HERE.

Marshfield, Wisconsin

Jurustic Park
Jurustic Park
Welcome to Jurustic Park
Welcome to Jurustic Park
20 foot tall Jurustic Park dragon in Marshfield, WI
20 foot tall Jurustic Park dragon in Marshfield, WI
Clyde Wynia, the creator of Jurustic Park and the artist behind all of the work
Clyde Wynia, the creator of Jurustic Park and the artist behind all of the work

Marshfield, Wisconsin is located just north of US Highway 10 smack in the middle of Wisconsin.  And, about four miles north of Marshfield, you can turn off onto Wisconsin Highway 97 and then onto Highway E on the north edge of Marshfield at the Wal-Mart stoplight. Go north past Menards 3 1/2 miles to Sugarbush Lane for 1/2 mile and you will see strange metal sculptures — you are then at Jurustic Park, the brainchild of former attorney Clyde Wynia. Once you get there and park, you will likely be met by Clyde and he will give you the ultimate tour, tell you the stories (both real and made up all intermingled) and will demonstrate and explain some of his nearly 1000 pieces.  I asked him how many he has made and he said he has never counted them!! Jurustic Park is a MUST SEE destination if you are anywhere near. See my detailed post from 2012 about Clyde and Jurustic Park HERE.

Moenave, Arizona

Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ
Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ
Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ
Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ
Another view of the many tracks at Moenave.
Another view of the many tracks at Moenave.

In the early 1980s I was a tour guide for Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Many of my tours took visitors to the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations in Northern Arizona.  One of first stops on these specific trips was at a little place known as Moenave, which is just off of US Highway 160 a few miles east of US Highway 89 north of Flagstaff.  Not too far up Hwy 160 on the left there is a turn off to the Dinosaur Tracks.  This spot on the Navajo Nation may be one of the most well preserved dinosaur track fossils around and, with probably close to 200 tracks, it may also be one of the biggest sites.  The site has become so popular, that the Navajo Nation may soon be creating a small visitor center and a fence to protect the site from vandals.  Currently you can still visit these for free, but it is advisable to leave a tip to the kind Navajo folk that “guide” you among the tracks.  Bear in mind that you’ll need to take what they claim about the tracks with a grain of salt.  Though paleontologists have verified these as authentic, there are no T-Rex tracks and no dinosaur poop on the site.  Just a number of three toed tracks.

Mystic, Connecticut

Welcome to Mystic, CT
Welcome to Mystic, CT
Mystic, CT signpost
Mystic, CT signpost
4 Roosevelt Bistro Thai Restaurant in Mystic, CT
4 Roosevelt Bistro Thai Restaurant in Mystic, CT
Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT with my sweet wife
Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT with my sweet wife

Connecticut offer many unique treasures, and one of them is most certainly Mystic, which sits on US Highway 1, just south of I-95.  The town is on the Block Island Sound and is not too far from the northeastern stretches of Long Island in New York.  We visited Mystic in 2015 as part of our New England visit/adventure.  I was more interested in seeing the site of the 1980s movie Mystic Pizza, but also found that the small town has an awesome seaport with some tall sail ships, a fairly well known (though expensive) aquarium, a submarine museum, and even a nearby dinosaur park in Montville.  It certainly deserves more than the couple of hours we devoted to the town. By the way, we have heard that you don’t want to try the pizza.  But, I would advise you try the Thai at the 4 Roosevelt Bistro, which we discovered on our drive into Mystic and turned around after our drive thru town to go grab lunch there.  It was a pleasant surprise to know that they also had a good number of vegan and vegetarian items on the menu, which made most of us happy.  See more details of our visit to Mystic an other areas in New England HERE.

Montrose, South Dakota

Porter's Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD
Porter’s Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD
A skeleton keeping guard at Porter's Sculpture Park in Montrose, SD
A skeleton keeping guard at Porter’s Sculpture Park in Montrose, SD
Sixty foot tall bull head can be seen for miles.
Sixty foot tall bull head can be seen for miles.
Oddball upside down giant hammer at the Porter Sculpture Park
Oddball upside down giant hammer at the Porter Sculpture Park
Porter Sculpture Park as seen from a Google Satellite image
Porter Sculpture Park as seen from a Google Satellite image

Back in 2013 I was on a return trip home from Idaho with my wife.  We had left Mitchell, South Dakota (see below) were driving east on I-90 toward Sioux Falls.  Unbeknownst to me, in the small town of Montrose, South Dakota, right off the freeway (near Exit 374), there was an unusual site.  I actually pulled onto the shoulder to get out and get shots of what is known as the Porter Sculpture Park, which includes an amazing 60-foot tall bull’s head, which is what got me.  For some reason I had overlooked this one!!   You can see more about my trip HERE.

Minot, North Dakota

Sumoflam at the replica of the Gol Stave Church in Minot, ND
Sumoflam at the replica of the Gol Stave Church at the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, ND
The 30 foot tall Dala Horse at the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Minot
The 30 foot tall Dala Horse at the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Minot

Once again, in the Dakotas, there is so much to see.  On a 2014 trip west to Montana, I made a stop in Minot, ND, which is on US Highway 2 in western North Dakota. This city is home to the North Dakota State Fair, but, of more interest to me is their celebration of Scandinavian heritage. The annual Norsk Hostfest is the largest festival of its kind in North America and is a tribute the area’s Scandinavian heritage. The Scandinavian Heritage Park is home to a replica of the beautiful Gol Stave Church which currently sits at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, Norway.  You can see more about this trip across North Dakota on US Highway 2 HERE.

Mitchell, South Dakota

World's Only Corn Palace
World’s Only Corn Palace
Sumoflam at the Corn Palace
Sumoflam at the Corn Palace
The Corn Palace - 2013
The Corn Palace – 2013

Back in South Dakota again, you can’t miss out on the Corn Palace of Mitchell, SD.  It is one of those iconic must see roadside attractions. Originally built in 1892 as the “Corn Belt Exposition,” it became an iconic landmark and attraction in Mitchell after 1921.  Every year the exterior decorations are stripped and a new theme is created. The work is done by local artists. The artists use 13 different colors or shades of corn to decorate with. Typically there are over 275,000 ears of corn used annually on the murals. There is a nice list of the history of the murals here.  Definitely worth a visit if you are on Interstate 90 in eastern South Dakota.

Mapleton, Ontario (Honorable Mention)

Taxidermy and Cheese Store
Taxidermy and Cheese Store
Taxidermy and Cheese
Taxidermy and Cheese all in one stop!

The small community of Mapleton, Ontario is one of those “blink you miss it places.  However, it is also one of those unique and offbeat places, featuring the Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Shop.  See my 2012 post for more details HERE.

Medina, New York (Honorable Mention)

Big Apple Medina, NY
Big Apple Medina, NY
Culvert Road tunnel UNDER the Erie Canal
Culvert Road tunnel UNDER the Erie Canal
Culvert Road Tunnel under Erie Canal
Culvert Road Tunnel under Erie Canal

Clear up in northern New York, not too far from Niagara Falls, is a small town called Medina which is home to TWO unique oddities. The most well known is the Culvert Road Tunnel, which is a Ripley’s Believe It or Not (one of my site sponsors) featured site. This is the only place one can “cross” the Erie Canal by going UNDER it!!  Also, if you thought the Big Apple was in New York City, think again, the real Big Apple sits beside a bridge.  The apple was sculpted by artist Richard D. Banninster in 1999.  See my whole 2008 story about both attractions HERE.

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (Honorable Mention)

Mac the Moose in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Mac the Moose in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Back up in Canada, the town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is home of the world’s largest moose statue, named Mac the Moose.  I first visited there as a high school junior for a band tour in the 1970s BEFORE the moose.  I once again made my way to Moose Jaw in 2007.  Touted as the World’s Largest Moose, Mac stands 32 feet tall and weighs in at 10 tons.  He was made by Saskatoon artist Don Foulds in 1984. Mac is considered to be one of the most photographed roadside attractions in all of Canada.  See more about my 2007 visit HERE.

Mars, Pennsylvania (Honorable Mention)

Welcome to Mars
Welcome to Mars
Mars, PA
Mars, PA

Finally, for you outer space and alien lovers, you can visit Mars, Pennsylvania and see their out of this world spaceship in the city park downtown.  Residents of Mars are often called “Martians”, or “Planets” because of the high school team name, which is actually the “Fightin’ Planets.” See my post about Mars HERE.

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My 100th Post! Creating the Wanderlust – 30 Years of Back Roads Travel with Family – Pt 1

Fredericksburg, Virginia Aug 1995
Fredericksburg, Virginia Aug 1995

This is my 100th Post on Less Beaten Paths.  It is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on travel with my family over the last 30 years.  This Post will cover the “Early Years: 1980-1995.”  Subsequent posts will be “1995-2005” and then the “Grandparent Years: 2005-present.”

Kravetz girls in Sedona, AZ Oct 1992
Kravetz girls in Sedona, AZ Oct 1992

As a family man (5 children, 9 grandchildren), I want to dedicate this post to my travels with all of them since the 1980s.  These are fairly long posts with lots of family travel photos, so, feel free to skim through if interested, or pass onto another post in my blog.  But, I do also want to use this post to show how the creation of a wanderlust in each of them has opened their eyes and minds to the world around them.  Thirty years of family life and tens of thousands of miles traveled!! There are lots of Throwback photos in this one!! (Note that many of these have been scanned from original FILM photos — before the days of digital cameras)

Monument Valley, Utah July 1993
Monument Valley, Utah July 1993

All five of my children are 1980s children. My first was born in 1980 and my last in 1989.  From 1987 to 1991 we lived in Japan. That was quite an adventure. In 1993 we moved cross country from sunny Mesa, Arizona to the lush green horse country of Kentucky, where we have been ever since. In 2005 my three oldest daughters all got married in diverse parts of the country within 6 weeks of each other.  The first was in Tennessee, then, 5 weeks later we were on our way to Montana for the second and the next weekend back in Louisville for the third.  Throughout all of these events, I made sure we traveled and saw the sites.  That was so much more important to me than the Disneylands of the world.

Usuki, Japan 1988
The Family in Usuki, Japan 1988

Growing up I had the opportunity to travel as we moved to a number of places due to my fathers employment.  With that in mind, I had always had high hopes to provide the same opportunities to travel for my children.  So, even at a young age, we worked on opportunities, even if close by.  As a young couple in college, we didn’t have much and we drove an old 1963 VW Bug.  Our first trip with our first daughter consisted of a trip from Flagstaff into the San Francisco Peaks wilderness, only about 30 miles away.

Our Young Family in the San Francisco Peaks - March 1980
Our Young Family in the San Francisco Peaks – March 1980
Amaree near San Francisco Peaks in North Arizona 1981
Amaree near San Francisco Peaks in Northern Arizona 1981
Sumoflam & girls near San Francisco Peaks October 1981
Sumoflam & girls near San Francisco Peaks October 1981

As our second daughter Marissa came along, I was working as a tour guide/bus driver while going to school at Northern Arizona University.  Flagstaff was really only a stone’s throw away from the beautiful red rock cliffs of Sedona.  We made a number of trips there when the opportunity was afforded us…

Our family at Schnebley Hill overlooking the Red Rocks of Sedona in 1980.
Our family at Schnebly Hill overlooking the Red Rocks of Sedona in 1980
Marissa in Sedona, Arizona 1982
Marissa in Sedona, Arizona 1982
Amaree and Marissa on a tree at Tlaquepaque Shopping Center in Sedona 1982
Amaree and Marissa on a tree at Tlaquepaque Shopping Center in Sedona 1982

By the end of 1982 we had three daughters and were staying busy with school.  We didn’t have much time for travel.  We made trips to the Phoenix valley for visits with my wife’s family and those mainly were straight down the freeway.  But, I kept busy traveling northern Arizona with tourists.  We would visit the Grand Canyon National Park, Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Montezuma Castle Nat’l Monument, Tuzigoot Nat’l Monument, the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations, Monument Valley and, on occasion, we would take some to Canyon de Chelly, the Petrified Forest, Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.  I loved these trips and thrilled in giving domestics and foreigners a full fledged detailed overview of everything.

Sumoflam and the old Nava-Hopi Tours #90 van.  I put on 1000s of miles onto this baby!
Sumoflam and the old Nava-Hopi Tours #90 van. I put on 1000s of miles onto this baby! (ca 1982)
Being a Tour Guide with Nava-Hopi Tours at Cathedral Rock on Oak Creek in Sedona, AZ 1983
Being a Tour Guide with Nava-Hopi Tours at Cathedral Rock on Oak Creek in Sedona, AZ (ca.1983)
Little Amaree, then 2 1/2, tries to drive the big charter bus in Flagstaff, AZ (Oct 1982)
Little Amaree, then 2 1/2, tries to drive the big charter bus in Flagstaff, AZ (Oct 1982)

Our time in Flagstaff ended in 1984 and we moved on to Arizona State University for Masters work and eventually for some PhD work.  By the time 1987 rolled around our first son Seth came along, making 4 children.  As a result, very little travel occurred at that time except for a couple of family reunions at the Marine Institute on Catalina Island in California and Aspen Grove near Provo, Utah.  The heavy duty travel for my family really kicked off big time as we had an opportunity to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) in 1987.  My fluency in Japanese (due to a Mormon mission in the 1970s) helped me land a two year position as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) for Oita Prefecture, where I worked for the Governor’s office (also see this link for Tourism in Oita).  Little did we know when we left for Japan in August 1987 that this would open the doors to so many travel opportunities and experiences for the kids, none of whom spoke a word of Japanese when we left.

With family at a festival in Oita, Japan in Feb 1988
With family and another American friend at a festival in Oita, Japan in August 1988

I left a couple of weeks before the family did and poor Julianne had to travel to Japan with the four children.  It was the first flight for any of them and the first time Julianne had traveled to a foreign country (other than a trip to Canada and a couple of visits to Nogales, Mexico).  To make things worse, her plane out of San Francisco was delayed and they missed their connection in Seoul, South Korea, so they all stayed overnight in Seoul.  Once they did make it to Oita, we were some of the only foreigners there and truly the only foreign family.  As a result we were the recipients of a ton of attention.  We became the objects of a number of local television interviews, were invited to festivals and events as special guests and were also treated to travel all over Oita (which is just a bit larger than the state of Delaware).


View Larger Map – Oita, Japan (on the island of Kyushu)

Oita is one of seven Prefectures on the island of Kyushu, which is larger than Maryland but considerably smaller than West Virginia, but very similar to West Virginia in its remoteness and large mountains and hills, not to mention the large amount of countryside.  We spent a little over four years living and working in Oita.  The girls went to Japanese public schools and became totally immersed in the culture and language. Here are a few photos from our time and travels in Japan with details about the photos.

Family putting O-mikuji (prayer papers) on a rock during a celebration in Oita
Family putting O-mikuji (prayer papers) on a rock during a celebration in Oita
Family at Kumamoto Castle in 1988
Family at Kumamoto Castle in 1988
Daughters play on the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Saga-no-Seki, Japan in 1989
Daughters play on the beach of the Bungo Channel at Saga-no-Seki, Japan in 1989
Family at Usa Shrine in Oita Prefecture ca. 1990
Family at Usa Shrine in Oita Prefecture ca. 1990
Family at Usuki Buddha statue in Usuki, Oita, Japan ca 1988
Family at Usuki Buddha statue in Usuki, Oita, Japan ca 1988
Seth and Chelsea at a waterfall in Japan where they were shooting a TV commercial.
Seth and Chelsea at a waterfall in Japan where they were shooting a TV commercial
Chelsea in a promotion for Tokiwa Department Stores
Chelsea in a promotion for Tokiwa Department Stores
Amaree in a promotional ad for a department store in Fukuoka, Japan
Amaree in a promotional ad for a department store in Fukuoka, Japan
Seth was in an advertisement for a store in Fukuoka
Seth was in an advertisement for a store in Fukuoka
Marissa during a video soot for a French restaurant in Oita
Marissa during a video soot for a French restaurant in Oita

During our time in Oita each of the children had opportunities to be in TV commercials, department store advertising and other ads.  So, not only were they traveling, but they got to be involved in some other unique opportunities, especially as some of the only non-Japanese children in Oita Prefecture.

My girls at Kamiura Town hall where we were invited to participate in a festival.  They ate FRESH sashimi from a fish taken right out of the sea!!
My girls at Kamiura Town hall where we were invited to participate in a festival. They ate FRESH sashimi from a fish taken right out of the sea!!
Amaree and Marissa getting holy water at a Shinto Shrine
Amaree and Marissa getting holy water at a Shinto Shrine
Julianne and kids watching them cut a fresh fish.  We all ate sashimi (raw fish) while the fish still wriggled!!
Julianne and kids watching them cut a fresh fish. We all ate sashimi (raw fish) while the fish still wriggled!! Taken in Kamiura Township Nov. 1987
Amaree learns how to do MochiTsuki (making rice cakes the traditional way)
Amaree learns how to do MochiTsuki (making rice cakes the traditional way)
Chelsea tries her hand at MochiTsuki too
Chelsea tries her hand at MochiTsuki too
Marissa got decked out in a Kimono for New Year's Day with her friend Rika
Marissa got decked out in a Kimono for New Year’s Day with her friend Rika
The children got a special visit with the then-Governor of Oita, Morhiko Hiramatsu.
The children got a special visit with the then-Governor of Oita, Morhiko Hiramatsu
We made many trips around Kyushu, including Fukuoka and Kumamoto.  Here are the girls at Suizanji Park in Kumamoto
We made many trips around Kyushu, including Fukuoka and Kumamoto. Here are the girls at Suizenji Park in Kumamoto
Trains are everywhere and we took most trips by train.  This was always a fun experience for the kids
Trains are everywhere and we took most trips by train. This was always a fun experience for the kids

Like most places in Japan, there are rural areas and then there are industrial areas.  We had many special opportunities as a family to visit manufacturing facilities including a giant steel plant, the local newspaper to see how they printed in Japanese, a canon camera factory and a Toshiba Semiconductor plant.

Family prepares for a tour of the Toshiba Semiconductor Plant in Oita
Family prepares for a tour of the Toshiba Semiconductor Plant in Oita

After our four years in Japan, it was time to return home.  The children had all become fluent in Japanese and were becoming Japanese. We wanted to get back to America and the Japanese economy had begun to see an economic bubble in 1991, so it was the right time.  It was an amazing experience and opened their eyes to the world in so many ways.

Seth at Grand Canyon in 1992
Seth at Grand Canyon in April 1992
Seth at Wupatki National Monument in April 1992
Seth at Wupatki National Monument in April 1992
Kravetz Kids at Cathedral Rock on Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona Oct. 1992
Kravetz Kids at Cathedral Rock on Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona Oct. 1992

So, we returned to Arizona and I commenced looking for work, eventually landing a position in Kentucky as a Japanese interpreter/translator.  After about 8 months, I went back and we moved the family to Kentucky.  This became the next great adventure for the family and I meticulously planned a good route.  Back in 1993 there was no internet, so my research was done via maps and travel guides.  We would travel from Mesa, AZ thru Flagstaff, AZ (visiting Sunset Crater National Monument, the Grand Canyon and Wupatki National Monument along the way).  We made our way northeast to the dinosaur tracks in Moenave, AZ, then to Monument Valley in Utah and Four Corners Navajo Park.  From there we continued eastward through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and eventually into Frankfort, Kentucky.  Following is the route for our family’s first ever true cross country road trip (the first of many!!).  We departed on July 15, 1993 … Julianne’s and my 14th Anniversary.


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Family at Sunset Crater National Monument north of Flagstaff in July 1993
Family at Sunset Crater National Monument north of Flagstaff in July 1993

Our first stop on this trip was Sunset Crater National Monument and then following along the loop drive to Wupatki National MonumentSunset Crater is one of the best examples of a volcanic cinder cone in the United States.

Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ
Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ

AS you head east towards Tuba City off of US 89N, along the way you come to a sign that points north towards Moenave, on the Navajo Reservation (about 6 miles east on AZ Hwy 160).  You take that dirt road and just to the left a few hundred feet up the road is a large sandstone area covered in Dilophosaurus tracks. We stopped to check them out and then continued east to Monument Valley.

The kids in front of Mitten Butte in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in July 1993
The kids in front of Mitten Butte in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in July 1993

Of course, everyone recognizes Monument Valley from the movies, TV Commercials and Print ads.  It is one of those unforgettably beautiful natural desert scenes and a must stop for anyone visiting northern Arizona or Southern Utah.

Family at Monument Valley, Utah July 1993
Family at Monument Valley, Utah July 1993
Our youngest Solomon and Marissa get themselves in four states at once at Four Corners
Our youngest Solomon and Marissa get themselves in four states at once at Four Corners in July 1993

Continuing east on US 160 and a bit north from Teec Nos Pos, Arizona you arrive at the Four Corners Tribal Park, the only place in the U.S. where four state corners meet.  Soon thereafter we began heading into the mountains with an overnight in Durango and then on to Pagosa Springs the next morning. From there we traveled up and up to the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass – 10,857 feet – definitely one of the high points of this trip.

Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado....the Continental Divide, July 1993
Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado….the Continental Divide, July 1993

We continued through the mountains along US 160 through Walsenburg and then on to Lamar and then on US 50 into Dodge City for the night.  As we drove through Kansas I recalled that it was the only state that we could smell for miles.  The next morning we were off again to the SE corner of Kansas to visit the “Little House on the Prairie” near Independence, Kansas.  Of course, this was the title of the book by Laura Ingalls Wilder and was her second home after the family moved from Wisconsin.

Family at Little House Site near Independence, Kansas  July 1993
Family at Little House Site near Independence, Kansas July 1993

Though we made other stops along the way, our next destination was specifically for the girls, who in the 1990s were into the “Precious Moments” figurines. though popular among collectors, they are not nearly as popular as they were in the 1990s.

Precious Moments Figurines

In any case, we made our way into Carthage, Missouri, on the western end of the state, to visit the Precious Moments Chapel.  This was fun for the girls with big Precious Moments Statues, Stained Glass and other at work.  This was their first really “offbeat” travel site in terms of uniqueness.

Family at Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri July 1993
Family at Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri July 1993

From Carthage we continued on to Frankfort, Kentucky, driving through St. Louis, crossing over the mighty Mississippi and then a straight shot on I-64 through Louisville.  It was an amazing adventure for the kids as they got to see a good chunk of the United States.  But this was really only the FIRST of many adventures.

Family in Frankfort, Kentucky with the State Capital Building, July 1993
Family in Frankfort, Kentucky with the State Capital Building, July 1993

This first cross country trip with the family was very revealing.  We learned that the kids could manage on a long trip as long as we had a few stops along the way that were interesting and fun for them.  It helped them anticipate the next stop too.  We also found that they took interest in the history, the geography and even the novelty.  We had a living classroom on wheels.  This would prove very beneficial in our planning of subsequent trips, whether short or long.

Seth in Perryville, KY at a Civil War Reenactment, Oct. 1994
Seth in Perryville, KY at a Civil War Reenactment, Oct. 1994

Kentucky was new to all of us.  In fact, the Eastern U.S. was new to all of us.  The green, the colorful spring and fall seasons.  All made for a wonderful new opportunity for adventures, even close to home.  During the remainder of 1993 and a good part of 1994, we stayed close to home and explored nearby places.  We moved from Frankfort to Nicholasville on Christmas Eve 1993 and could enjoy living close to the larger city of Lexington and all of its amenities.   After getting settled again we had more opportunities to explore as the kids learned about the Civil War first hand, they got to see the massive Mammoth Cave and even enjoyed time in many of Kentucky’s beautiful surroundings.

Seth and Solomon with Civil War reenactors in Perryville, KY October 1994
Seth and Solomon with Civil War reenactors in Perryville, KY October 1994
Family at the entrance to Mammoth Cave, October 1994
Family at the entrance to Mammoth Cave, October 1994
Amaree and Marissa in Mammoth Cave, Oct. 1994
Amaree and Marissa in Mammoth Cave, Oct. 1994
Kids on Pontoon Boat on Bear River Lake in Southern Kentucky on Halloween 1994
Kids on Pontoon Boat on Barren River Lake in Southern Kentucky on Halloween 1994
Seth and Solomon learn about one of Kentucky's big attractions - Horse Racing at Keeneland in April 1995
Seth and Solomon learn about one of Kentucky’s big attractions – Horse Racing at Keeneland in April 1995

Traveling far away from home wasn’t really on the agenda until mid 1995.  At that time we were the host of a French Exchange Student named Barbara Grandvoinet.  She was between the ages of Amaree and Marissa and went to school with them.  We had room for her and she stayed with us for six months.  So, it was the perfect time to plan a trip and get our “wanderlust” fulfillment in.  By this time the fledgling internet was getting popular.  We had an AOL account and I was able to do some research online.  I planned out a trip that would take us through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and back home through West Virginia.  It promised to be an exciting trip.  The following map gives a general course for us (though I don’t really recall the entire course).

View Larger Map – Family trip August 1995

Barbara, Marissa and Chelsea in a hut in historic Jamestown, VA - August 1995
Barbara, Marissa and Chelsea in a hut in historic Jamestown, VA – August 1995

My goal for the trip was to make it memorable for the kids and to introduce them to journal writing.  I didn’t force too hard, but I encouraged them to write in the notebooks that I prepared for them, to tell about the trips and the fun things they did.  Some did well…

lions and tigers and eagles Oh My - our first offbeat attraction at Wilson's in Ansted, WV - August 1995
Lions and tigers and eagles Oh My – our first offbeat attraction at Wilson’s Mystery Hole in Ansted, WV – August 1995

Marissa took her journaling and photography seriously, even from the get go.  She has since become a professional photographer (see her photography site).

Marissa taking photos at the Mystery Hole in Ansted, WV - Aug 1995
Marissa taking photos at the Mystery Hole in Ansted, WV – Aug 1995

From the Mystery Hole tourist trap, we then went to the amazing New River Gorge and saw the huge arched bridge that spans the river.  the New River is one of the oldest rivers on the American Continent and the 3030 Arched Bridge that crosses over it is 876 feet above the river.

The kids at New River Gorge overlook
The kids at New River Gorge overlook
Some of the kids viewing the massive New River Gorge Bridge in August 1995
Some of the kids viewing the massive New River Gorge Bridge in August 1995

After an overnight stay at an old hotel near Fayetteville, we visited Lexington, VA and then were off on a drive through the scenic Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We then stopped in Fredericksburg and visited some historical sites and the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shoppe, which showed the kids many old ways of doing things.

Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, VA
Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, VA

From Fredericksburg it was on to the historic Jamestown Settlement. Due to time constraints we skipped Williamsburg, which I had visited a couple of years earlier.  But Jamestown was a nice living history center and the kids got to see how the Powhattan Indians lived, they got to climb aboard replicas of the ships that the settlers came on and more.  A couple of the kids we causing problems, so I had them “put in a pillory.” The pillory was a device made of a wooden or metal framework erected on a post, with holes for securing the head and hands, formerly used for punishment by public humiliation and often further physical abuse, sometimes lethal. A stock only held the hands, a pillory included the head…just so the difference is made clear.

Chelsea and Solomon were acting up so we had them put in a pillory in Jamestown.
Chelsea and Solomon were acting up so we had them put in a pillory in Jamestown.  Wished I had some rotten tomatoes!!
Barbara, Marissa and Chelsea in a Powhattan hut in historic Jamestown, VA - August 1995
Barbara, Marissa and Chelsea in a Powhattan hut in historic Jamestown, VA – August 1995
Seth and Sol on deck of one of the ships in Jamestown in August 1995
Seth and Sol on deck of one of the ships in Jamestown in August 1995
Kids in the Jamestown Settlement in August 1995
Kids in the Jamestown Settlement in August 1995
Solomon the soldier, in Jamestown August 1995
Solomon the soldier, in Jamestown August 1995
Kids take over the ship at Jamestown, VA - August 1995
Kids take over the ship at Jamestown, VA – August 1995

We then made our way to Norfolk and then to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an amazing structure to cross over/under Chesapeake Bay from the Norfolk area of Virginia to the Delmarva Peninsula.  After its completion in 1964 it was named one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World.  The total length from Virginia to Delmarva is about 23 miles (17 miles from shore to shore).  There are actually two tunnels (Thimble Shoal – 5,552 feet and Chesapeake Channel – 5,237 feet) along the way, so you go down under and then back up over the water to man made islands and back under another tunnel.

Solomon and Seth at the Sea Gull Fishing Pier on the northernmost man-made island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel August 1995
Solomon and Seth at the Sea Gull Fishing Pier on the northernmost man-made island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel August 1995

Halfway across after going through the first tunnel, you come out on an island and there is a 625 foot long fishing pier and a souvenir shop.  We stopped there and got the shot above.  Afterward, we were back down the second tunnel and eventually came out on the Delmarva Peninsula, where we found an old crab house (really rustic indeed) and literally had a HUGE tray of crabs, crabcakes and other delectable types of seafood.  It was called Phillips Crab House in Ocean City.  We ate there and then stayed overnight in Ocean City.  Indeed, one of the “educational” pieces I have always tried to throw into our trips is eating things local to the area in local cafes and restaurants.  I wish I would have gotten some photos!!!

Washington DC LDS Temple, August 1995
Washington DC LDS Temple, August 1995

With the arrival in Ocean City, my four children had officially now been on both the West Coast (from previous trips to California and Catalina Island in the mid-1980s) and now the East Coast.  With this trip they had also pretty well traversed most of the United States by car (at least from Arizona to Maryland).

After an overnight stay in Ocean City, we traveled to Annapolis, MD and then to Silver Spring, MD, where my aunt lived.  We did make a quick stop at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and then traveled on to Silver Spring, where the huge and beautiful LDS (Mormon) Washington D.C. Temple is located (see photo above).   We also took a day trip down to Mt. Vernon, where George Washington’s home was.

We then finished off by visiting the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, West Virginia on the way home.

Amaree in Usa, Japan 1987
Amaree in Usa, Japan 1987

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