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Family vacations, whether they want them or not

Need family vacation ideas that will annoy all family members equally? Columnist Steve Lange has them.

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As parents, we often reach back to our own childhood memories as we hope to gently guide our precious offspring’s life experiences.

I still carry powerful recollections of my own childhood, and how, every single summer, our entire family would take a weeklong vacation together.

Even as a youngster, I promised myself that, someday, my own children would be forced to experience that same pain.

So, every year for the past 20, I have spent an inordinate amount of time meticulously planning full-blown, week-in-the car, family vacations.

Right around this time every year, I make my pitch to the family, with detailed descriptions of scheduled stops at historical markers, dedicated drives on Scenic Byways, and time allotted for each scenic overlook.


To add to the excitement, I encapsulate each road trip with a themed title, like “Westward, Ho!: Following in the Footsteps of Lewis&Clark.” Or “Big Muddy and Old Man River: LaSalle Meets Lewis&Clark.” Or “Route 66: Getting our Kicks. And Lewis&Clark!”

While they pretend to appear interested during my presentations, Lindy and the kids clearly do not share my level of excitement. This often becomes apparent to me as soon as I reveal the vacation title.

So I inevitably say something like “Or, I guess, we could go to the Wisconsin Dells” and everyone yells things like “We love The Dells!” And “Yes! The Dells!” And “No Lewis&Clark stops!”

Out of spite, I often take these rejected trips solo, on my motorcycle. Then send constant and over-excited updates in our family group texts.

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Here are three of my favorite family vacation plans, each of which contains just enough mundane historical stops to annoy all of your family members equally.

Also, I find it helpful to repeat tidbits from historical markers immediately after I read them aloud to my wife and kids. I’ve included examples.

Westward, Ho!: Following in the Footsteps of Lewis&Clark

The route: Through Iowa then Nebraska to follow the Missouri River north to South Dakota.
The highlights: Stop at the burial spot of Charles Floyd, the only man to die on the Lewis&Clark Expedition! Drive through the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (and see a campsite location of Lewis&Clark)! Visit the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (and see another campsite of Lewis&Clark)!
Must-stop historical marker (in Fort Calhoun, Neb.): “Lewis&Clark Campsite (July 30-Aug. 2, 1804). The explorers arrived at the bluff and Clark wrote, ‘Council Bluff is a handsom ellevated Spot. ... (I met members of the Oto tribe and made) up a Small preasent for the Grand Chief after Brackfast ...’”
Tidbit to emphasize to family members: “Why, it appears that back then they spelled ‘breakfast’ as ‘Brackfast’!"


Big Muddy and Old Man River: La Salle Meets Lewis&Clark

The route: South along the Mississippi to St. Louis then west along the Missouri.
The highlight: Stop at the Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, the steepest funicular cog railroad in the world! The world!
Must-stop historical marker (in McGregor, Iowa): “The Ringling Brothers’ Circus’ foundation was possibly laid when Augustus Ringling’s sons gave penny shows in this field. ...”
Tidbit to emphasize to family members: “Why, we’re looking at the very plot of empty land that may or may not have been the start of The Ringling Brothers’ Circus!”

Route 66: Getting our Kicks. And Lewis&Clark!

The route: South along the Mississippi to St. Louis then west along Route 66.
The highlights: Nothing will excite young children more than tracking down barely recognizable stretches of "one of America’s first numbered highways."
Must-stop historical marker (in St. Louis): “Established in the 1940s, the Eat-Rite Diner is one of the few nostalgic Route 66 diners left.”
Tidbit to emphasize to family members: “Well, this implies that the Eat-Rite Diner is still open; it actually closed in 2020. But, over the next 1,000 miles or so, we’ll get to view other old foundations from 1940s diners! And experience actual locations referenced in the popular 1960s TV series ‘Route 66’!”

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Opinion by Steve Lange
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