Obsessive Compulsive Extreme Road Trip Planning: The First Thing to Do

Okay, here it is! The Obsessive Compulsive Extreme Road Trip Planning Method!

First thing to do: Figure out where you want to go.

Sometimes, I’ve heard about something that sounds really interesting. Sometimes it’s just a name. Somewhere I had heard the name, the Outer Banks. I thought “the Outer Banks” sounded like a really cool place. I had no idea where it was or what it was or why it was called that, but I wanted to know. I wanted to see these Outer Banks. So I researched it and became even more intrigued. We visited the Outer Banks in 2006, and that place was just as cool as I had thought it would be. Wild horses, pirates, lighthouses, and more!

Wild horse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Wild horse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

One day I was looking in to Venus flytraps and was stunned to find that they are only endemic to a tiny area around Wilmington, North Carolina (yeah, North Carolina has a lot of neat stuff). So we went in search of them, a journey that took us into the wilds of North Carolina.

Wild Venus Flytrap

Wild Venus Flytrap

Sometimes the place is more obvious, like when I decided I wanted to see New York City or the Hollywood sign or the Smithsonian or the St. Louis Arch or the Alamo or the Space Needle.

Once you know where you want to go, you can figure out what you can see (and do) on the way. This initial destination will no longer be the actual trip destination. It’s really just to set a distance.

Step two gets really fun!






Planning for Florida

Since Terry wanted to go to Alaska, and Benjamin wanted to go to Hawaii, I became the voice of reason (weird, right?), and we’re planning our next road trip for Florida. Terry and I drove to Florida in 1991, and then we finally went back again in 2013 with Benjamin. The trip in 1991 was our first ever road trip, the first real vacation for either of us. I thought of it as our honeymoon even though we had been married for three years.

Prehistoric shark teeth from Casperson Beach

Prehistoric shark teeth from Caspersen Beach

When I looked through our pictures from Florida in 2013 recently, I realized that maybe a tenth of them are actually from Florida. Most are from the trip there and back. So this trip, we’re going to drive straight to Florida and go from there. There’s a lot of stuff in Florida. And there are some places we want to go back to, like Delray Beach, Caspersen Beach, and WonderWorks. Caspersen Beach is where we found the prehistoric shark teeth. That’s about the only reason to go there unless you like being dragged under and tossed back into large sharp rocks. Benjamin kind of liked it. The beach was pretty full of people looking for the shark teeth. Terry found most of them; I found a couple, and Benjamin, who didn’t wear his glasses to the beach, couldn’t see well enough to find any. So we need to go back so he can wear his glasses this time. A trip to the eye doctor before we go probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Terry at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine, Florida

Terry at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine, Florida

So, now I begin the New Plan for Florida!





Desperately Seeking Toynbee Tiles

I love modern day mysteries!

Toynbee Tile at at 8th and 45th in New York City

Toynbee Tile at at 8th and 45th in New York City (7/14/2014)

Toynbee Tiles are a modern day mystery, and I was determined to see at least one of them.

The Toynbee Tile website has a map, Waymarking.com has a Toynbee Tile category, Geocaching.com has a Toynbee Tile cache page, and I used all of them. I researched Toynbee Tiles for years.

In July of 2014, we set out on a Northeast Road Trip. Along with all the other landmarks and oddities that I wanted to see, I was planning to find a Toynbee Tile if I could. I was going to try in Philadelphia because most of them are located there. But there were also several in New York City (and in some other large United States cities and a few in South America). We were going to New York first on this trip, so I picked one from the lists (I don’t even remember which one) that was newish and was probably still there. (They’re often destroyed by street maintenance.)

We got to New York City with a plan of walking around all day, wandering the famous streets. I planned our wandering to go by the tile I had picked to find. We looked for it with no luck.

We continued our wanderings and when we’re crossing the street at 8th and 45th, Benjamin says, hey, is that one of those things you’re looking for? I stop and look, and there’s my first Toynbee Tile in real life!

Toynbee Tile at 8th and 45th in New York City

Benjamin and the Toynbee Tile that he spotted at 8th and 45th in New York City (7/14/2014)


I can’t believe it! My first Toynbee Tile! I took several pictures.

Then we continue our wanderings, get to 51st and 5th avenue, and Terry spots another one!

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City (7/14/2014)


They all have similar text, and no one knows what any of it means — but there are several theories, involving among other things the historian, Arnold Toynbee, and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City (7/14/2014)

People started noticing the tiles in the late 1980s. A ceramic tile, usually about a foot by six inches, sometimes bigger, is placed in a busy, city street and covered with tar paper. By the time the tar paper is worn off by traffic, the tile is embedded in the asphalt. This works best in the summer because the asphalt softens from the heat.

No one knows who creates the Toynbee Tiles and puts them in the streets, and no one knows what they mean. They’ve been showing up for many decades, and there are several hundred of them, so they don’t think it’s just one person.

I’m glad it worked out the way it did. It was better to just find one on accident while wandering than to seek one out from a list.

There’s a photo gallery of Toynbee Tiles at the Resurrect Dead site where there is also information about the movie that was made about them. And here’s a list of Toynbee Tile from 2011 and another map.

It’s Winter so I’m Thinking of Summer

I’m still looking into Arkansas adventures. I saw a picture on Facebook of a structure built into the rocks, and it said that it was a Civil War hideout at Mount Magazine in Arkansas. I thought, I want to go see that.

Now I have some research to do. I start with a Google search and find a picture of the hideout on Pinterest that says it’s on the south side of Mount Magazine. I find web sites and forums with pictures of this place, but I’m not finding a location, some coordinates or a trail. Now I go to geocaching.com. I find there are three caches and two Earthcaches. One is at the top of the mountain, the highest point in Arkansas. I need to get that one.

I still haven’t found the hideout, but I’ll keep looking. I found Venus flytraps and the fire behind the waterfall; I’m sure I can find this.

An Arkansas Vacation

Lake Wilhelmina

Lake Wilhelmina near Mena, Arkansas

This year we decided, instead of a two week whiz-bang extravaganza road trip, that we would take what we’re calling mini-vacations. Terry wants to see Arkansas. I reckon I do too. We do live here after all.

On our usual road trips, we drive far away, to the coast. I really like beaches. So does Benjamin. Terry not so much. I remember a lot of sunburn anger from beaches past. Terry and I didn’t use to sunburn, but now we do. We got old.

Mainly what there is to do in Arkansas is to go to the woods or to a river or a lake. There are a lot of these here, and they are really beautiful. The issue I have with vacationing in the woods is that I live in the woods, and with a few exceptions (like the Redwood Forest), most woods look about the same. Terry doesn’t think so. We were up in Tennessee once, and he was going on about the forests there. I said, they look just like the woods at home. He says, no, there are ash trees here…… Yeah…….

So, here’s how I thought of a place I would like to go. I remembered back when I was a kid, and my uncle would come to visit from Little Rock and bring my cousins, and my mom would drive us down to my grandma’s at Vandervoort (population 98) to meet up with them and our other cousins, and we would ride in the back of my uncle’s pick-up down to the Cossatot River. There we would swim in the clearest, cleanest water I had ever seen. These trips were some of the most memorable days of my childhood. Might as well go there, right?

Cossatot means “Skull Crusher”; the river is considered some of the best whitewater in the country. I don’t know anything about that. My brother remembers snorkeling in the Cossatot when he was a kid and talks about the crystal clear water. I have to get back down there and see if it’s still the same.

Benjamin and I are working on a map, using Google Maps. From the state park map, we’re getting help finding the bridges and good swimming areas, and we’re also marking the geocaches. There are only three in the area. Next I’ll post the map and then, hopefully, some excellent photos of an excellent trip to the Cossatot.

And Suddenly We’re Back

RoadTrip 2014 just flew by! Bittersweet as usual.

Fourth of July in St. Louis

Fourth of July in St. Louis

We left out on the Fourth of July and headed to St. Louis, Missouri. From there to the Field Museum in Chicago, to the Eternal Flame Falls, the Great Lakes, and on up to Maine and the easternmost point in the United States.

On the loop back, there were museums, dinosaur tracks, New York City, and Washington D.C.

What I Did Last Summer Part 2: Alabama

Alabama Museum of Natural History

The basilosaurus is the state fossil of Alabama.

On day two of our trip, we woke up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hit the road for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and did our first museum of the trip, the Alabama Museum of Natural History on the University of Alabama campus.

Old Alabama Geological Survey wagon and equipment

Old Alabama Geological Survey wagon and equipment, some of which belonged to Eugene Smith, the guy for which the museum building, Smith Hall, is named.

It’s a really nice museum, and we liked it even better than some of the bigger ones. It’s not a big, flashy one, but it’s classy and has lots of interesting things. It’s a beautiful building, too, Smith Hall, named for Dr. Eugene Allen Smith, an Alabama geologist who also taught at the University. I loved that they had a bunch of his old stuff, personal items and an old Geological Survey wagon and equipment like he used. He dug up a lot of the things at the museum. It was cool to find out about the guy who found the stuff.

Benjamin and Terry at the Museum

Benjamin and Terry at the Alabama Museum of Natural History

After the museum, we headed northeast about three hours to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center where lost luggage from all over is collected into a store.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center

Benjamin and Terry head for the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

We found our first geocache of the trip here. I’ll give you a hint. It’s behind that sign out front. Benjamin loved this place. It was one of his favorite places that we went on this trip (along with the Lego Store and the T-Rex Cafe). It’s not just a store; it’s a tourist attraction. We didn’t find a lot, but Benjamin went nuts over their selection of DS games. It was interesting to see what all people had lost, kind of sad. I hoped none of the stuff had sentimental value for anyone, their great-grandmother gave them that purse on her deathbed kind of thing. Benjamin found an unknown object in the toy section for a dollar. We Googled the one word printed on it and found out that it was a small, working replica of a robotic arm, probably a model that a sales rep lost. So, you really can find just about anything there at any given time.

That night we drove to Georgia. We got lost. There was drama. We arrived late at Terry’s brother’s house, prepared to sleep late the next morning…

What I Did Last Summer Part 1: The Crossroads

Four months after our summer road trip, I think I have recovered enough to write about it. Oh, it wasn’t bad, no trauma or catastrophes. The flat tire discovered the next morning at a motel was probably the worst thing to happen. No animals escaped from any zoos.

The Crossroads

Where the devil tuned Robert Johnson's guitar

We set out July 12, 2013 at 8:00 am from Greenland, Arkansas.

I had been wanting to drive through Clarksdale, Mississippi for some years. Ever since I had heard about Robert Johnson and his late night trip down to the crossroads where he met up with the devil who tuned his guitar so he could become the best blues player ever. Or something like that. I read all up on it, found out it was the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, and they met up in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I read how Robert Johnson took his guitar down there and saw the hell hounds snarling and rolling around in the ditch before the devil showed up. And how anyone could do it, go down to the crossroads and have the devil make you prosperous. I thought about taking a pencil down there for the devil to sharpen, to help my writing. But I figured I would always have to write with that same pencil for it to work. I thought about pianists dragging their pianos down to the crossroads on flatbed trailers and wondered how long it took the devil to tune a piano. I read that the usual story was a little off, that you don’t go down there at midnight, but around three or four in the morning, and the guy who shows up isn’t the devil, and he won’t take your soul. He’s just a helpful sort.

I like to see places like this. I know there’s not much there to actually see or take pictures of, but I just like to be there, to have been there, to know what it’s like to stand there and think about what may or may not have happened on that spot.

So, it turns out enough people were intrigued by the story of Robert Johnson that they built a memorial there at those crossroads, a big sign reading “The Crossroads” with crossed guitars and 61 and 49 highway signs.

A group of people showed up while we were there taking pictures. They were really friendly and had musical instruments. They asked where we were from, and I wound up telling them we were there to see the devil. They told me that they had run him off. Then they proceeded to go into the little grassy area in the crossroads under the sign with the trees and began to play gospel music. We figured it was time to go try try the local barbecue.

Abe’s BBQ is about a block up the street from the Crossroads. It was OK. We got out of there for about $35. I found the BBQ sauce too sweet, tasted like it had lime in it.

Benjamin at the Crossroads

Benjamin waiting on the devil...

After the Crossroads, we headed on down the road to Tupelo, Mississippi to a motel and some Pizza Hut delivery.

Next… Alabama!

Working on the Plan

I might use Google Maps a little differently than most when planning a road trip. Sure, I use it to create a map of the trip with the locations marked and the route routed. But see, I love maps. I just like to look at maps for hours. They could be maps of anything really, physical maps, political maps, historical maps, you name it. So, in the old days, I would get out the Randy McNally and pour over it, looking for anything that appeared interesting. I would find all the little red squares that showed attractions and such, but I would also look for interesting geographical areas, places that might be off the beaten track. That’s how I found Seligman, Arizona, the birth place of Route 66. I had just located a long stretch of original Route 66 on the map and decided to check that out. And there we happened upon what was possibly the biggest tourist trap in the U.S. It was very cool.

Seligman, Arizona

Seligman, Arizona, the birthplace of Route 66 and also tourism... with mannequins

Then I got The Cartographic Satellite Atlas of the World back in the nineties that included satellite photos of each region of the United States. I studied this book extensively. I looked at the landforms and learned that Colorado is mostly desert. I already had an inkling about Colorado from when we went through there in 97 and drove around for hours looking for trees, but the book confirmed it.

And then online mapping was born. Now I can spend even more hours looking at not only maps, but satellite photos of everywhere. Zoomed in and everything.

So, for this trip, I was zoomed and slowly scrolling (cuz that’s how I scroll) through the Everglades.

Google Map Satellite Photo of Everglades

Google Map satellite photo showing the road to the campground where no one can hear you scream

And I see this road, labeled as Florida State Road 823, Main Park Road, and Ingraham Highway, that comes out of Homestead and winds down into the swamp. And there is just nothing else around. It’s a road that goes through pure swamp for about forty miles and ends of at a campground out in the middle of nowhere. Sure I could use Google Street View (of which I can never remember the name and just call Google Drive By) and see what it’s like through there, but I want to be surprised.

I know what you’re probably thinking now, who wants to drive forty miles through the swamp and end up in a place where no one can hear you scream, but you can also use the zoom and scroll method to find big stretches of white sand beach or find out if your camping plans are going to put you in a desert instead of in the woods.

Then when you find that beautiful white sand beach, you might wonder, is this even a public beach? You can try Googling the area and try to find out if that cool looking piece of land is accessible, but the quick way is to use Geocaching.com. It’s great for finding other things, too. So, that’s for next time…..