Tourist Traps and Attractions

Some sites are called tourist traps for an obvious reason: they are.

In my experience, the more signs you see advertising a must-see marvel, the more likely it will be a site of little interest and less authenticity next to a shop selling T-shirts, fudge, and coffee mugs: a classic tourist trap.

A friend and I once stopped at a cave acclaimed by numerous gaudy highway signs as an outlaw refuge in days of yore. We stood behind a chain-link fence to peer into a smoke-blackened cave and read a list of bad guys “thought to have spent time” there. Exit arrows then led us to a souvenir-and-sugar-rich store where bathrooms lurked behind signs designating them for customer use only.

Other sites attract tourists for an equally straightforward reason: they’re worth seeing.

“Why go to Yosemite?” a friend with opinions asked. “All you’ll see is tourists gawking, pointing, and littering. They’re like flies.”

Half Dome and Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

The next summer, ignoring her advice, I traveled to Yosemite where I looked beyond the slow-moving traffic and crowded campgrounds to a splendor of trees, sky, water, and stone. I then hiked beneath massive granite domes to the noise of waterfalls, exchanging greetings and “Isn’t this awesome?” with fellow flies.

A few sites, less well known, surprise and captivate.

Though Joel and I drove I-70 through Missouri to Illinois regularly, we never paid much attention to the Show Me state beyond its rolling green hills, wild turkeys, and billboards urging motorists to stop at Passion’s Adult Store.

Then, when Joel wanted to revisit his childhood by fishing at Reel Foot, Tennessee, we consulted our scenic-road-trip book and selected a route that meandered through the springs of Missouri.

bigspring_l

We’d never heard of the churning pools with no-nonsense names: Alley Spring, Round Spring, Blue Spring, Big Spring; springs located beneath limestone bluffs standing guard over vast basins with rough edges, where turquoise waters bubbled up to flow into streams that drifted by caves and natural bridges.

One morning, we walked through a heavy rain without getting wet on a path protected by overhanging trees and found a spring of deep, rolling water that shimmered with shades of indigo. At Big Spring, we felt the force of water drained from a seventy-mile radius before gushing from the ground at a rate of 277 million gallons a day. Accustomed to the dryer landscapes of the intermountain west, our eyes soaked up the abundant water and lush greenness of this beautiful state.

When I moved to Colorado, I was equally surprised and fulfilled when Joel suggested we visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Though I’d lived in western states my entire life, I’d never heard of the canyon and had little interest in making its acquaintance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But when we stopped at the first viewpoint along the Black Canyon’s rim, I looked in amazement at the dramatic slash in the surface of the earth with its shadowed walls falling straight to a distant river: a canyon so narrow and steep it defied the sun and dwelled in darkness. At every stop, I held on to the guardrail: looking down at the Black Canyon made me feel vulnerable and insignificant.

I’d found another site worthy of the term, tourist attraction. I hope you’ve found several as well.

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44 thoughts on “Tourist Traps and Attractions

  1. Wonderful piece. It is nice to find those little-visited sites. I’ve found those spots, the ones that make you think you’re the first to see it.
    ” springs located beneath limestone bluffs standing guard over vast basins with rough edges, where turquoise waters bubbled up to flow into streams that drifted by caves and natural bridges.” Good stuff that.
    I remember a series of billboards that kept telling me to stop and see “The Thing.” I never did. It’s funny how we think alike; I’m just finishing up a piece about a spot I overlooked for years.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Rob, and you are right: each time I find a new wonder with which I’m unfamiliar, I do feel I’m the first person to see it. Congratulations on your good sense in passing up “The Thing.” I’ve shown that same strength every time we cross Kansas and the home of the World’s Largest Prairie Dog.

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  2. It’s akin to a bus tour or cruise trip where the designated stops “just happen” to be by one of those gifty shops with not much scenery and bathrooms at the rear. A place you would never in your life stop if you were behind the wheel. You feel ripped off and wish the trip were over.

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    • I glad you enjoyed the photographs; they match my memories exactly. No ball of string, but I thought about including the baby rattlers I paid a dime to see as a child. They turned out to be baby rattles.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, just wow! Nature is such an incredible force! Your photos and descriptions make me want to drop what I’m doing and jump on the first flight to the States! Zombie and I love traveling to amazing sites such as these and soaking in the millions of years of beauty that nature has blessed us with and we are lucky enough to live in a country full of these places. It looks like you are too and I hope that I will get to experience some of these places in my lifetime, gawking tourists and all. Aw heck, I’ll be gawking more than anyone and I have no qualms about that!

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      • Since entering the world of blogs and finding several bloggers from Australia I enjoy, like you,my interest in visiting your continent has increased. I find the birds particularly beguiling. Unfortunately, I also find the hours in the air daunting. Airplanes have lost their allure for me. Have you ever made the trip? If so, was it do-able?

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  4. Oh so much we miss of your lovely states- I live right at the end of the “Tourist Stroll” here, it ends at a wee green space full of homeless folks and Canada Geese- the tourists get as far as the wall of illusion, take one look and reverse march. We love our waterfalls, that someone falls over every summer. I recall an American chap telling an Aussie guy about the Grand Canyon, the Aussie guy agreeing, they have no greater canyon, but they have “A rock that will fit in yours” .Passion’s Adult Store…my word.

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    • The Aussie’s comment is certainly worth a giggle. Is it tourists who fall over your falls? Usually, the local folk know better. Passion’s does exist and several other such stores along I-70. I don’t know why Missouri attracts them.

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      • Thanks Janet- computer had a tantrum, so not sure if my comment went. It is usually a visitor tubes or slips over the falls or sinks like a stone in the lake. I watched recently on Knoledge Network- Billy Connoly on Route 66, he rode on a motorbike- Missouri was particularly compelling, as you describe. When I meet my ship, I to will make that drive. Happy Wednesday, my dear.

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      • I feel the terror of those hapless souls who ventured too near the falls and were swept over; to me, that’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Missouri is a wonderful place to take a wandering drive from spring to spring. I hope your ship comes in and you can see it.

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  5. I agree with you 95% but…down here in the San Luis Valley is a thing you’d think was a tourist trap from the number of (hilarious) signs AND it sounds crazy but it isn’t. Colorado Gators. It’s freaky and cool at the same time. This family bought land with hot springs so they could raise tilapia. The tilapia got out of hand, so they rescued some alligators as an environmentally sane approach to the tilapia over growth problem. They got KNOWN as an alligator rescue! (?) and they have several retired movie star alligators living there and a wide assortment of other reptiles and some emus, ostriches, turkeys, chickens, horses, goats and peacocks, all this along with what is essentially a botanic garden of tropical plants around the 8 or 10 tilapia pools that make up their tilapia farm. It’s absolutely bizarre. If you ever get down here I recommend a stop just for the “Huh?” value. 🙂

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    • That’s quite a tale, Martha. and it sounds like it would be worth seeing for the totally unexpected nature of it. I have to admire their pluck in dealing with adversity and moving from uncontrollable fish to alligator rescue.

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  6. Colorado is one state that I sooooo want to visit and your piece just reminded me about what I’m missing….Glad you got to Yosemite and could appreciate it’s beauty. I frequented it often in my younger days, but stay away from the crowds as I’ve gotten older….so glad you appreciated it (despite the crowds!) Don’t you just feel so “totally alive” when you visit places like what you described in your piece?????

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do feel totally alive in such places. As many times as I’ve seen the Tetons, my mouth still drops in a gasp when I catch the first sight of them. At the same time, I feel unimportant. It’s a good feeling.

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  7. My wife and I took a trip to Natchitoches, LA a few weeks ago. The entire trip was made on interstates. When we returned home, we made an agreement that from now on, all our road trips would be made on “back roads.” It may take longer, but the lack of trucks and crazy drivers will be reward enough, not to mention the scenery we are likely to see.

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  8. As a frequent armchair traveler I’m in awe and grateful to the photographers who show me breath taking places that it’s unlikely I’ll see in person. Ironically, for 50 years I’ve lived 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe and yet only drive there every 1-2 years. When I pull out of the line of slow moving cars and find a secluded view, I’m reminded of it’s beauty and attraction to tourists from all over the world. It’s too easy to take for granted the beauty of “our own backyards”.
    One family reunion young, old, and carried, tramped the backcountry of Utah’s canyonlands to a waterfall and felt like we were the first in the world to discover it. The dusty trail and vistas with safety rails didn’t diminish our enchantment.

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    • Joel and I were just talking about all the things in Colorado we still need to see, Mary, many of them in our backyard. I frequently think of Lake Tahoe and miss it. Next time I visit, perhaps we could take a drive there. It’s interesting that so many of us admit to feeling like we were the first to discover a breathtaking site. It’s a great feeling.

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  9. Also, Janet, I’m going to look for “Blue Highways”. It sounds like a great book for new places “in my own backyard”. I’m going to suggest those Missouri springs to family that often travel that direction.

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    • I do think your family members would enjoy a leisurely trip to the springs. It’s beautiful country. I’m sorry I didn’t share “Blue Highways” with you. I discovered it in a Writing Project Workshop about 25 years ago, but I think you’ll still find it worth reading.

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  10. Janet, you asked about air travel. The last time I flew internationally was in 1975, with two small children, from London to Sydney. I’m sure things must have improved since then! I have never been to the United States, though we’re meeting more Americans, as our daughter in law is from New York. The world does seem to be getting smaller. The bird life here is wonderful, but so it seems are the birds in the Northern Hemisphere! I guess in answer to your question, if you flew business class, it would be easier to sleep through part of the journey.

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    • This is such an informative comment, Barbara. Thank you for responding. When younger, I signed on for eight hour ( and more) flights and never gave it a second thought, not worrying when I found it difficult to sleep. Now I tend to whine a bit if a flight is over four hours. I agree that business class would be essential.

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  11. Another wonderful post!
    And, wonder of wonders, I visited Reel Foot Lake when on a solo trip to Tennessee last year. I had never heard of the place but saw it on the map while I was in TN and decided to go there; it was a great find!

    While I don’t like the requisite junky souvenir shops associated with tourist traps I must admit to getting a kick out of the “largest ball of string” type of places. Only in America!

    Have you ever noticed how many places in the western states lay claim to have been one-time hideouts for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Those guys sure got around!

    Thanks for sharing these travel tales, Janet!

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    • When we got to the lake, Joel couldn’t fish because of tremendously high winds that whipped around for both days we had planned to spend there. We’ve always said we’ll go back, but so far haven’t managed it. Unlike you, I haven’t liked tourist traps since I spent good babysitting money to see the baby rattlers (a box of baby rattles) that I mentioned in a comment above. You’re right, Rita, I think there is a Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid hideout in every western state. And who are we to argue?

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  12. I loved this post Janet. I love road trips and finding unique stops along the way. I grew up in Illinois….born and raised there….Traveled through Missouri many times on the way to and from Colorado (Where I lived for 22years). Our family traveled all over Illinois, Missouri and Colorado. When I started driving I did the same thing.
    Colorado s where my heart lies. I love the mountains there. You mentioned Gunnison and that area. Love it. The Black Canyons are awesome. One of my Favorite towns in Crested Butte.
    Another favorite area is Durango, Silverton and Ouray.
    Thanks for such a well written post. Thanks especially for the memories it brought back for me. Sarah

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    • Oh, I can tell you know and love Colorado, Sarah. I came to it later in life, and it fulfilled my expectations. You mentioned several of the towns I enjoy as well, with Ouray being my favorite. Did you ever get to Steamboat Springs? I live a short drive from Steamboat and it is quite lovely, having resurged and remodeled since I moved to the area. My hometown is Craig, a rough, working town, but filled with good people. I’m glad I helped you remember. I’ll visit your blog soon.

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