Places to See Before You Die

Lynn provided a link to a list of ten places you should see before you die, which she then helpfully supplemented with her own list of ten places you should see before you die. I cannot, of course, resist any such notion for myself, so here they are: the official Byzantium’s Shores list of ten places you should see before you die!

1. Route 20-A between Orchard Park, NY and the Finger Lakes region, in the fall.

Route 20-A (the ‘A’ stands for ‘Alternate’) has its western terminus at a place called Big Tree Corners, about two miles down from Ralph Wilson Stadium. It’s an inauspicious start for a road, being a massive intersection with six corners in Buffalo’s suburban southtowns; there’s a Wal-Mart there, and a Tops market, and some other buildings some of which house businesses and others of which are marked, as it seems most buildings in this region are these days, “Leasing Now”. But as one drives east on 20-A, first one goes through the very pretty village of Orchard Park, with some gorgeous houses, and then one comes to East Aurora, which is a quirky burgh in its own right, mainly owing to the fact that it’s close enough to Metro Buffalo to benefit from it but far enough out to not really be a part of Metro Buffalo. But heading east after East Aurora, 20-A quickly becomes a hilly drive first through farm country, and then through regions of wooded hills that become higher as one eventually approaches the Finger Lakes. 20-A is my favorite autumn drive in an area that has a lot of great autumn drives.

2. Galena, Illinois

If you’ve seen Field of Dreams, you’ve seen Galena – or rather, you’ve seen the Galena of twenty years ago made up to look like a Minnesota town of fifteen years before that. Whatever. I myself haven’t been through Galena in quite a few years, but if it’s as I remember, it’s a beautiful town at the bottom of one of the valleys of Western Illinois. The town is an amazing shopping locale, full of small boutiques and shops and emporia selling fairly unique wares, whether your taste is art or clothing or whatever. I’d love to go back one day. Galena is on Route 20, so I can literally leave my apartment complex, hang a left out of my main drive, and eighteen hours later I’ll be in Galena. Hooray!

3. Cannon Beach, Oregon

The list Lynn links already lists the Oregon coast, but I’m picking out Cannon Beach specifically because that’s where my family usually went on our excursions to “the ocean” during the years we lived in the Portland area. Cannon Beach is dominated by the Haystack Rock megalith, one of Oregon’s most famous natural landmarks (probably behind Crater Lake and Multnomah Falls). I had no idea, actually, until just a year or two ago that at low tide one can actually walk right up to Haystack Rock; I always had the notion as a kid that it was permanently several hundred feet offshore. The beach itself is a white sand kind of beach, and like all such seaside towns, there’s a shop – or there used to be, I have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t been there in nearly thirty years – whose front bay window houses an old-fashioned taffy-pulling machine.

4. Route 14-A from Yellowstone National Park to Sheridan, Wyoming.

On the road map, this looks like about a hundred miles. It’s about three times that, and it’s stunning. Wyoming’s a sparse place, of course, and this road takes you through the most sparse portions of it, or at least, that’s my impression of it. It’s a very long drive, but you don’t really feel that it’s terribly long, because of its stunning scenery and the occasional white-knuckle nature of the road itself as it winds up and down mountains that don’t look that high until you’re ascending or descending them and the person in the passenger seat insists on pointing out how far down it is. It’s forests and ranch country for miles upon miles upon miles, punctuated by that charming Wyoming practice of having what on the map appear to be towns turn out to be single buildings with a sign out in front bearing the name on the dot on the map. Still, this was an unforgettable drive.

5. Stelwegen Bank, off the tip of Cape Cod.

Obviously, you get there by boat. You can take a boat from Provincetown on Cape Cod, or you can do as we did and take a boat from Plymouth (which has a longer trek to make out to the bank). Once you get to Stelwegen Bank, you get to see what happens when ocean currents are forced upward over an undersea bank, thus pushing the plankton-rich waters upward: the whales come, and they feed. There are lots of places, I think, where you can see whales; Stelwegen Bank is where I (and the Wife) saw them.

6. Presque Isle, Pennsylvania.

On the map of Pennsylvania, there’s a little panhandle in the northwest corner, about fifty miles wide, that sits between Ohio and New York. And from this panhandle, a small peninsula juts out into Lake Erie and curls around, protecting the harbor of Erie, PA. That peninsula is Presque Isle, one of the finest summer fun locations on the Great Lakes. There are sandy beaches, fishing piers, boats of all kinds, hiking trails through wetlands, and many miles of paved paths for biking and rollerblading. The place is packed on weekends in the summertime, and it doesn’t even matter. What amazes me about Presque Isle is that when I talk about it to my fellow Buffalonians, they invariably have never heard of it (although they will have heard of the water park that sits near the entrance to Presque Isle). Presque Isle is what happens when a place actually puts its natural waterfront to logical use.

7. Skywalker Ranch, Marin County, California.

No, I haven’t seen it yet. And therefore, I can’t die. Heh!

8. The “Field of Dreams”, Dyersville, Iowa.

Yeah, it’s just a baseball diamond in a cornfield. Yeah, the farmhouse is there. Yeah, you’ll walk out into the corn and be a bit disappointed when you don’t vanish to…wherever it is those old ballplayers go. And you know what? You won’t care. It’s gorgeous to see. (I have a friend at work whose big hobby is collecting sports autographs, so he’s met many, many big names in sports. But for now, I can always trump him by pointing out that I’ve walked the baselines on the Field of Dreams.)

9. Any good science museum.

I love me a science museum! For my money, a top-flight science museum must have an Omnimax theater, a planetarium, and be chock full of exhibits that have you watch what happens when you push a button or pull a lever or something else. Science museums should fill you with wonder and the desire to explore. My favorite is Toronto’s (the Ontario Science Centre), which is built onto the top and sides of a deep ravine, but I’ve been to, and loved, the science museums in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, the Twin Cities, and, when I was a kind, Portland’s. (I believe the Portland one, OMSI, has moved at some point since we left in 1981. It’s probably gotten bigger, too.) Oddly, I haven’t been to Buffalo’s. Weird. I should address that one of these days. But there are great science museums all over the country, so find the nearest one and go.

10. The Northern Mississippi River Valley.

Starting from, oh, Dubuque, Iowa and moving northward, the Mississippi River Valley becomes a land of rugged hills and bluffs, green forests, and old riverboat towns. We lived for a year, when I was in kindergarten, in La Crosse, Wisconsin; I believe this is a large factor that led to my attending college in Iowa. The whole Upper Mississippi region is breathtakingly beautiful, but on a human scale, I think. Drive north, along the river, pausing to drink Leinenkugel’s and eat brats with some real Wisconsin cheese. A wonderful area.

How about you, O readers and fellow bloggers? Where would you have people go while they still can?

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2 Responses to Places to See Before You Die

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    Well, my post today has indicated what states I’ve been to. YOUR lists has whole STATES I’ve never even been to, inc. Oregon and Iowa. Yikes1

  2. Mary says:

    Responding a little late, but I can think of a few places near where I’ve lived…

    I’d say go up and see the continental divide in Colorado. You can drive along it, in the summer, and feel like you’re on top of the world.

    Pub crawl, Wrigleyville, Chicago. Nuff said.

    Olympic penninsula. This country’s only temperate rainforest. Plants with leaves the size of seat cushions, trees so tall they just don’t have tops.

    Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival, Winfield, KS. Authentic as it gets, and all the fattening fair food you can imagine, onna stick.

    Lake Tahoe is just the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen on any continent.

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