Tag Archives: 101 places you gotta see before you’re 12

Go Big or Go Home

I ‘m excited to have my first guest blogger! Traci Suppa of Go Big or Go Home shares my affinity the superlative places and very big things that I put on my 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! list. She’s got a fantastic blog following her families travels to visit said places, a few of which she recounts here- Enjoy!

High and Low and Away We Go!

I have a strange affection for quirky roadside attractions. The bigger, the better. My unfortunate family falls victim to the road trips I organize seeking sites claiming to be the “biggest,” “largest,” or “tallest” in the state, country, and even the world. Over time, they have come to enjoy, or at least tolerate, these fun outings full of great photo ops.

Generally, and expectedly, most of the sites we’ve seen are offbeat, and lowbrow. A few standouts, however, do earn marks in the highbrow category for their educational or spiritual character. On both extremes, these are the places which have really captivated my 10-year old son and 3-year old daughter.

The Largest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, Carmel, NY

The largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere rests in situ at the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, a mere 20 minutes from our house.The monastery, belonging to the Buddhist Association of the United States, is a collection of seven Asian-style buildings seemingly out of place in this New York suburb, but lovely nonetheless.

Our mother-son adventure began by following a stone path lined with statues of Buddha’s chubby, bald disciples up to the Great Buddha Hall. We removed our shoes, entered, looked up, and gaped. At 37-feet tall, the “Great Buddha Vairocana” sits serenely in lotus pose, commanding the silent respect of the 10,000 small Buddha statues encircling him. Filled with brilliant daylight, the spacious hall provides an unobstructed, pillar-free view — an architectural homage to the Tang Dynasty.
We availed ourselves of the free literature in the back of the room, and left a small donation. My son was thrilled with his colorful Chinese bookmarks, and even took a small book about Buddhism so he could learn more about it.

World’s Largest Light Bulb, Edison, NJ

A monumental replica of Thomas Edison’s first practical incandescent bulb, the world’s largest light bulb is nearly 14 feet of Pyrex glass segments. It sits on top of the 117-foot concrete Memorial Tower at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, and was built in 1937 by former Edison employees. While you’re here, devote 30-60 minutes to visiting the adjoining museum, where you can see historic photographs, early light bulbs and other inventions, and even listen one of Edison’s phonographs.
Edison’s laboratory was located on this tract of land from 1879-1884, before he moved to a more well-known site in West Orange, NJ. Still in his 20’s and relatively unknown during his time here, Edison was already churning out patents at the unbelievable pace of a sheer genius. Besides the phonograph and the light bulb, he came up with 400 other patents.
History museums can be hit-or-miss with kids, but this site delivered an accessible and engaging experience. The highlight? When our guide played an antique phonograph just for us. Even my pre-schooler stood still long enough to listen to the scratchy melody. Getting that little first-hand taste of history was well worth the trip.

Traci L. Suppa has a strange compulsion for roadside attractions. She drags her small-town family to see the world’s largest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or GO Home. http://GoBIGorGoHomeblog.com

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Wanderous Strange

Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, photo by sashafatcat, flickr

I have a thing for eccentrics, outsiders, oddballs, etc. There’s something very brave about taking your own peculiar vision of the world and putting it out there for all to see. I included folk art environments in 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! because I think it’s great for kids to see people who follow their creative bliss, whatever that may be, and because so often, folk art environments are created from stuff that others consider to be junk (a great lesson in reusing, and recycling!).

Sculpture at the late Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Georgia

While writing for my undergrad college newspaper, I took a trip up to see renowned folk artist/preacher Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in teeny, tiny Summerville/Pennville, Georgia and was lucky enough to interview Finster himself. That sort of started my ongoing interest, and while researching the book, I found out about places like the Watts Towers (see Bonnie Boatwright’s post on her visit there), Orange Show in Houston and the Land of Evermor in Baraboo, Wisconsin (Travels with Children has a great post of a family visit there, with great pics). On a sidenote, Wisconsin–hands down–appears to the have the highest concentration of creative eccentrics in the US: does anyone have an explanation for that?

Recently, I came across Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, the creation of Isaiah Zager, who started the project as a way to revitalize his South Philadelphia neighborhood. It’s now operated as a nonprofit with frequent workshops and events, including mosaic-making classes for kids. There’s also Tyree Guyton’s recent and growing Heidelberg Project in Detroit, which is transforming a run-down street into an art project (named after the street). (On another sidenote: Detroit seems to be the place for a lot of cutting-edge stuff going on these days).

House, part of the Heidelberg Project, Detroit

One of my favorite writers for children E.L Koningsburg has a book that explores the idea of outsider artists: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. It’s about a girl who comes to the defense of her eccentric uncles who have built a series of junk art clock towers in their backyard, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.

If you’re interested in folk art or outsider art places, there are a few great sites you have to see, starting with Detour Art, UCM Museum, Insiders Out, Interesting Ideas, and Narrow Larry, who has a map of folk art environments in the US.

And speaking of maps, I just found the most incredible site for odd or unusual places: Atlas Obscura. I could spend days there. I already knew about a lot of the places, but there are some that I’m sure will factor into future travels. Also by part of the same team is Curious Expeditions. One of the most recent posts is about insect art. What kids doesn’t love that?

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The Bird is The Word

Happy International Migratory Bird Day! What? You didn?t know? It’s always the second Saturday in May.  I love, love, love birds and am always interested in trying to get a closer look at them. If you haven’t already watched it, the gorgeous Winged Migration is a must see:

Stills from Winged Migration

It’s a real documentary, and so to keep my daughter interested during the voice-overs, I just did the classic up-play “Wow! That’s amazing! That is sooo beautiful! I can’t believe that!” At eight, she’s still young enough to catch that kind of enthusiasm.

We haven’t tried watching it with our three-year-old, but I’m going to see if we can track down a copy today in honor of IMBD.Going to see he sandhill crane migration at the North Platte River National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska is definitely in the top 100 of our Wanderlist. At peak migration times, half a million birds land in the same 1-imile radius.

Enjoy watching some birds today!

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Getting High With Your Kids: Canopy Walks

I think every kid dreams of flying or climbing to the very top of the trees. Not long ago, if you wanted to see a forest from a bird’s eye view, you needed a harness, a degree in biology, and a ticket to Costa Rica. Lately though, there’s been a small explosion in the number of canopy tours, canopy walks, and zipline tours available stateside. Even in places you might not expect.

While researching 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12!, the folks at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours (www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com) in the Texas Hill Country were super-helpful in providing images. Who knew there were forests in Texas?

There’s a new start-up zipline canopy tour in Western Massachusetts called Deerfield Valley Canopy Tours (www.deerfieldzipline.com) and I’m really excited that we’re going to have one near us in Asheville, North Carolina: Navitat (www.navitat.com) opens on May 28.

Navitat, outside Asheville, North Carolina

Most zipline canopy tours are restricted to kids over the age of eight or 10, but younger kids can usually go on sky bridges or canopy walks. There’s a new one at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org) that we will check out next time we’re down to see the family. But there are also a few really inexpensive options.

We did the canopy walk at Myakka State Park (http://myakkariver.org) in Florida, the first one in the US. At the time, Miss M. was about six and Mr. Big was still in a stroller.

Thankfully, their Aunt Pam volunteered to stay at ground level with Mr. Big, but we went up, including eightysomething Beeps. It was the right mix of adventure/risk and safety for a six-year-old, We fantasize about getting to Costa Rica, but maybe it might be more realistic to try to get to this one: TreeTrek at Whistler Resort in BC:

TreeTrek, Whistler, British Columbia

Any other canopy tours to know about?

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