For the last two months, Rainer Jenss and his family have been traveling across America on the first leg of their around-the-world trip. Bidding farewell to the shores of Hawaii, they now recount some of their favorite stops along the way so far. You can follow them on their trip by bookmarking their posts here.
For most families, Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer vacation. For us, it meant the dress rehearsal was over and the real deal begins.
It’s hard to believe that two months have already passed and with the exception of a brief interlude in Quebec, we haven’t even left the country. Sure, it’s quite a long time to be on the road and we covered many miles, but the U.S. was pretty easy to navigate, even though we had no experience with many of the places we visited. And that was precisely our intention when we mapped out the itinerary -- start with what’s familiar to ease us (especially the boys) into this yearlong voyage before venturing off to Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. There would be no dealing with different languages, going through immigration and customs, sampling new and strange foods, or driving on the other side of the road. But that all changes starting now.
We hopped a plane from Honolulu to Tokyo, where we’ll connect on to Beijing. To close the first chapter of the trip, we decided to have some fun and do a Top Ten List of the "Best of America" for the boys’ blogs that they’re posting on the National Geographic Kids website. Although our children’s perspectives were not too far from our own, I wanted to share what Carol and I found best about this country as we experienced it during the last eight weeks. Important footnote: We traveled through only 20 states, almost exclusively in the northern half, so there’s a whole lot of territory not in consideration here that could easily make it on a list like this, so this is by no means definitive.
Favorite City: Seattle was one of my favorite U.S. cities before this trip, and our stay there this time around further solidified that distinction. The laid-back vibe, excellent food, cool music scene and gorgeous surroundings hold special appeal for us. I also had never entered the city from the east, and doing so through the Cascades showcased even more of Seattle’s beautiful nearby environs that I had not seen before.
Best Beach: I added this because a summer vacation for our family would be incomplete without visiting one. To be fair, I’ll divide this into three categories. The east coast: White Crest Beach in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. The west coast: Oswald West State Park Beach in northern Oregon. Hawaii: Honokalani Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park. This is certainly not the prettiest, but we found it the most memorable and unique.
Best Tourist Attraction: Sorry Seattle, the lines for the Space Needle were just much too long. Old Faithful wins this one because it can be enjoyed with thousands of other people around, hence the term "tourist attraction." Strong word of advice, the Old Faithful geyser is not the main attraction. Make sure to take some time to walk the Upper Geyser Basin trail to see all the pools and find out when the Grand Geyser might blow. If you’re lucky enough to catch it, it’s spectacular!
Best Animal Sighting: This might sound almost canned, but seeing a bald eagle cruising along the Snake River was pretty special. I had never seen one before outside of captivity. The herd of bison in Badlands National Park probably would be a very close second. There were hundreds of them surrounding our car and many of the males were looking for mates, making the sounds as interesting as the sights.
Favorite National Park: This is a tough one, but Maine's Acadia National Park set the standard, and although others might have had prettier views, better trails or more wildlife, this park had all these elements as well as terrific accommodations and food to boot.
Favorite Activity: “Oh man, I don’t want to go on a hike right now!” We heard this, or a variation thereof, before almost every trek we set out on and without exception, the kids never returned upset. The Clatsop Loop hike in Ecola State Park in Oregon was perhaps our favorite, thanks to the banana slugs along the trail that made it all worthwhile for the boys.
Most Interesting Thing We Learned: Taking the time to see Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was well worth getting off the beach for and taught us a lot about one of the most significant events in U.S. history. We’ll certainly never forget Pearl Harbor after this visit. Added bonus: it’s free!
Which Place Do You Most Want To Go Back To: I personally want to go back to Jackson, Wyoming, and climb the Grand Tetons. As a family, Hawaii could easily see our return, and if it wasn’t 3,000 miles away, Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands would probably become a summer vacation fixture.
What Was the Least Favorite Part of the Trip: Not enough home-cooked meals.
Best Things About America: The diversity. The United States offers such an incredible amount of natural beauty, variety of people, and wide range of things to experience that I’ve even heard people suggest that you don’t need to travel outside the U.S. because there so much to do and see here. Although I would never go that far, we’ve learned that this notion isn’t completely without merit. Now with the rest of the world to cover, the bar has been set pretty high.
Photos: Rainer Jenss