The first lighthouse I ever remember seeing was on Lake Erie, probably near Cleveland. I was 10, maybe 11. It was windy, like it often is when you’re walking around a giant lake, and late enough in the fall that most of the leaves had fallen from the trees. I was wearing a jean jacket over an orange sweater and my bangs were cut too short.
We were at our bar drinking Bell’s Two Hearted Ales, digging into a perfect pile of nachos and rooting through our emotional baggage. We were trying to collectively figure out our futures. She was doing a better job of it than me and announced that she was moving back to Portland, Oregon, that she’d be packing up her things and driving cross country, from Richmond to Oregon, with a pitstop in Palm Springs for a friend’s wedding.
If you visit me in Richmond and I take you on a driving tour of the city, chances are good I’ll take you past St. Paul’s Church. It’s where Patrick Henry gave his “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death” speech and it’s where Edgar Allan Poe’s mother is buried. I’ll tell you that on the tour, I promise, and then, when you ask about Poe’s connection to Richmond, I will tell you all that, too.
We were in a planning meeting at work, just the three of us.
My boss asked, “Do you want to go Bedford for D-Day on Wednesday?”
In mostly one breath I said, “Yes, yes, of course I want to go to Bedford because the Booker T. Washington National Monument is there, or at least near to there and if I go down earlier on Tuesday and use it as a travel day then maybe I can swing by and spend a few hours there, so, yes, I’ll go.”
There are a few things you’ll definitely notice if you visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The sand dunes are hard to miss and Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the most visited park in North Carolina, protects the tallest active sand dune system in the Eastern United States. There’s the beach, of course, and Brew Thru, a chain of legendary drive-thru convenience stores that sell beer, wine and “world famous” t-shirts. There’s the winged horse statues, part of a public art installation started in 2003 to celebrate 100 years of flight.
It was the end of the day in Arizona and I was alone. I’d passed the day’s last visitors on the way in, watched them pull out of the parking lot, a little dust kicking up behind them as they faded into the desert. Then, it was just me and the ghosts of Wupatki National Monument.
When I visited Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, I spent 15 minutes talking to a volunteer about what it feels like to be there first thing in the morning, to wander through the ruins before the tourists arrive. He talked about the people who used to live there, the ones who built the centuries old site, who used to call the place their home. He told me he knew they were still there, that he felt them in those quiet morning moments.
In my 11th grade history class, we didn’t have a lot of time. The state’s standardized tests dictated the priorities of learning for the year and they missed a lot. Our teacher, in a valiant attempt to educate us on the things the tests wouldn’t, handed out topics for us to independently research and then present to the class.
I was tired. I’d worked for almost a month straight and I needed a break. I needed a getaway.
Summer was calling. I felt it in my bones, a bodily longing for sunshine, for the crash of waves, sand squishing between my toes, the tropical fruit stink of sunscreen.
What I needed was the beach.
I packed up the dogs, some clean clothes and some road snacks and we all headed to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where the Wright Brothers flew the first successful flight in 1903 and where a colony of Englishmen and women mysteriously disappeared between 1587 and 1590.
Prince William Forest Park is sneaky. I’ve probably driven past it a few hundred times over the years and yet, I didn’t know it wasn’t there. It’s just off I-95, south of Washington, D.C., north of Richmond, Virginia, and adjacent to Quantico. It’s smallish, at 15,000 acres, but includes almost 40 miles of hiking trails, more than 20 miles of bicycle-accessible roads and trails and a short scenic drive. Best of all, it’s lovely.
The first time I visited the Grand Canyon it was not enough. We were just passing through, quickly, on a time-limited, cross-country road trip. We had hours there, only a few, and we spent our time staring into the canyon, wondering how such an impressive and incredible thing could be real.
Later, as we drove to Palm Springs, we talked about going back, about the next time. We both knew we’d be back, both agreed we wanted to go below the rim.