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Julie Says - Road Trip!

Jun 23, 2017 10:39PM ● Published by Julie Ross

Road Trip!

By Julie Ross

I had a pretty much culture-free childhood growing up in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. My dad was a petroleum geologist, so he and our family were transferred wherever Marathon Oil was sent to explore for the much-maligned fossil fuel. By the age of six, I had lived in Bismarck, North Dakota; Sidney, Nebraska; and Jackson, Mississippi, locations not then (and mostly still not) known for cultural offerings.

In 1964, my mom, dad, three brothers, and I packed up, once again, this time in a brand-new aquamarine station wagon (a trendy color at the time -- woohoo!), and left the South for the Great White North, settling in Calgary, Alberta. At the time, Calgary had a reputation as a “cow town,” without much going on other than a thriving ranching business and related commerce. The city was still on the cusp of reaping the benefits of the discovery of huge reserves of oil in Alberta.

Calgary was and remains a lovely (and cold!) city in the foothills of the Rockies, with a booming downtown alongside the swift, white waters of the Bow River. Calgary then had a population of about 350,000, which has since grown to over 1.4 million. My dad’s office in 1964 was in the Elveden House, which, at 20 stories, was then the tallest building in the city. The Elveden house does not now even make the list of the 50 tallest buildings in Calgary and is completely dwarfed in the dense, skyscraper-riddled skyline. The arts and fine dining arrived in tandem with population growth and a strong economy.

Prior to the influx of oil people and oil money, these cosmopolitan pleasures were hard to come by (nonexistent). For many, travel to more sophisticated locales provided a broader outlook. Well, our annual summer vacations did not take our family to more sophisticated locales but did provide a (generally odd) diversity of experiences, courtesy of the great American Road Trip.

In our case, summer travel usually involved a lengthy drive from Calgary to Iowa. Yes, Iowa, where both of my parents originated. Day one of our family trip involved covering more than 400 miles to arrive in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, which, as you might imagine, was also somewhat short on cultural offerings. Day two of our trip was always a highlight because we stayed overnight in Jamestown, North Dakota, home of the World’s Largest Buffalo. Culture (however odd) at last!

The buffalo is made of concrete and is 26 feet tall by 46 feet long. It weighs 60 tons. It was built in 1959 by Elmer P. Peterson, an art teacher (obviously a major talent) at Jamestown College. The work was commissioned by Harold Newman, a billboard salesman who wanted “to create something so big and magnificent that passersby would have to stop in the city.”  Harold was indeed a visionary. My family stopped in Jamestown on every trip to visit this “big and magnificent” work of art. My dad would pick me up so I could reach the bison’s beard and give it a pet.

You will be delighted to know that the giant buffalo statue still stands, surrounded by the quirky and, of course, culturally rich Pioneer Village and National Buffalo Museum. Keep in mind, this is just one roadside attraction among thousands in our country to visit this summer on your way from A to B. See them all at www.roadsideamerica.com.

This summer, we are planning a road trip up through Northern California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to visit high school friends from Canada who have retired in the Okanagan Valley, a land of beautiful lakes, fruit orchards, and even a few good wineries. Can’t wait to see what attractions we discover along the way. I don’t think we will do much research before we head out. Sometimes it’s best to let serendipity be your guide.

Happy summer, and may all your travels broaden your perspective of the human experience.

(If all else fails, Jamestown awaits. Trust me, the giant buffalo is a sure thing.)

You can reach Julie at julieakross@comcast.net


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