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States With Secrets

by Noemi Arellano-Summer

photography courtesy of Ariana Quihuiz

One of the best parts of road trips, other than the snacks, is the detours you make along the way. Planned trips to famous sites are great, but sometimes you realize that you are only five miles away from a hidden gem if you get off the highway right at the next exit. This can be freeing. You are away from home, traveling to see things you never have before. Why not make that extra stop? You just might find something worthwhile. So read on, to find your next road trip side stop in three distinct regions of the U.S.

Kaskaskia Dragon in Vandalia, Illinois

The Kaskaskia Dragon, in Vandalia, IL, isn’t something you’d expect to find by the side of the highway. Yet the 35-foot-long metal monster has proved very popular since 2001, when the dragon was set to guard the freeway. Built for fun during the winter of 1995, the dragon is named after the hardware store down the street who constructed it.

With glowing red eyes and a 16-foot-tall neck, the dragon will breathe fire for dragon coins, which cost a dollar. Dragons are usually something you primarily find in European and Chinese folklore and fairy tales, so finding one in the middle of America is a treat, and not something to miss in person.

Kubota Gardens in Seattle, Washington

The Kubota Gardens, hidden in Seattle, WA, is another cross-cultural attraction. In 1927, Japanese immigrant Fujitaro Kubota bought five acres of land with which to begin a garden. His intent was to design gardens showing the beauty of the Northwest in a Japanese style. Eventually, his garden grew to twenty acres, possessing, to name a few elements: a nursery, natural stream and maple and pine trees.

In 1981, the city of Seattle declared the Japanese-American garden to be a historic landmark. The Open Space program has since purchased 28 acres of land surrounding the garden, in order to protect Mapes Creek, which runs through the garden. The blend of cultures is something that this nation was built on, and so this garden is, while a piece of history in itself, also a microcosm of the American experience.

Boston History Dioramas in Boston, Massachusetts

City dwellers pass office buildings all the time, never suspecting that they hold even more interesting things than paperwork. The Newbry (also known as the New England Life Insurance Building in the Back Bay) has four dioramas showing scenes of Boston’s history just past the entrance. Commissioned by the Boston Society of Natural History in 1863, Sarah Ann Rockwell spent months working on research to make sure the scales were accurate for the various buildings. While she peered at original blueprints, Henry Brooks painted the backdrops. Ultimately, the amount of time and passion put into the project, as well as the level of detail, is nothing short of astonishing.

Starting from the left, the dioramas begin with the Boylston Street Fish Weirs [Dams], circa 2500 B.C. The next over is the William Blaxton house. Blaxton was an Anglican minister who immigrated to Boston in 1623, seven years before the Puritans. From 1856, the filling in of the Back Bay to form so-called “New Land” is the next topic. Finally, the 1863 creation of the Boston Society of Natural History is the last diorama. Personally, going on a walk and finding something you thought you’d find in a museum instead in an old office building is quite an adventure.

Ultimately, discovering hidden gems along the markers of your road trip, or your own city, is the kind of travel escapade I like to have. You never know what exactly you’re looking for, and then you stumble across it, like a piece of treasure. So go out and take a road trip . You never know what might be around that next corner.

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