This weekend Laura and I made our biennial trip to Boone, North Carolina, for the Furman-Appalachian State football game. It’s usually one of our favorite game road trips, with the leaves turning and the air taking on its first hint of crispness. The recent tropical weather had left roads in a mess, however, and even in the best conditions Boone is out of the way. It seemed weird to be heading as far northeast as Gastonia to get to a place due north of us. The trip, and the fact that we had to reroute things, brought back several childhood memories.
When I was young I collected maps and brochures for tourist attractions. Weird, I know, but I wanted to know what was beyond Laurens County. As a young child, distances seemed insurmountable. The extent of our family wanderings included the mountains of South Carolina, with occasional forays into North Carolina. I guess it was hard to load a family of seven kids into one vehicle in an era without minivans or SUVs.
The tourist brochures spoke of exotic places such as Ghost Town in the Sky, Tweetsie Railroad, Linville Caverns, Rock City, and dozens of other tourist traps. I would find these places on my maps, and wonder how one would ever get there from where I lived, and how long would it take? Back then, visitors to these parks would come back to their cars to find a bumper sticker adhered to the vehicle as testament of their visit. My cousin’s car had several such stickers, and I secretly longed to have our car covered as a status symbol of our travel.
One of the most exotic brochures for me was for a place called “The Land of Oz” in Banner Elk. The attraction is now long gone, but to me it seemed like the ultimate destination. Disney World had just opened, but Orlando, Florida might as well have been in the Antarctic. It was totally beyond reach, but Banner Elk was possible, if not extremely difficult. To make matters worse, Oz started advertising on TV, and even though it’s rides seem rather childish back then, I still wanted to go.
As my brothers and sisters moved off to college, we were able to extend our travels, down to St. Augustine, and through the Great Smokeys to Gatlinburg. We acquired our first bumper sticker at Echo Valley, a permanent collection of county fair rides set up as an amusement park in Cleveland, South Carolina. OK, it wasn’t out of state, but it was a bumper sticker. I was distraught when my father immediately pulled it off, telling us that if left there, it would only become a permanent advertisment and ruin the bumper.
That same trip included Maggie Valley, home to so many of my brochure locations. Ghost Town turned out to be a problem. My mother didn’t want to ride the inclined railway to the top of the mountain, and the chair lift was out of the question. My father thought the whole thing was too expensive.
One by one, my brochure destinations were demystified, but I The Land of Oz was one of the last places to fall. Laura and I made a trip on one of our previous game road trips, only to find a ski slope. At least one of my childhood impressions was true. It is in one of the most out-of-the-way places in the mountains of North Carolina. I guess that’s why it didn’t make it.