This is the blog for Monique M. McCullough - fan of babies, baking, painting (walls and canvases) and author of Color Me Georgi and Mr. Doodle and the Flying Emu - available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and good bookstores everywhere! 

Niagara Falls Road Trip - via Pittsburgh, Watkins Glen, Hershey, Gettysberg

(Scroll to the bottom for the photos.) 

For our travel plans this year, we decided to start venturing further afield. Since the kids came along, my itchy feet have been tamed - except for that one time when I thought it was a brilliant idea to take a 14 month old boy on a 30-hour trip from Charlotte to Sydney. That scarred me to my core, and I have never forgiven my friends for not talking me out of that genius idea. 

Still, here we are with slightly older and more portable children and we decided a road trip to Niagara Falls would be a fun adventure. I am glad to say it was drama-free and twenty million times better than being stuck on a plane with them. "We" (my husband) drove 1975 miles, counted 104 "dirty bathrooms" (port-a-johns) and stoped at 13 Dollar Trees for "treats" (we were only gone eleven days so you do the math).

Niagara Falls has been on my bucket list for two decades, and it did not disappoint. I am still mystified by it - that water gushing over that craggy edge NEVER EVER stops. It was absolutely incredible and I would put it on the top of your North America travel list (go to the Canadian side - it was even more spectacular). 

Though Ontario was the mid-point, the up-and-back stops were worthwhile on their own. Pittsburgh was a fascinating and gritty city with two fabulous museums and an impressive baseball field. Carnegie Natural History Museum (the REAL dinosaur fossils had us all in awe) and the art gallery that is attached to it were time well spent. They had one of the big Monet Water Lilies series and a number of Van Gogh and Gaugin pieces (my predictable favorites). I was definitely surprised that the kids are actually starting to like art galleries - how long will this last?! Matilda is understanding how "pictures" come together while Frankie loves to point out all the "rudie nudies" that he can find. Whatever, I'll take it. 

We drove our old tank of an SUV around the Watkins Glen International speedway (or is it a racetrack? - cars are not my thing). The more spectacular find at Watkins Glen, however, was the jaw-dropping Gorge Trail in the center of town. It won #3 in the U.S. for best State Parks and it was truly worth every single step - all 800 of them. At points on the trail I just looked up and down and couldn't fathom how this particular gorge was formed. Nature is wonderfully baffling sometimes. 

I don't think Elmira, NY is known for its humidity. On the morning in May when we were there, however, the air was heavy and damp like the banks of the Mississippi River in July. It was an accidental detour that led us to this beat-up old town but, at least sometimes, misdirections land you in just the right spot. The headstone of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) is on the side of an unassuming rocky hill on the edge of Elmira. The modesty of his gravesite echoes the modest character traits of some of his beloved protagonists - I'm looking at you, Huck. Twain wrote some of his most well-revered works while staying at his sister's summer home here. The site looks out to gently rolling hills and an unremarkable muddy river. It's as if he knew he would always be the biggest thing in Elmira. 

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
— Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Of course, our children are likely too young to remember much of this trip. As I snapped the photo of them twirling their sticks over Twain's headstone, one of them needed to go potty and the other was asking me for his fiftieth snack before 10am. Still, as tiring as traveling can be with two little ones, I hope one day they too will cultivate an appreciation for Mark Twain's thoughts on travel.

By the way, don't feel too badly that we dragged our kids to a boring cemetery. The next day we took them to Chocolate World in Hershey, PA so we redeemed ourselves as decent traveling companions. 

Well, we are on to planning the next vacation and I would love suggestions so please email them to me! I am looking back on the photos as I write this and there are just so many little things that made this a really happy trip - doing yoga at sunrise RIGHT IN FRONT of Niagara Falls, eating chocolate-dipped ice-cream cones ever other day, seeing a full rainbow, walking across a border, zip lining through the falls (I scream rather loud in the video), impromptu beach swims in undies (the kids, not me), beer in an old "repurposed" church (please don't judge...the beer was really good), and having the kids tell us that their favorite part of the trip was the waffles they had at the complimentary hotel breakfast. Fabulous. I told them to put "waffle maker" on their list for Santa this year.