Great American Road Trip, Weird Stuff edition
December 27, 2017 3:29 PM   Subscribe

We're in the preliminary stages of figuring out if a road trip from Salem, MA to Roswell and Area 51 is bananas or potentially fun. The biggest hurdle is trying to figure out what, if anything, is worth stopping to see in the vast expanse of country that's between here and there. Are there any fun paranormal / supernatural stops you can recommend? Kitschy/cheesey is totally fine, we do live in Salem, after all.

One place we're thinking is Point Pleasant, WV, to see the Mothman Museum, but it seems like that's going way out of the way for something that will take 20 minutes to see. But we'll need to sleep somewhere, so sleeping near a fun place to visit seems to make sense. The route could either go through Ohio-Indiana-Illinois-Missouri-Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico-Nevada, or West Virginia-Kentucky-Illinois-Missouri-Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico-Nevada. We've never been.... anywhere that isn't the coasts.

Also, is it completely bananas to think we could do this round-trip in 2 weeks, with a 7 year old? He's a good traveler, but being in a car for 2 weeks might be a terrible idea. I've tried looking for one-way flights to save some time and keep us from driving the whole way back, but the flights are way too expensive. Is it plausible to think that one-way flights, to say, Vegas, will get cheap enough to be like $300-500 for three people? Finally, thinking of going in late August. Is that so regrettably hot that we won't be able to actually do anything other than sit in air conditioning?
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Travel & Transportation around United States (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm going to have to side with "bananas" unless you have extenuating circumstances like being willing and safely able to put in at least one 24-36 hour stretch of continuous driving each way. If you can only do 6-8 hours per day, your vacation is just going to be driving down the highway and eating road food for two weeks.

I've been through but not to Roswell, if that makes sense. It's a small city in rural New Mexico; I imagine some alien stuff exists there but I didn't notice any driving right down a main drag.

As far as doing this in late August goes, what's the hottest temperature you've spent all day walking around in? You're looking at probable 90s to 110s.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:09 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't recommend any specific stops (although, as a Midwesterner, I can assure you there are some interesting things to see and do between the two coasts; we do kitschy/cheesy very well), but may I point you towards Roadside America where you can discover and learn about weird things pretty much anywhere in the country? Some of our most memorable stops have been courtesy of Roadside America.
posted by DrGail at 5:18 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For my entire childhood, all our family vacations were road trips, originating in Buffalo and going as far as, say, the Grand Canyon or Carlsbad Caverns. We had a trailer hitch on our station wagon and towed a pop-up camper and camped in KOAs and state parks along the way. Other than my car sickness (which I could keep at bay as long as I didn't read), it was always fine. Better than fine: they are some of my best memories with my family! And none of them were longer than 2 weeks, so I'm sure a lot of the farther flung destinations involved more driving than not-driving. We did a lot of stopping at "scenic overlooks" and part of the fun was the camping, so that helped. This was a family of 2 adults, 3 kids. I still love road trips to this day.
posted by misskaz at 5:23 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There’s an alien museum in Roswell which is good for a little time. Otherwise it’s just another New Mexico oil town. If you are going to be there I recommend driving a little further south and checking out Carlsbad Caverns. It’s an amazing natural wonder and a really fun way to spend an afternoon.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 5:28 PM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There is a big meteor crater off of Hwy 40 over in Arizona. There is the cement teepee motel in Winslow Arizona, kids love that place.
posted by Oyéah at 5:39 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think 2 weeks is totally bananas, if you're willing to accept that most of the day will be spent driving (it's not so bad- think of it as if your job is driving- so you work an 8 hour day, but you still have the time before work or after work to do some sightseeing, eat at a fun restaurant, whatever.) But you would enjoy it more if you can budget in at least one or two "days off" where you don't plan on travelling, or you only travel a short distance. Similarly, the heat won't be much of an issue if you are planning to do it in close to 2 weeks, because you'll spend most of your time in the air conditioned car- so it will feel really nice to get out and feel some warm air for a while, and then when you get too hot, you'll be eager to get back to driving.

A couple of years ago cortex and I drove from Portland, OR, to Huntsville, AL, and back (with several months in between the out and back), which looks like about the same length of a trip. We did make a point to swing through Roswell on the way home, but frankly, we got in kind of late in the day were kind of tired and didn't end up exploring. My advice would be to think carefully about what time of day you reach your destinations- in this case, we were aiming for Carlsbad Caverns, realized it was too late and we wouldn't have time to go in, and so we pushed on for Roswell. There appeared to be some easily found kitschy alien stuff along the main street we drove down, and I'd imagine there's more if you know where to look. We didn't check it out the next day because I was kind of demoralized about missing the cave, and because we had to get going to the next stop, the Grand Canyon, which I was pretty excited about and definitely didn't want to have to cut short.
posted by Secretariat at 5:43 PM on December 27, 2017

Best answer: Another vote for the Roadside America app, as well as Atlas Obscura. Just perusing the app for Illinois I see that we passed through a Buck Rogers-esque water tower in Makanda Illinois, a Dungeons and Dragons-themed park in Carbondale, a fiberglass statue mold yard in Sparta, Wisconsin, Tinkertown in Sandia Park, New Mexico... if you go on the site, you can probably filter for specific science fiction/alien interest, and plan a route as well. Road trips are the best! Have fun.
posted by queensissy at 5:46 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I had no idea there was a Roadside America app, that's awesome, thanks! I'll still happily take suggestions and personal experiences, and am very open to both "this is an awesome idea" and "this is a terrible idea." I kind of had an idea in my head that Roswell is to aliens as Salem is to witches, and am hoping for a bunch of silly alien stuff.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:01 PM on December 27, 2017

Best answer: You didn't really make it clear whether you've done this kind of trip before. Do you like driving long distance? Because I don't mind, but it's really tough on some people, and trapped in a car brings out the worst in some. And at that point there's nothing to do but keep going.

You will be in the car most of the time.
posted by bongo_x at 6:11 PM on December 27, 2017

Best answer: West Virginia also has Mystery Hole!
posted by irisclara at 6:12 PM on December 27, 2017

Response by poster: Sorry about not making it clear about whether we've done a long trip before. Every couple of years we drive from Salem, MA to around Annapolis, MD. It's usually an 8 hour drive, and admittedly, we are pretty toast by the end of it. It took 12 hours each way this past Thanksgiving weekend, but that involved hours of gridlock. I enjoy the drive when it's relatively clear and there's not much stopping. I was ready to pull over and just live in a parking lot in rural MA for the rest of my life when were stuck in traffic for hours. So I like driving when I'm not in tons of traffic (and maybe once we're clear of the Boston-NY-DC corridor it's not too bad?). Also.... our son gets car sick, though we think we may have solved that problem, as it's been a while since we've had An Incident of that nature.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:37 PM on December 27, 2017

This is in theory a present (banjo putting up with my weird obsessions, not her paying for it) for my 40th. An alternate plan would be to fly in to Vegas, so some shows and stuff (I'm not a huge gambler, but there is an Area 51 day trip) and then follow the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas road for a bit on the way to Contact in the Desert, a UFO convention that is not in the middle of nowhere for once.

Basically, we'd like to do some sort of weird road trip without going broke or insane.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:50 PM on December 27, 2017

Best answer: It's not completely crazy. When I was 12 and my siblings were 10, we drove from Ohio to Colorado and back on consecutive weekends, spending the week in Colorado. It was a lot of driving (in August, with no A/C), but I have extremely fond memories of the drive. I actually enjoyed the drive more than the week in Colorado, I think. You're going a little further, but with plenty more time. Shouldn't be a problem.

If you do go through Ohio, Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton is supposedly where the Air Force took the Roswell aliens. You're obviously not going to be able to visit that, but there is the National Museum of the Air Force, which is really a fascinating place if you have any interest in aviation. It's also where the Dayton Peace Accords ending the Bosnian war were signed.

If you're willing to change the theme from "aliens" to "space travel", the Neil Armstrong Museum is just north of Dayton on I-75, and the John Glenn birthplace is a couple of hours east, near the junction of I-70 and I-77, not far from the Mothman stuff in WV.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:39 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, look at it this way: Google says Salem to Roswell is 2,177. Double that, and pad it by 10% and you have 4800 miles. If you average 60 miles an hour, that's 80 hours in the car over two weeks. A full time job, as someone else said. Besides upstate New York and southern Missouri, almost all of it is flat and looks the same. There's not even anywhere specific you want to stop. I think you will all want to kill each other if 8 hours to Maryland is a slog.

I wouldn't do it. I would suck up the cost, fly out to Vegas, rent a car and drive around, then fly back. Right now, round trip for 2 adults, one child is $450-600 on Kayak depending on dates. You'll have so much more time for fun. A day driving through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois is a day of your life completely wasted. There is a reason most people live on the coasts.
posted by AFABulous at 7:52 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Day 1: Fly into Las Vegas, get room for night.

Day 2: Do Area 51 day trip or whatever, spend a second night in Vegas.

Day 3: Starting mid morning, drive from Vegas to Flagstaff; Google claims it’s about a four-hour drive. If you arrive early enough, go to the Lowell Observatory (if not then, next day perhaps). Spend night in Flagstaff.

Day 4: Perhaps on this day a round trip to the Grand Canyon and back to Flagstaff for another night. I’ve not done this as an adult, so that may be a crazy idea depending on the time of year. If not, erase this day from history and skip to:

Day 5: In the morning drive from Flagstaff to Santa Fe. It’s at least a six-hour drive, I’d plan for at least seven with some good breaks to stretch legs, or even longer if you plan to stop somewhere like the Petrified Forest National Park. Spend night in Santa Fe.

Day 6: Go to Meow Wolf. Go see any of the historic stuff in Santa Fe that interests you. Eat good local food. Spend night.

Day 7: Do a day trip down to Roswell. Google claims it’s about a three-hour drive each way. I don’t think there’s that much to do in Roswell even with the UFO tourism stuff, so i can easily see this done in a long day trip, getting back to Santa Fe for another night or instead to Albuquerque (also about three hours from Roswell) so you can:

Day 8: Return rental car. Fly home from Albuquerque.
posted by D.C. at 7:54 PM on December 27, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: OK I was in Roswell last month. There is less alien stuff than one might wish! I was disappointed and wish I had taken an extra day and gone to Carlsbad. Here is my account. Here’s a picture. Anyway, TL/DR - it’s not at all like Salem is to witches. There are a few roadside aliens. There is the alien museum and gift shop which frankly is pretty dull. There are a couple of other gift shoppes and then, well, that’s it. There is, however, a surprisingly good contemporary art museum and Bottomless Lakes State Park, about 10 miles out of town, has a nice campground and a swimming beach that in the summer would probably be perfect for a 7 year old.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:02 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think D.C. basically has it. Meow Wolf is the answer you are looking for.
posted by jessamyn at 8:07 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: But I have to say that I think it’s too much driving with a kid. If you take back roads and go slow, you can go places like the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, which isn’t far from Roswell and is AWESOME. But if you’re just on the interstate, which you would have to be to cover enough ground, it’s going to be endless and boring. Am also seconding D.C. s suggestion of Santa Fe and Meow Wolf, which is easily one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, way way better than Vegas. It’s too far though IMHO to do Roswell as a day trip from Santa Fe.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:11 PM on December 27, 2017

Best answer: I say Bananas!

About 3 seasons of the year, we are in the car about 7 hours on weekends. I love it! We talk with the kids, play word games, etc.
I love road trips. I will drive an hour and a half each way on the weekends to grab breakfast. I'll happily travel 8 hours each way for a weekend trip.
I used to transport my parents car to/from Florida, by myself, 24 hours each way, not stopping to sleep for about 10 years.
Soooo I love long car rides...

You will be in the car more than 8 hours a day. You will have to look for hotels and food (it can use up more than you think). You will need bathroom breaks and gasoline. This leaves so few hours to see and do anything. Literally just a few a day.

In a road trip this long, I book at least 2x a 2 night stay in the same place to stay sane.

I say no way, but maybe because I was on a similar trip when I was about 8. I can remember just wanting to get to use the motel pool more and to spend time with my dad. I hate to poo poo it because I love adventure so much and don't want to squash this... I just think if you haven't done a few days of this schedule, you might be surprised. It can get old, especially as a kid. But whatever you decide I hope you have a wonderful time.
posted by ReluctantViking at 9:45 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's usually an 8 hour drive, and admittedly, we are pretty toast by the end of it.

Right. Now imagine doing that every single day for two weeks. Not much of a vacation, huh? I've done a ton of "get in the van" tours, where you drive day after day after day, and in reality if we expect to not feel horrible by the time we get to the gig, we try like hell to make each day's drive 4-6 hours max. And that's with all adults in the vehicle. If you're wiped out by one 8-hour drive, you're not gonna want to do anything interesting once you've stopped for the day except shower and zone out in the hotel.

So I like driving when I'm not in tons of traffic (and maybe once we're clear of the Boston-NY-DC corridor it's not too bad?)

This depends heavily on your routing & timing - all cities have rush hours, and most interstates and auxiliary connecting highways get used then.

Plus, did you note AFABulous' added 10%? That's for when I-whatever is down to one lane and backed up for 20 miles because of an accident, and the next exit is . . . 35 miles ahead. So you can't even scoot around the backup on local roads. You're stuck creeping along. Different kind of traffic; still sucks.

Overall, this may be biting off a bit more than you really want to chew. I'll second D.C.'s plan.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:59 AM on December 28, 2017

Best answer: Well, if it turns out there's a UFO convention near Las Vegas, I think I agree with others to use Vegas as a hub and explore from there- I would't want to set expectations of Roswell too high, I was just excited to, for example, go to the IHOP and see the word "Roswell" printed on the carpet. In the brief time I was there, my imagination did a lot of the work. But a convention is going to probably have 1000% the aliens that Roswell does, alas. (I think maybe I'm going to steal D.C.'s trip plan in 2018- I've been wanting to see Meow Wolf!)
posted by Secretariat at 8:56 AM on December 28, 2017

Best answer: D.C.'s itinerary is a good one but I would turn South after Petrified Forest and hook up with US 60 East, through Pie Town (make sure Pie-O-Neer will be open!), through the Very Large Array to Socorro, then over to US 380 to Roswell. It's a long desolate drive but the extra weirdness (and VLA) make it worth it.

Also if you're going to be near Santa Fe, Los Alamos is worth checking out- the museum is neato.
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 5:18 PM on December 28, 2017

Best answer: Meow Wolf is extremely necessary. Budget at least 4 hours.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:03 AM on December 29, 2017

Best answer: There's a Roswell themed roller rink in the Santa Fe area too! (Limited hours though).
posted by rivenwanderer at 1:20 PM on December 29, 2017

Best answer: I stopped in Rachel, NV, (closest town to the closest approach to Area 51) back around 2000. At the time, the single bar in town (the Little A'Le'Inn) had bumper stickers on the bar equipment and walls saying things like "HOOVER: A CHICKEN IN EVERY POT. CLINTON: A FAG IN EVERY PUP TENT." I have no idea if they've upgraded to infowars stickers and pizzagate or if they've gone all in on touristing or what.

It looks like the folks at the nearby Area 51 Research Center (which was more "cool real conspiracies" than "UFOs turn into the Janet transport flights when people see them" sort of thing) has closed down. They were pretty cool and had some good books.

The closest legal approach to Area 51 is not particularly impressive, but there's a cool "if you go past this sign we can legally kill you" sign at the edge, and you can probably wave to the security folks sitting in their SUV.

If you are near the Las Vegas airport and you drive by the Executive terminal and you can see the "Janet" airplanes that transport workers out to Area 51.

In Las Vegas, there is the National Atomic Testing Museum - I haven't been, but I've heard it's a good take if the scheduling works out. I don't know if they allow kids, but once a month or so the museum runs a tour out to some of the actual test sites in the NV desert.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:54 AM on December 30, 2017

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