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The magic of summer road trips

You might not be familiar with places like Joplin, El Reno, Amarillo, Tucumcari, Gallup or Flagstaff, but I am.

I went through each one several times growing up, thanks to my sisters' decisions to move West and my parents' willingness to visit.

I think I like summer car trips so much because they remind me of those wonderful childhood times.

Of course, they weren't all fun.

I'd usually get sick and have to see a strange doctor. And once, before we knew to have water when crossing the desert, we had only a Good Samaritan to thank for fixing our steaming radiator.

The neatest things, of course, were the little places alongside the road that I now know to be tourist traps. They invariably had Indian moccasins, trinkets and -- scary but sort of interesting, too -- live rattlesnakes.

The beach was a lot of fun until I stayed out way too long one day and turned redder than a lobster. I was so sick I slept for about 28 hours. I thought I had the flu, and so did the doctors. Now, though, I'm pretty sure I simply had come pretty close to cooking myself by getting way too sunburned, way too dehydrated and way too hot. But who knew much about things like sunscreen and hydration in those days, anyway?

Disneyland trips probably cost my parents too much, but I was having too much fun to notice.

My wife isn't a real big fan of road trips. I guess I can't blame her. She grew up in West Virginia before there were many interstates, which meant winding trips through the mountains with a queasy stomach. She still gets carsick, though she does a lot better on amusement rides than me. But that's another story.

I've tried living out West, but it wasn't the same. The landscape is surely awesome in the western states, but I think I've learned now that the real magic is in the trip itself.

If you see the Rocky Mountains or the Mojave Desert only once every three or four years, it still creates what I think of as windshield wonderment. You can't quite remember when these unique landmarks will first come into sight. But when they do, you take a deep breath because it's simply hard to believe anything could be so massive, so beautiful and so intimidating.

The trip also provides a great break from the routine, whether it's a different flavor to the food or a different setting on the clock.

Finally, when you're just about worn out from driving, sleeping on the road, and even the newness of all the sights, there's that one perfect ending to every summer road trip:

Home.

Assistant Managing Editor Matt Harvey can be reached at (304) 626-1442, or by e-mail at mharvey@exponent-telegram.com