Brown Sign Vacations

I have a friend from college who once told me that someday she wanted to take a vacation where she just got on the highway and pulled over at every brown sign she saw. You know, the ones for national and state parks, and historic sites, things like that. I have always thought this was a BRILLIANT idea. When I was a kid and we’d take road trips and I’d see a brown sign for a random historical marker or whatever, I always wanted to pull over and see what it was. Those brown signs made me so curious! The idea of a vacation where you get to indulge that curiosity completely just sounded so appealing to me.

A few weekends ago, The Fam and I took a road trip to visit Mt. St. Helens. I was 3 1/2 when the mountain had its big eruption, and it’s always been a source of fascination for me. When I was a kid, we’d drive down to Vancouver (yes, there is a Vancouver in Washington, not just in BC) to visit my grandparents and I rememeber waking up in the morning and having to brush ash off our car from whatever mini-eruption the mountain had had overnight. The Boy is now at an age where he is fascinated by destruction and death and when I explained we had a volcano in our state, he HAD to learn more about it. So we watched some videos online and he asked a gazillion questions about Harry R. Truman. Or, I should say, he asked the same question over and over again–why didn’t he leave when they told him to? It’s fun trying to explain the complex relationship that the elderly have with death, to a 6-year-old.

Now that The Boy was so excited about Mt. St. Helens, of course it made sense to take a road trip down there. So, we piled into the car with a cooler full of snacky/lunchy stuff and an overnight bag, and hit the road. And when we saw the brown sign for Mt. St. Helens, we turned off the highway and headed to see it. Shout out to the Forest Service for having such awesome visitor centers that both educated and terrified my son. Seriously, that video at the Johnston Ridge Observatory scared the pajeebers out of my kid, but then he didn’t have any more questions about how the eruption happened either!

After eating our picnic lunch, we headed back down the mountain and to the freeway and visited Ft. Vancouver, which also has a brown sign on the highway, and is also awesome. They even had a blacksmith working in the blacksmith shop! and a tower with a gazillion stairs to climb, which The Girl loved.

We spent a night in a hotel in downtown Vancouver. The next morning, we had breakfast with my sister, and then our real Brown Sign Vacation began: we told The Boy to watch out for brown signs, and the first one we saw, we pulled over. Turns out it was for Battle Ground Lake State Park, which was 1o miles off the interstate and would be a great spot for camping, but it didn’t have a playground or a big run-around-crazy space for little kids. Besides, The Girl had fallen asleep in the car. So, we drove around the park and then headed back to the interstate.

The next brown sign was for the John R. Jackson House and Lewis and Clark State Park. By then, The Girl had woken up, and the kids ran around the outside of the Jackson House, and then had a BLAST at Lewis and Clark State Park. There were swings, and a creek with a wooden bridge you could walk across, and daisies to pick, and big trees to hug, and super cool cook shelters to wander around in. I am now trying to figure out when we can do a camping trip down there, it was that cool of a park. Shout out to all the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who built such awesome things during the Great Depression, including to buildings in this awesome park.

Our final brown sign stop? The State Capitol. And it happened to be open for visitors to walk around in, so The Boy learned about how the legislature works, and also about building materials and different types of Greek columns. And both the kids got to walk up and down the gazillions of stairs in that building (seriously SO MANY STAIRS) and rub George Washington’s nose.

What’s coolest about a Brown Sign Vacation is, it lets super-control-freak-Me slow down and try new things and be spontaneous. I am one of those people who usually plans my vacations 2 years in advance down to the minutest details of our itnerary–but this trip reminded me that it’s also fun NOT to plan and just let the wind take you where it may. And a Brown Sign Vacation also teaches the kids that sometimes the thing you go to see is super cool, and other times, it turns out it wasn’t THAT exciting of a place to visit, but that’s OK. Not everything in life is going to be OMG SO AWESOME, some things are going to be a disappointment, and we just move onto the next thing.