Celebrate America Family Vacations
by Apryl Chapman Thomas
While parades, fireworks, and cookouts are just some of the ways that families spend their Fourth of July, perhaps there is no better way to celebrate America than by visiting some of the country's best-known landmarks, sites, and places. Not only is it a great way to learn more about history, but also a great way to pay tribute to our land, and experience what makes America unique.
Here are some suggestions to get you started
Landmarks to See:
Statue of Liberty: Ellis Island, New York (www.nps.gov/stli): Aside from the US flag, Lady Liberty is the other famous symbol of freedom. The statue was given as a gift of international friendship from the people of France to the United States. Interesting factoid: According to the website, Statue of Liberty Facts, the seven spikes on her crown represent either the Seven Seas or the seven continents.
Mt. Rushmore: Keystone, South Dakota (www.nps.gov/moru): This is the largest work of art on earth. Each face is 60 feet high. It is said that if the bodies were fully carved, they would stand 465 feet tall.
Grand Canyon: Grand Canyon, Arizona (www.nps.gov/grca): Grand Canyon was formed about 5 million years ago and some of the rocks on the bottom maybe as old as 2 billion years. The Inner Canyon is only accessible by mule or rafting the Colorado River, which flows through the Canyon.
Liberty Bell: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (www.nps.gov/inde/liberty-bell.html): The bell rang in E flat and cracked the first time that it was rung. There are three known recordings of the bell; two of which were made in the 1940's for radio stations and the third is said to be owned by Columbia Records.
Independence Rock: Casper, Wyoming (wyoparks.state.wy.us/irock1.htm): A landmark for pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail. People scratched or painted their names on the rock and the names still visible today.
Sites to See
Boston Public Garden: Boston, Massachusetts: The first botanical garden in the United States, many visitors enjoy riding in the Swan boats (617-522-1966; www.swanboats.com).
Grauman's Chinese Theater: Hollywood, California (www.mannstheater.com): From movie premiers to footprints of the famous, a visit to Hollywood is not complete with a stop by Grauman's, an institution of Hollywood's past and present.
Kennedy Space Center: Cocoa Beach, Florida (321-449-4444; www.kennedyspacecenter.com): Explore America's space program through an in-depth tour and you can even have lunch with an astronaut.
Grand Ole Opry: Nashville, Tennessee (615-871-OPRY; www.opry.com : Still going strong at 80 years, the Opry has hosted some of country music greats throughout its history.
Hoover Dam: Las Vegas, Nevada (702-294-3517; www.hooverdam.com): If it wasn't for the Dam, there really wouldn't be a Las Vegas, or many of the cities in the southwest. This greatest engineering work built in 1937 is the number one sightseeing attraction in Nevada.
Places to Visit
Ghost Towns: And you probably thought that Ghost Towns only exist in old western movies. Actually, every state in U.S. has a ghost town on two, but the highest concentration can be found out west. In fact, Route 66, the Mother Road, is filled with ghost towns, especially around Arizona. To find a ghost town nearby, visit www.ghosttowns.com and www.legendsofamerica.com .
Park It: Disneyland (714-781-4565; http://disneyland.disney.go.com) in Anaheim, California, is turning 50; Dollywood (865-428-9488; www.dollywood.com), in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains is turning 20; and Coney Island (718-372-5159; www.coneyisland.com) in Brooklyn, New York, which holds the distinction of America's first playground is still going strong. No doubt about it, theme and amusement parks are a slice of Americana, second to ice cream and apple pie. While experts can not agree on the exact count of theme and amusement parks in the U.S., more than likely you can find one (or two) that everyone will enjoy.
There's Gold and Gems in Those Hills (or Flat Lands): From gems to gold, America is the land of opportunity to strike it rich, or at least take home a memorable souvenir. Pan for gold in California's Gold Country (www.calgold.org) in such places as Gold Prospecting Adventures (209-984-4653; www.goldprospecting.com) in Jamestown, and Sutter Gold Mines (866-762-2837; www.caverntours.com). Gold can even be found far south as Dahlonega, Georgia at The Consolidated Gold Mine (706-864-8473; www.consolidatedgoldmine.com). Whether it is rubies, emeralds, opals, or topaz you are after, North Carolina (www.mitchell-county.com; www.franklin-chamber.com) is the place to go gem mining. Who wouldn't want to find their own diamond? You and your family can dig for your own diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park (870-285-3113; www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com) in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.
Historic Towns: Step back into the colonial period in Colonial Williamsburg (800-HISTORY; www.history.org) in Williamsburg, Virginia, where history comes alive in reenactments and stories. You can not get away from history in Boston, Massachusetts (www.bostonusa.com) - there are historical sites everywhere you look. Florida happens to be the home of the nation's oldest city, St. Augustine (www.oldcity.com). If your family is traveling in the Southwest, visit San Antonio, Texas, home of the Alamo (www.thealamo.org).
Big or small, tall or large, there is a lot to see in America. Don't wait - get started and see the sites. Make this the month to honor America. Have a safe Fourth and a great July.
Apryl Chapman Thomas is the mother to Shay Thomas, who is three years old. When Apryl is not chasing her around, she finds time to write.
A professional freelance writer for over seven years, Apryl's articles have appeared in a variety of magazines. In her free time, she enjoys reading and traveling. Apryl and Shay, along with Apryl's husband and 7 year old minature daschund, Dudley, live in Watkinsville, GA (outside of Atlanta).