An Entertaining Education
A couple of years ago, during a family RV excursion through the southeastern U.S., we stopped in one of those hard-to-reach places made accessible by a house on wheels. We temporarily traded our road yacht for an airboat, and a fellow named Captain Matt piloted us through the mangrove forests of the Everglades.
As we stalled for a few minutes in a little bay, an 11-foot-long alligator approached us with hunger in his eyes. Captain Matt explained that you can judge the length of an alligator by checking out his snout. We also learned that gators can rise about six feet out of the water to grab their prey. “You’re looking at a living, breathing dinosaur,” he explained. “He’s looking at…a buffet.”
I glanced at my two wide-eyed sons and realized that Captain Matt’s real-life Jungle Cruise offered the same opportunity as my family’s annual RV journey – the chance to enjoy an education. Read about reptiles in a book, and perhaps you’ll remember some of it. But learning about them while a gator stalks you…well, that’s unforgettable. When education comes in the form of entertainment, it is a lesson for a lifetime.
Every RV journey is a quest for enlightenment, and it begins with planning the trip itself. About a decade ago, a troubling National Geographic survey found that only about half of college-aged Americans could locate New York state on a U.S. map. But as my kids help me plan our summer RV journeys – this summer we’ll reach 12 states, from California’s redwoods to Wisconsin’s North Woods – they are learning geography by osmosis. Although they are still in elementary school, my sons have visited 48 states.
They have also visited dozens of museums throughout the country precisely because we can. These include children’s museums everywhere from Seattle to St. Louis to Cincinnati. Jesse and Luke starred in a mock television news program at a Milwaukee children’s museum, played a laser harp in Palm Springs, created a stop-action film of a volcano in San Luis Obispo and walked through a 14-foot-high human heart model in Bettendorf, Iowa. At the remarkable Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, my sons gaped at a T-Rex skeleton, climbed aboard a replica 55-ton steam engine and roamed through exhibits on everything from Anne Frank to the history of video games.
Speaking of history, which is a better way to learn about the Alamo – by reading about Davy Crockett or by running your fingers over the bullet holes in the Alamo itself? And if we can’t see the real thing, we’ve encountered amazing replicas, as well – of everything from the Parthenon (Nashville) to Stonehenge (Maryhill, Washington) to the cabinet room of the White House (at the remarkable Abe Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois).
But the education is as broad as the open road is long. Social studies? The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota provided in-person enlightenment for my sons. Astronomy? How about the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco and the Very Large Array in rural New Mexico. Geology? We’ve watched Old Faithful spray in Wyoming. We’ve wandered through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We’ve climbed the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.
Of course, you don’t have to wander far and wide to obtain the RV educational experience. Drive as far as you’d like. If you’re so inclined, enjoy the wonders close to home. After all, an RV allows flexibility: You explore on your own terms.
And by the way, we’ve studied various kinds of explorers, too. We’ve approximated the journeys of astronauts (Kennedy Space Center), pioneers (Gateway Arch), colonists (Plymouth Rock), inventors (the Henry Ford Museum) and artists (the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
So perhaps that’s the best way to describe our RV excursions – illumination through exploration.