I was all-too-familiar with my son's look of skeptical doubt, presented in tandem with a raised eyebrow. Today it was followed by, "We're going to see a 20-foot tall what?!"
I was trying to sell this prematurely jaded traveler on an old-fashioned road trip to see the sights. To make it interesting, I assured him we would focus on funky things you don't see every day. Like the 20-foot tall Paul Bunyan statue in Stony Point.
"Uh-HUH...," he replied with all the sarcasm an eight-year old can muster. "Can I bring my DS for the ride?" He would much rather have been parked in front of the Wii all afternoon. Unfortunately, he was cursed with a mother who can find a "teachable moment" at Jiffy Lube.
Turns out, he never even turned on his hand-held video game during our adventure. He actually admitted having a good time seeing some "cool" stuff.
Our Hudson Valley backyard is home to several offbeat sites with a high quirk quotient, perfectly suited for an affordable, quick road trip. Mr. Bunyan, for example, is one of the country's few remaining Muffler Men fiberglass statues produced in the 60's and 70's from one 20-foot tall mold. They were designed for retail businesses as attention-grabbing advertising, and are now the Holy Grail for roadside attraction aficionados. Seeing Paul in all his lumberjack glory – he is in relatively good condition compared with many others—offered a fleeting thrill. Onward.
Sometimes it doesn't matter what attraction is on your itinerary, so long as you can say you saw the world's largest...whatever. So we also headed to Mt. Tremper, home of the World's Largest Kaleidoscope
. We watched the ten-minute show in the interior of a silo, lying on the floor. Colorful, musical, and somewhat psychedelic, a prismatic video presentation was reflected off three 37-foot tall mirrors. It was short-lived amusement, and not nearly as multidimensional and multisensory as the kid is accustomed to.
Surprisingly, it was the Buddha which most completely won the boy over. The largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere rests in situ at the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel
, a mere 20 minutes from our house. The monastery, belonging to the Buddhist Association of the United States, is a collection of seven Asian-style buildings seemingly out of place in this New York suburb, but lovely nonetheless.
We followed the stone path lined with statues of Buddha's chubby, bald disciples up to the Great Buddha Hall. This took some time. My son wanted to get a better look as several of them, which were positioned at eye level. Each had an open, outstretched palm or other nooks in which to leave coins and small gifts.
We reached the hall, and removed our shoes. We entered, looked up, and gaped. At 37-feet tall, the "Great Buddha Vairocana" sits serenely in lotus pose, commanding the silent respect of the 10,000 small Buddha statues encircling him. Filled with the brilliant light of a late fall day, the spacious hall provided an unobstructed, pillar-free view--an architectural homage to the Tang Dynasty.
We two sat in a space designed for 2,000. The hall was empty, except for a lone employee, polishing the dark lacquered wood of a side altar. I knew my young son would behave properly, and was proud of his respectful conduct. Looking all around at the murals, altars, and up at Buddha himself, he stared in calm reverence. Later he told me he felt all his worries float away in that space. I'm not sure how much an eight-year old has to worry about, but I'm glad Buddha was able to help.
Family travel writer Traci L. Suppa has a strange compulsion for roadside attractions. She drags her small-town family to see the world's largest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home.