Weekends with a twist of wacky

I was all-too-familiar with my son’s look of skeptical doubt, presented in tandem with a raised eyebrow. However, this one 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 everyday. 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?” Turns out, he never even turned on his hand-held video game.  He actually admitted having a good time seeing some “cool stuff.”

The Hudson Valley is home to several offbeat sites with a high quirk quotient, perfectly suited for an affordable, quick road trip. Defy convention and take off on an adventure covering local roads, and check out these under-the-radar gems. 

Kids awed by larger-than-life statues
Larger-than-life statues are an amusingly deceptive type of architecture. I had heard the story of the Paul Bunyan “Muffler Man” statues, and was happy to find one in Stony Point in Rockland County, on the grounds of the Boy Scout’s Camp Bullowa.

Thousands of these giant fiberglass statues were produced in the 60’s and 70’s from one 20-foot tall mold. Retail businesses bought them and displayed them to attract customers. Spotting the remaining “MM’s” has become a sport; field reports are posted to www.roadsideamerica.com. There are more of them across New York; in Bethel, Lake George, and Liverpool.

Seeing Paul in all his lumberjack glory – he is in relatively good condition compared to many others—was enough of a thrill for me to call it a day, but we continued on to the kid-friendly Hogan’s Diner three miles away. A third-generation family business, this is a place where kids don’t just get a placemat to color on, they get an entire coloring book.

From there, we headed ten minutes north to Bear Mountain State Park, which reigns supreme among public parks for its unexpected amenities. The merry-go-round is reason enough to come, but there’s also a pool, peddle boats, playground, and a Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center. Our day was capped with a drive up to Perkins Memorial lookout tower, providing wide open scenic views. The park is open every day, year-round, with varying hours for the carousel, pool, and museum. The parking fee is $7.00.

Another trip took us to Dutchess County in search of a a 31-foot tall steel fork in the road, standing in the median where routes 308 and 199 split in Red Hook. A tongue-in-cheek blending of the literal and figurative, it can be a head-turning surprise if you’re not expecting it.  From here, you can see a huge Prozac pill made from a water tank sitting on a neighboring lawn.

It induced a pharmacology-free smile from my husband, and questions from my son about the purpose of this particular medication. Brushing these aside, we headed for Route 9/South Broadway, and had lunch at An Apple a Day Diner.  The homemade desserts here bear mention, in particular the mile-high apple pie. Not much a pie fan, our toddler enjoyed peering into the fish tank. 

A better plan would have been to schedule this trip in conjunction with a children’s show at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. The year-round family series offers an impressive variety of shows, plays and concerts.

Two of the “world’s largest” in our region
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what attraction is on your itinerary, so long as you can say you saw the world’s largest … whatever. We headed to Ulster County with two such points in our sights, the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope in Mt. Tremper, and Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson – home of Chomsky, the world’s largest garden gnome.

You can see Chomsky as you approach the farm’s entrance; a cheerful, bearded, 13’6” tall welcome beacon. After taking the requisite photos of your kids standing at his boots, you can pick your own fruit, stop by the petting zoo, and play a round of mini-golf.

Heading north to Mt. Tremper, we came upon the black silo which houses the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope, located within the Emerson Country Store. The store itself is a minefield of breakable but beautiful kaleidoscopes available for sale.  We were quickly escorted to the interior of the silo, and offered the choice of laying on the floor to see the show, or leaning on tilted back boards. The ten-minute show -- colorful, musical, and somewhat psychedelic – is reflected off three 37-foot tall mirrors.

The high-quality sound system was too much for our 22-month old daughter, who made it through half before demanding an escape. A selection of three shows rotate, depending on the season. Go anytime Friday through Monday, 10:00am to 5:00pm. Tickets are $5.00 per person, but children under 12 get in free.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a quick, casual lunch at the organic Bread Alone Bakery and Café in Boiceville serving up homemade breads, pastries, sandwiches and salads. Just a few hundred feet down the road, we made a quick stop at Fabulous Furniture. Outside stands quirky oversized sculptures made from found objects by owner and artist Steve Heller.

His fascination with vintage cars is evident; what he has done with their parts is surreal. A 20’-tall rocket ship sculpture, entitled “Roswell or Bust,” evoked glee from our daughter, while my husband dallied past the smaller rockets fashioned from ’58 Chevy fins and ’59 Ford quarter panels.

Enchanted castle from recycled materials
Wing’s Castle in Millbrook defies easy description, a quality which wins me over every time I’m looking for a great destination. At first glance, the stone structure looks to be hundreds of years old. You’ll learn that it’s actually just less than 40 years old and was built by hand by its present owners, Peter and Toni Wing, using salvaged materials from antique buildings.

The 30-minute tour brings you around the façade and inside the castle. You will see artwork and artifacts inside, at which time you’ll remind your kids to see with their eyes and not with their hands! The tour guide, often one of the Wings, tailors the narrative for children with an emphasis on recycling, since 85% of the materials used to build it were recycled.

You’re welcome to walk the grounds afterwards. This exploration will likely be the highlight for your kids, especially the moat. This summer, tours will be offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Reservations are not required, so you can go any Wednesday through Sunday from 12-4:30p.m.  Admission fees are $10 per adult, and $8.00 for children under 11.

A visit to the Trevor Zoo is a fun way to round out your day in this part of Dutchess County. It’s the only zoo in the U.S. located at a high school, but it’s an accredited facility and home to 180 exotic and indigenous animals and seven endangered species, including the Red Panda. It’s open every day of the year. Admission fees are $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children. When you need to re-feul, the Millbrook Diner offers a retro yet cozy atmosphere to enjoy family favorites.

By Traci L. Suppa

Traci L. Suppa can’t wait for her next road trip, riding shotgun in the family minivan and playing “I Spy” with her two kids. www.wordscapesny.com