Mrs. Making-Sentences and I are on vacation. As we were in preparations, you know; donating the newspaper delivery to the local school, seeing that the cats are well cared for, putting a hold on the mail, and informing the neighbor it’s time to repay the garden watering favor, I recalled other vacations we’ve taken. We all know about going to New York City, Disneyland, Hawaii, or Las Vegas. Those are all wonders of the U.S. But, there are smaller wonders too. There are thousands of off-the-beaten-path treasures that one almost has to come upon accidently.

I like driving around the country and I’m not a fan of fast-food joints, so we’ve discovered some food-serving gems along with a few classic fails. Years ago, as we were humming along Route 66, humming the eponymous song, we came upon Gallup, New Mexico. We had to stop–the lyrics told us to. We picked a rustic place for lunch, peered in over the swinging saloon doors, only to discover Baby-Face Botulism and the E. Coli Kid drinking at the bar. On the other side of the coin we stopped at a Mexican cantina in Heber, Arizona and were treated to the best salsa ever eaten. I’m glad I didn’t heed the owner’s warning about it being “too hot for gringos.” I ate an entire earthen bowl-full and did my best Oliver Twist asking for “more please.”

We all know about the Grand Canyon as a destination. Visitors are directed to the South Rim with its bus tours and long lines. If you want to skip that, go to the North Rim. You can’t get there from the South Rim, so you’ll have to go to Lake Mead or Lake Powell and start over. But, it’s worth the effort. It’s a pristine, bohemian area with few amenities, just the natural wonder of what the entire canyon was 200 years ago. The North Rim boasts a tribute to Brighty, a real-life burro made famous in Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Marguerite Henry’s superb, 1956 children’s novel. And, if you are more adventurous than I and have an extra $100 to spend on your vacation, you can visit the Skywalk at the West Rim, a glass bottom loop that sends you out over the canyon edge looking dizzily down into eternity.

Another bit of serendipity came on a trip to New Orleans. The city is compelling enough, but by going just a bit farther, into the bayou, I discovered that baby alligators are a hoot to play with. Apparently, the do not get mean and aggressive until after puberty–reminding me of an old girlfriend. Really cute little guys if you take the time to go look.

In Kentucky, looking for Mammoth Cave, do not hesitate to go off the main road and check out Berea College, about 35 miles south of Lexington. I’ve never seen Sen. Bernie Sanders there, but the school is a 163-year-old example of his model for education–tuition free. The students all engage in creating antique Appalachian furniture reproductions, make mountain instruments, record mountain music, and produce mountain art and crafts for sale. The real find though, is the Boone Tavern, a student-run restaurant featuring family-style meals served daily. This is a culinary treasure one should not miss.

While spanning the length and breadth of our country it is worth the effort to drive through each state’s capital city. If there is one structure Americans know how to build, it’s a dome. There are thin, pointy domes, like in Lansing, Michigan and rounder domes, like in Topeka, Kansas and Olympia, Washington. There are states that have two capitol buildings because they have moved for one reason or another. Abe Lincoln’s old building stands near the newer one in Springfield, Illinois and in 1851 Des Moines, Iowa became a chartered city and relieved Iowa City of its capital duties in 1857–both buildings stand today. Denver, Colorado has a gold dome of which there are legends of rain gutters yielding fortunes in washed away gold leaf. Domes are really cool to political nerds like me.

Rural areas and small towns reveal stunning architecture from old courthouses, churches, town mansions and many restored and repurposed one-room schoolhouses. Some cities, like Marshall, Michigan, thrive on their history. Marshall came within an eyelash of being Michigan’s state capital and even built some government buildings, like a Governors’ Mansion, in preparation. The small, mid-Michigan town has made it a point of pride to keep its old houses in pristine condition and puts them on view in an annual, fall historic homes tour. If your tour leans more toward food, Win Schuler’s, the century old, family owned restaurant in the heart of town, is among the best fine dining experiences you will find anywhere.

Mrs. Making-Sentences and I landed at a quaint inn in Mystic, Connecticut that served high tea at four o’clock each afternoon and traveled transcontinental to a most scenic, small resort in Big Sur, California that, in place of afternoon tea, substituted all the wine one could drink–different styles, both great fun.

Our vacation this year is heading to my home state of Michigan where we’ll settle in with family on the shore of Lake Michigan. I’ll make a return visit to a college haunt for some Oberon beer and whitefish, then stuff my maw with ripe, juicy blueberries the size of the top joint of my thumb.

Do take in the tried-and-true venues, but don’t neglect the nooks and crannies of the country that make up Americana.