When traveling to popular attractions, to make the most of your trip, it only makes sense to start at the Visitors Center. Obviously, it is a great place to start to get your bearings about what you want to see, brochures and if at a National or State Park-trail maps to help you navigate your way. Several people, however, begrudge the whole idea of even stepping foot in the building.
I remember several family vacations when my sons moaned about having to “make Mom happy” and go to the visitors center.
Here they are at the Grand Tetons Visitors Center looking tickled pink to be there-they wanted to get out on the trail ASAP. “Take the picture Mom and let’s go!” That particular center is filled with beautiful statues, paintings and of course a bounty of information about the natural history of the area. It’s a great place to start your trip….but I would venture to say that a Visitor’s Center is so much more than brochures and maps-it can itself be a destination of great interest. This occurred to me recently when I took my Mom to Union Station in Chicago. I decided that since I was in the city, anyway I would take the time to go the Visitors Center and update my collections of brochures and guides, that were at least a decade old. A little research ahead of time revealed 3 different visitors centers in the downtown area. Since I was on foot, I wanted one within walking distance to the train. I chose the Chicago Cultural Center: only 1 mile from Union Station.
An easy walk and some good exercise for me. The decision was made. When I arrived I was amazed at the grandeur and stoic elegance of the building. When I found out the background of the building, its amazing that it was originally built as Chicago’s first public library in 1897. The detail and craftsmanship with mosaics, polished glass and marble makes it stand out as a real gem of architecture in the city. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a protected Chicago landmark. Here is a look at the beauty of the front entrance. Another Visitors Center, showing an alternative style in contrast to the ornate architecture of the Chicago Cultural Center is the Anchorage, Alaska Visitors Center. Located in the heart of downtown Anchorage, it is easy to spot by the grass growing on the roof and the log-cabin construction in the midst of city buildings and businesses. Reflecting the pioneer spirit and the beauty of the great outdoors it also depicts a quaint image of the “Last Frontier” that Alaska is usually associated with.
It not only provides the usual brochures and travel tips…but is a great photo op of a unique visitors center that could ONLY be found in Alaska! So when you are starting out on a trip, and collecting your brochures, be sure to spend a little time at the visitor’s center. You never know what new things or sights you will most assuredly take in. The Visitor’s Center….a great place to start. Put your traveling shoes on. JES