Not long after Redwoods National Park was established in 1968, my family road tripped up the North Coast for a visit. I don’t recall much in particular about the park aside from its astoundingly tall trees. What I do well recall is the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox. Paul and Babe are memorialized as mammoth statues in the parking lot of Trees of Mystery, a
roadside tourist attraction. I have no recollection of whether my parents forked out the entry fee and allowed us to tour inside the fence at Trees of Mystery. I’d guess there’s a good chance we just gawked at brightly colored Paul and Babe in the parking lot and then moved on down the road like Becky and I did this time through. In retrospect big Paul and Babe defined my road trip experience. Silly as it seems, it’s what I remember most.
Amongst the segmented Redwood State and National Parks are numerous roadside attractions similar to Trees of Mystery. These old school tourist icons have a vintage appeal. Invariably, standing in the front of each attraction, is an over sized brightly painted sculpture of something typically inappropriate to the area. Perhaps the French Canadian fakelore tradition of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox somehow is justified amongst the giant trees of the area. But why does an oversized, yellow raincoat clad sculpture of a sailor figure to bring the drivers of a dense redwood forest road in for a closer look? Perhaps we shouldn’t question why the statues are there. Clearly the scheme, like the plethora of roadside dinosaurs lining highways everywhere, works. The appeal of the awkwardly unusual is universal. And, after all, it always pulls us in.