There’s something breathtaking about the view from up high, where you can see for miles on a clear day. Old or new, towering wonders in the United States still draw visitors by the thousands who want to rise to new heights and see the view from the top. Mountains and other natural landmarks offer lofty views if you can make it to the summit. For some unexplained reason, I’ve been to a bunch of these high places despite my fear of heights. Smart or not, here they are.
- The Infinity Room, House on the Rock, Spring Green, WI. Though only 156 feet off the ground, the House on the Rock’s Infinity Room extends 218 feet outward into a point with nothing holding it up. I don’t care that all sorts of engineering and science say it’s safe, I could only go about two steps into the room before scrambling back to solid ground. Some people go all the way to the point and take dramatic photographs. Not me. I bought a postcard to prove that I’d been there.
- Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh. This one’s a bit odd, because my feet were actually on solid ground when I forced my husband to take our photos from the top of the Duquesne Incline. Maybe it’s because we’d just gone 400 feet up on a train system built in 1877, and the fact that we were on the edge of a bluff was very apparent. Nice old-fashioned ride, nice views of downtown Pittsburgh, very scary observation deck.
- Foshay Tower, Minneapolis. Once the tallest building in Minneapolis, and still the highest observation deck in town, the Foshay’s outdoor viewing area offers a beautiful view of the Twin Cities. The high walls and fence along the edge helped me to feel somewhat secure as I got my birds-eye view of Minnesota from 447 feet up.
- Space Needle, Seattle. My parents took me to this Seattle landmark back in 1984; apparently the thought of being 520 feet in the air, on a big sphere settled on a stick, didn’t bother me as much when I was a kid as it does now. Perhaps I could still stomach a visit to the 500-foot-high revolving restaurant, but I wouldn’t be asking for a window seat.
- Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. At 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches tall, the night view of Washington, D.C. was spectacular, but I also recall tight spaces on the way up. The monument is now closed, at least for the time being, due to earthquake damage, so maybe now’s the time to take my family to D.C. so I have an excuse not to go up again. Get your mom’s heart racing with these thrilling DC Mother’s Day gift ideas.
- Gateway Arch, St. Louis. The most recognizable icon of the St. Louis skyline is also kind of bad for people with various phobias: the entrance and museum are underground, the pods that transport visitors to the top are creaky and rather claustrophic, and once you’re to the 630-foot top, you can feel the whole thing swaying in the wind. When I got up enough nerve to go with my husband and kids, we went up, looked outside quickly, snapped the requisite “we were here” photos, and got back down to solid ground as quickly as possible.
- Hancock Tower, Chicago. Though “only” 1000 feet high, to get there you’ll use one of the fastest elevators in North America, and once at the top, you can step out on to the open-air deck, which is safely fenced in, but still . . . If my family drags me back there again, you’ll find me in the coffee shop, safely set back from the windows. I’ll take my view of four states from a distance, thank you very much.
- Empire State Building, New York City. I haven’t been here since shortly after I bought Sleepless in Seattle on VHS, so maybe I can blame it on youth that I braved both the lines and the elevators to reach the 1050-foot-high 86th floor, at night, no less, and made a complete circuit around the outdoor observation deck. Now tourists can pay an extra $15 and go to the 1250-foot 102nd floor and claim that they’ve been to the highest point that tourists can go to in Manhattan. I think I’ll save my money.
- Chicago’s Skydeck in the Willis Tower (perhaps better known by its former name, the Sears Tower). From the observation deck on the 103rd floor, it’s 1353 feet to the ground, and now that they have the Ledges, little glass-bottomed alcoves that jut out four feet from the rest of the building, I don’t think I’ll be going back. It’s one thing to look out and see miles and miles of countryside, but to look straight down? It’s not something you’ll catch me doing.
- Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado. At 14,110 feet (or 14,115 depending on whom you’re talking to), I’m pretty sure this is the biggest “What was I thinking?” high-up place I’ve been. Fortunately, it was raining by the time we reached the top, so we spent most of our time at the summit in the relative safety of the gift shop. Otherwise, I would have been the crazy mother running around trying to hold four children’s hands at once to be sure they didn’t fall off the mountain.
Bonus: Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering, Nebraska. At a mere 800 feet above the surrounding prairie, I thought I could handle Scotts Bluff. At the top, however, even my husband was surprised to see that the trails run rather close to the edge without benefit of a railing of any sort to save clumsy people from certain doom if they’d happen to trip and fall. I WAS the crazy mother hanging on to hands and shrieking at my kids to keep to the inside of the trail at Scotts Bluff. But I did allow them to sit on the bench for just a second so that I could get this photo as proof that I’ve allowed them to do something big and scary in their lives despite my own fear of heights.
Oh, and if you want to go somewhere really scary, try western North Dakota’s Fairview Lift Bridge. It’s only 80 feet or so above the water, but it’s a railroad bridge that was used simultaneously as an automobile bridge for many years. And if that’s not scary enough, there’s a curved tunnel at the eastern end that is completely dark in the middle, and there are signs warning of rattlesnakes in the area. Needless to say, I didn’t make it far across this one.