That question came to mind once again as I traveled though the southwest of the U.S. this past year. I planned a stop at Horseshoe Bend because I'd seen so many photos of it and just knew it was a place I had to visit at least once in my life.
I do have to admit that it didn't disappoint... other than maybe getting there only to discover I had to work my way around a few hundred people taking selfies for my chance to take my own photo of this iconic location. I could have stood there for hours watching the river and the clouds, waiting to see if the light would put on a great show at sunset that night, but a huge thunderstorm was moving in from the north and the more the wind kicked up, the more dangerous it got standing on the edge of a 1000 foot cliff, so I settled for the shots I'd gotten and made my way back to the car.
It was on that walk back to the car that the question came back to mind. How did this spot become so popular with the masses while another cool location, less than 30 minutes away, was virtually unknown. Earlier that day I had made a stop at that spot while on my way to Horseshoe Bend, but I only stopped there because I had discovered it while planning my trip using Google Earth, not because I'd ever heard of it before or even seen photos from there.
If Horseshoe Bend became famous for the near 360 degree bend in the river and the fact that you could see that entire bend from one spot, Goosenecks State Park should be three times more popular because from there, you can see the river make that same change in direction three times while standing in one spot. The crazy part? I was there for over an hour taking photos, and I was the only person there for all but maybe 10 minutes of that time.
It was a reminder to me that no matter where you travel, don't always assume that the best locations and views are going to be found on sign posts by the side of the freeway. All those signs do is lead the crowds to a specific viewpoint and most people are happy to just follow those signs from place to place, jump out of their cars, snap a quick photo, and dive back into their cars and on to the next designated photo opp. If you slow down, take some time to explore, you might just discover places that are as interesting and possibly even move beautiful than the tourist stop. Another advantage of getting off the beaten path, is that you could possibly have one of those spots all to yourself for long periods of time, and you can just relax and soak it all in, and isn't that one of the best parts about traveling the world?