It’s not a road trip without a tourist trap trying to lure you
Editor’s note: This piece is part of the ClassicCars.com Journal’s Road Trip Month. We’ll be celebrating anything that helps pass the miles and the cars that get us there during the month of June.
We’ve all seen the signs and been tempted to stop: The Thing. The Fountain of Youth. The World’s Largest…Whatever.
Few of us seem to actually pull over, but those weird roadside attractions sprinkled across the American landscape have been around for decades and don’t appear to be going anywhere soon.
In fact, they’re engrained in the culture of a road trip. As kids, we all loved to read the ads and begged our parents to stop and pay $1 so we could see what was behind a dusty curtain inside a cramped, hot building standing in the middle of nowhere.
I can’t speak for all of you, but my parents never stopped. They gave some logical argument about spending the money on vacation instead or just wanting to get there.
Now as an adult, I get it, but it got me thinking: What are some of the odd places 12-year-old me would have thought were awesome? I scoured the internet — OK, I just did some simple Googling — but found there are way more roadside attractions out there than I thought possible.
To make it easier on you, I listed some of the best-sounding (read: weirdest) places I could find below. Of course, I couldn’t include everything out there. If you’ve got a favorite, leave it in the comments but do not, by any means, tell me what the Thing is.
The Thing: Arizona
I’ve already mentioned it twice (technically this is the third) but the Thing is a quintessential example of a tourist trap. Billboards line both directions of Interstate 10 from Texas to Arizona urging drivers to stop and see, well, whatever it is.
The attraction has been located off exit 322 since 1965. Roadside America asked manager Jerry Bone if he knew what the Thing was. “For a dollar,” he answered, “you tell me what is it. For five dollars, I’ll tell you.”
The mystery continues.
Stonehenge is an internationally known site that has perplexed scientists for years. Carhenge, located in Alliance, Nebraska, is a tribute to the famed English monoliths.
A visit to the trademarked website gives a rather succinct explanation as to what it is: “Carhenge, which replicates Stonehenge, consists of the circle of cars, 3 standing trilithons within the circle, the heel stone, slaughter stone, and 2 station stones and includes a ‘Car Art Preserve’ with sculptures made from cars and parts of cars.”
The display was built by Jim Reinders as a tribute to his father. It’s free to check it out, but donations are accepted.
Dog Bark Park Inn: Idaho
I wanted to leave hotels off this list, but I couldn’t resist adding the world’s largest beagle that serves as a bed and breakfast in Cottonwood, Idaho.
The BBC reported owners Frances Conklin and Dennis Sullivan raised money to open the business off Highway 95 by selling miniature dog carvings. The place opened for guests in 1997.
The big dog sleeps four people and, of course, is packed with canine-themed furnishings.
Mitchell Corn Palace: South Dakota
This is one of the kings of corny roadside attractions. The multiuse Mitchell Corn Palace was established in 1892 but the current one was built in 1921.
While the inside is used to host everything from basketball games to proms and graduations, it’s the husk of the palace that really shines. It is covered in murals made of corn that are changed on an annual basis.
A quick stalk of the palace’s website showed about 500,000 people visit the facility each year, which is simply an a-maize-ing stat.
Big Blue Bug: Rhode Island
If you’re not a fan of insects, you may want to avoid Interstate 95 as it passes through Providence, Rhode Island.
Alongside that road sits a 58-foot-long, 9-foot tall termite painted blue atop the Big Blue Bug Solutions headquarters. Its name is Nibbles Woodaway. Get it?
The pest control company said the bug was built in 1980 and began its life painted purple, but the sun faded it to blue. The bug became so popular that it was decided it should remain blue.
The bug — which is dressed at times for major holidays — has appeared in both movies and TV shows.
Mothman Statue: West Virginia
Speaking of bugs, a town in West Virginia built a statue dedicated to the mythical red-eyed Mothman seen in Point Pleasant in 1966 and 1967.
What started as some odd local news stories was soon picked up across the nation and led author John Keel to immortalize the monster in his book, The Mothman Prophecies, which linked a bridge collapse to the creature.
That book was later turned into a 2002 movie starring Richard Gere.
The statue was unveiled in downtown Point Pleasant in 2003 and was followed by a Mothman museum and a hefty amount of merchandise.
Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue: Georgia
Have you ever been terrified of a 13-foot statue of a peanut? This tribute to former President Jimmy Carter sure will take care of that.
Originally created by the Indiana Democratic Party for Carter’s campaign in the Hoosier State, the grinning, eyeless statue was later moved to his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
Apparently so many people are willing to take a photo with the peanut that the small fence surrounding the legume is sagging from all the weight.
Salvation Mountain: California
One of the last things you’d expect to see while driving along is a man-made mountain covered in biblical sayings, but there sits Salvation Mountain about a 90-minute drive from Palm Springs.
The display was designed by artist Leonard Knight and not only includes different prayers and verses, but paintings of waterfalls, birds and other objects.
The mountain is 150 feet wide and 50 feet tall. If you want to see it, take Beal Road east from Niland, California. You’ll arrive in short order.
Last Shell Oil Clamshell: North Carolina
For some reason, a Shell Oil distributor thought it would be a great idea to sell gasoline out of a massive roadside crustacean years ago.
While the rest of them have been destroyed, one of the odd-looking gas stations is still standing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Atlas Obscura said the station was shuttered in the 1950s but reopened as a lawn mower repair business in the 1970s.
Though you can no longer get gas at the store, visitors can wander inside and see some memorabilia. The nice thing is there is no rush to visit: The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and a preservation group holds the protective covenants on the property.
World’s Largest Ball of Twine: Kansas
Let’s be honest: It wouldn’t be a list of some of America’s weirdest roadside attractions without mentioning the destination that has become inexorably linked with tourist traps.
The World’s Largest Ball of Twine was given to Cawker City by Frank Stoeber in 1961, eight years after he began making it in his barn. It has since become a feature of the town, with a twine path helping visitors get to the ball from a shopping area. It was just shy of 20,000 pounds a few years ago, meaning it had more than 8 million feet of twine.
Each year, the city let residents and tourists alike add twine to the massive ball, something that irks the folks in Darwin, Minnesota, who have a competing display.1 comment