Now that the pandemic is subsiding, Americans can get back to travel plans put on hold by COVID-19.
For many of us, that might mean a long road trip. These excursions give us clues as to how the nation has grown along highways and byways. Road trips are among the best ways to experience the diversity of the American landscape and cultures, whether you’re traveling thousands of miles cross country or down miles of coastline. Sure, flying down the interstate gets you from point A to point B faster, but taking the more scenic route yields its own delights. (These are the longest roads in America.)
To find the strangest tourist attraction in every state, 24/7 Tempo used material consulted sources including Roadside America and Atlas Obscura, as well as numerous local and regional tourism websites.
Along the local roads, enterprising Americans have devised ways to divert motorists slogging to their destination. Many of these attractions have kids in mind, whether there are faux dinosaurs, quirky museums, diversions that question basic scientific assumptions, or items that claim to be the world’s biggest…well, fill in the blank. If nothing else, these attractions break up what can be a monotonous drive through desolate landscapes. (These are the most popular U.S. attractions on Instagram.)
Some towns such as Roswell, New Mexico, famed for an alleged UFO crash there in 1947, can capitalize on notoriety with more than a dollop of kitsch thrown in. Some displays, such as the bowling ball art yard in Oklahoma, have been created to honor a loved one who has passed. One gives people a chance to discover treasures abandoned by other travelers. There’s even one dedicated to Spam – the canned meat, not the online nuisance.
Alabama: Unclaimed Baggage
> Location: Scottsboro
Luggage that never gets picked up from the airport carousel doesn’t stay there. Some of it ends up at Unclaimed Baggage, a retail store in northeastern Alabama. Customers sometimes get to open a bag and see what’s inside. What they’ve found has included a suit of armor, a 5.8-carat diamond, and a live rattlesnake.
Alaska: Igloo City
> Location: Cantwell
Half-way between Fairbanks and Anchorage, this concrete igloo-shaped hotel is a popular tourist stop, though it never actually opened because it didn’t meet building-code requirements. It was built in the 1970’s, and has gone through many owners, none of whom has been able to bring it up to standards.
Arizona: London Bridge
> Location: Links Lake Havasu to Thompson Bay.
Designed in 1799 by Scottish engineer John Rennie, London Bridge was completed in 1831. Because of the weight of automobile traffic crossing the bridge in the early 20th century, it started sinking into the Thames. In 1967, the City of London began looking for potential buyers for the bridge. Robert P. McCulloch, Sr. had founded the planned community of Lake Havasu City, and he saw an opportunity. He believed that reconstructing this icon in his development would lure tourists and prospective buyers of residential lots. He bought the bridge for $2.4 million and had it transported to Arizona, where it stands today.
Arkansas: Christ of the Ozarks
> Location: Eureka Springs
The Christ of the Ozarks statue pays homage to the famous Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer, statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. The seven-story Arkansas version has been overlooking Eureka Springs since 1966. Local publicity claims that it’s the third-tallest statue of Jesus in the world, though in fact there are 19 taller ones elsewhere (mostly in Mexico and South America). Still, this one is a commanding sight..
California: Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
> Location: Oro Grande
You’ll find this roadside attraction along the old Route 66 in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles. Elmer Long welded together a forest of metal so-called trees and hung dozens of colorful glass bottles from each one. Atop each tree there is an object such as a sewing machine, a guitar, a rifle, and various signs.
Colorado: Herkimer, the World’s Largest Beetle
> Location: Colorado Springs
Herkimer is a monster-sized model of a West Indian Hercules beetle that was built in the 1950s. Its intention is to attract passersby to the May Museum of the Tropics.
Connecticut: Cushing Brain Collection
> Location: New Haven
If you’re in Connecticut and feel like seeing something unique, a collection of deceased brains ought to do it. The collection can be found in Yale’s Cushing Center in the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library. It was donated in 1939 in the name of Dr. Harvey Cushing, considered the father of neurosurgery. Known as the Cushing Brain Tumor registry, the collection has more than 2,200 case studies that include human whole-brain and tumor specimens.
Delaware: Miles the Monster
> Location: Dover
Visible from Highway 1, this car-crushing, red-eyed monster rises up 46 feet from the site of the Dover International Speedway. With its nickname of “The Monster Mile,” it’s fitting that the racetrack would have a mascot named Miles the Monster. It was unveiled holding a real race car in 2008.
Florida: World’s Smallest Police Station
> Location: Carrabelle
The World’s Smallest Police Station on U.S. Highway 98 is a replica of the original phone booth in Carrabelle that served as the department’s call box beginning in 1963. In those pre-cell phone days, calls would come to one location – in this case, a phone booth bolted to the outside of a building.
Georgia: Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue
> Location: Plains
You can find the smiling, peanut-shaped statue of our 39th president – a former peanut farmer – in front of the Davis E-Z Shop in Plains, Carter’s birthplace. The 13-foot statue has been a major attraction in the state for more than four decades. It was commissioned by the Indiana Democratic Party as a part of Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976, the year he was elected president. Carter, at 97, is the country’s oldest living president.
Hawaii: Large Plant Maze
> Location: Wahiawa, Oahu
On the island of Oahu, the Dole pineapple plantation is home to one of the longest plant mazes in the world. The maze is made of 14,000 tropical plants, covers over two acres, and has three miles of footpaths. It takes from 45 minutes to an hour on average to complete the maze, though it has been done in as little as seven minutes.
Idaho: Don Aslett Museum of Clean
> Location: Pocatello
The Museum of Clean’s motto is “exemplifying the idea and value of clean.” Perhaps few people would have been drawn to such a museum before the age of the pandemic. The museum is basically one city block of interactive displays and exhibits of cleaning equipment and other gadgets aiming to inspire visitors to be clean in everything they do. Aslett, not surprisingly, is a businessman and author who specializes in cleaning and housekeeping products and services.
Illinois: World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
> Location: Collinsville
This 170-foot catsup bottle is not just roadside kitsch in Illinois. Built in 1949, it’s actually a working water tower – and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in August 2002.
Indiana: World’s Largest Ball of Paint
> Location: Alexandria
The world’s largest ball of paint is the creation of one man, Michael Carmichael, who has worked on it for more than four decades. What started as somewhat of an art project for his toddler son, who painted a baseball blue in 1977, has turned into a 14-foot-across, 2.5-ton unique attraction. The ball has more than 24,000 coats of paint.
Iowa: Future birthplace of Captain Kirk
> Location: Riverside
For Trekkies, Riverside, Iowa, is Mecca. That’s because it is the future birthplace of James T. Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise. His date of birth – March 22, 2228 – is engraved on a stone monument located behind a hair salon at Riverside’s Voyage Home Riverside History Center. The town also hosts an annual Trek Fest.
Kansas: The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things
> Location: Lucas
Erika Nelson dedicates her time to visiting roadside attractions then photographs them, goes home, and makes miniature versions to display at her little traveling museum of little versions of big things – which is open only by appointment. The museum first opened on April Fool’s Day in 2018.
Kentucky: Noah’s Ark replica
> Location: Williamstown
You may want to visit this full-size replica of Noah’s Ark – located halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington right off I-75 – even if it’s only to know where to come when the next flood of biblical proportions arrives. While there, enjoy the three decks of exhibits and other activities, including a zip-line tour.
Louisiana: Nicolas Cage’s Tomb
> Location: New Orleans
Many people know where they want to be buried, but perhaps not as many go as far as buying their own tomb. In 2010, actor Nicolas Cage (“Raising Arizona,” “Moonstruck”) bought his eventual final resting place, a nine-foot tall pyramid inscribed with the words “omnia ab uno” meaning “everything from one.” The tomb is a well-known attraction, on which you can find the occasional red lipstick kisses.
Maine: International Cryptozoology Museum
> Location: Portland
Founded by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, this museum is filled with artifacts and “evidence” related to all the folklore animals you grew up hearing about. These include exhibits on Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster. The museum also features displays of real fossils.
Maryland: National Museum of Civil War Medicine
> Location: Frederick
This museum is dedicated to demonstrating how techniques developed on the battlefields of the Civil War contributed to modern medicine. The museum is not for the faint of heart. More arms and legs were cut off during the Civil War than in any other war in U.S. history, according to the “Ammunition and Amputations” display.
Massachusetts: The Paper House
> Location: Rockport
In 1922, after attempting to insulate his summer home with newspapers, mechanical engineer Elis Stenman took his experiment a step further and built nearly his entire house out of them. Other than the floor, ceilings, and frame, everything in the house, including furniture, walls, and doors, is made of newspapers – a total of 100,000 of them.
Michigan: World’s largest tire
> Location: Allen Park
If you’ve flown in or out of the Detroit airport, then it’s likely you’ve seen a huge tire off Interstate 94. Operated as a Ferris wheel – and advertisement for Uniroyal tires – during the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, it weighs 12 tons and stands 80 feet tall. It was moved to Allen Park in 1966 to stand next to a Uniroyal corporate building.
Minnesota: Spam Museum
> Location: Austin
The pranksters at the Spam Museum say the edifice “Puts a whole new spin on cubism.” At this museum, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know and more about this canned meat delicacy. You can also buy a t-shirt or register as a SPAMbassador.
Mississippi: Devil’s Crossroads
> Location: Corner of highways 61 and 49, Clarksdale
The intersection of highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale is rumored to be the spot where famous blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his guitar prowess. The location is now marked with a pole displaying three huge blue guitars and a sign designating it “The Crossroads.”
Missouri: Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail and Museum
> Location: Weldon Spring
Formerly the site of a factory that made explosives and later a uranium refinery, this artificial hill in Missouri is an entombed hazardous waste site. After 15 years of cleanup and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the Weldon Spring Site Remedial Action Project Disposal Cell – as it’s called officially – is considered a safe recreational area and is a popular spot for birdwatchers and stargazers.
Montana: Havre Beneath the Streets
> Location: Havre
Roadside attractions are usually above ground, but some underground sites are worth a visit. Havre Beneath the Streets is a historical tour showcasing life in Havre about a century ago, when a fire destroyed most of the city and businesses had to move underground to stay open.
Nebraska: Nebraska Rest Area
> Location: Alliance
Nebraska is well known for its Carhenge, which is like the world-famous Stonehenge but constructed of cars. It’s worth seeing, but keep going about two miles north on U.S. Highway 87 until you reach a lesser-known tourist attraction – the Rest Area, complete with hay bales, a chair, and a toilet (that doesn’t flush).
Nevada: Goldwell Open Air Museum
> Location: Beatty
This is a sculpture park in the middle of the Amargosa Desert, near the ghost town of Rhyolite, known for its spectral, shrouded figures depicting Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Belgian artist Charles Albert Szulaski launched the museum by creating the plaster figures in 1984. He also added two pieces to the museum – “Ghost Rider” in 1984 and “Desert Flower” in 1989 – but “Desert Flower” was destroyed in a windstorm in 2007. A number of other sculptures have been added by other artists, beginning in the 1990s.
New Hampshire: Redstone Rocket
> Location: Warren
Installed to honor Mercury Seven astronaut Alan Shepard, the Redstone Rocket sits in a public park in Warren. The 66-foot-long missile was part of a line of U.S. projectiles that were the first to carry nuclear warheads during testing over the Pacific Ocean – and it was a launch vehicle based on the Redstone that launched Shepard into space in 1961. (Shepard is a New Hampshire native.)
New Jersey: Nitro Girl: Uniroyal SuperGal
> Location: Blackwood
You may think of this statue as a Wonder Woman that looks like Jackie Kennedy. The 18-foot “doll,” as she used to be known, has been around since 1965, standing guard outside Werbany Tire Town. Since then, it has been transformed a few times, most recently in 2007, when her makeover created a crossover between Super Girl and Wonder Woman.
New Mexico: Roswell
> Location: Roswell
The town of Roswell itself is a roadside attraction. The site of a purported UFO crash in 1947, it welcomes, tourists who can view makeshift spaceships, the International UFO Museum and Research Center (opened in 1992), and a bogus alien autopsy site. The McDonald’s in Roswell is shaped like a flying saucer, complete with Golden Arches, of course.
New York: Secret Caverns
> Location: Albany
Just outside Albany, New York is the town of Howes Cave — home of the Secret Caverns. Hand-painted billboards from every direction point the way to the caverns, which contain an impressive underground 100-foot waterfall.
North Carolina: World’s Largest Chest of Drawers
> Location: High Point
Originally built in 1926 by the High Point Chamber of Commerce to serve as the “bureau of information,” the chest of drawers has been rebuilt multiple times. The 38-foot-high dresser has two socks dangling out of one drawer and is proudly displayed in the middle of High Point, nicknamed the Furniture Capital of the World.
North Dakota: Tommy the Turtle
> Location: Bottineau
Turtles and winter are not a combo that comes to mind – certainly not a snowmobile-riding turtle. But 30-foot-tall Tommy is the largest turtle of its kind in the world and straddles the largest snowmobile in the world (34 feet long) while guarding the entrance to Bottineau’s municipal tennis courts. He’s meant to be a symbol for the nearby Turtle Mountains.
Ohio: World’s Largest Basket
> Location: Newark
This seven-story roadside basket is actually the corporate headquarters of the Longaberger Basket Co., where hundreds of people work every day. The structure is 192 feet long and 126 feet wide at the bottom, and spreads to 208 feet long and 142 feet wide at the roofline. It was built in 1997 at a cost of $30 million.
Oklahoma: The Blue Whale
> Location: Catoosa
A relic from a 1970’s tourist attraction called Nature Acres, this 80-foot long sperm whale with a slide and diving platform attached was originally the centerpiece in a pond open to swimming. Dedicated fans maintain the concrete sculpture and paint it every few years.
Oregon: Oregon Vortex
> Location: Gold Hill
Opened in the 1930, the Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery is one of the oldest “gravitational hills” (also called mystery spots) in America, where slanted buildings and geographical features create gravity-defying illusions, such as balls that appear to roll uphill.
Pennsylvania: Haines Shoe House
> Location: York
Built in 1948 by the millionaire owner of Haines Shoe Co., the Shoe House was originally an advertising platform and a very expensive billboard. Haines let honeymooning couples from nearby towns stay in the house for free, and even gave them a maid, cook, and chauffeur. The shoe is now a museum dedicated to company founder Mahlon Haines.
Rhode Island: World’s largest bug
> Location: Providence
New England pest control company Big Blue Bug Solutions paid $20,000 for the right to say it has the world’s largest bug. Also known as Nibbles Woodaway, the nine-foot-tall, 58-foot-long blue termite, made of fiberglass in 1980, sits on the company’s roof and can be seen from I-95 in Providence.
South Carolina: World’s largest fire hydrant
> Location: Columbia
The world’s largest fire hydrant was created by artist named Blue Sky (ne Warren Edward Johnson) for the city of Columbia. The city wanted another piece of original artwork from him, since he had created the city’s “Tunnelvision” mural. Blue Sky worked in secret for months. To great fanfare, it was unveiled on Feb. 18, 2001, on live, local television – a 40-foot-tall, 675,000-pound fire hydrant, which once worked as a fountain.
South Dakota: Petrified Wood Park
> Location: Lemmon
Amateur geologists and architects will be fascinated by the petrified wood park. It was built from 1930 to 1932 and takes up an entire block of Lemmon’s Main Street. Walking through the cone-shaped trees, all made of pieces of petrified wood. It towers soar up to 20 feet, and features a castle composed of petrified wood and petrified dinosaur and mammoth bones.
Tennessee: Titanic Museum
> Location: Pigeon Forge
This 30,000-square-foot replica of the doomed ocean liner and museum is worth a drive-by alone, but inside, tourists can dip their hands into 28-degree water to feel how cold the ocean was when unfortunate people fell in, enter a recreation of the first-class dining room, and view hundreds of real artifacts from the ship.
Texas: Glass-Walled public toilets
> Location: Sulphur Springs
If you need to make a comfort stop on a road trip in Texas, consider stopping at Sulphur Springs. The town installed two all-glass public bathrooms in 2012 don’t worry – it’s one-way glass), the first of their kind in the United States. The loos cost the town $54,000 apiece.
Utah: Hole ‘N’ The Rock
> Location: 12 miles south of Moab
Far from a natural geologic formation, the Hole N” The Rock is a 14-room, 5,000-square-foot house carved out of stone that now serves as an odd museum and trading post containing a zoo, antique tools and mining equipment, Native American pottery, and a metal sculpture exhibit.
Vermont: Bread and Puppet Museum
> Location: Glover
Housed in a large vintage barn in Glover is a collection of puppets dating from 1963. The collection spans two floors and many dark hallways, all packed with puppets of various sizes – some massive and angelically white, others elaborately painted with menacing faces, and some wearing suits with no faces. What about the bread? The museum houses the collection of the Bread & Puppet Theater, a puppet theater with a radical political bent, founded in New York City in 1962 and now headquartered in Glover.
Virginia: The Great Stalacpipe Organ
> Location: Luray
The Great Stalacpipe Organ is located inside the Luray Caverns near Shenandoah National Park. Instead of using pipes, the organ is wired to soft rubber mallets poised to gently strike stalactites of varying lengths and thicknesses. Leland W. Sprinkle created the organ by finding and shaving appropriate stalactites to produce specific notes; it can be heard anywhere within the cavern.
Washington: Wild Horses Monument
> Location: Quincy
This unfinished art installation by David Govedare is called “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies.” Currently composed of 15 steel horses along a high ridge, each weighing about 1,000 pounds, the sculpture was initially supposed to include a tipped-over 36-foot-tall basket, from which the horses would be emerging. According to the artist, the basket represents Grandfather, the Great Spirit.
West Virginia: Mystery Hole
> Location: Anstead
The Mystery Hole bills itself as a gravity-defying wonder. It includes attractions such as balls that roll uphill and a Volkswagen Beetle, chopped in half, seemingly crashed into the side of the building. Original owner Donald Wilson “discovered” the hole’s mysterious powers in the 1970s and set up a kitschy tourist attraction that fell on hard times in the 1990s, but new owners are restoring it.
Wisconsin: Upside-down White House
> Location: Wisconsin Dells
Just like the real White House, you’ll need a guide to take you through the Top Secret Inc. house resting on its roof in the Wisconsin Dells.
Wyoming: Ames Brothers Pyramid
> Location: Buford
The Ames Brothers were two swindlers – a railroad president and his congressman brother – who got rich selling shovels to gold-miners, then inflated railroad construction costs to make another $50 million off of taxpayers. In the 1880s, after their deaths, Union Pacific Railroad built the 60-foot-tall pyramid as a monument to the two. Since then, the nearby railroad was pulled up and the pyramid now stands crumbling, miles away from any paved roads.
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