COVID-19 has probably wreaked havoc on most people’s traveling plans. As cases resurge across the country and states are halting reopening plans, taking that long-awaited summer vacation abroad seems highly unlikely. But traveling does not have to be canceled all together. Amid the pandemic, road trips may be safer than flying as passengers have more control of their surroundings.
Besides, road trips can be one of the best ways to experience the diversity of the American landscape and cultures, whether you’re travelling thousands of miles cross country or down a few hundred miles of coastline. While sticking to the Interstate may get someone to their destination faster, opting to cruise down state highways and backroads can offer a rich experience that doesn’t often happen at 65 miles per hour — namely, the roadside attraction.
Whether it’s a giant talking penguin or the spot where a Soviet satellite crashed, every state has interesting, quirky, unusual, and just plain wacky places to visit. 24/7 Tempo compiled a list of some of the strangest attractions in every state. They’re often not the most famous or popular attractions, just ones that will make you say, “Huh, never knew that.”
From towering dinosaur statues that break the monotony of cornfield country, to a live tree you can drive your car through, to a coral castle built mysteriously in the dark by a reclusive old man, these classic hallmarks of America are what make road trips memorable when driving in the middle of nowhere.
Alabama: Unclaimed Baggage Center
> Location: Scottsboro
Luggage that never gets picked up from the airport carousel doesn’t stay there forever. It ends up in the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama. Visitors can comb through the contents of the bags. Customers sometimes get to open a bag and see what’s inside. Previously discovered items include 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. Built in the ’70’s, the building has gone through many owners, none of whom were able to complete up-to-code renovations.
Arizona: Stewart’s Petrified Wood
> Location: Holbrook
Arizona is known for its petrified wood, and Stewart’s rock shop is where many tourists buy it (even though it’s scattered all over the state and in the Petrified Forest National Park). Don’t worry if you think you won’t be able to find the store — the huge, hand-made dinosaurs are quite noticeable from Interstate 40.
Arkansas: Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo
> Location: Hot springs
Arkansas may be known for its thermal baths, which attract many tourists every year, but if visitors want something else to experience, they can turn to an alligator museum. That something else is often an alligator museum. This is where you not only get to visit adult and baby alligators, but also you can see mountain lions, monkeys, and racoons.
California: Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
> Location: Niland
You’ll find this roadside attraction along the old Route 66. 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, guitar, rifle, and various signs.
Colorado: Bishop Castle
> Location: Rye
Jim Bishop, the owner of this hand-built castle in Rye Colorado, started constructing the building in 1969 at the age of 15. Every year since, he has single-handedly collected and set the tons of stone that make up his fortress. He calls it a “monument to hard-working people.”
Connecticut: Cushing Brain Collection
> Location: New Haven
In case you’re ever in Connecticut and suddenly feel like seeing something unique, a collection of deceased brains ought to do it. The collection, which can be found in Yale’s Cushing Center in the Medical Library, was donated in 1939 in the name of Dr. Harvey Cushing, the father of neurosurgery. Known today as the Cushing Brain Tumor registry, the collection has over 2,200 case studies that include human whole brain specimens and tumor specimens. The center is currently closed due to COVID-19.
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 the nickname “the Monster Mile,” it’s fitting that the race-track would have a mascot named Miles the Monster, who was unveiled holding a real race car in 2008.
Florida: World’s Smallest Police Station
> Location: Carrebelle
The World’s Smallest Police Station that stands on U.S. Highway 98 is a replica of the original phone booth that served as the department’s call box. Remember, those were pre-cell phone days, and calls would come to one location. The previous phone was bolted to the outside of a building. Standing inside the booth provided protection when it rained.
Georgia: Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue
> Location: Plains
You can find the smiling, peanut-shaped statute of the former U.S. president, who used to be a peanut farmer, in front of the Davis E-Z Shop in Plains, Georgia. 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.
Hawaii: World’s Longest Plant Maze
> Location: Wahiawa
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. While 45 minutes to an hour is the average time it takes to complete the maze, the record time is around 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 COVID-19. 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.
Illinois: Dungeons and Dragons Park
> Location: Carbondale
After his son Jeremy — an avid Dungeons and Dragons fan — died in a car accident, Barrett Rochman built a memorial park across the street from his house with a D&D theme. Barrett hired local art students as well as sculptors and painters to create the sculptures in the park, some of which are modeled after the miniature D&D figurines found in his son’s possessions. Among the wizards and battle scenes is a castle built of tunnels, bridges, and small passageways that children and other limber people can traverse.
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 first painted the baseball blue in 1977, has now turned into a 14-foot, 2.5-ton unique attraction. By now, the ball has over 24,000 coats of paint.
Iowa: Squirrel Cage Jail
> Location: Council Bluffs
The Squirrel Cage served as the county jail from 1885 to 1969 and then turned to a museum. In 2019, the Smithsonian Magazine listed it as one of the country’s top five most fascinating prison museums. The jail is unique in its design — pie-shaped cells surrounding a column that rotates the cells. Prisoners could access a door only when a guard used a hand crank to spin the entire jail until the required cell door aligned with the only opening. Following several accidental amputations, however, this particular prison design was no longer used.
Kansas: Giant Van Gogh Painting on the World’s Largest Easel
> Location: Goodland
Kansas is the Sunflower State, so it makes sense that Canadian artist Cameron Cross pitched Goodland for his third and so far last giant recreation of a famous Van Gogh work. The 32-by-24 foot “Sunflower” recreation rests on an 80-foot tall easel a half-mile off I-70. If you’re curious, the other two are in Altona, Manitoba and Emerald, Australia.
Kentucky: Noah’s Ark
> 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 only to know where it is in case the Flood comes. And 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. Actor Nicolas Cage bought his eventual final resting place, a 9-foot tall pyramid, in 2010 with the words “omnia ab uno,” meaning “everything from one,” inscribed. The tomb is a well-known attraction on which you can find the occasional red lipstick kisses.
Maine: Wild Blueberry Land
> Location: Columbia Falls
Wild Blueberry Land is a small, family-owned theme park, where all attractions are blue. The park, located at the corner of Routes 1 and 187, is dedicated to the blueberry, which has been Maine’s official fruit since 1991.
Maryland: National Museum of Civil War Medicine
> Location: Frederick
The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is dedicated to demonstrating how techniques developed on the battlefields of the Civil War contributed to modern medicine. If you like gore, this could be your place. 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. Besides the floor, ceilings, and frame, everything in the house, including furniture, walls, and doors, is made of newspapers — a total of 100,000.
Michigan: Da Yoopers Tourist Trap
> Location: Ishpeming
“Yoopers” is a term used to describe people who live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Tourist Trap, located on U.S.-41 west of Ishpeming, is about having fun and spending money. A sign very directly says: “Welcome to Yooperland. Relax, enjoy, spend all your cash. But please don’t move up here.”
Minnesota: Jolly Green Giant
> Location: Blue Earth
The 55.5-foot Jolly Green Giant statue grew out of a local radio station owner’s “Welcome Travelers” program. As he interviewed people who passed through town, he gave them Green Giant vegetables (canned in a local factory) at the end of each show. The guests would sometimes ask, “Where’s the Green Giant?” An idea and a monument were born.
Mississippi: Devil’s Crossroads
> Location: Corners of Highways 61 and 49, Clarksdale
The intersection of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi 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 an explosives factory and then 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 now 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 ones are worth a visit. Havre Beneath the Streets is a historical tour showcasing life in Havre, Montana, 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 with cars. It’s nice and you should go see it. But then keep going about 2 miles North on U.S. Hwy 87 until you reach a lesser-known tourist attraction — the Rest Area with hay bales, a chair, and a toilet (that doesn’t flush).
Nevada: Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam
> Location: Boulder City
Can you imagine cleaning latrines for 7,000 men in 120 degree heat? That was the inspiration for Steven Liguori for his statue to “Alabam,” who worked at the nearby Hoover Dam construction site. Alabam cleaned the outhouses, a thankless job that Ligouri honored with this statue.
New Hampshire: Redstone Rocket
> Location: Warren
Installed to honor Mercury Seven astronaut Alan Shepard, the Redstone Rocket sits in a public park in Warren, New Hampshire. Part of a line of U.S. missiles that were the first to carry nuclear warheads during testing over the Pacific Ocean, the upright missile is 66 feet long.
New Jersey: Nitro Girl: Uniroyal SuperGal
> Location: Blackwood
You may think of the 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. 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: Very Large Array
> Location: Socorro
You probably don’t know its name, but you’ve seen it in movies such as “Contact,” and “Independence Day.” The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array consists of 27 25-meter radio telescopes deployed in a Y-shaped array. Astronomers have used the VLA to observe black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars.
New York: World’s Smallest Church
> Location: Oneida
This unique attraction may be of some use to engaged couples who might want to go ahead with their wedding despite restrictions on large gatherings. The floating church that sits in the center of a pond only has enough space for the two people tying the knot and the person officiating the ceremony.
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 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 the 30-foot tall Tommy the Turtle 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: As We Are exhibit
> Location: Columbus
It may be the ultimate headshot. The new exhibit, the As We Are exhibit, contains a photo booth capable of taking 3-D pictures. The pictures are then displayed on a construct of a head made from ribbons of ultrabright LED screens. The head is 14 feet high, weighs more than three tons, and displays the faces of everyday people 17 times larger than life.
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 hill” (also called mystery spots) where slanted buildings create gravity-defying illusions, such as balls that roll uphill.
Pennsylvania: Haines Shoe House
> Location: York
Built in 1948 by the millionaire owner of Haines Shoe Company, the Shoe House was originally an advertising platform and 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 Mahlon Haines.
Rhode Island: Mystery Tower of Newport
> Location: Newport
According to the local Museum of Newport History, the tower is just the base of a windmill, built sometime in the 17th century, but no records of its construction exist. Considering the tower contains 450 tons of rock, many people are still wondering why settlers would have needed such a massive windmill, and, if not, then what was this tower a part of and who built it.
South Carolina: Mars Bluff Crater
> Location: Florence
The crater is the site of an unarmed nuclear bomb dropped by accident on U.S. soil in 1958. A U.S. captain, flying over South Carlina on the way to the United Kingdom, hit the emergency pin by mistake.
South Dakota: Geographic Center of the Nation Monument
> Location: Fourche
The Center of the Nation Monument — a massive map of the United States enclosed in a compass rose, designed by a local artist and made of 54,000 pounds of South Dakota granite — isn’t technically at the center of the country. The center, which is 21 miles north of the monument, is marked by a small metal pole stuck into a pasture, off of a gravel road behind a ditch.
Tennessee: Titanic Museum
> Location: Pigeon Forge
This 30,000-square-foot Titanic replica 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: Marfa Lights
> Location: Marfa
Tiny Marfa, Texas, is home to one of the most unusual phenomena you can see in America — the Marfa Lights. Southeast of town, spectators can look at flickering, dancing lights that move, change colors, and grow and shrink in number. Many visitors have speculated the lights are paranormal, though scientists have proposed several theoretical explanations.
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, Vermont is a collection of puppets dating as far back as 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. The Bread and Puppet theatre is the brainchild of political activist and performance artist Peter Schumann.
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 up hill 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: House on the Rock
> Location: Iowa County
Originally built in the 1940’s by Alex Jordan as a weekend country home, the House on the Rock has become a sprawling outpost of collections, exhibits, and gardens. Inside are hundreds of mannequin angels suspended from the ceiling, a carousel with 269 animals, and hours worth of other artistically displayed collections curated by Jordan until his death in 1989.
Wyoming: Ames Brothers Pyramid
> Location: Buford
The Ames Brothers were two classic 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 1880’s, after their deaths, Union Pacific Railroad built the 60-foot-tall pyramid as a monument to the brothers. Since then, the nearby railroad was pulled up and the pyramid now stands crumbling, miles away from any paved roads.
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