Ah, the Great American Roadtrip. Miles of fast, straight roads, beautiful and ever-changing scenery – it’s an American tradition for a reason. So, what makes a great roadtrip? Is it the company? Or the car snacks? What about the giant termite by the roadside? Well, that’s specifically for travelers on I-95, near Providence, RI, but the roadside is host to a huge number of bizarre attractions and wherever you go, you’re bound to find something interesting to look at. Find out which ones are weirder than others, in our Top 10 Weirdest Roadside Attractions.
10. Cadillac Ranch, TX
This art installation has been an icon of Route 66 ever since 1974, when it was installed by a group of hippes, funded by local billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. The Cadillac are positioned into the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Gaza and are meant to represent the evolution of the Cadillac’s tailfin.
The land it sits on is privately owned, but visiting and graffiti-ing is not discouraged. In fact, the graffiti is what makes the Cadillacs so colorful. At one point they were repainted to their original colors, but only a day elapsed before the first bit of graffiti appeared (although graffiti is illegal in the State of Texas). The ranch has become such a symbol of the Mother Road that when Pixar made their Route 66-themed film “Cars“, the mountains outside the town were called “The Cadillac Range” in tribute, and were at the same angle as the ones on the ranch. . A neat way to introduce the ranch to the next generation!
9. Enchanted Forest, OR
As you’re driving down Interstate 5, look out for the black and white timbered house 7 miles south of Salem. It may just look like a piece of eccentric architecture- perhaps from some German settlers – but it is actually the gateway to the Enchanted Forest theme park. The park is themed around fairy tales and fantasy and includes a European Village and the “Challenge of Mondor”, an adventure ride that opened in 2006.
The park was built in 1964 by Roger Tofte with “very little time or money”. Construction almost bankrupted the Toftes, and friends teased them about “Idiot Hill” – the project that seemed like it would never be fruitful. But the park eventually opened in 1971 and was a success from the start, with 1,000 visitors on the second day. A strange piece of roadside fantasy, but worth a look!
8. Perry’s Nut House ME
What is the natural partner to peanuts? “Taxidermy!” I hear you cry. And you’d be right -at Perry’s Nut House you can both explore the history of nut retail and take in some fine specimens of dead animals. It was opened in 1927 by I.L. Perry, selling pecans and other nuts but also displayed some “curios” he had collected on his travels, including a water buffalo shot by Teddy Roosevelt.
In 1997, many of the pieces were sold and it seemed like the Nut House would close forever, but it reopened by popular demand in 2004 and still sells fudge and nuts to customers that come in search of the stuffed gorilla and funhouse mirror. A curiosity to see if you’re ever on the Maine coast.
7. John Dillinger Museum, IN
How about a roadside attraction with a moral learning opportunity? The take-home message of the John Dillinger Museum is “Crime Doesn’t Pay” and it’s not very subtle. It looks at the life (and specifically death) of gangster John Dillinger and the early years of the FBI, as they chased the Dillinger gang. When the attraction opened in 1999, locals were concerned that it might glorify crime – hence the strong anti-crime message.
It’s an interesting collection, including Dillinger’s “death trousers” which he was wearing when he died, and his wooden gun. And don’t worry, it won’t make impressionable children want to take up a career as a gangster – they’ve made sure of that.
6. Spongeorama, FL
Ever wondered about the history of sponge-collectors in Florida? Don’t worry, there’s a museum in Florida that caters to just that need. Spongerorama boasts the “World’s largest selection of natural sea sponges” and you can enjoy a movie all about the sponge industry while you contemplate which sponge-related product to buy, out of their extensive range.
If you think it sounds less than thrilling, you’re not alone. One reviewer said “The museum is in need of a renovation and the movie they show at the museum is dreadfully boring and out of date, but the museum is FREE. How can you really complain about a free museum tour and video?” Hmm, maybe you can complain because it’s “dreadfully boring”? Others say it’s fascinating, so head to Tarpon Springs and judge for yourself!
5. Carhenge, NE
An example now of not one genre of roadside attraction but two. Along with the Cadillac Ranch, it forms the very specific genre of “art installations made of entire cars”, but it also sits within the “recreation of European historical monuments” genre. The monument in question is Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK, which was constructed somewhere between 2500 and 2000 BC, out of standing stones. Carhenge, by contrast, was constructed around 1987 AD, out of old cars.
It stands next to Highway 87, near Alliance, and was designed and built by Jim Reinders, as a tribute to his father Herman Reinders. It was almost never built, as a message went out to the police while Carhenge was being built, asking them to intervene in someone “planting cars in their field”.Sherry Garrett who picked up the message over police radio decided to help save the memorial and later set up “Friends of Carhenge”. It has now been visited by 80,000 people.
4. Oyotunji African Village, SC
Here’s a question for you – what is ensconced in the middle of America but yet isn’t part of America? The Oyotunji African Village. It’s in South Carolina, but is actually an independent Kingdom founded by Oba Efuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunm (born Walter Eugene King) in 1970.
It’s a community that is built along Yoruba lines and upholds West African values. The village holds a number of events and festivals that anyone can visit, and there are around 5-9 families that live there permanently. It’s also open every day for passing visitors and is located just off the Trask Parkway. A slice of African culture in the South of America.
3. Mystery spot, MI
Of course, if you fancy something even stranger, why not visit a place where the laws of physics apparently don’t apply? You can find a few such places dotted about America, but an interesting one is the Mystery spot in Michigan. Their website claims that it’s “world famous” and has been visited by millions since opening in the 1950s.
The St Ignace Mystery Spot was discovered by three surveyors, who suddenly found that their equipment wasn’t working properly – plum-bobs refused to stay straight and kept being drawn to the east. This strangeness, combined with a feeling of queasiness led them to believe it was a mystic hotspot, and the attraction has built up from there. Now, you can see tall and small people mystically becoming the same size, and chairs clinging to walls. Of course, it may all be optical illusions but it’s a fascinating place to visit.
2. Leaning Tower of Niles, IL
Going back to the genre of “recreation of European historical monuments”, here’s another fine example. In Niles, Illinois, a local industrialist created a half-size version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, sadly not out of used cars. It was built in 1934 by Robert Ilg, and now sits within its own plaza with a 30-foot pool and four fountains. Until a few years ago, concerts were held around the tower and it has led to Niles being twinned with Pisa.
As to why it was built in the first place? Accounts vary – some say it was to mark the 600th anniversary of the original tower, others say it was used to store water. But now it stands next to a Target and the YMCA as a piece of random roadside Americana.
1. Babyland General Hospital, GA
Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids that were popular in the 1980s? Well, there’s a place in Georgia where they never stopped being popular. It’s the Babyland General Hospital near the Helen Highway, where the dolls are made and sold. But hold on, because things are about to get weird…
It’s not just a factory where you can see the process of making a doll. Oh no. It’s a hospital. There are Cabbage Patch doctors and nurses and every hour a new doll is “born”. The Magic Crystal Tree produces the kids, assisted by a nurse. The intercom announces that a Mother Cabbage is in labor and a nurse goes to help, accompanied by pink and blue Bunnybees, who determine the gender of the new child. Meanwhile, the audience is kept informed of how far the mother is dilated and whether she’s had any “Imagicillin” yet. Sometimes, they perform Cabbage-sections and sadly, some new Cabbage Patch babies need to go to the Intensive Care Unit.
If you don’t believe me, have a look here. Definitely the most surreal roadside attraction in America.