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Megan Hill takes you on a tour of wacky attractions that add a little mystery to the U.S. interstate system.

For hours we passed the billboards: “The Thing? The mystery of the desert” and “The Thing? What is it?” and finally, when my friend Leigh and I arrived at the exit in the middle of Arizona off Interstate 10, curiosity had gotten the better of us. We sheepishly handed over the $1 entry fee and began a strange and entertaining walk through my first roadside attraction.

If you have the time and a sense of humor, here are 10 bemusing, tacky roadside attractions, all easily accessible from interstates, to check out on your next American road trip.

The Thing?, Dragoon, AZ

Some 250 signs for 200 miles along I-10 through the empty Texas desert invite you to visit “The Thing?” 40 miles outside of Tucson.

Jolly Green Giant / Photo: greefus gone

The $1 admission buys you access to a bizarre collection of exhibits leading up to “The Thing” itself, including a Rolls-Royce that supposedly belonged to Hitler and a very homemade display of wood carvings depicting “ancient methods of torture.”

The identity of “The Thing?” Sorry, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Wall Drug Store, Wall, SD

This historic tourist attraction breaks up the drive across South Dakota on I-90. Like “The Thing?,” it also entices would-be visitors with billboards beginning hundreds of miles away.

Wall Drug’s mall employs nearly one-third of the town and is famous for its huge jackalope, mechanical people, and 80-foot dinosaur next to the interstate.

Blue Whale, Catoosa, OK

The 80-foot cement whale is a bizarre anniversary gift that can be seen from former Route 66 next to its pond. It’s easily accessible from I-44 outside of Tulsa.

Visitors can actually walk into the mouth of the giant sculpture.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX

Photo: fPat

Created in 1974 by members of the art group Ant Farm, this installation involves 10 spray-painted Cadillacs emerging from the ground tail-end up.

It’s visible from I-40 but if you plan to stop, bring a can of spray paint; Ant Farm encourages visitors to add to the artwork.

Jolly Green Giant, Blue Earth, MN

This 55-foot statue welcomes visitors to Blue Earth at the midpoint of I-90 in Minnesota.

The Giant commemorates the town’s link to the Green Giant Company — once located there and formerly called the Blue Earth Canning Company.

Calico Ghost Town, Yermo, CA

Outside of Barstow on I-15, this former silver mining town is now a tourist attraction.

There are several options for entertainment, including mine tours, gunfight shows, and gold panning. Only five original buildings exist today; the rest are re-creations.

The Douglas Jackalope, Douglas, WY

Curiously, there’s more than one roadside attraction involving a jackalope. Douglas has one because a resident of the small town dreamed up the imaginary creature in the 1930s.

You can access the town and its statue off of I-25.

Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities, Hartford, CT

In downtown Hartford, this museum houses a strange collection of taxidermic items, including exotic birds, an eight-foot alligator, a two-headed pig, and a two-headed calf.

The House of Mystery and the Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill, OR

Off of I-5 in Oregon, this attraction claims to be a “whirlpool of force” where strange things happen.

The vortex apparently defies the laws of physics: balls roll uphill, and people appear shorter as they approach you or taller as they walk away.

The Enchanted Highway, ND

Turn off I-94 at Gladstone, North Dakota, for 32 miles of weird, oversized art installations including a tin family, the world’s largest grasshopper, and a flock of pheasants with a 40-foot-tall, 70-foot-long rooster.

And More…

To find other curious roadside attractions on your next road trip, visit the website of Roadside America.

Community Connection

Most of the above attractions qualify as cheap entertainment. To learn how to save on other aspects of your trip, make sure to read 8 Ways to Save Money on a U.S. Cross-Country Road Trip.

About The Author

Megan Hill

Megan Hill is a freelance writer from New Orleans. She recently finished a year of service with AmeriCorps NCCC and is seeking representation for her memoir of her service. Read more from her on her website.

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    I’m so proud (?) to say I’ve seen most of these. To your list, I’d add the menagerie of carved, life-sized animals outside shops on the Pacific Coast Highway– bears, mostly.

  • http://meganahill.wordpress.com Megan Hill

    Thanks for commenting, Julie! That one definitely looks noteworthy…it just wasn’t close to any major interstates so I left it off my list.

  • Rose Schwietert

    I expected to see “South of the Border” and don’t forget the Corn Museum.

  • http://twenty-somethingtravel.com/ Stephanie

    Oh I love Wall Drug and the Green Giant! I remember them from being a little kid. The corn palace is also pretty near but South of the Border was a huge let down.

  • http://www.paul-sullivan.com Paul Sullivan

    I’m a fan of the Cadillac Ranch! I once drove past The Flintstones park somewhere in New Mexico I think. That was fun. And do you think Roswell might be classified as a “roadside attraction” in itself?

  • http://leahmatthews.wordpress.com LeahM

    I’ve seen some of these on TV before. I love roadside oddities! I’d love to visit all of these.

    Especially Cadillac Ranch, it so iconic!

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/sarah-park Sarah

    Ahh, it’s always been a dream of mine to go on a cross-country road trip, stopping only to visit cheesy sites like the “Worlds Largest Ball of Twine” & such. I think it stems from my childhood obsession with that Sam & Max computer game.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

    These are great. In Oz they have the “Big” things…can’t wait to hit the road and find them all…have already been to the Big Merino. Can’t wait to see the Big Banana.

  • Steve

    Thought for sure I’d see Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD on here.

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    I have to admit, one of the things I’m looking forward to most being back in the U.S. after a year in South America is the road trip. Not sure why, but it never fails to be a good time.

  • http://www.greenygrey.co.uk/blog Marc Latham

    Nice creative quirky article Megan. Cadillac Ranch looks amazing…and amazingly picturesque in its sunset colours.

  • http://laurelsadventures.blogspot.com Ms Lala

    Hey Megan,
    This is a great article! It seems like there are some really bizarre things right in our own backyard. I would have to add the Fish House in Berkeley, Ca. I was on a bike ride one Sunday and I stumbled upon it

  • http://eclecticspot.wordpress.com/ Abovethestaff

    Well, this is pretty sweet!

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