go to content

The Stories Behind 14 Bizarre Roadside Attractions In America

No matter where you go in America, you're bound to find something real weird out there. Join the Griswolds as they traverse this wild, weird nation in Vacation, in theaters July 29.

Posted on

1. Carhenge — Alliance, Nebraska

Kevin Saff (CC BY-SA http://2.0) / Via Flickr: kevinsaff

Carhenge is just like the ancient Druid wonder of Stonehenge, except it's 39 cars all spray-painted gray. This wonder of the Midwestern world was set up by Jim Reinders to memorialize his father, who used to live on the land Carhenge now inhabits.

3. The Big Duck — Flanders, New York

Doug Kerr (CC BY-SA http://2.0) / Via Flickr: dougtone

In 1931, Martin and Jeule Maurer decided to erect this strange building hoping motorists would stop where the Maurers sold Peking ducks. The Collins brothers, two set designers who helped build the Big Duck, used an actual duck tied to their porch as a model during construction.

4. The Thing — Benson, Arizona

Venturist (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: venturist

Dozens of signs along Interstate 10 between Tuscon and El Paso beckon drivers to come see The Thing (Spoiler Alert: It's a mummy mother holding a mummy child). Thomas Binkley Prince set up the display in 1965, but where he got the mummies is sort of a mystery. Some claim the mummies aren't real, but created by Homer Tate, an Arizona miner who made sideshow oddities like mummies or shrunken heads in his spare time.

6. Nitt Witt Ridge — Cambria, California

Joseph Francis (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: digitalartform

This house may not look like it, but it’s built from literal garbage. Arthur Harold Beal used his job as a garbage collector to find the materials that would ultimately make up this house. The house is made from things like beer cans, car parts, and washer drums.

7. Lucy the Elephant — Margate City, New Jersey

Jim, the Photographer (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: jcapaldi

Lucy was built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty, a real estate developer who used this giant elephant-shaped building to lure people in and pitch them on other real estate opportunities. After Lucy was done being a real estate office, she became a summer home. Later, she was used as a bar. Today, she is preserved by a nonprofit that protects her unique architecture.

8. The Cabazon Dinosaurs — Cabazon, California

Roberta Romero (CC BY-ND http://2.0) / Via Flickr: bunnicula

The story goes that Claude Bell visited Lucy the Elephant as a child and was inspired to create these dinosaurs. Later, after he became a sculptor for Knott's Berry Farm, he had the skills and the money to finally create these giants in the California desert. Ironically, these days, the inside of the apatosaurus is actually a creationist museum.

9. Wall Drug — Wall, South Dakota

Konrad Summers (CC BY-SA http://2.0) / Via Flickr: tkksummers

Ted Hustead, a registered pharmacist, bought a tiny drugstore in an even tinier town — Wall — in 1931. When business was struggling, his wife Dorothy suggested they put signs by the highway advertising free ice water. Soon, customers started coming into the store. From there, Wall Drug grew into a 70,000-square-foot tourist attraction that has a water park, a T. rex, and a store with thousands of boots. Oh, and they still have a pharmacy too.

10. World's Largest Beetle — Colorado Springs, Colorado

2/9 World's Largest Beetle in Colorado Springs, Colorado.Tonight 51 years ago, the Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan

The world's largest beetle isn't just there to terrify you on your way through Colorado Springs. It serves to attract drivers to the May Natural History Museum, home of the world's largest private insect collection. Built by John May in 1947 to house his father's entomological collection, the museum holds thousands of creepy-crawly insects.

11. The Troll Capital of the World — Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

joelrivlin (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: joelrivlin

In the 1970s, a Scandinavian gift shop in Mount Horeb decorated its lawn with trolls. As truckers passed by the trolls, they would say things like "I just passed your mother-in-law on 18/151" to other truckers on the CB radio. The town just rolled with it, carved more trolls out of wood, and began calling the road the Trollway.

12. Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch — Oro Grande, California

Peer Lawther (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: peerlawther

Elmer Long collected bottles with his father when they would go camping in the 1950s. Elmer used those bottles, along with a few other discarded knickknacks, to create a forest of bottle trees. The Bottle Tree Ranch is freely open to all who wish to spend time in it.

13. Vent Haven Museum — Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

5chw4r7z (CC BY-SA http://2.0) / Via Flickr: 5chw4r7z

W.S. Berger started collecting ventriloquist dummies in 1910. By the late '40s, Berger was president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. By 1962, the renovated garage he used to hold the dummies was too small, so he built a second building. Eventually, the Vent Haven Museum was set up to give a permanent home to the collection.

14. The Desert of Maine — Freeport, Maine

Daderot / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Ten thousand years ago, Maine was covered with glaciers. Those glaciers ground against rock to create sandy, glacial silt. By 1797, when William Tuttle started a farm on some land in Freeport, that silt was covered by fertile topsoil. However, when Tuttle failed to rotate his crops properly, the silt took over the topsoil. These days, this peculiar desert in the middle of lush forest draws 30,000 tourists each year.

Join the Griswolds as they find themselves in strange places all over America. See Vacation, in theaters July 29.

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss