Skydiving and kick-flipping getting old? Take your Sonic to the next frontier and time travel to see dragons, flying saucers and more
By Marcia Simmons
Taking a road trip is one of the best ways to enjoy America’s landscapes—the grandiose, the commonplace and the quirky. You’re probably familiar with must-see destinations like the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, but surprising and downright hilarious roadside attractions are scattered along highways and off-roads in between. Drive by or take a detour to see some of these, and you’ll keep everyone in the car so entertained they’ll forget to ask, “Are we there yet?”
After Edward Leedskalnin’s fiancee canceled their wedding in 1923, he spent 28 years building an enormous tribute to her. Coral Castle is an elaborate maze of strange stone structures as well as a beautiful home. What’s amazing is that Leedskalnin did all the work by hand, all by himself. He dug up about 1,100 tons of coral and then hand-carved it into blocks to build an entire estate complete with coral furniture, fountains and sculptures, including a 28-ton, 25-foot-tall obelisk. The site has survived several major hurricanes and has inspired other artists, musicians and authors: Billy Idol’s “Sweet Sixteen” is about Leedskalnin's former lover, and the music video was filmed in the Coral Castle.
When the national highway system was brand new, businesses used large mascots to attract travelers who were getting their kicks on Route 66. Today, roadside giants are a rarity—unless you go to George and Pam Farnham’s house. They welcome visitors to a collection of “colossi” in their yard, including King Midas, the 25-foot-tall muffler man made of fiberglass.
Every year, the popular ice-cream maker “kills” 8-12 flavors with the lowest sales and honors their memory with tombstones and cheeky poems. As part of the factory tour, you can taste the flavors that are still “alive” and nominate expired flavors you’d like to see come back to life.
When Judy Messoline bought her ranch, she didn’t know it was a mecca for UFO watchers. Rather than turn away flying-saucer enthusiasts, she erected a viewing platform, set up some campgrounds and, of course, opened a gift shop. Now her watchtower has a reputation as one of the best places in the world to view UFOs.
In this “portal to the paranormal,” the rules of physics and nature don’t seem to apply. Broomsticks stand on their own, tennis balls roll uphill, and people shrink and grow before your eyes. Some believe it’s a vortex that defies scientific explanation, while others think it’s just a series of optical illusions. But even skeptics will be amazed, or at least amused.
6. Rancho Shazam, Greenbrae, California
Situated on one of the most desirable waterfront locations near San Francisco Bay, Rancho Shazam is a collector’s enclave that includes a foam Stonehenge, several cast-iron Eiffel Towers, a giant Tin Man sculpture (plus yellow brick road and floating bicycle), among many other amusements.
Visit an accurate-to-the-film replica of Dorothy Gale’s house and follow the yellow brick road to an animatronic version of the Land of Oz. Don’t expect a Hollywood-budget production, though. Instead, bask in the DIY charm of a small-town tribute to The Wizard of Oz.
Built in 1892 to show off the fertility of the soil, the Corn Palace is decorated with more than 275,000 ears of corn in a rainbow of colors, and the design changes each year. All the corn is grown naturally from special seeds, so no artificial colors are used. If you’re impressed by how much corn South Dakota can grow, that’s the point.
Tom Every (a.k.a. Dr. Evermor) combined ordinary salvage like carburetors and old X-ray machines with more impressive parts—like the decontamination chamber from the Apollo Space Mission and a pair of Thomas Edison’s bipolar dynamo generators—to make the world’s largest scrap-metal sculpture. Dr. Evermor says the 300-ton sculpture is actually a Victorian-era time travel device powered by lightning.
No matter how old you are, the spectacle of a 35-foot metal dragon breathing real fire is a welcome stop on any road trip. Kaskaskia Dragon is also a popular destination for GPS scavenger hunts, or “geocaching.”