These depots have become destinations
By Kate Silver
If your memories of truck stops involve mediocre coffee and long-haul diner specials, it’s time to take another look. Today, truck stops across America have become cities within cities—and your four-wheel Silverado is just as welcome as an 18-wheel semi. Weary road-trippers can visit movie theaters, outpatient clinics, hotels, theme parks, barbershops and even a reptile lagoon. So check ’em out: Here are five of the best next-generation truck stops, just in time for this summer’s launch of the next-generation 2014 Silverado.
Iowa 80 Truckstop
The term “full service” might actually be an understatement at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, a.k.a. The World’s Largest Truck Stop. Let’s start with the biggies: There’s a movie theater, a chiropractor and a dentist. Dog-lovers can wash Fido at the Dogomat and suds up their truck at the Truckomat. A custom shop specializes in everything from fabric embroidery to business cards, and six restaurants (plus a Caribou coffee) beckon truck-stop tourists.
South of the Border
At first glance, it looks more like an amusement park than a truck stop—and for good reason. South of the Border is, indeed, home to the Pedroland Amusement Park, complete with a Ferris wheel, bumper cars and mini golf. You might want to book a night at the 300-room motor inn (or at the campground), because the family will also love Reptile Land. The country’s largest indoor reptile exhibit includes more than 15 crocodile species, along with snakes, turtles and other critters. And don’t forget to check out Sombrero Tower—a 200-foot, sombrero-shaped observation tower with a glass elevator—as well as the property’s six restaurants, two pantries, a drug store, banquet facilities, shops for gifts, leather, antiques, clothing and hats.
Clearwater Travel Plaza
Not every truck stop offers romantic restaurant deals on holidays such as Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Then again, not every truck stop was featured on the Food Network. That honor goes to Clearwater Travel Plaza. Here, the on-site bakery churns out artisanal breads, gorgeous pies, sweet rolls, pastries, fudge and more. The Nelson Bros. restaurant has a diverse menu (Mexican, Italian, steaks, seafood) that actually features a number of fresh, tempting salads, including one with salmon. (At a truck stop!) For those who are in a hurry to get back on the road, a food court offers gourmet, made-to-order sandwiches and pizza. There’s also a general store, clothing store and bookstore.
Whether your truck needs an adjustment or you do, Jubitz has you covered. Here, you can visit a chiropractor, an outpatient health clinic or a barber. Got a hole in your boot? Get it fixed at Bernie’s Shoe & Boot Repair and Sales, and then boot-scoot your good-as-new pair over to the onsite Ponderosa Lounge for a country-music dance lesson. For less active entertainment, there’s also an 80-seat cinema and an arcade room. Hungry drivers and passengers can sink their teeth into the down-home fare at the Cascade Grill.
The term “Travel Center” is preferred over “truck stop” at Little America. Surrounded by 500 acres of ponderosa pines, guests at the lodge-like Little America Hotel can enjoy volleyball, badminton, croquet, horseshoes and swimming. For meals, a selection of high-end steaks and other fare is served at Western Gold restaurant; the Little America Grill serves breakfast all day (along with burgers and rotisserie chicken).
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Kate Silver is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Chicago. Her work appears regularly in Spirit Magazine, Men’s Health, the Chicago Tribune and Midwest Living, as well as on Parents.com.