“Are we there yet?” That quote is synonymous with children and traveling. Even if no children are on board, hours sitting in the captain’s or first mate’s chair might have you muttering to yourself. Enjoyable as the open road may be, there comes a time when the eyes blur, knuckles become white from gripping the wheel and your bottom end becomes comatose. It’s time for a break!
Fortunately the road most traveled is studded with little gems of Americana and tributes to the offbeat imagination of those who pursued their dreams-ideal places to take a break and maybe learn something new. We’ve come up with a few roadside attractions to get you out of the (motorized) house and on your feet.
Don’t forget your camera. All those larger than life props out there make for wild and wacky photos. Make a slide show on the computer. Fill an album with kids climbing dinosaurs, standing by a very tall Paul Bunyan, or the family standing by the world’s largest ball of twine. These are the things memories are made of.
Lucy the Elephant, Margate, New Jersey
What kid wouldn’t want to walk around inside an elephant? If you’re near Atlantic City, standing tall in a town called Margate (formerly South Atlantic City) is Lucy the Elephant, a 65 foot high example of pachyderm pulchritude. Lucy was born in 1881 and is made of wood covered with metal plates. She was originally made to generate publicity for a real estate sale and, like the Hollywood sign, became an area icon. It is said that a million pieces of timber and 8,560 ribs or arches, 200 kegs of nails, and four tons of bolts and bars were used. It required 12,000 square feet of tin to cover the structure. After nearly burning down in 1904 and falling into disrepair over the years, Lucy was moved to Margate in the summer of1974 where she has become a must-see attraction. A howdah (a carriage on an elephant’s back) on Lucy’s back serves as an observatory. The interior is spacious enough to have been a Victorian hotel at one time. It has become a national historic site. Visit lucytheelephant.org for more information.
Cabazon Dinosaurs, Cabazon, CA
Near the town of Palm Springs, CA stand dinosaurs like Dinny, a larger than life size Apatosaurus and Mr. Rex, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a 100 ton structure. These are off the Cabazon exit of 1-10 and were originally built to promote the Wheel Inn Cafe around 1964. The concrete and steel beasts move and make dinosaurs noises. The T-Rex is fun to climb into and has a small museum inside. Inside Dinny’s belly lies a little souvenir shop. The current owners believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed; the attraction now has a religious theme.
There is a museum, a gift shop and a 60-room motel at the Main Street exit in Cabazon. Go to cabazondinosaurs.com to learn more.
Muffler Men, Various Locations Across the Country
Do you know the Muffler Man? Driving across the U.S., you are likely to see giant figures that have been dubbed Muffler Men. These are large, fiberglass icons made from an original Paul Bunyan mold in the 1960s. They stand 18 to 23 feet tall with their right palm up and the left palm down. The hands were designed to hold Mr. Bunyan’s axe but were also handy for mufflers or tires. Crafted by the International Fiberglass Company in California, they were ordered by large oil companies Phillips Petroleum and Texaco, as well as restaurant chains, to attract attention to their business. Uniroyal Tires ordered a female version. As they fell out of favor, many were bought by independent businesses and re-made into new personas associated with their current owners. You can see current versions dressed as cowboys, bare-chested Indians, spacemen, golfers and more, holding props related to their current association. To see more go to roadsideamerica.com/muffler/
Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska
Dubbed the second wackiest attraction in America by the Trip Advisor web site, Carhenge is a replica of England’s Stonehenge, with one huge difference: cars painted the color of stone are substituted for the stones of the original Located six miles north of Alliance and 160 miles from North Platte, the project was conceived in 1987 by Jim Reinders as a tribute to his father. Since then, more auto-themed sculptures have been added to the property, making for a surrealistic sight. Visit carhenge.com to learn more.
Dinosaur World, Cave City, Kentucky
Okay kids, more dinosaurs. If you are traveling along 1-65, have children with you and are near Cave City, Kentucky, look for the gigantic T -Rex on the side of the road at Exit 53. That’s where you’ll find life-size lizards of the prehistoric kind as you walk along a trail through the forest These gargantuan beasts are fiberglass replicas of the ones that stalked the earth millions of years ago. There’s also a museum where real fossils and artifacts can be found and gifts purchased. Children may dig through sand to find their own souvenirs. Cave City is between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. There are also Dinosaur Worlds in Florida and Texas. To learn more see dinoworld.net.
Wigwam Village, Cave City, Kentucky
Still another Cave City attraction will delight kiddies as well as adults. Imagine staying, not in a motel room, but in an Indian Teepee. There are complete rooms with one or two double beds, a bathroom and furnishings circa the 1930s. The original was built in Horse Cave, Kentucky but was later torn down, only to spring up again (a few miles away) near Cave City. Two other Wigwam Villages are in Holbrook, Arizona and Rialto, California.
The location near Exit 53 of 1-65 is close to Mammoth Cave National Park and other area attractions. Reasonable rates are $35 to $70, depending on the season and number of beds. Go to wigwamvillage.com for more information.
Haines Shoe House, York, Pennsylvania
In 1948, Colonel Mahlon M. Haines, the owner of a shoe store chain, had a building erected in the shape of a boot to publicize his business. It was finished the following year, standing 25 feet tall and 48 feet long. The windows were stained glass shoes with the one in the door showing the owner holding a shoe in each hand. Out front was a shoe-shaped mailbox; and out back sat a doghouse shaped like a boot. A boot-decorated fence surrounded the yard. Thirty-eight elderly couples were treated to a free weekend each year, while newlyweds could spend a romantic week complete with a live-in maid and butler. Today, its a tourist attraction with a snack bar in the heel serving ”Toe Dogs and Heelbasi.” The building is located eight miles east of York, near the Hellam exit off US 30. See it at shoehouse.us.
Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota
Would you vacation at a drug store? You could if it was Wall Drug in South Dakota Bought by a young couple during the Great Depression in 1931, the business floundered for five years until they had an epiphany: cars were whizzing by on the nearby highway without the benefit of air conditioning. What would entice them to stop in? Free ice water! Signs, modeled after the ubiquitous Burma Shave signs, were made up and posted along the highway. Parched travelers began to flock in and a legacy was born. Today there are 76,000 square feet of free attractions, including an animated T-Rex, train station water show, picture-taking props in the free picnic area and much more. There is a gourmet coffee shop, art gallery /restaurant and a pizza parlor. You can buy cowboy boots, Native American artifacts, western clothing and the list goes on. Nowadays up to 20,000 people stop by daily. Wall is about an hour’s drive east of Rapid City on 1-90. Visit walldrug.com to learn more.
Corn Palace, Mitchell South Dakota
Further east on 1-90 in South Dakota, you find the town of Mitchell in the southeast part of the state. The town’s claim to fame is a building that mixes agriculture and architecture. The Corn Palace is a multi-use building decorated on the outside with com in the style of folk art murals. Every year, the murals are completely re-done by a local artist. During the summer months, free guided tours are available. This is the third incarnation of the palace, which located at the present site in 1921. It is used for high school proms, dances, banquets and sporting events and whatever else might come along, including the Polka Festival on September 17, 18 and 19, 2010. For more, go to cornpalace.com.
Finding the Fun-derful
We’ve only scratched the surface here; there are many other wondrous places to visit along your chosen route. An excellent source is roadsideamerica.com or World’s Largest Roadside Attractions (wlra.us), the Teaching with Historic Places site of the National Park Service (nps.gov) or the Roadside Attraction page in Wikipedia.org (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadside_attractions)
Local chambers of commerce are also excellent sources of information on area roadside attractions. They will be happy to furnish you with brochures and maps of local attractions. Auto clubs such as AAA usually have free detailed guide books for the entire country. Books on the subject are available at popular online or brick-and-mortar bookstores. Look for “Roadside Attractions: Cool Cafes, Souvenir Stands, Route 66 Relics and Other Road Trip Fun”, “Route 66 Adventure Handbook” and similar titles.
Okay, its time to get busy and start planning a vacation that will stay with your family forever. Road trip!