Everyone knows America as the land of gorgeous travel destinations, but what about home of the weird? You may think this after taking a road trip across the vast country’s many highways and country roads and seeing some of its more eccentric roadside attractions.
The Cabazon Dinosaurs—Cabazon, California
On a particularly desolate stretch of Interstate 10 in the vast desert that covers much of Southern California, a strange sight appears in contrast to the dry, cracked earth and sand-colored hills. Make that two strange sights: an apatosaurus…and a T. Rex. That’s right—two enormous dinosaurs, rising from the desert floor and commanding every eye that passes to look their way. Sure, these are dinosaur statues, not the real things. But they are still a shock.
“Ms. Dinny” the apatosaurus and “Mr. Rex” were built over 30 years ago as a roadside attraction that features a gift store in the belly of Dinny and a lookout point—for the brave and able-bodied who want to climb the many steps—in Mr. Rex’s teeth.
World’s largest pistachio nut—Alamogordo, New Mexico
America is known as the home of many of the world’s largest, man-made oddities: biggest ball of twine, biggest thermometer, even biggest steak! But biggest nut? The proud home to the world’s largest pistachio can be found right off Highway 54 in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
This 30-feet-tall nut was built by Tim McGinn in 2009 as a monument to honor his father, Tom McGinn, who passed away in 2007. Tim, who now owns the family pistachio business, went into his latest crop of pistachios and found the most perfectly shaped nut. He then employed a welder, painter and stucco artists to help him make his dream tribute a reality.
The most touching part about this memorial is that the elder McGinn loved going on road trips with his family and exploring the exciting roadside attractions along the way. So his son, Tim, decided the best way to honor the memory of his father was to make him his own roadside attraction, to be enjoyed by families for years to come.
Foamhenge—Natural Bridge, Virginia
They say obsession takes many forms. In the case of Mark Cline, his obsession with sculpting has resulted in a full-size replica of Britain’s Stonehenge…only Cline’s is made entirely of foam. Hence the name Foamhenge. It is situated right off Highway 11 in rural Virginia.
Cline got the idea for what he calls his “greatest achievement” over 15 years ago, when he walked into a warehouse and saw oversized foam blocks. The idea was instantly born. Cline has taken care to make sure each piece replicates the shape of the original structure.
Now that’s dedication…literally.
The Big Duck—Flanders, New York
On Interstate 495 in Long Island, 120 kilometers from New York City, lies a 20-feet-tall, 30-feet-long duck, known as—what else?—The Big Duck. Built in 1931 by duck farmer Martin Maurer, The Big Duck boasts tail lights from a Model T car for eyes and used to house an egg market in its belly. The design of the duck was so unusual that Maurer actually patented it.
This duck may have concrete wings, but it sure likes to travel. Over the years, the land it sat on has been earmarked for other endeavors so it has been moved three times—but then ultimately moved back to its original home in Flanders. Talk about an unusual migration pattern!
Though you can’t buy eggs in its belly anymore, the duck still hosts plenty of visitors to its Long Island nest who come to shop in the gift store inside. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Duck even hosts its own holiday celebration for the locals. When Santa comes to flip on the decorative lights, everyone knows it’s going to be a jolly holiday indeed.
The Shoe Tree—Belding, Michigan
This oddity is actually a series of roadside attractions, because it seems that shoe trees, like the one on Zahm Road in Belding, Michigan, are a countrywide phenomenon. There are over 10 reported “shoe trees” in Michigan alone, with many more around the United States.
The Belding Shoe Tree is said to have started when a Depression-era boy, too poor to buy shoes and dying of frostbite, cursed the tree for not “having shoes growing on it.” Then, on the first anniversary of his death, a pair of shoes was seen hanging from the tree. Another shoe tree in Nevada, which has since been cut down, bears the legend of a newlywed couple who got into an argument below it. The wife reportedly threatened to walk away from the husband and their car, so the husband took her shoes and tossed them up into the tree, where they stuck. Years later, after they made amends and had their first baby, they returned to the tree and tossed a pair of baby booties up there as well.
Today, travelers from all over stop by these legendary roadside attractions to try their hand at getting a pair of shoes to stay in the branches.
Anne Walls is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California.
Want More Wild Roadside Attractions?
Can’t get enough of America’s odd monuments and sideshows? Take a detour to these additional wacky spots.
Largest Ball of Paint—Alexandria, Indiana
An accident became a tourist attraction when a man dropped a baseball in a vat of paint in 1977, then got the idea to paint hundreds more coats on it. The ball of paint currently weighs in at over 1,580 kilograms.
Life-Size Chocolate Moose—Scarborough, Maine
Though technically this roadside attraction is indoors, people travel from far and wide to see the anatomically-correct moose made of 770 kilograms of chocolate, and affectionately named Lenny.
Wee’l Turtle—Dunseith, North Dakota
In 1982, an industrious man decided to make something with all the spare wheel rims he found lying around—and the Wee’l Turtle was born. Two thousand rims later, this 18-feet-tall creature not only attracts crowds, it also reminds them that Turtle River State Park is nearby.
Largest Catsup Bottle—Collinsville, Illinois
If you are driving on Route 159, eating a big bag of French fries—don’t worry. The world’s largest catsup bottle is just ahead. Built in 1949 for the local bottling factory, this 170-feet tower catches the eye of condiment aficionados everywhere (below left).
Coral Castle—Miami, Florida
Take a peek at this mysterious castle (below right), hand-carved by one man between 1923 and 1951 in a fashion so mysterious, some say he had superpowers…and evidently a lot of time on his hands. —A.W.