Roadside attractions don’t have to be giant, purple polka-dotted dinosaurs tucked away off the side of Interstate 25. Sometimes a roadside attraction is just that: an attraction by a roadside that you simply can't look away from. There are far too many rarities in the U.S. that go unseen by mostly everyone to not write about it.
And here's the thing, after driving 36,123 miles, through every town of the United States, sleeping in my Subaru Outback and setting the Guinness World Record for "Longest Journey By Car In A Single Country," I was bound to come across some of those oddities along the way.
And I did. So I took pictures of them and made mental notes, and now here I am to share them with you. Mind you, not all of them are your classic highway attractions. In fact, most of these stop-offs came by the way of wondering “What the hell is that?!"
Clayton, Idaho: Population? Seven — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Let’s start out with a town known to few, home to even less and seen by almost none. Call it what you want, but when you see the sign for Clayton, Idaho that says "Population: 7," you’re gonna stop and take a photo of it. But what makes this quaint Idaho enclave right off the Salmon River so special is not necessarily its population, but its scenic atmosphere and cozy personality.
Driving by the sign, in the front yard of one of the two homes in town, was a large BBQ gathering with at least twenty or so people having the time of their lives, wondering what in the world I was looking at. It’s one of the smallest incorporated towns in the country, and to most, it’s considered an Idaho ghost town, but to the residents...well, they're just chilling out.
The Thing — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Moving onto a more traditional roadside attraction, many people have seen The Thing while driving on Interstate 10 between Tucson and El Paso. But have you ever actually stopped inside to see what in the world it was?
Well, I can assure you won’t be disappointed by the gimmicky taste, and you'll even get a little fix of history as you trek the sidewalk that takes you behind a few trailers to a cargo container full of old rifles and a big, odd surprise at the end.
After a ten-minute walk journeying through suspense, you’ll arrive at The Thing with a bit of a nauseating surprise. But I'd be doing the highway a disservice if I told you what it was, so I won’t spoil it for the kind souls that took the time to actually put that sideshow exhibit together.
Prada Marfa — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
When someone mentioned the fact that there was a Prada store in the middle of the desert by Marfa, Texas, I was eagerly awaiting to see what in the world they were talking about, or if they were even telling the truth, and if they were, what this town could possibly look like.
I had heard rumors that it was a nudist colony, an artist enclave in the middle of the Texas desert, a combination of cowboys and artists, so I made my way to Marfa and nearly missed the Prada store given its small size and abrupt presence off the side of U.S. 90 – but there it is. All by its lonesome.
And as it turns out, as you get a bit closer, you’ll realize there’s no inventory. You can’t even walk in. Nope, it’s simply a pop-up architectural sculpture created by the artists’ Elmgreen and Dragset that was vandalized a few days after its opening.
It does actually display the Fall 2005 Prada collection, which was donated by Miuccia Prada herself.
WonderWorks — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Ever been through the town of Pigeon Forge, Tenn.? Well, if you’re coming back from a nice visit through Smoky Mountains National Park, make sure you don’t miss it – wait, did I say miss it?
You can't miss WonderWorks even if you tried. The upside-down house serves as a children’s adventure palace with a museum and all other sorts of fun and games. Even in Pigeon Forge, one of the most confusing towns in America, where you'll find yourself saying, "What in the world was that?" over and over again, WonderWorks still stands out like a...well, like an upside-down house.
World's largest chest of drawers
World's largest chest of drawers (or hanging sock house) — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
In High Point, N.C., the world heartbeat of interior design, on your way to one of the two major trade shows that open the town up twice a year, you’ll find a big hanging-sock house. That's right, I named it. (Actually, it's the world's largest chest of drawers, but I like my name better.)
It’s right in the middle of a neighborhood full of houses you wouldn’t bat an eyelash at, which is what makes the hanging-sock house one of my favorites. It really catches you off guard.
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Did you know the second most photographed national statue in the country, after Mount Rushmore, stands in Bemidji, Minn.? It’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. If you’re a Fargo fan, make sure you don’t stop off in Brainerd looking for the iconic statue that was filmed in the movie, because it doesn’t exist. It was actually built for the set.
While there are many Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox exhibits across the state, the big kahuna stands larger than life at 18 feet tall and weighing in at seven and a half tons. After you stand between Paul's legs for about fifty selfies, check out the cafe across the street before you head back to civilization. 'Cause Bemidji? It's on the border of Canada and Minnesota. Dress warmly.
Penn Hills Resort
Penn Hills Honeymoon Resort — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Deep in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, if you’re driving on Highway 447, you’ll pass the once booming Penn Hills Resort, a rustic and abandoned honeymoon hotel that in the 1940’s was a thriving Valentine's Day getaway. When the owner croaked at 102 years old and left behind a slew of back taxes, he was unable to pay his employees their remaining paychecks.
The resort was looted, destroyed and left to rot. It now stands as an eerie disaster that’ll send chills down your steering wheel as you drive past it. With creepy heart-shaped beds and bathtubs and a haunted ice-skating rink with archaic ice skates, there’s no way around a shortness of breath 'till this place is far in your rearview mirror.
Hole N' The Rock
Hole N' The Rock — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Maybe you’re on the way to Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park, or maybe you want to just hang out in one of the most well-known mountain biking capitals of the world: Moab, Utah. Well, on the outskirts you’re sure to see the Hole N’ The Rock, carved out of a giant, signature Moab red rock. It's a crazy, cool house you'll have to see to believe.
But, what makes this spot so spectacular is the formation of all the millions of beautiful red rocks jutting out of the earth, covering the horizon as they fade from view, surrounding your car on all sides. It’s one of the most beautiful drives in America. I don’t think many people drive by the Hole N’ The Rock without grabbing at least ten or twenty photos.
The Tree of Shoes — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
There are many fun sights along the historic Route 66, but among one of my favorites is a place that I like to refer to as "The Tree of Shoes." This shoe tree stands in the middle of Death Valley in Eastern California, one of the hottest and driest places in the entire world.
The desert stretches from California and into Nevada, and as I stopped to check it out, nearly dying of dehydration as I took a few pictures of it, I checked my car thermometer and saw it was around 127 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, the shoes keep growing, even in the unbearable heat.
The TeePee Cafe — Photo courtesy of Greg Cayea
Ever had coffee in a teepee? Would you like to try it? I know just the place for you. It’s called TeePee Café and it sits right on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota in a town called Bonesteel. It sits right on lonesome Highway 18 and you’ll have to veer off the interstate quite a bit for this one, but it’s worth it.
When you need a double espresso at four in the afternoon to keep you up after a long day in the Black Hills of South Dakota, hanging out at Mount Rushmore, why not head southeast until you bump into a large TeePee on the side of the road? They’ll serve you a nice cup of joe.
And those are just a few of the wonderful pockets of the US that you should add to your next itinerary. If you're looking to add a few more to this list, just remember, never take the interstate. Always drive thirty miles south and find a highway and head in whatever direction your spirit fancies. Happy driving!