America's Strangest Roadside Attractions
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/brianlromig/" class="external" rel="nofollow">Brian L. Romig</a>
These odd diversions make for family fun on your all-American summer road trip.
As you squint
through the windscreen, the freeway emerges from a heat haze in the lonely
heart of the Nevada desert. Amid miles of featureless landscape, a single cottonwood tree suddenly
looms. But you do a double take: instead of flowers, thousands of shoes bloom
from the branches. This is no mirage: this is the Shoe Tree, one of America’s strangest roadside attractions.
Arresting roadside oddities
have been around for more than a century, the catalyst for their creation the
ever-decreasing attention span of the average motorist. Since the days of Henry
Ford, cars and their occupants have hurtled by at increasing velocity. To sell
their wares, many highway retailers created giant architectural follies to
evoke the goods sold inside: teahouses were represented by giant teapots, hot
dog stands resembled hot dogs, Muffler Men held mufflers…it all made a weird
kind of sense.
But what do a ball of string,
an avenue of birdhouses, or a cement troll have to sell? It turns out that some
of the most unfathomable roadside attractions are also the most fascinating.
“The roadside is perfect for artists because there’s a built-in audience in the
passing traffic,” says Steve Badanes, Seattle artist and
sculptor of the Freemont Troll, an underpass ogre that has become a local
landmark in the Emerald City. “Passengers are taken by surprise. They were not
intending to come and look at art. There’s always something going on at the Freemont Troll…tourists taking photos,
rappers making videos…it has a life of its own.”
While not many people would be
tempted to drive four hours to visit the second largest ball of twine—as Clark
Griswold (a.k.a. Chevy Chase) did in the film National Lampoon’s Vacation—any
long-distance driver can attest that after hours at the wheel, twine of any
size becomes a strangely appealing diversion.
And hokey charm is certainly
an appeal of roadside attractions. In spite of its ugliness, for example,
there’s something strangely sweet about the Big
Blue Bug in Rhode
Island. Other quirky pit stops, on the other hand, are all about size. “We’re
all attracted to the world’s biggest stuff…it’s a childlike fascination,” says
Badanes. “I mean, who would drive across the country to see the world’s
From Seattle to Rhode Island, these all-American roadside attractions are sure to stop you in your tracks. —Adam McCulloch