Summer is here! It’s time to load the car, set the GPS, and get ready for a great American road trip. We’re not suggesting that you go trade in your car for the Griswold, wood-paneled Wagon Queen Family Truckster — but who doesn’t want to hit the open road like Clark?
Here’s our list of some the best roadside attractions across the U.S. that are worth an impromptu detour this summer.
Jamestown, North Dakota
Built in 1959, this monstrous beast was created by college art teacher, Elmer P. Peterson, after being hired by a local billboard magnet who wanted to create something large enough to attract the attention of passing motorists to the town. The 60 ton behemoth is twenty-six feet tall and forty-six feet long. However, those passing the buffalo along the highway are first greeted by its posterior end as the structure was built before the Interstate came through the area. Existing for more than half a century as a nameless icon, the colossal buffalo was finally christened as Dakota Thunder in 2010.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Whether your map takes to South Dakota to visit the iconic Mount Rushmore or your plans entail arriving on two wheels at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, no trip to the home of the Badlands or the Black Hills would be complete without a quick stop at Dinosaur Park. Open to the public since 1936 (the Sturgis Rally began in1938 and Mount Rushmore was completed inn 1941), seven life-size concrete dinosaur sculptures dot the landscape. This is not your average Jurassic Park, though there is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Created using automobiles instead of monolithic stones, Carhenge has less spiritual significance than its namesake but built as a memorial nonetheless. This unique ‘replica’ utilizes a total of thirty-nine automobiles assuming the same proportions as the ancient ceremonial site. Measuring approximately ninety-six feet in diameter, cars are buried trunk end down, horizontal components are welded in place, and the entire structure is painted gray. Appropriately enough, the site was dedicated on the Summer Solstice in 1987.
Located along the famed Route 66, the concrete and iron creation began attracting visitors in 1972 after taking two years to complete. Hugh Davis began working on the leviathan in 1970 while enlisting the help of a friend to fashion the iron framework. Then, according his notes, Davis spent almost 3,000 hours applying the concrete skin to his creation one five-gallon bucket at a time. Originally built as a surprise gift for his wife, the greater than eighty foot long whale continues to attract visitors and has undergone ongoing restorations since it welcomed its first visitors over forty years ago.
Located along the famed Route 66 just west of Amarillo stands 10 Caddies half buried nose down as a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. In 1974, a group of art-hippies drove the ten models ranging from 1949 to 1963 and supposedly buried them at the same angle facing west as that of the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Natural Bridge, Virginia
There’s an alternative this summer to visiting England to see the famed archaeological monument. Built in 2004 and made completely out of Styrofoam, Foamhenge is a full-size replica of Stonehenge.
Located just south of the outdoor mecca of Moab, lies a 14 room, 5,000 square foot home hand carved into the side of a cliff. Begun in the 1940s, Albert and Gladys Christensen worked on the project until Albert’s death in 1957 at which point Gladys continued to operate a café and gift shop for another seventeen years. Today, large painted white letters announce its presence in the desert landscape.
High Point, North Carolina
The “home furnishings capitol of the world” is home to not one but two giant chest of drawers. The original was built in the 1920s by the city’s chamber of commerce to serve as the Bureau of Information. While the original 38-foot icon remains as homage to the city’s place in the furniture industry, a local furniture store has a added its own 80-foot version to its storefront.
Margate, New Jersey
Built in 1881 by a real estate developer, Lucy weighs over 90 tons and is covered in more than 12,000 square feet of sheet tin. This six-story tall pachyderm is a national Historic Landmark and has served as a real estate office, tavern and a summer home. By the late 1960s, Lucy was abandoned and on the verge of collapse until the citizens raised the necessary funds to prevent her extinction. Today, the giant pachyderm is open to the public and visitors can peruse her structure and gift shop.
In 1985, Leonard Knight began painting his message of ‘salvation’ onto the hillside in Southern California and continued painting (and repainting) until his death in 2014. The 50-foot high and 150-foot wide ‘mural’ serves as one man’s quest to share his message to the world that God is Love through art. The adobe clay hill is adorned with religious scriptures and colorful artistic creations including a giant red heart at its center. A public charity was established that continues to support and preserve Knight’s vision.
Article originally published June 30, 2017. Last updated May 30, 2018.
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