Jul 3, 2012

5 Weird Roadside Attractions I’ve Visited

Nothing says summer like the great American road trip. Cram the car full of luggage, and hit the highway (noisy kids are optional). While I don’t plan to make any extensive road trips this summer (although I will be posting about accompanying a mysterious and exotic Gypsy to an art fair in Algonquin, Ill., soon), every trip leaves some everlasting memories, and often those memories come from the unusual site you encounter along the way. For better or worse, here are five I can’t get out of my memory bank.

1. World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, Collinsville, Ill. – Collinsville is part of the greater Saint Louis metro area. If you drive just south of downtown on Illinois Route 159, you’ll see a water tower decked out like a giant Brooks catsup bottle. According to the catsup bottle’s official website (yes, there really is one!), it was built in 1949 for the Brooks bottling company in town. After bottling operations left town in the 1960s, the tower fell into disrepair until it was saved in 1995 and, believe it or not, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

In the interest of full disclosure, I much prefer the taste of Heinz. And Bloody Mary aficionados will appreciate Collinsville more for being the horseradish capital of the world.

2. Weldon Spring Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail and Museum, Weldon Spring, Mo. – On the other side of Saint Louis as you head on Route 94 toward wine country, there’s a seven-story tall rock hill flattened off to look like it’s waiting for a UFO landing. What most nearby resident are probably blissfully unaware of it that instead of harboring UFOs, the government is hosting nearly 1.5 million cubic yards of nuclear waste deep underground.

The Young Curmudgeon and me risking life and health hiking the nuclear waste dump several years ago. 

The site is officially named the Weldon Spring Site interpretive Center, and you can hike up a trail to the top and get a great view of St. Charles County, or take a free tour of the Department of Energy’s on-site museum, if it’s open.

3. World’s Largest Purple Spoon, East Glacier, Mont. 

Yep, there it is. 

4. Boggy Creek Monster Statue, Fouke, Ark. – If you believe in Bigfoot but don’t want to travel to the northwest United States to find one, you may want to head south of Texarkana to Fouke, Ark., and look for the Boggy Creek Monster. Sightings have been somewhat regular since the 1970s, and to commemorate the town’s local celebrity, the local filling station has erected a statue in his, or her, honor. And here’s the kicker – the head is carved out, so you can put you face on the monster’s body. What makes a better road trip than a photo opportunity like that? 

When I stopped there several years ago, I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken there, but alas, I lost the photo in a divorce. Maybe that should give me some insight into how my ex-wife prefers to remember me. 

5. Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, La. – Although Avery Island is more of a destination than an “oops, look what I discovered along the road” attraction, most people will go there to tour the McIlhenny Company Tabasco factory, the other attraction on the island (which is actually a salt dome), is Jungle Gardens

It’s 170 acres of drive-thru gardens and wildlife. You’ll encounter plenty of alligators approaching your car for a peek, as well as many species of migratory birds. The park’s most unusual feature is a giant Buddha statue that sits in a pavilion overlooking a lake. The surrounding foliage makes it look more like the Far East but the nutria (they look like a cross between a rat and a beaver) in the lake remind you you’re in Cajun country. 

Honorable mention: Charlie Daniels Museum, Nashville, Tenn. – Sadly, the Charlie Daniels Museum in downtown Music City, which proudly boasted it was owned and operated by Charlie Daniels, has closed its doors since I stumbled upon it in 2010.   But if you loved Charlie Daniels, this was the place to be.  Listening to “Drinking My Baby Goodbye” on a continuous loop while browsing Charlie Daniels souvenirs and checking out pictures of Charlie with celebrities ranging from presidents (I remember both Bushes and Carter) to musicians (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Kid Rock to name a few), I have to admit it’s something I’ll never forget. 

(Editor's note 9-19-2016:  Good news, country and western lovers!  The George Jones Museum is apparently in the same location as the old Charlie Daniel's Museum, and the homage to the Possum is even more comprehensive ... in fact, it's a full entertainment complex worth checking out.)

It’s places like these that always remind me that have the fun on a road trip is getting there. Tales of Algonquin are coming soon …

1 comment:

Traci said...

We love to have similar adventures in search of offbeat attractions. haven't seen the purple spoon, but there's a 20-ft. fork near here in the Hudson Valley: http://gobigorgohomeblog.com/448

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...