America has never shied away from the eccentric. Whether it’s deep-frying a stick of butter at a magnanimous State Fair or centering an entire holiday around a groundhog in rural Pennsylvania, the United States has always celebrated the unusual — those oddities and bizarre traditions that push the boundaries of what is considered normal. Confronted with these abnormalities, many might ask, Why?, a question to which America would surely respond, Why not?
Those who embark on journeys across the country will discover a variety of peculiar landmarks, from eerie statues of folklore heroes to monstrous models of everyday items. Situated just off America’s interstates, here are 10 of the nation’s most bizarre pit stops to add to your next road trip itinerary:
Seven Magic Mountains
Anyone who makes the trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas along I-15 knows that there isn’t much to see along the way. The four-hour journey takes you through a whole lot of desert, the highway cutting a straight line through dusty, barren landscapes save for the occasional field of Joshua trees. But, just south of Vegas, a colorful structure rises from the empty wilderness. Created by internationally renowned Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, the Magic Mountains are comprised of seven massive cairns, rainbow stacks of painted rocks that stand over 30 feet tall. Set against the backdrop of the hazy Nevada plains, these poetic towers stand as a creative oasis of human expression.
Everything about this sculpture in Alliance, Nebraska, is the same as its creative inspiration, England’s Stonehenge. The only difference? This one’s made out of cars. In 1987, artist Jim Reinders used 39 automobiles to construct this replica, going so far as to spray-paint them gray to match the color of the original site. The heel stone, in this version, is represented by a 1962 Cadillac. In the years since its dedication, other automobile-inspired structures have been erected nearby, including “Ford Seasons,” inspired by Vivaldi’s series of concertos “Four Seasons.”
A lot of America’s state borders seem to be drawn by a child with a shaky hand, but in this rare spot, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona come together at perfect right angles. The result? An exciting monument where visitors can take turns standing in four states at one time. This cartographic curiosity has inspired tourists to unique creative pursuits, such as striking yoga poses at the quadripoint or placing each of their dog’s paws in a different state. However you choose to spend your moment at the border, this is one experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the nation.
The U.S. is often considered a country of excess, and nowhere is that represented better than in the humongous replicas of household items that line the highways of middle America. Taking pride in these obscure, record-holding spectacles, the states of the Midwest boast structures such as the World’s Largest Pencil and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. But, for the ultimate compilation of “World’s Largest’s,” head to Casey, Illinois, a small, unassuming town that offers the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, Golf Tee, Knitting Needles, Wind Chimes, Mailbox, Bird Cage, and Yardstick. There’s not much to do beside take pictures, but it’s still an experience you’re bound to remember. The sign at the gas station on the outskirts of town says it best: “You’re already in Casey, Illinois. You might as well see the World’s Largest Wind Chimes.”
Similar to Carhenge though much more creatively expressive, Cadillac Ranch is comprised of 10 of the eponymous vehicles spray-painted gratuitously and half-buried nose-down in the dirt. Created by a group of San Francisco hippies in 1974, the artistic automobiles still rise from the desert off of Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas. A motorist’s mecca, the Ranch draws plenty of drivers and adventurers who pull off of the classic route in order to snap a quick photo.
Paul Bunyan Statue
Driving into Bemidji, Minnesota, a small city roughly four hours north of the Twin Cities, you’re immediately greeted by a tall, boxy statue of the folk hero and his famous blue ox, Babe. Paul stands with a massive chest and shoulders and comparatively tiny head, peering down at passing motorists from behind a stringy mustache. Fans of the television show “Fargo” may recognize the duo from its first season, and Stephen King enthusiasts will recall a scene in the book “It” in which the characters are terrorized by a giant Paul Bunyan statue come to life — King drew inspiration from Bemidji’s colossal lumberjack. Since its construction in 1936, the statue has gained a certain prestige, earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and being named the “second most photographed statue in the United States” by Kodak, behind only Mount Rushmore.
Old Man of the Mountain
Everyone in New Hampshire knows about the Old Man of the Mountain. The rocky outcropping in Franconia Notch that resembles the jagged outline of a face is featured on every postcard, souvenir item, and state quarter. Even the state’s highway signs frame their state route numbers within a white profile of the Old Man. The only problem? He doesn’t exist. Well, at least not anymore. On May 3, 2003, New Hampshire residents woke up to the devastating news that the Old Man had collapsed, breaking loose from the cliff and plunging down to the foot of the White Mountains below. Today, you can visit Profile Plaza, a memorial and visitor center near the spot the Old Man once called home.
Located in the redwood forests just outside Santa Cruz, California, this area is, true to its name, quite mysterious. The owners claim it rests on a gravitational anomaly, while realists argue it’s just a visual illusion. Either way, it certainly makes for some fantastic photo opportunities. Inside the wooden building, the laws of physics seem to dissipate, allowing one to roll balls uphill and stand at angles that seem to defy gravity. Whether or not you choose to believe the magic, you’re bound to have an interesting time at the Mystery Spot.
Ben and Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard
You know Chunky Monkey. You know Cherry Garcia. You know Half-Baked and Phish Food. But have you ever heard of Wavy Gravy? What about Vermonty Python or Aloha Macadamia? Ben and Jerry’s, the popular Vermont ice creamery, has experimented with a lot of unique flavor combinations over the years, and not all of them were a smashing commercial success. Whenever a flavor was pulled from distribution, the dairy duo retired it to the Flavor Graveyard at their factory in Waterbury, Vermont. Paying tribute to the desserts of the past, the graveyard gives each flavor a proper burial, complete with a decorative headstone and accompanying poem regretting the loss of the fallen. The grave for Tuskeegee Chunk, for instance, reads “Lost flavor so melted. / Who could have foreseen it? / Perhaps we misspelt it? / Adieu, precious peanut.” RIP.
Nobody knows exactly how the Bubblegum Alley began. What we do know is that after you visit the attraction in San Luis Obispo, California you’re probably going to want some Purell. Starting sometime around the 1960s, visitors to the 15-foot high and 70-foot long alley began depositing their used chewing gum on the walls. Today, the sticky tradition continues, covering the wall in multi-colored globs of saliva-soaked goo, a work of art as oddly beautiful as it is unsanitary. The alley survived two full cleanings in the 70s and, following a failed attempt in the 90s, the San Luis Obispo Downtown Business Improvement Association gave up their attempts to control the chewy chaos.
Looking to explore more of the U-S of A? Check out our comprehensive guide to the States.