There is just something about the onset of summer that makes the open road seem so appealing, but boredom can quickly strike if you get stuck in the car for too long. Sure, there are things to see outside the window, but nothing really beats some of the roadside attractions that pop up along the way. There are some real quirky little hidden gems out there just waiting to be discovered.
Many of the attractions out there are obscure to say the least, with many of them dating back way beyond the times of modern technology. Many of them were put together during a period where such things as the largest ball of yarn and a flea circus were considered to be wow factor displays. Yes, they may be unusual and dated, but they are still worth pulling off the road to take a look at.
1. Shoe Tree in Middlegate (US Route 50), Nevada
Photo Credit: beth woodrum
Many roadside attractions that you will encounter along the way have been put in place for the express purpose of separating you from your money. The Shoe Tree is the complete opposite of that and is in fact exactly what it sounds like: a tree in the middle of a deserted patch of land between Ely and Reno that is home to thousands of shoes. The Shoe Tree has developed a cult following over the years, with many visitors making the pilgrimage so that they too may add their own shoes to the branches.
No-one really knows for sure what the true origins of the Shoe Tree are, but if you are willing to submit to a little urban legend, there is a story that allegedly explains it all perfectly
The story goes that a young couple was camping under the magnificent tree during their honeymoon. An argument ensued that led the young woman to threaten leaving her man. In order to prevent her leaving, the young man dispatched her shoes into the upper branches of the tree. The couple soon kissed and made up, deciding to embark on their journey of love together. To celebrate this momentous moment at the beginning of their marriage, the young couple returned to the tree after their first child turned a year old. They threw the baby booties up into the branches to signify that their story had come full circle.
There is no way of knowing if there is any truth at all to the story, especially since a honeymoon argument doesn’t seem like a great starting point for a love story. Either way, the tree is still a magnificent site to behold.
The large number of visitors who stop to take in the Shoe Tree means that the branches grow a little thicker with each passing day. It also means that some of the older additions grow old and die, resulting in a shoe graveyard at the base of the tree. If you want to see the Shoe Tree in a different light, try going in winter when a light dusting of snow makes it look more cooler than ever.
2. Paper House in Rockport (MA Route 127), Massachusetts
Photo Credit: Danielle Walquist Lynch
Ellis F. Stenman is perhaps best known, or maybe not, as the man who designed the paperclip making machine, but it’s the wooden structure of this house that more people actually see. The whole thing began as a weird project where he began to insulate the family home with newspaper back in the 1920’s. No-one besides the family was ever expected to see the fruits of his labor, but it quickly became a major roadside attraction.
The Paper House exterior is comprised of more than 100,000 newspapers, each of which has been layers and pasted to create insulation. Not content with papering the outside, the family took their hobby indoors, covering much of the furniture with newspaper as well. The fact that varnish was used to coat the papers means that the headlines can still be read to this day.
If you do visit, there are some great historic stories to be on the lookout for. The newspaper that contains details of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight can be found on the writing table. The radio stand contains Herbert Hoover’s presidential campaign, and the grandfather clock has the flags of the 48 states that belonged to the US back in the 20’s.
3. Prada Marfa Store in Valentine (US Route 90), Texas
Photo Credit: David Fulmer
They say that everything is bigger in Texas, which would make you believe that everything should be easy to find. You may very well be out of luck, though, if your reason for going to the Lone Star State was to shop for Prada. The lone location in Marfa is home to 20 left-foot heels and six purses, which may or may not match the shoes. The location is basically in the middle of nowhere and has no doors, salespeople, or customers. It would be all too easy to drive by, but for the fact that it is just so out of place with its surroundings.
If that all seems a little too weird to be real, it’s because it is; the store is in fact a permanent sculpture that was designed back in 2005 by German artists Elmgree and Dragset. The whole idea behind the piece is that it will never be repaired or altered, with the adobe statue eventually crumbling to dust and returning to nature.
While this is a statue that will not be around forever, lovers of the fashion giant can take a little solace in the fact that the statue was given the go ahead by none other than Miuccia Prada. Her reward for granting permission was to be given the freedom to choose the 20 shoes that would be displayed.
4. World’s Largest 10 Commandments (Hwy 294) in Murphy, NC
Photo Credit: Brent Moore
It seems that American’s have a fascination with oversized objects if some of the roadside attractions that are commonly run across are anything to go by. Balls of twin, nuts, and bottles of ketchup are just a few of the items that have been given the enlarged treatment and turned into an attraction. Any one of those would be a thrill to visit, but they all pale in comparison to the World’s Largest 10 Commandments.
The structure, as well as several other massive Christianity-themed attractions, is on display at the Fields of the Wood Bible Park. If the oversized commandments aren’t enough for you, why not also take in the world’s largest New Testament bible statue, a Baptism pool that you can swim in, or the full-sized recreation of Jesus’ tomb? A local tourism site declared the location the “Number One Family Attraction in the Entire Smokies” back in 2003. That may explain why both true believers and attraction lovers alike converge on the popular spot.
5. Miniature Graceland (Riverland Road) in Roanoke, Virginia
Photo Credit: Julie
There was a time not so very long ago when Elvis fans could embark on a 210 mile pilgrimage that ran from Nashville to Memphis, stopping at all the important spots along the way. Includes on the Elvis Pilgrimage Trail was a hand-built homage to the King that was put together by Donald and Kim Epperly back in the 80’s. Miniature Graceland was built in the Epperly backyard and was made up of buildings and career landmarks that were relevant to the life and times of Elvis.
Back in the day, Miniature Graceland was something of a mecca for fans that were traveling along the trail. It all somewhat came to an end in the 90’s when Donald fell ill and had problems trying to look after and maintain his wonderful creation. The worst time of all came in 2005 when a falling tree branch almost took out a major part of the attraction. It took months to remove the offending branch, which actually made it impossible for visitors to see anything of Miniature Graceland.
The roadside attraction eventually became overwhelmed by long grass and blooming flowers, but the word id that Don and Kim’s son has taken over Miniature Graceland and is working to return it to its former glory. Recent visitors have reported real signs of improvement, with many even saying that they seem some new additions being worked on.