As a California kid riding along in the back seat of our family station wagon, I’d often see cars with bumper stickers advertising the Trees of Mystery, with its huge statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox plunked down in the middle of the redwoods. Other signs beckoned you to visit the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, where the law of gravity has been repealed.
As I got older, I regularly drove from my home in Silicon Valley to my parent’s house south of LA. A major milestone along the way was the Casa de Fruita, with its prolific billboards advertising a can’t-miss opportunity to enjoy a variety of dried fruit. Over the years, the place expanded, adding the Casa de Restaurant, Casa De Gas (and Casa de Diesel), Casa De Diner, Casa De Vino , and the Casa De RV Park. Apparently, there is now a Casa De Petting Zoo, complete with a Casa De Cow, Casa De Buffalo and Casa De Camel. Unbelievable. Located along Hwy. 152 south of San Jose (near Hollister), the parking lot is always full of out-of-state license plates and tour buses. Clearly the owners have a good thing going.
Every time we passed another roadside attraction, my family would declare that we should visit them all and write a book: Tacky Tourist Traps of America. Well, it’s not a book, but someone has finally taken the initiative and collected an amazingly comprehensive list. From giant rocking chairs to life-sized dinosaur replicas, RoadsideAmerica.com has it all.
I checked out this fascinating website and found all of my favorite places. Topping my personal list is the Potato Museum of Blackfoot, Idaho. Perhaps because we have a daughter and son-in-law who live just down the road in Idaho Falls, I am partial to this monument to the spud. Rather than bemoaning the fact that their claim to fame is a lowly tuber, Idaho has embraced the potato, even boasting “Famous potatoes” on their license plates.
Another town that has made lemons into lemonade is Wall Drug, South Dakota. While Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and Badlands are certainly worth a visit, you have to admit that most of this state is, well, boring. The folks at Wall Drug have managed to create something from almost nothing, starting when the owners of the small town’s drug store got the great idea of offering free ice water to weary travelers. Now, billboards as far away as Billings, Montana and Minnesota lure tourists with promises of something to ease the monotony. And the tourists come, in vast numbers. Gift shops full of quirky souvenirs, restaurants, a western art museum, a wedding chapel, and even a giant replica of an Apatosaurus have joined the original drug store (now a western-themed shopping mall), making this one of the largest tourist attractions in the country.
Right here in Colorado Springs, we have our own collection of sights to be discovered, from the May Museum of the Tropics (containing the May family’s astounding insect collection) to the Ghost Town and Wild West Museum, complete with scheduled gun fights. Why not check out RoadsideAmerica.com and find out what attractions are close to where you live? Put on your Bermuda shorts, grab a camera, and pretend to be a tourist in your own hometown.