Roadside Attractions in America
Going on a road trip? The St. Louis Arch, Statue of Liberty and Golden Gate Bridge are great tourist sites. But if you prefer offbeat destinations, check out these roadside attractions and odd museums.
World’s Largest Ball of Paint
In 1977, Michael Carmichael set out to create the biggest ball of paint anywhere. Starting with a baseball as center, he painted layer after layer of paint day after day, year after year. After more than 20,000 coats of paint, the ball weighs more than 1,300 pounds, and is recognized by Guinness World Records as biggest such ball in world. Visitors (who must call in advance) can paint the ball themselves and become part of history.
Rapid City, S.D.
The land that time forgot can be found outside Rapid City. On a hill overlooking the city, dinosaurs made out of brightly painted concrete stand guard. The park was built as a work project in 1936, during the Depression. The five dinos, which include a triceratops and T. rex, are life size and can be seen for miles. They may not scare anyone, but they will entertain everyone.
Scale Model of the Solar System
To get an idea of how big our solar system is, visit the Lakeview Museum Community Solar System. It’s the biggest little solar system in the world, according to Guinness World Records. The planets and their orbits are in scale (42 feet equals one million miles). The museum’s planetarium, a big yellow dome 36 feet in diameter, stands in for the Sun. Forty miles away astronaut-tourists can find Pluto, with a diameter of one inch. Distant comets can be located at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, and as far away as the South Pole! As with real heavenly bodies, the models often move to different locations, so be sure to ask where to find them.
Los Angeles, Calif.
These amazing towers are located in an area of Los Angeles called Watts. Simon Rodia began work on them in 1921 and finished the project 33 years later. He built the structures out of steel rods covered by concrete. Embedded in the concrete are stones, glass, broken tiles and other materials. The tallest tower is nearly 100 feet. The towers are surrounded by birdbaths, fountains, benches and other objects. The Watts Towers is a national historic landmark.
Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum
San Antonio, Tex.
Nearly 700 toilet seats are on display at this unusual museum—all painted or engraved by Barney Smith. Smith has been painting toilet seats for the past 35 years. Many seats, such as U.S. and Canadian license plates, are related to his travels. Others relate to current events or pop culture. Some have objects glued on them, like model trains, dog licenses and Boy Scout badges. Smith sees himself as an artist who just happens to use a different type of canvas.
The Museum of Dirt
The museum is the brainchild of Glenn Johanson. Labeled glass bottles contain such treasures as dirt from the Great Wall of China and property owned by Bob Hope, as well as sand from a desert in Saudi Arabia and Omaha Beach in France. Johanson also has collected material from the Amazon River, from Times Square after a New Year’s Eve celebration, lava from Mt. Fuji in Japan and shells from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Best of all, the cost of seeing this museum is dirt cheap: It’s free.
Mount Horeb Mustard Museum
Mount Horeb, Wis.
It’s heaven for hotdog lovers! This museum claims to have world’s largest collection of prepared mustards. Its more than 4,100 jars, bottles and tubes of the condiment come from every state and from 60 nations, including Turkey and Tibet. Visitors learn the history of mustard, from how it’s made to how it’s advertised and sold. The museum’s creator, Barry Levenson, loves mustard so much, he even puts it on ice cream!
A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte, is a famous painting by Georges Seurat. It shows people relaxing by a river. Artist James T. Mason has reproduced this work, using electric clippers instead of a brush. Mason’s art is topiary—the cutting and trimming of trees and bushes into shapes. His green version of the painting consists of 54 topiary people, as well as eight boats, three dogs, a monkey and a cat. The tallest topiary figure is 12 feet tall. They all appear in a park by a small lake, where strollers can become part of the “picture.”
It’s a PEZ lover’s dream. Nearly 1,500 PEZ dispensers fill the museum, including a Disney PEZ dispenser that sits in a 10-foot-high castle. Halloween-themed PEZ dispensers are in a haunted house. And a psychedelic PEZ dispenser is next to a real Volkswagen Beetle car that seems to be crashing through the wall. The hand-held candy dispensers were first produced more than 50 years ago, and today they are coveted by collectors. The museum displays such PEZ prizes as an NFL dispenser, superheroes, Star Wars, Charlie Brown, Elton John and Santa Claus. Best of all, you can buy PEZ at the museum and start your own collection.
Swedish immigrant Ellis Stenman was way ahead of his time in 1922, when he started to build a two-room cottage almost entirely out of newspaper. At the time, people didn’t give much—if any—thought to recycling paper. In fact, “recycling” wasn’t even a word yet. The house is framed with wood, but the walls are made of 215 layers of newspaper. Stenman even made his own glue, out of flour, water and apple peels. The inside walls are decorated with intricately folded and quilted newspapers. If you visit, take a close look at the furniture and curtains. They’re also made of newspaper. Stenman wrapped paper around wire to build chairs, desks and lamps. In all, he used about 100,000 newspapers. It gives a whole new meaning to wallpaper.