By Tanya Silverman
Photo courtesy of Randy Heinitz.
As I cruised down the far northern stretches of California’s US Highway 101 in a baby blue Chevy Astro van, I fell into a daze of ecological awe admiring the redness and greatness of the magnificent trees that surrounded me. Passing through that Redwood forest, I was overcome by the fact that I was actually surrounded by thriving plant life, which was centuries, even millennia, in age. But then I was hit hard with a visual curveball.
Photo courtesy of David Fulmer.
A big, bold Paul Bunyan statue stood strong. The legendary bearded lumberjack was the epitome of brawn with a mighty, muscly chest, leaning on a giant ax, accompanied by his faithful blue ox, Babe.
Apparently the goofy duo is there to guard the Redwood Forest’s Trees of Mystery. Paul’s right hand waves hello to a passing traveler; he is even equipped with a microphone to say “hi” to passersby.
The monument of Paul Bunyan and Babe in Klamath, California, is but one of many kitschy roadside attractions out there, quirky matters or odd institutes placed alongside travelers’ paths. Such installations are inherently and intentionally attractive to tourists. While Paul Bunyan didn’t lure me to hit the brakes in California, I did feel the urge to stop and snap a picture when I passed by a giant, persimmon-shaped bus stop while riding through the rural hills of South Korea.
The many roads that carve up the United States are speckled with attractions of all themes, shapes, and sizes. Speaking of sizes, lots of these attractions come in the form of superlatives. In Connecticut, there’s the World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box, while down in Florida hangs the World’s Largest Chicken Wing, clocking in at over 1,000 pounds. (Fortunately, it’s artificial, so no giant chickens were harmed in its installation.)
Photo courtesy of Anne Swoboda.
Avid catsup (and ketchup) appreciators can pay homage to their favorite tomato flavoring by stopping by the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois. If they really want to make the most out of this roadside attraction, they should head there in July for the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Festival. The annual event features family games and competitive eating contests for ketchup-smothered hot dogs or tater tots.
But regardless of scheduled celebrations, world’s largest items, or related edibles, a wide array of roadside attractions is available year round for tourists to take a pit stop for fun. While it’s certainly possible to come across these sites spontaneously, lots of existing resources are available for travelers to research potential roadside attractions to visit.
Online photo slideshows and travel databases provide guidance for where travelers can go to find the finest skunk-ape research centers, prairie dog statues, or pseudo-Stonehenges on their next vacation.
Roadtrippers, an online travel database and app, offers a specific section dedicated to American roadside attractions. The designated page is organized into sub-sections that are regional, such as the Northeast or Southwest, or thematic, like Interesting Architecture or Stunning Statues.
Photo courtesy of Peter Collins.
The map that Roadtrippers provides for Pacific Northwest Attractions offers a thorough sampling of installations throughout and around Route 5. Travelers would be remiss to embark on this two-state journey without stopping to see the giant fly above a restroom in southern Oregon, followed by Tacoma, Washington’s Big, Goofy Black Bird, and onward to an eternally rockin’ Jimmy Hendrix statue up in Seattle.
BTR reached out to Roadtrippers to learn their insight about amassing the databases of American roadside attractions. Representative Natalie Akers explains that their catalogs are designed both by users and the Roadtrippers’ content team, and that they source from locally curated materials.
Do US roadside attractions appeal to travelers that seek the Americana aesthetic? Akers says that they do, 100 percent. She reasons that road trips are still the “truest way” to see American highlights, like diners, public art, flea markets, and everything in between.
“Culturally, the US is as diverse as the land is,” she tells BTR. “Roadside attractions are often the link between these cultures and pride points for every location on your route.”
Photo coutesy of Francis Storr.
Akers informs BTR that the densest concentration of American roadside attractions exists on Route 66–the nation’s extensive highway that stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles. Some of the favorite attractions of the Roadtrippers staff include the kitsch-filled Tinkertown Museum of New Mexico, the smiley blue cement whale on an Oklahoma lake, and the rotating ellipsoid Futuro House in Texas.
“Roadside attractions are a great link between people and places since they’re often a token of local history and show the wear and tear of many visits [and] photo ops,” she says. “You can make a road trip out of anything, but if there’s something quirky along your route why not check it out?”