The open-ended nature of a road trip is what makes it fun, but without any worthy detours on the horizon, the journey can also get stale. So if you’ve already indulged in your favorite car snacks, shared your most embarrassing middle school moments, and listened to the best, whiniest 90s hits, consider setting out for these roadside attractions.
Prehistoric Gardens, Port Orford, OR
The rainforest on the coast of Southern Oregon that hugs Highway 101 is a sight not to be missed all on its own. However, nothing brings the environment to life like the Prehistoric Gardens. What makes them prehistoric? Why the dinosaurs, of course! The 23 life-size dino sculptures, painted in brilliant colors, were built by E.V. “Ernie” Nelson in the 1950s, and were intended to be as “scientifically correct” as possible. Because realism is the main draw to a garden full of dinosaurs.
Salvation Mountain, Niland, CA
In the middle of the Mojave desert, just east of the Salton Sea, you’ll notice the bright colors of Salvation Mountain popping at a distance. Inspired by Navajo architecture and his religious desire to spread love, Leonard Knight built this shrine with mud, straw, adobe, and layers upon layers (an estimated 100,000 gallons) of paint. He lived out of his truck in the desert by the mountain from the 1980s until his passing in 2014. It’s uncertain who will care for the mountain in his absence, but it’s clear that everyone — including Sean Penn, who put it in his movie Into the Wild — gets a certain thrill from the seeming impossibility of the place.
The Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD
Most people driving across South Dakota get hooked by the Wall Drug signs that tease you all down Interstate 90 in South Dakota. But it’s The Corn Palace in Mitchell that really impresses. This beautiful Moorish-revival structure was built in the late 1800s and decorated with intricate murals made from, yes, 10 different types of corn. You’ve heard of the versatility of corn, but you haven’t seen it like this. They even get new themed murals every year. Maybe the strangest part is that the corn palace is an incredibly functional building for people in town, where they host basketball tournaments and regular live entertainment.
The Clown Motel, Tonopah, NV
Whether or not you’re creeped by clowns, the intense, obsessive cluster of clown memorabilia at the Clown Motel is certain to spook you. Located off of Highway 95 in middle-of-nowhere Nevada, the motel’s other creep factor is the small cemetery, just outside, that features the graves of a series of townspeople who died from a mysterious plague, and 14 miners whose lives were taken in a mine fire. Road-trippers looking for a good old-fashioned scare, plus a place to spend an eerie night, should consider this a must-do.
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX
Along Route 66/Interstate 40 outside of Amarillo, it’s hard to miss the ten Cadillacs with their noses buried in the ground, their fins in the air, undersides exposed to the world. This public art installation was created by three artists who called themselves Ant Farm, and funded by an eccentric millionaire, Stanley Marsh 3. All of the Caddy models were built between 1948 and 1963, as a monument to the “Golden Age of Cars”, and visitors are now encouraged to add to the installation with their own spray paint.
Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood, ID
There’s no mystery to this one. What you see is what you get. The Dog Bark Park Inn is a giant beagle-shaped building that also happens to be a bed and breakfast, where the most fierce dog lovers can spend a night in the non-proverbial doghouse — and FYI, visitors are enamored of the hospitality. Known as Sweet Willy by residents in town, the enormous beagle and his buddy Toby, were built by chainsaw artists, Dennis and Frances, who also make smaller sculptures of dogs of nearly every breed.
If you’re on the road this summer and in need of a destination, don’t hesitate to make a pit stop at any one of these attractions. You’re sure to walk away astonished, in one way or another.