Posts Tagged ‘highways’

It’s not always bad news…

Mullinville, Kansas

Reason #38- Roadside Attractions

One sunny afternoon in the flat plains of Central Kansas, we came across a field with hundreds of kinetic and other metal sculptures.  I had heard that there were unusual roadside attractions in the Midwest, but this was the first time I was taken aback by one.  Mullinville, Kansas, is a small town on U.S. Highway 400 and its claim to fame are these “totems,” as their creator, a reportedly ill-tempered M.T. Liggett, calls them.  They are made from junked farm machinery, car parts, road signs or railroad equipment.

From the giant dinosaurs in Cabazon, Calif., to “Carhenge” in Alliance, Neb., to the massive “Geese in Flight” metal sculptures in North Dakota, surprises around the bend will usually delight, if not impress.  There’s a giant elephant in New Jersey, the world’s largest thermometer in the California desert, and mammoth statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox, throughout North America.  Bring your own spray paint and help decorate the upended relics at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

There are literally hundreds of these attractions scattered all over America, many on out-of-the-way back roads, and are the hope of each county or town near their location.  What makes them special is the quirky or humorous nature of the creations, the more unexpected the better.  For example, the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn doesn’t really cut it any longer, but New York State’s “World’s Largest Garden Gnome” will definitely have you cracking a smile.   Beneath an overpass in Seattle, there is a cement statue, the Fremont Troll, so large that a full-size VW bug fits in its clutched hand. 

There also seem to me popular themes to these attractions.  Treat yourself to a visit to the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, S.C., or to the Little A‘le‘inn, a roadside café and motel on the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada.  Huge dinosaurs can be found in nearly every state, as can the “World’s Largest” almost anything. 

There’s a Foamhenge in Virginia, a replica of Stonehenge in  Washington State, the aforementioned Cadillac Ranch and Carhenge, and other “Henges” of various types across the country.  There are also umpteen metal horse, elk and buffalo statues on the plains and rolling hills of the Midwest and the deserts of Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona, some with Native Americans in chase.

We’ve seen bowling ball gardens, hot-dog-shaped cafes, coffeepot or teapot gas stations, giant rocks in a myriad of shapes, and a “city” of round rocks.  Ghost towns seem to be everywhere, as are an abundance of outdoor museums of farm and ranch equipment, and strange man-made structures like Bishop’s Castle in Colorado.  Many have expressed fascination with the over-painted Salvation Mountain in Slab City, Calif., or the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama.

All told, we wouldn’t enjoy life on the road as much without at least some of these respites from dreary highway travel, helping make the road less traveled much more fun.


Interestingly, my closing quote typifies why interesting roadside attractions are so often missed by tourists.  It was attributed to Gilbert K. Chesterton, an English writer who lived during the turn of the 20th century.  He wrote, appropriately, “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

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It’s not always bad news…

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, the polarizing 2020 Presidential campaigns were being waged and merely living in America was becoming a gloomy prospect, I attempted to mitigate the dread surrounding us by focusing on the many joys and delights we could still enjoy, hopefully lifting spirits and soothing the soul. While carefully researched, every essay in this collection includes personal reactions that supplement and enhance the factual content. The result in interesting reflections and an affirmation that we can be positive and find joy in the most difficult of times.

I especially need these affirmations right now, as many of you know, since I lost my wife to cancer in December. I hope you enjoy them- my book info is at the end.

Reason #2- Driving

There’s a lot about driving people dislike, i.e., traffic jams, accidents, tickets, and more.  They don’t call it “road rage” for nothing.  But, it’s not all bad.

In fact, I’ve LOVED driving since I first sat behind the wheel.  My dad owned a gas station and I started working summers there when I was twelve.  The service station was also a U-Haul dealer and by the time I was 14, I was moving those big U-Haul trucks around the lot and getting them parked.  I bought my first car when I turned 16 and got my license.  It was a 1962 white Econoline pickup, and I drove that truck with glee for a couple of years before buying a muscle car when I was nearly 18.

My 1970 Plymouth Duster was my “coming-of-age” car.  Having pegged out the speedometer at 120 mph numerous times, I can only guess what its top speed was.  I was young and invincible, and my driving showed it.  However, starting a family made me much more aware of the dangers of speed and I reined myself in.  By the time I was into my 20s, that Duster had carried us to San Francisco, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, Modesto and Merced in the Big Valley, and Joshua Tree National Forest and even Ensenada, Mexico, and all points in between.

I was a true explorer and have been ever since.  No wonder we moved into our RV the moment we could.  Since then, the sights have been innumerable, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

According to Faceandbodydesign.com, driving has been shown to be very good for your mental state. Research has shown that getting behind the wheel of a car may reduce dementia risk and offer other health benefits for the elderly.  As we age, we may also benefit from driving a car, both boosting cognitive function and staving off conditions like dementia.  It may also halt the aging process.  Had I only known, I could have stayed young forever.

Let’s not forget that this country would be very different had it not been for the automobile.  Driving a few miles on Route 66 or U.S. Highway 20 can give you an appreciation for the mass westward exodus from the East Coast city life America experienced.  What would the 50s and 60s have been like without a car, drive-in theaters or drive-thru fast food restaurants like In-N-Out and A&W?  I can tell you one thing, the West Coast would have been reserved only for the wealthy, as average families in the East and Midwest could only save up for annual western vacations.

No, driving is a guilty pleasure that I will hopefully never have to give up.  With 85 being the new 65, I will do everything I can to be safely behind the wheel well beyond those years.


I’ll close with a quote from Tom Hanks:  “Growing up in northern California has had a big influence on my love and respect for the outdoors. When I lived in Oakland, we would think nothing of driving to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz one day and then driving to the foothills of the Sierras the next day.

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