I’m going to be honest, I’m a total geology nerd, so I’ll probably talk a little bit too much about rocks in future posts, but at the moment I kind of feel like talking about weird roadside attractions. As I mentioned in my first post, last spring I headed out to Utah in what was the beginning of a nearly year long adventure. On the drive from Ohio to Utah, I was accompanied by my dad, who is a big fan of weird things on the side of the road. Until this year, I never realized just how many strange things are out there! Here are a few of my favorite:
Casey, IL was interesting to say the least. It’s a little town just off the highway in southeast Illinois. It’s home to many of the “world’s largest” objects. Including the worlds largest wind chimes, rocking chair, golf tee, and mailbox among many others. The town is pretty small but it is filled with lots of giant things. Definitely worth the stop if you’re passing by.
We spent the first night of our trip in St. Louis, MO. Of course, neither of us had been there before so naturally we wanted to see the Gateway Arch. The Arch is located in downtown St. Louis and signs were relatively easy to follow. It’s part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and is run by the National Park Service. Unfortunately we got there late in the day and the visitor center was closed. But we could still see the Arch and walk the pathways near the visitor center.
The next morning we left St. Louis and were on our way. Missouri was actually a pretty cool state to drive through. The highway curved around small hills and you can see lots of nice limestone outcrops along the way. We did come across plenty of bizarre sites as well. At one point we came across a gas station with a rooster car parked there…not really sure of it’s purpose, but whatever, it’s kind of neat. We’re pretty big fans of antique stores, so to break up the driving a little bit we stopped at a few of them. I don’t remember the name or specific location, but we ended up stopping at one that was essentially just piles of junk with a metal roof over it. It was here that I think I found some of the most bizarre things, including the lion thing pictured below…not gonna lie, it kind of terrifies me!
I think the Blue Whale of Catoosa, OK was my favorite roadside attraction on this trip. It’s literally this giant whale some guy built as a gift for his wife. It ended up becoming popular both with the locals as a swimming hole and as a stop along Route 66. It’s a neat little park. It definitely shows its age, but its a nice place to stop for a picnic along the way. There are even some food carts there. We ordered from a Mexican food cart and it was pretty delicious! There’s also a Blue Whale gift shop on site for all your Blue Whale and Route 66 needs.
I-40 through Texas follows Route 66 pretty closely which meant strange and old roadside attractions at almost every highway exit. A few of my favorite were a leaning water tower (they made it lean on purpose) and one of many car graveyards, this one being a VW Bug graveyards.
New Mexico is definitely the Land of Enchantment. Just before crossing from Texas into New Mexico, the landscape changes. Instead of the flat of the part of Texas we had just driven through we were now driving through an area with plenty of hills and ridges. The vegetation had changed as well and it was definitely more colorful that the area of Texas we had just driven through.
We made a pit stop in the town of Tucumcari. It was a neat little town with lots of historic hotels and shops dating from the Route 66 era. This building was my favorite I think.
We ended the day in Albuquerque. My dad, being a huge Breaking Bad fan wanted to spend the evening seeing some of the places where scenes in the show take place.
It was fun to drive around the city finding buildings where the show took place. Saul Goodman’s office is now some sort of sports bar and the site of the Los Pollos Hermanos is actually a fast food Mexican restaurant named Twisters. We even found a gravestone some guy had made for Walt.
The next morning was our last day on the road on our way to Utah. Along the way we stopped in Shiprock, NM then made our way to the Four Corners monument, in order to stand in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado all at the same time.
From there it was just a quick step over to Utah!….Actually it was a few more hours of driving before we were done for the day.
We drove into Utah on 162 from Colorado to Bluff, UT, from there we headed south, with the goal to see Monument Valley…we didn’t quite make it to Monument Valley, at least not into the park. We ended up taking a detour to Valley of the Gods, which was probably one of the best decisions we made on that entire trip! Valley of the Gods is a 17 mile stretch of dirt road that leads you through a desert landscape filled with giant red rock monoliths.
We were a bit worried about the road at first, being from Ohio and having never really driven on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere before, but after one short wet spot in a wash at the beginning, it was easy driving…except for the dust, to this day, I still find red dust in the nooks and crannies of my car and it’s more than half a year later!
After spending the afternoon driving through this red rock paradise, we found ourselves wanting more and ending up with perhaps more than we bargained for.
We decided to head to Muley Point, a scenic overlook, with a stunning aerial view of the San Juan river below. What we didn’t know that this wasn’t just an easy 10 mile drive from where we were…Not only were there several miles of rutted dirt road that needed driven, there was also the task of driving the Moki Dugway…
What is a Moki Dugway you may ask? Well, it’s an absolutely terrifying 3 mile stretch of gravel road, which switchbacks up the mesa top, for a total elevation change of about 1,000 ft. It’s fairly narrow, not quite a comfortable two lanes, with plenty of blind curves, no guard rails and as I mentioned already-gravel.
I swear, driving (or riding in my case I guess) up that road for the first time was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. All the way up we were afraid of what was around the next corner or jittery because we knew if a car was coming from the other direction there was only really room for one of us on that narrow road and backing up wasn’t even close to being an option. Finally we made it to the top, could breathe a sigh of relief and take in the view of Muley Point.
Pictures don’t do this place justice. This was probably one of the most breathtaking views of my young life…or maybe we couldn’t breathe because we knew we had to drive back down the Moki Dugway. It was probably a combination of the two, but that made the view that much sweeter.
After debating if we should take an 100 mile detour to avoid having to drive back down the Moki Dugway, we decided to suck it up and return the way we came. It was actually surprisingly not nearly as petrifying on the drive down. We could see around the curves better so we knew when and when not to drive the narrow stretches of road, lest we run into another car in a narrow spot. Thankfully we made it down and lived to tell the tale.
Since then, I’ve driven that road several times, I’ve even seen RVs, snow plows and even a box truck drive that road. I even laugh when I hear an exasperated tourist mutter “THAT ROAD!”
By this time in the afternoon, we were starting to get hangry…hungry and therefore kind of angry. We made one last stop at Goosenecks State Park before making our way back to civilization.
By this point we had skipped lunch and it was already past dinner time. The nearest town was Mexican Hat and while we didn’t stay long as we wanted to get to our hotel in Blanding for the night. We did stop for gas station corn dogs to hold us over…and they were the best more well deserved gas station corn dogs a girl could ask for.