Tag Archives: roadside attractions

wigwam motel copy

Sometimes travel, like life, is a comedy. You drive along near Monteagle, Tenn., and spot the road sign directing you to ”Fiery Gizzard and Savage Golf Trails.” Savage golf, yeah, let’s put some zip in the game:  Losers get eaten by bears.

Or you pass the warning in the Cascade Mountains of Washington: ”Danger flying rocks — 35 mph.” One wonders if the rocks travel at that speed and whether they will be passing you on the road if you are driving too slowly for them.

Or you pass by the high school in Tillamook, Ore., where they proudly announce they are the ”Home of the Fighting Cheesemakers.”

Of  course, I shouldn’t point fingers: My alma mater was the “Fighting Quakers” and my wife was a “Demon Deacon.”

The world is filled with little jokes. Sometimes intended, usually not.

Over the years, we’ve traveled pretty much everywhere in the continental United States and Canada, and we’ve come across many little geographical punchlines. miniature house ontario copy

Some things you notice are outright funny. Others only strike you odd when you think about them: The Burns Brothers Gasoline Station.

Across this wide nation, from Dekay Street in Hoquiam, Wash., to Debree Street in Norfolk, Va., you can find yourself doing double takes at road signs or the names of industries or towns.

No doubt, some of these prodigies have gone the way of all kitsch. They’ve gone out of business, probably replaced with something just as peculiar.

In Wisconsin, you could buy your souvenirs at Ethel’s Flood of Gifts. In Maine, you could stop at Pointy Head Antiques.

And when you visit Batavia, Iowa, don’t miss the House of Chrome.

There were Concrete Gifts in Coos Bay, Ore., and a Cement National Bank in Easton, Pa. There’s also the town of Concrete, Wash.

There was the Tired Chicken, a restaurant in Crescent City, Calif., and a tired gin joint in Lincoln City, Ore., called George’s Paris by the Sea.

In Las Vegas, a few years ago, we passed Murphy’s Law Restaurant. True to form, it was up for sale. Something must have gone wrong.

There was the Hollow Cocktail Lounge, Charleroi, Pa., and the Hester Prynne Restaurant in New Jersey, with its ”A-frame” entrance. At the Sanitary Cafe in Reidsville, N.C., the breakfast specialty was brains and eggs. I recommend ’em.

In Pennsylvania, you could order an Arsonburger. Las Vegas sphinx copy

The Best Western in Vancouver, British Columbia, offered ”Free escargot.” I wondered how big a draw that might be.

I also wonder how comfortable the Cockleburr Motel could possibly be, in Kadoka, S.D.

Kadoka is a wonderful little town. But for years, they had a sign along the interstate that read:

”Welcome to Kadoka, S.D.

Entrance to the Bad Lands

Kadoka Needs Another Doctor”

It’s not good to sound too desperate.

Maine has its own interesting town sign: ”Welcome to Kennebunk, the only village so named.”

Watford, N.D., declares itself ”The Whopper Capital of the World” in honor of the stories sports fishermen tell there. You can stay there at Four Eyes Motel, with a picture of Teddy Roosevelt on the sign. It’s also where you could find the Abstract Tile Co.

In nearby Alexander, one could hole up at the Ragged Butte Motel and Cafe, and stop by the Hard Ride Liquor Co. for your refreshment.

In Culbertson, Mont., there was Custom Built Feeds. I know the agribusiness has gone high-tech, but how scientific can silage be? OJ did it train copy

In Poplar, Mont., there was an old concrete bridge over a tiny dry creek, the way they can be in the arid West: all scrub and gravel. You’d hardly notice the bridge at all — it’s only about 15 feet long and there is nothing under it but grass and cobbles — except for the large, imposing sign: ”No Diving Off Bridge.”

The MX Motel in Chester, Mont., was named in honor of the nuclear missiles hidden underground nearby. Its sign was written in a flowery Old English script, which certainly captures the elegant and dainty spirit of nuclear holocaust.

Louisiana’s economy booms and busts with the oil business, and many businesses have a very precise focus. As you pass through such towns as Sulphur and Industries, you pass such workplaces as Concentric Pipe Rentals, the Down Hole Co. and Major Mud and Chemical. I’ve always wondered what the technical difference might be between minor mud and major mud.

But those businesses are hardly alone. There’s a Nova Mud Corp. in Ely, Nev.

 Part 3: A chance to pull overroadside america exterior


The central Appalachians — through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York — is the natal home of the cheesy roadside attraction. Many are now gone, but many also remain, often looking cheesier and more shopworn than ever. The Catskill Game Farm is no longer there, but Santa’s Workshop is still going strong.

They are also home to many early resorts and vacation hotels, pitched on mountain ranges not far outside the cities of Philadelphia or New York, where urban dwellers could spend a week or two breathing healthy mountain air — the Poconos or the Catskills.

And hikers can follow trails through the many state parks, or the long Appalachian Trail, which courses through the three states, weaving a path that avoids urbia and suburbia and finds the long, bent ridge lines of the breadloaf mountains.

Roadside America

Roadside America

This section of the Appalachians is the most highly populated, but there are still bits of woods and rock. But that population also meant it was economically feasible to build those legendary roadside attractions — Crystal Caves and Frontier Towns — that once punctuated the now-forlorn backroads and highways.

The quintessential tourist mecca is Roadside America in Shartlesville. It is a model-train layout the size of a department store. Opened in 1941, the exhibit is run by the descendants of its creator. Stay for the simulation of night, when all of the buildings light up and Kate Smith sings God Bless America while a spotlight shines on the Statue of Liberty. roadside america 4

Not much can live up to that. But there is the Sturgis Pretzel House in Lititz, which is the nation’s oldest operating pretzel factory, where you can learn the craft.

Also in Lititz are the Wilbur Chocolate factory and the Heritage Map Museum. wilbur chocolate facade

In nearby Ephrata is the Ephrata Cloister, which has a dozen well-preserved 250-year-old wooden buildings, including dormitories for the communal society of religiously celibate German Pietists.

In York, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, you can visit the Weightlifting and Softball Hall of Fame and the Harley-Davidson assembly plant and museum.

In Columbia, there is the Watch and Clock Museum, and Meadeville is the ”birthplace of the zipper.”

And near Harrisburg, Three Mile Island and its remaining nuclear power plant is on the Susquehanna River. Gettysburg, Pa copy

More serious sites include Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg and the Johnstown Flood National Memorial near Johnstown, where the National Park Service is showing its version of an Imax-style film with stunning special effects re-creating the devastating 1889 flood that killed more than 2,000 people.

Only a slice of the Appalachians cuts through New Jersey. The most important stop is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area along the Delaware River. There are some exhibits, 200 miles of roads through the mountain country and uncounted hiking paths. high point state park

High Point State Park is the highest point in the state. Both it and the Water Gap include portions of the Appalachian Trail, the 2,000-mile footpath that runs along the Appalachian crest from Georgia to Maine.

The rest of New Jersey’s mountains are kind of pathetic: The Watchung Mountains in the center of the state peak out at 879 feet above sea level.

Kaaterskill Falls

Kaaterskill Falls

But New York, home to the Catskills and the Adirondacks, is one of the champions of roadside kitsch. There are dinosaurs, giant lumberjacks, recreated 19th century villages and Niagara Falls — the granddaddy of all vacation (and honeymoon) hucksterism.

Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, N.Y., is called the oldest theme park in the U.S. It opened in 1949 and used to have a petting zoo. There are dozens of Santalands and Christmas villages around the country, but this one, in northern New York, was the first, and it still gives an idea of the old-fashioned roadside attraction that has been eaten up by the Disney Worlds and Five Flags of the world.

Washington Irving wrote about the Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley in such stories as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. His estate in Tarrytown is called Sunnyside and is a delightful look at life in the early part of the last century.



A little farther north and on the other side of the river are Harriman and Bear Mountain state parks. Seven Lakes Drive takes you through the crisp lake country of Harriman, and Perkins Drive takes you to the summit of Bear Mountain, where, on a clear day, you can see as far as Manhattan.

Just north of Bear Mountain Bridge is the National Military Academy at West Point, with its parade grounds, faux medieval architecture and stunning view of the Hudson River and Storm King Mountain.

And naturalist John Burroughs’ birthplace and final home are commemorated in the John Burroughs Memorial Field, near Roxbury. On the way, don’t miss Kaaterskill Falls, one of the most famous and oft-painted waterfalls in the country.

John Burroughs' Woodchuck Lodge, Roxbury, NY

John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge, Roxbury, NY

And in Cooperstown, there is not only the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Fenimore House, the home of James Fenimore Cooper, best known as the man who invented John Wayne — aka Leatherstocking, Hawkeye, the Pathfinder and Natty Bumppo — and the Farmer’s Museum and Village Crossroads, home to the Cardiff Giant, greatest archaeological hoax of all time. cardiff giant recumbent

NEXT: New England Appalachians