Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
April 11, 2021
In the summer of 2017 Debbie Jackson and Denise Cummings drove to Sumner, Missouri, to see Maxie, the World’s Largest Goose. The goose had been built in 1974 by their father, David Jackson, and was showing its age. The sisters knew that Maxie needed work — an estimated $50,000 worth — but how could a tiny town and two Kansas City grandmothers raise $50,000 to repair the World’s Largest Goose?
It helped that Sumner was devoted to Maxie and able to pull an impressive share of the fundraising load. A local committee wrote letters soliciting donations from corporate sponsors and auctioned gooseberry pies, some for thousands of dollars apiece. The sisters meanwhile set up a GoFundMe page, learned how to create a 501(c)3 to encourage larger tax-deductible donations, and created a Facebook page to urge visitors to photograph Maxie for themselves (and perhaps donate later). They created a “Save Maxie” booth that they took to nature centers and outdoor events, including the annual Wild Goose Festival in Sumner, for in-person fundraising.
Styling themselves as The Goose Sisters, they made themselves available to the media at every opportunity. They created Maxi-branded face masks and retro-style bumperstickers (which for some reason did not say, “Honk if you love Maxie”) to sell, and an annual “Save Maxie Call-Makers Contest” — hunters’ goose calls — with the proceeds going into the repair fund.
By April 2021 the combined efforts of Sumner and the sisters had raised the $50k, and Maxie’s benefactors were ready to sit down with a contractor.
“It’s been hard to find someone; there aren’t a lot of people willing and qualified to work on a 40-foot-tall goose,” said Debbie. “But now that we have, our goal is to get Maxie cleaned up, straightened out, and get all the restoration work done by the Wild Goose Festival [September 2] this year.”
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March 29, 2021
Admit it. If you could travel back in time, just once, it wouldn’t be to kill baby Hitler or buy Apple stock. It would be to ride a dinosaur. Selfie that thunderlizard!
Throughout the Photography Age (especially during the Smartphone Epoch), tourists have flocked to outdoor statues for triumphant “I’m here and you’re not” poses. Climbing on large sculptures for snaps is not without precedent, but today’s self-documenting boasters aspire to ever loftier perches.
A recent example, reported in the Yakima County Scanner, occurred on March 22, 2021, when a 19-year-old woman crawled up the back of one of the dinosaur statues (a T. rex) in Granger, Washington, and then couldn’t get down. The fire department had to be called in, a passer-by recorded the whole thing, and the woman became a hit online — but not in the way she wanted.
A dismount assist by first responders always results in unflattering angles… and the Internet never forgets.
The publicity is good for Granger. As long as there was no injury or damage, liability insurers sleep soundly. The fire department proved their Jurassic Extraction Training Workshop in Hawaii was no boondoggle. The world’s dinosaur statue designers roll up their sleeves and consider safeguards to discourage future bronco busting.
Or instead: add stairs and a saddle? Yep, that works.
March 23, 2021
Americans hear the latest bell chime that marks the end of certain pandemic restrictions. They copiously salivate, imagining road trips across every quarantine zone.
However, if you were one of the non-essentials who patiently sheltered for a year, it’s smart to test the waters first. Carefully focus on a single place that — even in normal times — defied popularity.
The monuments we’ve selected go unnoticed, forlorn, often tethered to a sad story. But at least that sad story isn’t about a bunch of unmasked dopes breathing pestilence on each other and then bringing the bad news home. No — these stories deserve a fresh look, without crowds.
Flying Paper Boy of the Guadalupes – Queen, New Mexico
Frank Kindel was a vital link between the outside world and the people who lived way out here. Like an Uber Eats barnstormer, he selflessly served the news-hungry with his air drops. Then he crashed, way out here.
Mother Featherlegs Prostitute Memorial – Lusk, Wyoming
“Where’s the first place you want to visit after this crazy pandemic?” Silly question! Years ago, the Mother Featherlegs Prostitute Memorial stood along the busy Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Road. Now it’s a gravel road through the badlands of Wyoming.
Hugh Glass Mauled by Bear Here – Shadehill, SD
Despite being made famous by Oscar-winning Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, Hugh Glass’s battle site is lightly frequented. The isolated monument sits on a treeless butte that doesn’t look a bit like the movie.
Friendship with Chief Baconrind – Skedee, Oklahoma
When built, this towering tribute to White-Native American economic partnership was at the center of a bustling community. Now it’s a ghost town; it’s as if everyone used their petroleum windfalls to move far away from Skedee.
The Pickled Pioneer – Menlo, WA
Willie Keil was the only person to travel the entire length of the Oregon Trail without expelling a breath. His grave, now a wayside stop in the damp Willapa Valley, is a long drive from population centers.
Hilltop Viking – Fort Ransom, North Dakota
The Norsemen were incorrigible wanderers, crowded on longships, packed antler-to-elbow at meade hall happy hours. The sagas foretold that they would never follow CDC guidelines. Yet they endure, blond and ginger-bearded giants in mini-golfs and midwestern towns with Scandinavian heritage. In contrast, this quirky warrior is seemingly punished by Odin with a sentry post atop a steep hill, far from the nearest interstate.
Emilio Carranza: Lindbergh of Mexico – Tabernacle, New Jersey
An airplane crash, deep in the Pine Barrens scrub forest, is marked for remembrance by a solitary, carved memorial. Mr. Carranza was trying to be the first to fly from New York City to Mexico City. He didn’t get far.
Giant Monument to Loser Henry Clay – Pottsville, PA
How can something this big be so forgotten? It helps that it’s in a relatively remote part of Pennsylvania, and built on a hillside where no one can see it.
He Killed Lincoln’s Killer, Then Lived in this Hole – Concordia, Kansas
After shooting dead John Wilkes Booth, Boston Corbett left the Federal Army, dug a hole in the prairie, and lived in it. He was crazy, and you may question your own sanity after driving out here.
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February 24, 2021
The Day The Fry’s Stood Still.
Fry’s Electronics, popular on Roadside America for their amusing creative themed stores (along with emergency camera, phone, and battery solutions), has shut down all of its locations across America. In 2019, it closed one in Anaheim; Covid-19 cratering of in-store sales contributed to the November 2020 shuttering of the ancient Egyptian tomb-themed location in Campbell, California, and the Mayan Temple in San Jose. Today there were numerous reports that the entire chain had closed. While some exterior theme elements may linger as visible for a bit, indications are that these places will not be revived.
The marketing concept of big box retail stores as tourist attractions was a welcome component of many trip itineraries. The appeal included ample parking, no admission charge, and unofficial theme scavenger hunts by visitors. We never left a Fry’s store without spotting and purchasing some “essential” e-gewgaw.
The casualties include:
Burbank, California: Alien Invasion Theme
A literally over-the-top entrance of a crashed UFO led customers to a vast selection of tech gear and electronic items, mixed with giant mutant spiders, melting military vehicles, and Gort, the robot from The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).
Campbell, California: King Tut Theme
Legends said King Tut’s tomb was nestled deep within the store’s ancient Egyptian motif. But we came in for flash memory, not a persistent curse. It closed permanently in November 2020.
Roseville, California: Train Calamity Theme
More of a madcap, no-one-was-hurt railroad disaster as a photo-op olde-timey engine crashes through an outer wall. Inside: a full-size train replica on tracks.
San Jose, California: Mayan Theme
A Mayan temple replica acted as the store entrance, with interior elements celebrating the ancient astronomers of central America. Fry’s closed this location in Nov. 2020.
Woodland Hills, California: Hallucination Theme
Alice in Wonderland characters as large as 15-ft. tall decorated the space above aisles of wires and accessories.
Las Vegas, Nevada: Gambling Theme
Fry’s store’s themed entrance facade of a giant one-armed bandit channeled the cheesy energies of Las Vegas Strip history.
Webster, Texas: Space-Station Theme
An International Space Station replica was a centerpiece for the tech retail store, decorated with a space exploration theme.
January 17, 2021
Already among the rarest of giant roadside statues, the two-faced Carpeteria Genies were in danger of becoming extinct when the California company declared bankruptcy in 1999.
Tod Swormstedt, founder of the American Sign Museum, knew it would take more than wishful thinking to save them.
“Bill Clarke, a salesman for Loren Electric Sign in Montebello, California, called to tell me that some genies were available,” said Tod. “As I recall — this was in 2003 — there were at least five, maybe as many as seven, in their yard that they had removed. Free for the taking. I picked the best two.”
Tod had them trucked — no magic carpet available — to his museum in Cincinnati, where over $10,000 was spent to have the genies sanded, patched, and repainted to match their original colors. One was put on display inside the museum, the other lay on the grass outside the restoration shop. For years. Then the restoration company abruptly changed owners and Tod got a call on New Year’s Eve, 2009. “You have to move it or the landlord’s gonna trash it.”
Rounding up friends and fellow sign enthusiasts, Tod hauled the 20-foot-tall genie on a sub-freezing January morning to the museum’s new, under-construction location (It eventually opened in 2012). The two-faced giant now stands above the museum entrance holding a “Welcome” sign instead of a carpet. The indoor genie from the old museum was moved to a storage lot, where it’s been ever since. “I don’t think anyone is aware that we have a second one,” said Tod, who hopes, eventually, to install the genie next to the street, so that visitors can appreciate its unique two-face design.
We asked if the museum had plans to acquire the remaining handful of Carpeteria Genies, but it sounded as if two were more than enough, even for a passionate sign guy like Tod. “They’re problematic in how big they are,” he said, “and the price has really gone up.”
September 4, 2020
Like a giant, shiny fishing lure on a cable attached to a construction boom, roadside attractions tempt us out from under our rocks, even in times of danger….
Certainly 2020 has been full of unparalleled danger, starting with the Covid-19 pandemic. International travel lockdowns meant no flitting off to Tuscany or Paris or Bali for the weekend, so the Great American Road Trip seemed destined to enjoy another resurgence. And it did. Yet the fifty states have been a patchwork of discouragement — with shifting safety recommendations and often contradictory rules.
Was it still feasible to hypertour from Los Angeles to New York without quarantining for two weeks at each state border?
Was it safe to order and eat food from a drive-thru window?
Over time, some fears were declared unfounded (or overstated), while others turned out to be much worse, as the pandemic’s effects spread. Mix in erratic news reports, election year politics, social justice protests, and Mother Nature’s bounty of hurricanes and wildfires — and Americans might have stayed home in record numbers (except, of course, those fleeing hurricanes and wildfires).
But then — still keeping in mind the well-being of their families, friends and themselves — millions hit the road. The antidote for uncertainty and existential dread is different for each of us. Spend time with the 50-ft. tall Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN? Yes. Drive through a tree? Yes. Visit a dinosaur park, and wonder how those prehistoric creatures prevailed over adversity? Yes. Okay, we’re answering yes to everything, but you get the idea….
Back in March, the traditional opening of the Spring travel season, we checked in on 49 of our favorite attractions (We lost the 50th somewhere). Thirty-one were closed, with no idea when they would reopen. Now, six months later, we checked the same 49. Only seven were closed.
It’s no surprise to us that many of America’s roadside attractions found a way to weather the summer of Covid-19, through a combination of advance reservations, limited occupancy, social distancing, and mask requirements, often improvised on the fly.
Nearly all public attractions currently post Covid-19 visitor safety information on their websites or Facebook pages. Some require digging to find it, while others are upfront about the rationale for their restrictions. The most detailed we found were on the website for the prudently detail-obsessed House on the Rock. In contrast, Noah’s Ark anchored theirs at the bottom of their FAQ page and blamed them on Kentucky’s governor.
As we head into Fall 2020, we expect attractions will continue to adjust access and hours, and pivot (or close) as required. Online updates and notifications on official attraction websites often lag. If you’re planning a visit soon, we recommend a call, email, or text to them directly to find the most current information. Be patient if you don’t hear back right away. And remember: the most important criterion is for you and your loved ones to be safe.
Status of Select Roadside Attractions
As reported on attraction FB and web pages on September 4, 2020:
|AL||Birmingham||Sloss Furnaces||Reopening Sept. 26|
|AL||Cullman||Ave Maria Grotto||Open with social distancing|
|AL||Huntsville||U.S. Space & Rocket Center||Open with masks|
|AZ||Green Valley||Titan Missile Museum||Closed|
|AZ||Holbrook||Wigwam Village Motel No. 6||Open|
|AZ||Picacho||Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch||Open: social distancing outdoors, masks indoors|
|CA||Felicity||Official Center of the World||Seasonal; reopening Thanksgiving.|
|CA||Klamath||Trees Of Mystery||Open with social distancing|
|CA||Leggett||Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree||Open|
|CA||Piercy||Confusion Hill||Open with masks|
|CA||Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz Mystery Spot||Open with masks|
|CO||Colorado Springs||Dragon Man’s Military Museum||Open|
|FL||Kissimmee||Gator Land||Open with masks|
|FL||Weeki Wachee||Mermaids of Weeki Wachee||Closed|
|GA||Lookout Mountain||Rock City||Open: social distancing outdoors, masks indoors|
|KS||Cawker City||World’s Largest Ball of Twine||Open|
|KS||Lucas||The Garden of Eden||Open with masks|
|KY||Williamstown||Ark Encounter and Creation Museum||Open with masks|
|LA||Abita Springs||Abita Mystery House||Open with masks|
|LA||New Orleans||Mardi Gras World||Open with masks|
|MD||Baltimore||National Great Blacks In Wax Museum||Open with social distancing|
|MD||Silver Spring||National Museum of Health and Medicine||Closed|
|MI||Dearborn||Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation||Open: social distancing outdoors, masks indoors|
|MI||Ishpeming||Da Yoopers Tourist Trap||Open. Sells zany custom face masks.|
|MN||Darwin||Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota||Open|
|MO||Branson||Titanic Museum||Open with masks0|
|MO||St. Joseph||Glore Psychiatric Museum||Open with masks|
|MO||St. Louis||City Museum||Open with masks|
|NE||Minden||Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village||Open|
|NJ||Margate City||Lucy the Elephant||Open with masks|
|NV||Primm||Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car||Open|
|OH||Wright Patterson AFB||National Museum of the United States Air Force||Open with masks|
|OR||Gold Hill||Oregon Vortex||Open by reservation|
|PA||Philadelphia||Mutter Museum||Open with masks|
|SC||Dillon||South Of The Border||Open|
|TN||Memphis||Graceland||Open with masks|
|TN||Pigeon Forge||Alcatraz East||Open with masks|
|TX||Houston||National Museum of Funeral History||Open with masks|
|UT||Moab||Hole N" The Rock||Open with masks|
|VA||Danville||AAF Tank Museum||Open|
|VA||White Post||Dinosaur Land||Open|
|VT||Shelburne||Shelburne Museum||Open with masks|
|WI||Spring Green||House on the Rock||Open with masks|
|WV||New Vrindaban||Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold||Open with masks|
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