There’s a certain American romance attached to road trips, when one is riding along an endless highway road, surrounded by golden fields, farms in the distance and maybe a few mountains sloping up against the horizon. At least, that’s how it might look in our dreams – so much of road tripping is figuring out how to pass the time on the way, which games will keep the kids pacified for longer, biding time until the next rest stop; where even the next rest stop will be. But driving around America is never without its little surprises. In a country of big-ups, of Big Macs, supersizing everything from fries to fame, and giving due glory to the meek life of not just the working class but the hard-working class, the farmers and artists and sports legends, there lay monuments sprinkled through the most unexpected stretches of roadside fields. No somber pillars, either, but big, garish and utterly delightful statues that look a little like postmodern art but trace their beginnings in the development of Industry. Next time you’re riding along sleepy highway roads, stay alert – you won’t want to miss these roadside attractions.
If you’ve ever wanted to crawl up into a giant T-Rex’s mouth while learning about how dinosaurs died in Noah’s flood, then drive out into the desert 1.5 hours from Los Angeles to Cabazon, an arid plain surrounded by mountains with casinos and outlet malls. Rising into view amidst this classic California backdrop are two giant dinosaurs – a T-rex and a Brontosaurus. Housed in and around the belly of their four-story high Tyrannosaurus Rex (smaller than the average dino, larger than anything we have currently existing) is a Dinosaur Museum with robotic and animatronic dinosaurs. Kids can admire the robo-dinos, pan for fossils, admire the large garden and pick up some goodies from the gift shop inside the brontosaurus. These desert icons have been a California roadside attraction for nearly 50 years.
Driving through the sleepy Blue Earth Valley down Interstate 90, one might be pleasantly surprised to see the head of the friendly Green Giant looming into view. It’s a nice break from the monotonous corn fields and endless highway; an opportunity to stretch one’s legs and stand on a platform underneath this true American folk hero. Built in the ‘70s by a local radio station owner to promote the local produce grown in Blue Earth, the name Green Giant is no exaggeration – weighing in at 8,000 pounds at a height of 55 feet, this fiberglass sculpture bears a smile that stretches 48 inches. Highway roadsters with a penchant for classic retro Americana can enjoy a picnic in Green Giant Statue Park under the friendly gaze of the smiling Green Giant.
It’s hard to imagine this as one drives through Route 16 off Interstate 70 in Newark, Ohio, but the giant woven basket planted in the middle of 25 acres of green space is a real office. Serious people are at work there, specifically the 500 employees at Longaberger Co., a company that themselves make hand-woven and wood baskets – the very item that the office replicates, only 160 times larger. The very curious are invited to enter through the base and walk around their showroom of designer items and learn more about the company and their seven-story, cherrywood-built architectural landmark.
There are a lot of wonderful attractions to check out in Louisville, and for baseball fans the top one is the the Louisville Slugger Museum. It’ll be easy to spot: just look for the giant replica of babe Ruth’s iconic Louisville Slugger propped up against the red-brick building downtown. This free-standing 230-foot long bat weighs 68,000 pounds and is the largest baseball bat in the world. Inside the museum, visitors will find a giant glove sculpture to match the bat outside, a 17-ton sculpture made from prehistoric Kentucky limestone. Baseball fans can hit the batting cages and test out replica bats of legends like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and the original Louisville Slugger Pete Browning’s bat from 1884.
A lot of people over the years have attempted to explain the meaning of Carhenge, a mysterious installation of 38 cars arranged in a circle the replicates England’s Stonehenge in measurement and placement. However, like with some of the best art to come out of the 20th century, Carhenge doesn’t need an explanation, nor validation through analysis. It was built in 1987 by Jim Reinders and his family members as a memorial to his father, who owned a farm on the site. Over 20 years later, additional car sculptures have been added to the site, now known as the Car Art Reserve. Made up of mostly vintage American cars, there are clunky dinosaurs and spawning salmon, Stravinsky interpretations in the form of the Fourd Seasons, an installation depicting seasons of Nebraska made up of old Ford models, and more. The next time drivers are passing Alliance, Nebraska, they ought to drag their clunkers over to Carhenge and the Car Art reserve and stay awhile.