It’s summertime, which means if you aren’t planning your next road trip, you should be. With Fourth of July on our radar, now is the time. Given that there’s no better way to celebrate our country’s pioneer spirit than by paying homage to some of its quirkiest and kitschiest roadside attractions, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorites, based on cursory research. Read on for 10 roadside attractions you won’t want to pass by.
1. Bamahenge, Elberta, Alabama
Bamahenge may not be Stonehenge, but for us Americans, it’s close enough. You’ll find this incredible replication of the prehistoric monument, built in late 2012 by a man named Mark Cline, in the woods off the marina entrance road in Elberta, Alabama. There are only four different stone shapes, but Cline repositioned them all to look different. They’re also storm-proof, thanks to interior concrete and telephone poles. Admission is free.
2. General Sherman Tree
They don’t call this giant sequoia the General for nothing. Standing 52,500 cubic feet tall and weighing 4.2 million pounds, the General Sherman Tree in California’s Sequoia National Park is something you have to see to believe. Located at the north end of Giant Forest, one of Kings Canyon National Park’s five sub-regions, the tree can be reached by trail or via the free Sequoia Shuttle, which runs daily from May through September. Theoretically, the General could be turned into almost 120 miles of standard sized lumber planks, but what heartless soul would want to cut down a nearly 3,000-year-old tree?
3. Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue
OK, so maybe it isn’t the finest testament to a living former president, but does it matter? The Jimmy Carter Peanut statue in Plains, Georgia, still makes us smile, and at 13 feet tall, it’s easily one of the world’s largest nuts. Crafted from plaster and mesh, the peanut pays homage to Carter’s past life as a peanut farmer and features a similar wide-mouthed grin. Today, you can find it near Route 45 outside Carter’s hometown.
4. Leaning Tower
If a trip to Pisa, Italy is not in the cards, check out the Leaning Tower of Niles in Niles, Illinois. True, the Midwestern version is half as tall (94 feet versus the Italian’s 177 feet), but your friends will still like it on Instagram. Built in 1934, it was anchored in concrete so its lean stayed consistent. It was originally a utility tower, though a plaque at its base says it was built in honor of the Italian polymath Galileo, who conducted scientific experiments at the original Pisan monument.
5. The Spud Drive-In
Not every drive-in theater went the way of the dodo. Since the summer of 1953, the Spud in Driggs, Indiana, has been showing flicks — almost as long as Old Murphy, the 1946 Chevy truck with a two-ton potato on the back, has been parked in front of the screen. Though the potato is nothing more than a hunk of painted concrete, you probably won’t be able to resist snapping a photo of it.
6. World’s Largest Light Bulb
Keep your eyes peeled for this 134-foot tower in Edison, New Jersey, home to Thomas Alva Edison’s greatest invention. The man perfected the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb right here, so it’s no wonder a 13-foot version sits on top of the tower. (Rumor has it it’s lit by LED, not Edison’s technology.) Built in 1939, the art deco building houses a museum that traces each step of the inventor’s fascinating journey, particularly his invention of sound recording.
7. Shoe Tree
Even if seeing a tree of shoes isn’t on your bucket list, you’ll still want to check out this oddity off U.S. 50 in Middlegate, Nevada. Tourists and locals come to drape their old footwear on the cottonwood tree’s branches, to the point where the tree looks like it sprouted the footwear itself.
8. Porter Sculpture Park
Twenty-five minutes west of Sioux Falls, in the small town of Montrose, South Dakota, you’ll find Porter Sculpture Park, a smattering of recycled metal structures made by Wayne Porter. A self-taught artist who says he’s lousy at math and drawing, Porter ditched law school to return to the town of St. Lawrence, where he was raised, to work on sculptures in his father’s blacksmith shop. Today more than 50 of his works can be seen in the pet-friendly park. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for teens 13 to 17 and free for children 12 and under.
9. The Lost Sea
After taking a guided tour of giant caves more than 100 feet below ground in Sweetwater, Tennessee, you and the rest of your 12-person group will board a glass bottom boat to explore “The Lost Sea.” It’s cool down here — the temperature is a constant 58 degrees Fahrenheit — and filled with strange rock formations, some of which were passed by an ancient jaguar. Don’t forget to bring a good flashlight with extra batteries. Admission for adults is $19.95; children ages 5 to 12 are $10.95 and children 4 and under are free.
10. Cadillac Ranch
Standing up like a series of headstones along Route 66, just west of Amarillo, Texas, the Cadillac Ranch has been luring visitors since 1974, when a group called The Ant Farm created a piece of public art to baffle the locals. The Caddies face west in a line, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville. Though they’ve been in the ground longer than they were on the road, the ranch is a must for anyone traveling The Mother Road. Tourists are always welcome, so bring a can of spray paint. Admission is free.
How to Save on Your Road Trip
Before you pull out of the driveway, make sure you’ve got a plan for your travels. Budgeting is useful, as is swiping with gas rewards credit cards when you fill up your tank. These handy pieces of plastic can earn you kickbacks for spending as you normally would, which can cut down the cost of your road trip. Just remember to track your purchases so you don’t lose your rewards to high interest or rack up unwanted debt. (You can see how your behaviors are impacting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)