If all had gone according to plan, about now Rich and I would have been leaving Albania replete with amusing anecdotes, zingy photos, and shqeto soup from the Lunxheri region of Gjirokaster. Instead, we’re in my home region of California for the next few weeks, possibly months, to support family during a difficult time. And we are happy — honored — to be able to do it. But every once in a while I catch Rich gazing wistfully at his suitcase or a map he’s putting away in a drawer, and I get to thinking about smaller, closer-to-home adventures we might be able to squeeze in while we're here.
It turns out that my home state is peculiarly rich in goofy roadside attractions. Some don’t actually seem worth going very far out of our way to see: the World’s Largest Raisin Box at the Sun-Maid store, for instance, or Glass Beach, whose “pebbles” are a relic of days when the city threw its bottles and other trash into the sea, or Toad Hollow, a series of underpasses constructed by the city of Davis in a well-intentioned but dubiously successful effort to ensure the local toad population could cross safely under a new six-lane highway to reach their favorite wetlands. There is, of course, a Bigfoot Discovery Museum which explores the really important questions, like whether Bigfoot is paranormal and what UFOs have to do with it all.
Some “attractions” are little more than clever marketing. Weed City (motto: “Weed like to welcome you!”) was a fading lumber town until entrepreneurial spirits realized Americans would drive miles out of their way to take a selfie against the backdrop of a town sign that apparently referenced marijuana. Other sites have a bit more to offer, but clearly aren’t for everybody. Bumpass Hell (yes, named for a Mr. Bumpass who discovered it) is a 16-acre geothermal quagmire of boiling springs, oozing mud pots, hissing steam vents, and slits in the ground belching sulfurous gas. To me, that sounds about as much fun as visiting the real Hades, but if you decide to give it a go, I want a full report.
Family fun can be found at events such as Gilroy’s famous Garlic Festival, held the last weekend in July. “Pyro chefs” prepare garlic-laden dishes of every variety over vast, roaring fires, and if you need to refresh your palate afterwards, try the free garlic ice cream. There are a few “vampire friendly” (non-garlic) dishes on offer, but why bother?
Another place I’ve heard about forever but never visited is Esalen, where everybody (including my mother) went to find themselves in the seventies, jumping into New Age workshops and the famous clothing-optional hot tubs (which my mother allegedly skipped). Today the consciousness-raising courses continue, with subjects such as EcoMeditation, Visionseeker: the Shaman's Path to Illumination, and Navel Intelligence: a Journey into the Core of You. I feel more enlightened just reading about this stuff, don’t you?
California may be a hotbed of offbeat destinations, but it’s not the only state with offerings designed to make you blink. America’s love affair with highway travel gave rise to Nebraska’s Carhenge, a reproduction of Stonehenge constructed (you guessed it) out of automobiles and trucks. In Texas, an art installation called Cadillac Ranch features a long line of cars buried nose-first in the dirt at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Adding your own graffiti to the Cadillac Ranch installation is encouraged; amazingly, it's totally frowned on at the Great Pyramid. Go figure. And if you're anywhere around Detroit (known to its friends as the Motor City or Motown), you might want to swing by the airport for a glimpse of the World’s Largest Tire, a 12-ton, 80-foot-tall monster that began life as a Ferris wheel promoting Uniroyal at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
I’m not sure I’ll be driving 2,380 miles to Motown to gawk at the World’s Largest Tire, or even 94 miles to the Bigfoot Discovery Museum. But I greatly appreciate all the zany cultural artifacts this country has to offer, many of which are close enough to visit on a day trip or weekend if I need a quick getaway. I may not be able to sample Albanian shqeto soup right now, but then again, how many Albanians get to eat garlic ice cream?
Have you visited any offbeat roadside attractions? Tell me all!
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I do not accept sponsorships of any kind. All roadside attractions, goods, and services mentioned in my blog posts are included solely because I believe you might find them interesting and/or useful in planning your own adventures.
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5/25/2016 10:23:57 pm
I live outside of Motown, so if you do bother to come see the World's Largest Tire, do visit me even though its history is far more interesting than mine. It used to have a Ferris Wheel inside it!
5/27/2016 01:19:31 am
I didn't realize you were so close to Motown, Nancy. If we pass by that way I'll certainly let you know. I'd much rather see you than the World's Largest Tire. And I don't agree about it's history surpassing yours; you've had a pretty interesting life from what I know of it! As for wandering again, I don't know when, but it'll happen one of these days!
5/26/2016 04:04:28 pm
If all had gone according to plan, as you wrote and I can so relate, we would still be in Greece. Instead a family medical matter required an abrupt departure and return to the Northwest. Medical matter calmed a bit, we headed to our timeshare in Arizona and are soaking up Southwest sun and meeting up with friends here. Always nice to have an alternative in your pocket, isn't it? Great post and great approach to life's detours!
5/27/2016 01:24:29 am
I was just reading that sudden life detours are good for keeping the brain sharp, so I guess you and I are really doing well in that regard, Jackie. Yes, we are lucky to be able to rush from one country to another when necessary — and reward ourselves with some time in the sun after the crisis is over. Enjoy your well-earned time in Arizona!
5/27/2016 04:21:17 am
Karen, You may already know the book WEIRD CALIFORNIA by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran (Sterling Books 2006), but if not...it is great fun. We recently went to Borrego where we saw the most amazing, fantastical metal sculptures...right there in the desert. The Art Center there is fun too especially if they are having a good show.
6/12/2016 03:51:50 pm
Tracy, I have been meaning to write and thank you for telling me about Weird California. I'd consulted Weird Arizona for a post some time back, and hadn't thought to look up the book they did my own state. It's such a gem, and helped me find some of the places I took Rich to on our Sacramento getaway. We do live in a wonderfully weird state. I have added the Borrego sculptures to my list. I just learned there was a sizable (5.2) earthquake there yesterday. Doesn't sound like there were any injuries, and I'm hoping all those fantastic sculptures survived unharmed!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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