Posts Tagged “roadside attractions”

Here’s a very quick video of another fun art project from our travels…

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Marfa Texas Tethered Aerostat Radar Surveilance BalloonIn the middle of nowhere on the way to Big Bend National Park, you may miss the Prada Marfa Store if you blink. The first time we saw it fly by, we had a classic double-take moment. I was actually more focused on the UFO in the distance, which turned out to be a Tethered Aerostat Radar surveillance balloon.

There is no door, but complete with pricey pumps and a placard describing the artist’s intentions, the Prada Marfa store has stood along this remote stretch of West Teaxs two-lane for eight years.

If you want to see it, you better hurry up!

Texas DOT Determines Prada Marfa Store Is Illegal

Texas lawmakers and the media are now claiming the installation is little more than an illegal roadside ad. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has issued an order to remove the structure, calling it a billboard that does not fit permitted specifications.

Designed by Artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset to resemble a Prada storefront, with the intention of it slowly disintegrating in the harsh West Texas climate, the small structure sits on private land in Valentine, Texas. This small tourist attraction has definitely drawn the attention many, and certainly brought visitors to the remote area, perhaps even helping to spawn the growing Marfa, Texas Art Scene.

Prada Marfa Texas Art Installation Highway 90

While she did not commission the project herself, Miuccia Prada approved the installation prior to its construction in 2005. Celebrity visits have resulted in a photo shoot of Beyonce at Prada Marfa, a write-up about Marfa in GQ magazine, and worldwide attention upon this stretch of highway often referred to as a godforsaken part of Texas—otherwise known only for its mysterious lights phenomena.

And that might be exactly why the “store” may soon be shut down. Locals have complained about the roadside art project, and apparently don’t take kindly to big brands putting up “billboards” along their back roads. This isn’t the first time a major brand has been chased out of town. A Marfa, Texas Playboy art project was the first to come under fire by the TXDOT. It appears that Prada Marfa will follow suit soon.

What do you think? Ads or Art?

Wyatt Ray Dawg Wears Prada

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If you ever have the chance to take a short detour for some vaguely interesting attraction while traveling the back roads in some remote part of America, take it. You never know when you might be that way again, and if you pass it up, you’ll never know what you missed. This was the case for us in Marble, Colorado approximately 6 miles off highway 133 on our way from the North Fork Valley to Denver.

Historic Marble Colorado Quarry Site

A trip to the historic Yule Marble Quarry site is especially a must for anyone who likes seeing heavy equipment in action. We pulled up just in time to watch a crew load and unload 15+ ton blocks of marble using a Komatsu WA600 Wheel Loader. Translation: One big frackin’ forklift!

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If you’re not that interested in manly machines—talk to the woman apparently in charge of the loading area—don’t worry, Marble still has much to offer in terms of historical interest.

Marble Colorado Quarry Site

The marble deposits discovered here in the late 1800s resulted in development of the town and quarry site which has been the source of marble for the Lincoln Memorial, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and San Francisco City Hall among many other architectural masterpieces throughout the world. Today an Italian company operates the quarry, in this small Colorado town of only 131 residents, shipping most of the massive blocks overseas to produce marble tile for the Saudi Arabian market.

Marble Colordo Quarry Site

Tours of the quarry itself are no longer available, but the chambers where marble has been extracted for hundreds of years are said to be so massive they have their own weather systems. A short self-guided walking tour of the old marble mill site, however, is well worth the visit.

With the quarry operating year round, there’s a good chance you’ll catch activity in the loading area. In our short visit we watched them load one block onto a flatbed semi truck (yes, just one), and offload the block in the video above. As we left another truck was coming down the mountain with another load.

Marble Colorado Quarry Site

Fair Warning: If approaching Marble on 133 from the south, don’t be fooled by the pass. The last descent is very steep with a gnarly hairpin turn at the bottom, immediately after which you must exit to the right, taking Route 3 into town. Another important warning; pay attention to the signs! Marble is a very small town with narrow roads. Turn right toward the Quarry Site on Third street and immediately park in the gravel area to your right. Do not proceed over the bridge! That road leads up to the quarry itself.

Marble Colorado Quarry Site

As we were about to leave, a car pulling a pop-up trailer neglected to heed the many large red and yellow “Active Loading Area” signs and proceeded to approach the bridge as a large truck was coming down the hill with another big block of Yule Marble. The workers we met at the site are nice and knowledgeable, and I’m sure they are used to dealing with visitors, but let them do their job.

Marble Colorado Quarry Site

Marble Colorado Quarry Site

After seeing the modern marvel of heavy machinery manipulating massive blocks of marble, walking the steps of the old mill site was, well, marvelous in itself. It makes one wonder just how they did it back then, when it still seems to be such a challenge today.

There is a Marble museum in town which we missed since we had our trailer and were on a schedule to get to Indian Hot Springs for a well deserved soak after workamping all summer. But who needs a museum anyway, after a front row view of such diesel powered industrial equipment at work?

Marble Quarry Site Colorado Gear

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Do you brake for oddball roadside attractions, like the Cathedral of Junk, life-sized jackelopes and nuclear bomb testing grounds?

We sure do! And our November jaunt to Virginia was filled with them.

For example, we made a detour to the Missouri Veterinary Medical Foundation Museum in Jefferson City. If you love animals and are just a bit curious about veterinary medicine, this is a stop worth making. For the price of a donation of your choice, you can see rare and unusual objects of veterinary medicine like:

Weird obhjects extracted from animals, like the largest hairball ever found in an animal’s stomach

Largest Hairball Collection Veterinary Museum Columbia, CO

The growth pattern of a calf fetus

Calf Fetus Growth Veterinary Museum Columbia, CO

and siamese piglets

Siamese Piglets Veterinary Museum Columbia, CO

The vet museum is a rare opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse at how far animal medicine has come. See the wooden table in the picture below? Until recently, veterinarians performed major surgeries on tables just like this, without anesthesia or sterile conditions.

Missouri Veterinary Medical Foundation Museum

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, this pet-friendly attraction is worth a stop. I encourage you to go in your toad, however, since the tiny parking lot barely had room for our compact rig.

When you’re looking for oddball roadside attractions, be sure to check out Roadside America. We constantly use it to find unusual tourist attractions to visit during our travels.

What’s your favorite oddball attraction?
And what source do you use to locate your offbeat destinations? 

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The road tripping lifestyle usually gives us time to investigate obscure roadside attractions that most people ignore or just blow past on their rush to get to somewhere else, like Austin’s Cathedral of Junk or the Packer Massacre Site in Colorado.

As we booked it back from the Panhandle to Fort Collins several weeks ago, we came into Colorado through the stunningly remote eastern plains region.

While studying our Rand McNally paper atlas,  I noticed a tiny red landmark called the Genoa Wonder Tower, located in the barren plains region of Eastern Colorado.

With a name like that, I couldn’t help but wonder, what was it?

That night we boondocked in Hugo, a weathered old ag town located about 20 miles east of the Wonder Tower.

After stopping into the Plains Bar for some good, stiff, cheap drinks, I asked a mullet-headed local sitting next to us “So What’s up with this Wonder Tower thing?

Oh yeah, that. Well, they’ve got a two-headed goat. Kinda sick but lots of people stop to see it.

Something about stepping this oddball freak show in the least likely place ever, compelled me to insist that we stop the next day.

After all, how many times in your life do you get to see a two-headed goat?

Step Right Up, Sucker!

In 1926, a man known as Colorado’s own P.T. Barnum, CW Gregory, decided to build a pit-stop curiosity so amazing it would entice traveling automobile tourists to stop and shell out money.

There, in the middle of the plains, they would fill up their gas tanks.

And after gassing up, they could witness sideshow freaks and an amazing view while perched atop the tallest vista between Denver and Manhattan.

He built a motel, gas station, an “oddities” museum with fake, cavern-like interiors and a rickety tower that promised a view of the six adjoining states on a clear day.

Colorado’s Wonder Tower was a popular Highway 24 stop until CW’s death in 1942, after which the attraction fell into disrepair.

Construction of adjacent Interstate 70 almost killed it entirely, until  Jerry and Ester Chubbuck breathed new life into it over over 50 years ago. Today it remains a must-see pit stop in the middle of no-man’s land.

If you’re traveling through eastern Colorado to Denver, you’ve got to make time for this vintage relic from days gone by.

Guess The Object, Get Your Buck Back

At the Genoa Wonder Tower, you’ll pay just $1 to step right up and see the freakiest, jam-packed collection of objects on earth.

Whether you see it as a huge pile of crap or a fascinating collection of obscure, outdated collectibles is up to you. Either way, it’s worth the effort to pull off the highway.

Where else can you touch and hold antique animal castration devices, peer into thousands of poisonous “medical” tincture bottles, eyeball an eight foot long pickled pig and get your picture taken with a stuffed, two-headed goat?

And of course, you’ll have a chance to experience the “six state view” if you’re brave (and svelte) enough to climb up the ramshackle tower ladder/staircase.

Meeting eighty-something year-old Jerry is as much fun as the stop itself.

As we drove up to the deserted attraction on a windy, ominous looking day, he seemed genuinely thrilled to see us as he collected our $1 admission fee, then greeted us with his “Guess What?” quiz.

While performing his museum docent duties, he would spontaneously hold out his hand to present an array of palm-sized artifacts to us, like a petrified dinosaur turd and a bull nose-ring.

But before he revealed the mystery objects, he told us that if we guessed what any of these Ripley’s-quality things were, we could get our admission fee back.

Impossible to Ignore

We flunked the quiz, but like most people, we lingered in the Genoa Wonder Tower far longer than we thought we would, almost two hours.

Trying to walk away was like ignoring a train wreck: impossible to ignore.

Although we didn’t see six states from atop the rickety old tower, the pack rat in me found it hard to stop examining the thousands of antiques haphazardly nailed to the walls and ceilings.

Did I mention everything in the place is for sale? Sometimes for ridiculously high prices.

But the sticker shock of seeing an insignificant, $45 glass bottle is just one of many things that makes this place so bizarre.

At every turn, there was Jerry, cracking corny jokes until the next sucker arrived.

The Wonder Tower is like a cross between a real-life Steven King novel and the biggest flea market freak-show on earth.

Walking through the maze of cavern-like rooms was like meandering through an indoor labrynth filled with crap everywhere we looked.

Jerry won’t be around forever, and it’s probably a safe bet that no sane person would be crazy enough to buy this attraction when he kicks it. So hurry up and get there!

The next time you’re speeding across Colorado’s Eastern Plains on I-70, be a good road tripper. Let off the gas pedal and make time to check out the Genoa Wonder Tower.

Even if you just want to see your first two-headed calf, the detour is entirely worth the effort and your hard earned buck.

This is Americana at it’s best. Don’t miss it!

The Wonder Tower is located on I-70 at exit 371 (Hwy. 109), in Genoa, Colorado.

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Three years after our first failed attempt to witness the Marfa Mystery Lights in West Texas, today we proudly proclaim: the Marfa Mystery Lights are not a hoax!

Since the Annual Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine was our agenda last week, we also committed ourselves to a second overnight ghost-hunting trip at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Center, located between Marfa and Alpine.

But first, our trip to Big Bend Country wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at the fake little Prada store art installation in Valentine.

During our last jaunt eastbound on Highway 90, we couldn’t stop the RV in time to investigate this offbeat attraction. But we took it slower this time around, and were able to see the faux haute couture shopping boutique, which rises up from the barren desert without warning.

Skeptics, See It For Yourself

After we blew threw Marfa, which looked exactly the same as last time we were there, we headed straight for the observation station where RVers can find free overnight RV parking alongside scenic Highway 90.

Our futile attempt to see the Marfa Lights  in 2009 left us skeptical and full of doubt.

Standing outside in the blustery wind for a glimpse of the supernatural didn’t seem all that exciting anymore, but we had to prove it to ourselves that the Marfa Mystery Lights are nothing but a cheap roadside attraction.

But when the witching hour started at sundown, we stopped what we were doing to look out toward Mitchell Flats and the Chinati Mountain Range. And that’s when we became part of the elite group of witnesses who can say for certain that the Marfa Lights are real.

We, along with three or four other paranormal ghost chasers, stood there slack jawed and giddy as we pointed out the happy cluster of white, red and bluish orbs that were performing a graceful dance over the desert floor. The show went on for at least two hours.

And we weren’t even wearing tinfoil hats!

Marfa Lights Documentaries Tell the Truth

Have we convinced you? The Marfa Lights are not a hoax. Who knows if they’re UFOs giving us signs, or a natural phenomenon caused by mysterious gases. We can’t say what exactly they are, but after watching how they appeared, disappeared, split and multiplied, we are convinced they’re not reflections of car headlights.

You’ll have to take our word that the lights exist, since our camera isn’t set up to take nighttime distance photos. But others with better equipment have been able to capture the ghost-like floating orbs, like in this vintage footage about this one-of-a-kind West Texas attraction.

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Seeing is believing. The Marfa Lights do exist. Get out there around sunset, cross your fingers and wait. You just might get to see this awesome performance!

Have you seen the Marfa Mystery Lights or other paranormal activity like the Hornet Spook Lights in Missouri? If so, tell us about it!

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