59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: South
Our top reasons-from giant mazes to outdoor churches to the world's largest ball of twine-to pull off the side of the road and visit a while
Ave Maria Grotto
Built by a Benedictine monk named Joseph Zoettl, the Ave Maria Grotto is four acres of biblical history, with more than 125 miniature replicas of holy sites, such as St. Peter's Basilica and the city of Jerusalem. They're not perfectly set to scale--Brother Joe eyeballed his designs--but historians and architects have marveled at his accuracy just the same. 1600 St. Bernard Dr., Cullman, 256/734-4110, avemariagrotto.com, $5, seniors $4.50, kids 6-12 $3.50.
Cotham's Mercantile and Restaurant
Before it opened as a restaurant in 1984, Cotham's had served (sometimes simultaneously) as a general store, jail, and commissary for nearly 70 years. The Hubcap burgers--big enough to feed four--were a favorite of then governor Bill Clinton; as its website says, Cotham's is "Where the Elite Meet to Eat!!" in Scott, about 15 miles east of Little Rock. FYI: It's pronounced "Cottum's." 5301 Hwy. 161, 501/961-9284, cothams.com, Hubcap burger $8.
After his fiancee, Agnes Scuffs, canceled their wedding the day before the ceremony, Ed Leedskalnin began constructing a titanic tribute to his lost love. For over 28 years, Ed dug up nearly 1,100 tons of coral, then placed and carved each block by hand to create Coral Castle. The castle, about 30 miles south of Miami, features a nine-ton swinging gate and the Great Obelisk, 25 feet tall and weighing 28 tons. Agnes never visited. 28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead, 305/248-6345, coralcastle.com, $9.75, seniors $6.50, kids 7-12 $5.
Drive-In Christian Church
The congregation at Daytona Beach's Drive-In Christian Church has been pulling up for prayer since 1953. Offering two services on Sundays (8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.), the Christian church--it was converted from an old drive-in movie theater--has more than 1,300 members and encourages visitors to join in its unique outdoor worship. Pull up, grab a Communion wafer at the gate, then tune in to 88.5 on your FM dial. No worries about drinking and driving--this church uses juice instead of wine. 3140 S. Atlantic Ave., 386/767-8761, driveinchurch.net, free.
No one knows who erected the 19-foot-tall granite Guidestones--picture the Ten Commandments inscribed on Stonehenge--which list instructions for the preservation of mankind in 12 languages, including Sanskrit and Swahili. Here's one: "Avoid petty laws and useless officials." The folks at the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce say that the best way to find them is to drive on Highway 77, between Elberton and Hartwell, and look for the lady's house that resembles a spaceship. The Guidestones are across the street. Elbert County Chamber of Commerce, 706/283-5651, elbertga.com, free.
In 1992, America's oldest country store, family owned since 1850, got its first bathroom: an outhouse (before that it just had "plenty of trees"). Now, every fall the store hosts the Great Outhouse Blowout, a festival with music, food, and outhouse races (in 2004, Oct. 2). Contestants head to Gravel Switch--50 miles southwest of Lexington--and race human-powered dragsters, some made to resemble that lovable lavatory. 257 Penn's Store Rd., 859/332-7715, pennsstore.com.
Bayou Pierre Alligator Park
With gator sausage and kebabs in the food court and gator wallets and boots in the gift shop, you'd think the Bayou Pierre Alligator Park was killing off its main attraction. Not so. All of the park's hundreds of gators are for viewing only (the others come from local farms). Watch these thousand-pounders wrestle over chicken parts, or hold a baby gator in your arms for a Cajun-style photo opportunity. It's 75 miles southeast of Shreveport, off Highway 1. 380 Old Bayou Pierre Rd., Natchitoches, 877/354-7001, alligatorshow.com, $6.50, kids $4.75. Baby gator head: $9.99.
According to the song "Crossroads Blues," by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, this is the spot where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his skills as a guitar virtuoso. At the intersection of Highways 161 and 49 in the town of Clarksdale, the spot is marked with a guitar-shaped sign. Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, 662/627-7337.
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