ROAD TRIP

59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: Midwest

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

By David LaHuta, Tuesday, Sep 14, 2004, 2:57 PM

Midwest

Illinois

Bill Shea's Gas Station Museum

Back in 1946, when Bill Shea started pumping gas on legendary Route 66, a car would go by every 10 minutes. Now, he says, it takes 10 minutes just to cross the road. Stop in for an earful of stories and a look at Shea's gas station memorabilia from nearly 60 years on the Mother Road. 2075 Peoria Rd., Springfield, 217/522-0475, $2, kids $1.

World's Largest Catsup Bottle

Once America's best-selling catsup, Brook's Old Original Tangy Catsup was so popular that the company's owners built themselves a massive landmark. The bottle--12 miles east of St. Louis on Route 159--is really a 170-foot-tall water tower, but it's definitely more fun to pretend otherwise. 800 S. Morrison Ave., Collinsville, 618/345-5598, catsupbottle.com.

Indiana

Bluespring Caverns

Living in perpetual darkness, the fish in Bluespring Caverns have evolved to a state of blindness--see for yourself on the one-hour boat tour. In the winter months, Bluespring runs organized caving tours for groups of kids, with an overnight stay in a limestone cave, where hibernating bats also make their home ($23). 1459 Bluespring Caverns Rd., Bedford, 812/279-9471, bluespringcaverns.com, $12, kids $6.

Iowa

Grotto of the Redemption
Father Paul Dobberstein's geological tribute to God is one of the largest collections of precious stones and gems in the world. The nine grottoes tell the story of redemption through Christ; its curators estimate its value at $4 million to $5 million. In December, if the pond freezes, there's ice-skating. 300 N. Broadway, West Bend, 800/868-3641, westbendgrotto.com, suggested donation $5, kids $2.50.

Kansas

Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz

Tours of the cottage, carefully done up to resemble the one in The Wizard of Oz, are led by one of 18 Dorothy look-alikes--they're dressed in pigtails, blue gingham, and ruby slippers. Strangely enough, the house is on Yellow Brick Road--and you thought that was in Oz! 567 Yellow Brick Rd., Liberal, 620/624-7624, $5, seniors and kids $3.50. Toy ruby slippers: $13.

World's Largest Ball of Twine

Made from over 7 million feet of sisal twine, the World's Largest Ball of Twine measures 40 feet in circumference and weighs almost nine tons. Housed under a canopy in Cawker City on Highway 24--100 miles northwest of Abilene--the ball is a work in progress, so bring some twine, wrap it around, and consider yourself part of the record books. Cawker City Hall, 785/781-4713, free.

The Van Gogh Project

Part of an ongoing venture to reproduce all seven of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings in seven countries around the globe, this 768-square-foot reproduction of Three Sunflowers in a Vase is easy to spot. It stands on an 80-foot easel along I-70, in the town of Goodland. Artist Cameron Cross painted the work--the other two completed paintings are in Canada and Australia; thebigeasel.com.

Michigan
 

Henry Ford Museum

When Thomas Edison was dying in late 1931, Henry Ford decided he wanted to capture the inventor's final gasp--so he had him breathe in a test tube and corked it for posterity. It's now part of the Henry Ford Museum's permanent collection, along with other pieces of American history, including the Rosa Parks bus, Kennedy's presidential limousine, and Lincoln's blood-stained chair. 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, 313/982-6001, hfmgv.org, $14, seniors $13, kids $10. Ford Model A toy: $32.

Minnesota

Jolly Green Giant

Ho, ho, ho! The 55-foot-tall statue of everybody's favorite Jolly Green Giant--at the midpoint of Minnesota along I-90, America's longest interstate--has a smile that's 48 inches wide and a shoe size that's somewhere around 78. He was erected in the town of Blue Earth back in 1979 to celebrate the area's longtime affiliation with canning--Green Giant was once the Blue Earth Canning Company. Intersection of I-90 and Hwy. 169, Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce, 507/526-2916.

Missouri

Lambert's Cafe

Beware of flying objects. Raise your hand at this Sikeston restaurant and a server will toss a wheat roll from across the room. Credit the practice to owner Norman Lambert, who was once so busy he couldn't bring the rolls to a table--so he threw them. No injuries have been reported. 2305 E. Malone St., 573/471-4261, throwedrolls.com.

Nebraska

Carhenge

Constructed of 38 cars from the '50s- and '60s--mirroring both the number of boulders and the diameter of the circle at the original in England--this Stonehenge replica was dedicated on the summer solstice in 1987. Just north of Alliance, the structure was conceived by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, who once lived on the field where Carhenge now stands. Hwy. 87, Alliance, carhenge.com, free.

North Dakota

The Enchanted Highway

A 32-mile county road connecting Gladstone and Regent, the Enchanted Highway off I-94 is proof that if you build it, they will come. To boost tourism, local artist Gary Greff began erecting weird roadside structures,  including a towering family made of tin, the world's largest grasshopper, and a flock of oversize pheasants. His next project: a giant bass. Exit 72, 701/563-6400, enchantedhighway.net, free.

Ohio

World's largest basket building

Weighing 9,000 tons and standing seven stories high, the home office for the Longaberger Company, in Newark, was built to resemble Longaberger's most popular item, the Medium Market Basket. The building houses Longaberger's 500 employees and is visible from State Route 16. Walk in to admire the seven-story atrium; the glass ceiling allows you to see the handles from inside. 1500 E. Main St., 740/322-5588, longaberger.com, free.

South Dakota

The Corn Palace

Covered entirely with thousands of bushels of corn, grasses, and grains, the Corn Palace in Mitchell--with turrets, onion domes, and minarets--is America's answer to the Kremlin. The exterior of the palace is refurbished annually during harvest time (August through September), but its interior features year-round corn murals depicting the history of Native Americans and the white man. 604 N. Main, 866/273-2676, cornpalace.org, free. Key chain: $2.50.

Wall Drug Store

For more than 70 years this landmark has wooed visitors with countless roadside billboards ("Have You Dug Wall Drug?"). They arrive to find much more: Now an attraction in its own right, the store boasts an 80-foot-tall brontosaurus, an art gallery displaying western art and artifacts, and strange mechanical people like Dr. Feelgood, who for 50¢ will tell you about the benefits of snake oil. 510 Main St., Wall, 605/279-2175, walldrug.com, free.

Wisconsin

World's Largest Muskie

The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, about 70 miles south of Duluth, Minn., is home to the World's Largest Muskie. It's four stories high and half a city block long. The belly holds freshwater fishing exhibits and the mouth opens up to a 20-person observation deck. 10360 Hall of Fame Dr., Hayward, 715/634-4440, freshwater-fishing.org, $6, under 18 $3.50, under 10 $2.50. Snow globe: $3.25.

The House on the Rock

Perched precariously atop a tall rock spire, the House on the Rock, in southwest Wisconsin, mixes architectural enthusiasm with an eclectic collection of just about anything you can imagine--suits of armor, model airplanes, pipe organs, and even a pyramid of life-size fiberglass elephants. The most identifiable feature of this attraction is the Infinity Room--a 200-foot-long glass and steel promenade cantilevered over the valley. And for the kids, there's the world's largest carousel, insured for $4.5 million. 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green, 608/935-3639, thehouseontherock.com, $19.50, kids 7-12 $11.50, 4-6 $5.50.