Doug Kirby and Ken Smith, editors of the website RoadsideAmerica.com, answered your questions on roadside attractions.
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Greetings! Doug Kirby and Ken Smith here -- we research and write RoadsideAmerica.com, covering thousands of offbeat tourist attractions in the US. We've pulled off the highway for the next hour to answer your important road trip questions! Fire away!
Middletown, De.: We are 2 couples wanting to drive to Biltmore Estates, and also take in Stne Mountain, Ga. What would you suggest along the way? My husband and I have been to Asheville, N.C. at Biltmore Estates, on the way home from a Florida road trip. I really would like to know about any additional sites between there and Stone Mt. Thank you, Glenda
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: There's plenty between Delaware and Georgia. Based on your initial choices -- Biltmore Estate (Lifestyles of the Superrich), and Stone Mountain (heroes of the Confederacy) -- and that you're "couples," we'll guess at your interests. How about Mt. Airy, NC -- Andy Griffiths' Hometown and burial spot for Chang and Eng, famous 19th century Siamese Twins? Get a haircut at Floyd's and then pay your respects at the cemetery, joined at the hip to your un-detachable other.
Wait, you could do a whole Dead Twin theme trip between Mt. Airy and Stone Mtn, sort of. The World's Largest Grave for the World's Largest Twins is in Hendersonville, NC. And the Hilton Sisters Siamese Twin Grave is in Charlotte. Remember those wacky gals in "Chained for Life"? LOL
On the way to NC - Want to see the Confederates whip the Union Army? With the help of dinosaurs, of course. Stop at Dinosaur Kingdom, Natural Bridge, VA:
Philadelphia, Pa.: I am interested in a road trip from Philadelphia, Pa. to Hartford, Conn. and/or Newport, Rhode Island. I can leave after work on Wed 9-12 or early am on Thursday 9-13. I want to return late afternoon or early evening on Sunday 9-16. How much should I include in this trip. Am I trying to do too much in such a short time? Should this be two separate trips? I want to know what is available in these areas to do and see. I do not fish, hike in the woods, bike or do boating other than a group tour in a vessel. Please help me organize myself. I am the driver. My husband is legally blind and we do have a Megellan. Thanks.
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Philly to Newport, RI is a 5 hour drive if you don't get snarled in NYC congestion. Not a bad drive (some days we do 12 hours of driving and still visit 15 landmarks!), but you have 4 days to play with.
Bridgeport has the Barnum Museum (as in P.T. "Sucker born every minute."Barnum), 820 Main St. If you head up a little further north you can visit the Timexpo museum about clocks with a giant Easter Island head out front. 175 Union St, Waterbury, CT.
Newport -- Belcourt Castle, tour the castle, see the haunted chairs. (659 Bellevue Ave.) Mysterious Viking Tower -- who built it? Who knows... (25 Bellevue Ave).
Portsmouth, Rhode Island - See Pookie Duke and the Duchess of Windsor's Dog's Grave!
More more more in Rhode Island:
North of Newport, Fall River, MA is where you'll find the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, (92 Second Street ) Fall River Historical Society, (451 Rock St.) where you can look at the "40 whacks" ax.
Belleville, N.J.: My wife and I planning on taking a day trip to New Hope, Pa. this Labor Day weekend to hit the antique shops, etc. Are there any cool things to see in the general area to help justify the drive out that way?
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Northlandz is northeast of New Hope along Rt 202 in Flemington. Huge, crazily constructed miniature railroad attraction. If you go, ask at the ticket counter if the owner will be playing his pipe organs during your visit.
If you're interested in history and sordid crimes, head south from Lambertville along the Delaware River about a half hour to the NJ State Police Museum, 1040 River Rd, West Trenton. NJ's electric chair on display, and an exhibit about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.
Since they took down the phallic bone display at Mason's bar, there's not much roadside stuff in the New Hope/Lambertville area itself. New Hope is nice for popping into antique shops and art galleries, taking a scenic walk across the bridge -- if you really like that sort of thing. There are nice places to eat on both the New Hope and Lambertville sides. If it's a nice day, expect lots of motorcyclists puttering up and down the main drag...
Spokane, Washington: Are there any neat attractions worth checking out if you're road-tripping through the Dallas/Fort Worth area?
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Plenty to do and see in Dallas/Ft. Worth. There's the whole JFK-Grassy Knoll experience, after nearly 45 years, still popular with out-of-state gawkers. The Sixth Floor Museum, Texas School Book Depository, 411 Elm Street. The Conspiracy Museum, 110 S. Market St. gives you the straight -- albeit paranoid -- scoop. The World's Second Oldest Continuously Burning Lightbulb is at 131 E. Exchange Ave. #113, Fort Worth, TX. If you're approaching from the west, stop at Bayou Bob's Rattlesnake Ranch, and say helo to Bob and his hundreds of pissed off snakes.
More Texas attractions here:
Chicago: I'd like to take my son on a trip that shows him African American history. Suggestions, please?
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: African American history landmarks really blossomed in the last 20 years, as states and towns have addressed this long neglected part of their heritage. We recommend the National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis -- adjacent to where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Great Wax in Blacks Museum in Baltimore, MD is great -- no holds barred when it comes to chronicling the African American experience and accomplishments in wax. In Kansas, the pioneering all-black town of Nicodemus has been turned into a landmark managed by the National Parks Service. Interesting how this town almost made it, but was bypassed by the railroads...
D.C.: You must get a lot of interesting calls and emails from readers and friends. Are there any myths or misconceptions that keep popping up? Not about y'all, but about roadside america the topic.
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Well, there is a line of thought, popularized in the media, in which roadside attractions are seen as all dying off. You might believe this if you define attractions narrowly as just Route 66 places, or weep every time an old Mom and Pop theme park in Florida closes. We see more of a cycle and evolution of places to visit. The dusty town wildlife museum may be gone, but a Cabela's sportsmen outfitter temple moves into your state and packs their store aisles with dead animal displays. For free.
Eventually these new attractions will also change or devolve -- the same taxidermy pieces may end up promoting a futuristic fast food genetics outlet floating over your sleep pod!
LA: Heading by car to Minnesota for a wedding with my partner. From LA. Help!
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Los Angeles to MN sounds great -- best route takes you through Las Vegas, across UT to Denver, across NE and IA. There are many bizarre sights along that path. Vegas - Atomic Testing Museum, Liberace Museum, (and Exotic World, retired strippers Hall of Fame if it's open now); Nebraska - Harold Warp's Pioneer Village, Minden; Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Iowa - Ax Murder House, Vilisca; Minnesota - Jolly Green Giant Statue, Blue Earth.
Click on states on this map for statues, other unique attractions:
Philly: My college buddies and I have been talking about doing a road trip. But being in a car for four or more days sounds bad, not fun. If you were going to tell young people how to do a cross country road trip today, what would you suggest? The NY Times sent someboday cross country recently and it was inspiring. I've also read Hunter Thompson. The little bit of Route 66 I've seen seems kinda stripmalled, though, today, or is it? Sorry for rambling question. Any help appreciated. Thanks guys!
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Wouldn't start with Rt. 66, which can be sad in a depleted, retro way. College road trips should mix it up a bit, see lots of things -- overpack the daily itinerary with more than is humanly possible. As young people, you can endure more miles per day and will recuperate faster than your elders. You can eat total crap the whole time and not die. Probably. Plot out 2-3 MAJOR stops per day (must-see places), then a couple of little museums, tourist traps, etc, and then as many statues and odd graves and such that are on the path. If you can't find something, move on to the next target. Put the car radio on "scan" and never take it off. Compete with your comrades to count Jugs of Pee discarded along the highway -- whoever spots the most first wins! How can you beat that for fun?
San Francisco: Everybody here seems to be buying second homes in the Pacific Northwest. I'm planning a road trip up that way. What must-sees are you digging these days?
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Well, there's the classic coast Hwy 101 drive that allows you to take in Trees of Mystery, drive-thru trees, the remains of Hobbiton, etc. The inland route via I-5 has charms as well. Worthwhile jogging over to Gold Hill to visit the Oregon Vortex. Hart's Reptile World, Canby, OR is still going strong. Boo Hoos: OR's 24 Hour Church of Elvis is still closed, Bend's Funny Farm closed abruptly this year, though may be open again.
We have a couple of visitor tips on places we want to check out -- Canyon City, OR's , the Saint Benedict Abbey Museums in Mt. Angel, OR -- freak calf and giant hairballs.
And that whole second home craze is a disaster in the making. Not as bad as the first home dementia, though.
Atlanta: I'm planning a trip to Kentucky for the fall. What are some of the must-see roadside attractions there?
I've already heard of the Abe Lincoln Boyhood home, Mammoth Cave, the Corvette Museum (awesome!), and a BBQ shop in Owensboro.
(Traveling with a ladyfriend)
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Mammoth Cave definitely, if you haven't been in a large cavern before. We remember Mammoth as kids, when they still had the Indian skeleton on display. It's run by the Nat Park Svc, so for comparison check out one of the other commercial caves too. Get the feel for the Floyd Collins - KY Cave Wars of the early 20th century. Stop to see Cave City's Wigwam Village Motel - individual teepee rooms.
NYC: Hey guys,
Could you name a few of the jaw-dropping roadside attractions in the U.S. that you've come across in the past year?
Luv your site, BTW!
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: We never cease to be amazed. A few that come to mind: The Skywalk, Grand Canyon West, AZ; Model Cockroach Kitchen at the Insectarium, Philadelphia, PA; Center of the World, Felicity, CA (we hung out with the mayor); The New Jim Bakker Show, Branson, MO (sit in the TV audience -- it's free). Also in Branson was a weird show performed in Powerpoint about what Heaven is like.
And then there's the Battle Hill Natural History Museum, Battle Creek, IA -- an amusing curator and thousands of mounted specimens, many with dropped jaws.
Odd statues: Friendship with Chief Baconrind in Oklahoma, the giant head of Bo Pilgrim in Texas, Statue of Liberation Through Christ in Memphis (a cross-wielding Statue of Liberty with an even higher purpose than the creaky old version in NY harbor).
Troy, Michigan: My girl friend and I are planning to get in the car and drive from Troy, Michigan to Portland, Maine. The dates are from September 13 - 23. Any suggestions for a scenic route? Places of interest to visit i.e Ben & Jerry's factory tour? We really have no definate agenda nor reservations at any hotels. Thanks so much for your assistance. Norine
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: We don't really specialize in scenic routes -- we're too busy scanning the horizon for the next appalling statue or billboard. But let's see... If you cut across Canada, of course you must stop at Niagara Falls and stroll the tourist trap boulevard on the Canadian side. In New York State, visit Secret Caverns, Cobleskill, NY, for an entertaining underground tour. If you're heading up north via I-87, watch for Ausable Chasm, a SCENIC stop. In VT, go to the Shelburne Museum south of Burlington -- a sprawling collection that includes a Landlocked Vertical-Beam Sidewheel Ship. Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, NH is good if you desire seeing a trained bear play basketball.
Caution on post-summer trips - check attraction hours in advance. Lots of places, especially in the north, open only on weekends or not at all.
New York, NY: I don't have a car, and rarely drive. So when I take road trips, I get lost easily. Any thoughts? Are GPS devices worth it? Good websites for planning a trip? Other tricks on the road?
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Maybe it's Darwin at work. If you can't read a map and don't have a car, you as a Road Trip-taking evolutionary deadend should probably go extinct. Haha - just kidding. In your case, a GPS device might be a worthwhile investment, or make a new friend who can drive and read maps. If you become utterly reliant on the GPS voice telling you where to drive, who knows where the voices in your head will stop? Drive, my zombie minion! Crash into that Muffler Man statue!
We try to make RoadsideAmerica.com useful in planning a trip, but find ourselves still heading over to Google Maps, Map Quest, or Yahoo maps to get point-to-point routes.
Back to your directional malady, though... you can actually take a fairly amusing trip by pulling over every ten minutes or so and asking a local for directions. People are friendly, and you're sure to have an adventure as you wander America's backroads. We sometimes find totally new attractions based on the bad directions people have provided!
Doug Kirby and Ken Smith: Thanks everyone -- hope we helped with your road trip planning. You can find tools to help you create your own trips, along with the latest reports and news from the world of roadside oddities, at roadsideamerica.com.