Take breaks by visiting unusual points of interest on your next journey.
By Ralph P. Yates
You know how it is: You’ve been behind the wheel since the early morning with the sun in your eyes, the wind rocking the RV, and asphalt that you swear continually goes uphill. You’ll reach your destination eventually, but right now you need a change of scenery. You say, “Let’s take a break,” and your copilot begins looking for a place to stop. “There’s a rest area in 20 miles and a truck stop in 10,” she says. Rest area? Truck stop? What you need is a real break from the highway.
Interrupt the routine by finding an interesting attraction, a monument, a battlefield, or other point of interest that is close to the highway. A place you can see in 30 minutes or less if you’re in a hurry, or in a couple of hours if you can spare the time. Somewhere nearby is a fascinating, not-to-be-missed attraction. But, how do you find it? Try using this key phrase: “the world’s largest.”
Unless you own some pretty sophisticated electronics aboard your motorhome, you’re not going to be able to find these places as you travel. But conduct a little research before you leave home, and it will pay handsome dividends. Here’s how to proceed: Spread the map on your dining room table and draw a line showing your intended route. Let’s pretend you’re following Interstate 75 from Ohio to Florida. Assuming that you’ll be ready for an extended break every 200 miles or so, mark “X”s in 200-mile intervals along that route.
The first one is near London, Kentucky. The map might point out some nearby point of interest, but if it doesn’t, get on the Internet and use a search engine such as Google. Enter the phrase “world’s largest Kentucky,” and look for references to London and nearby towns. We find that the largest millstone library in the country is at Levi Jackson State Park near London. With a few mouse clicks, we learn that the 99 stones in the collection were salvaged from defunct mills throughout Appalachia and are located at McHargue’s Mill, a working gristmill with authentic interior parts that date back to about 1812. The mill is near U.S. 25, so we circled it. If the time is right when we reach this area, perhaps this will be one of our stops.
In another 200 miles you’ll be near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Back to the Internet. “Largest Chattanooga” yields “largest operating historic railroad in the South,” “Tennessee’s largest aquarium,” “largest military park,” and others. Take your pick, then zero in on the one that most interests you.
In addition to using a search engine, you may wish to try www.wlra.us (large roadside attractions in the United States) and www.roadsideattractions.ca (large roadside attractions in Canada). If “largest” doesn’t work, try another category, such as “oldest,” “smallest,” “tallest,” “most unusual,” etc. Remember, “world’s largest” is just a place to start. You also may want to try the Guinness World Records Web site, at www.guinnessworldrecords.com.
The idea is to repeat this operation all the way to your destination. After London and Chattanooga, you likely will have marks on your map near Macon, Georgia, and Lake City, Florida. Macon claims the largest mall in Georgia and nearby Juliette is home of the Whistle Stop Café, a setting from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. At Lake City you won’t find a “world’s largest,” but you may want to stop at Alligator Town. If you don’t come across something that interests you, continue a bit farther down the map until you do. On a long trip, you’ll find that you get out of sync with your intended stops, but you can make adjustments by getting more information online. It’ll be time well spent.
Here’s what we experienced on a recent trip: We were traveling Interstate 40 in Arkansas and were ready for a break. Our research had turned up no “world’s largest” in Arkansas, but we had noticed some eyebrow-raising destinations. There’s a Popeye statue in Alma, home of Allen’s Popeye brand spinach; a 25-foot-long (man-made) watermelon at a produce market in Bald Knob; a double-decker outhouse in Booger Hollow; the town of Fouke, home to a legendary Bigfoot-type monster; and Toad Suck, a recreation area near Conway. Which places are worth the stop? Who knows? But at the very least, we knew we’d get a break, a chuckle, and maybe an interesting photo. That’s more than we’d get at a rest area.
Many of these offbeat attractions are brought to you compliments of the towns, mostly one-horse types, which try to entice you off the highway and into their communities. Usually they’re near major highways, have ample parking, cost nothing, and don’t take long to visit. Some of these oft-missed attractions are worthy of a quick photo, have interesting stories attached to them, and make great conversation starters later on. Yes, many are simply tourist traps, but at the very least, you’ll come away smiling.
A few “largest” things
Here are some points of interest that are purported to be the world’s largest:
Cave: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, is the longest recorded system of caves in the world, with more than 350 miles mapped and surveyed. Many more miles are still unmapped, and no one knows just where the caverns end. Mammoth Cave National Park is near Interstate 65, exit 53, in western Kentucky.
Teepee: Malad City, Idaho, has the world’s largest tepee. It’s 46 feet tall and consists of 675 square yards of canvas and 32 interior poles. It was used during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The teepee is now ensconced at Red Hawk Trading, a tent and teepee maker, near Interstate 15.
Mall: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, boasts the largest shopping mall in the world. The West Edmonton Mall features numerous department stores, a host of familiar favorites, and hundreds of unusual, one-of-a-kind shops “” more than 800 stores and services and more than 110 eateries. You can make a quick walk-through in approximately two hours or spend all day enjoying entertainment, a miniature golf course, an amusement park, a water park, an ice rink, a casino “” and that’s not counting shopping. The mall is not difficult to find, since it spans the equivalent of 48 city blocks.
Hockey stick: Visit Eveleth, Minnesota, to view a 110-foot hockey stick that weighs 5 tons, and you’ll discover a beautiful section of America. Fishing, skiing, hunting, hiking, canoeing, and camping opportunities are so compelling in this region, you may want to plan to spend your next vacation there. Dare to get off the beaten track, and there’s no telling what you will discover.
Wooden nickel: Don’t even try to take this one. Photos are okay, though. Located on Austin Road in San Antonio, Texas, the big nickel is more than 13 feet in diameter and made of solid wood. It weighs approximately 2,500 pounds. It’s located at the Wooden Nickel Historical Museum, open Monday through Friday.
Tallest fountain: Fountain Hills, Arizona, lays claim to the tallest fountain. It’s situated in the middle of a 28-acre lake and spouts water 560 feet skyward every 15 minutes from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily.
Alligator (fake, of course): “Swampy” is the largest gator ever built. He lives in Christmas, Florida, and is 200 feet long. Go on inside his body and you’ll find the gift shop, ticket counter, and offices of an attraction called Jungle Adventures. After you purchase some frozen alligator meat in the gift shop, you can tour the Indian Village and enjoy animal shows.
Basket: Stop in Dresden, Ohio, to view the world’s largest basket, and if that doesn’t impress you, take a gander at The Longaberger Company’s headquarters in nearby Newark. The building is shaped like one huge basket and is an amazing sight to see.
Coffeepot: Stanton, Iowa, known for its Swedish heritage, was the birthplace of the late Virginia Christine, the actress who played Mrs. Olsen in the old Folger’s coffee commercials. To commemorate her fame, townspeople modified Stanton’s water tower to make it look like the world’s largest Swedish coffeepot. It’s 125 feet high and holds 40,000 gallons. But the coffeepot will never fill the town’s new, huge coffee cup. It’s made from another water tower, stands 96 feet tall, and holds 150,000 gallons.
Fly-fishing rod: It will take only a few minutes to see the world’s largest fly rod, located along Trans-Canada Highway 16 in Houston, British Columbia, the self-proclaimed “Steelhead Capital of Canada.” The rod is 60 feet long and weighs 800 pounds.
Drugstore: If you’re in the vicinity of Wall, South Dakota, and even if you’re not, be sure to make tracks to Wall Drug. Although not technically the world’s largest drugstore, Wall Drug is perhaps the most famous. It’s home of the legendary jackalope, not to mention a restaurant, shops, and free ice water. Take exit 109 or 110 off Interstate 90.
Ball of twine: We have to get picky here. The largest ball of twine rolled by one man is on U.S. 12 in Darwin, Minnesota. The “world’s largest,” according to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, is at Ripley’s museum in Branson, Missouri. The actual largest is in Cawker City, Kansas. Since it is still growing, it will be difficult to beat.
Living thing: The bristlecone pine isn’t the largest tree, but at 4,900 years of age, it is the earth’s oldest living thing. Bristlecones grow at high altitudes in the southern Rockies. Some examples can be seen at Schulman Grove near Bishop, California. You can get directions at the Forest Service office in Bishop. Though it’s not a difficult trip, the road may not be suitable for large RVs.
This is just a tiny sampling of what’s out there. A search of the Internet for “world’s largest” yields more than 2 million hits. Before long, you’ll know that the world’s largest “little red wagon” is 27 feet long . . . the largest glass of Florida orange juice holds 730 gallons . . . the largest underpants are size 100!
The purpose of all this is to get you off the road and to a place where you can relax and shake the cobwebs from your mind. Granted, most of us are programmed to complete a journey as quickly as possible, so it requires some effort to spend more than 10 minutes off the highway. But try it, and I think you’ll agree that the trip was made special because you found the “world’s largest.” Happy hunting.
Sit Down And Measure This!
The battle for the world’s largest chair has been raging for nearly 100 years. In 1905 citizens of Gardner, Massachusetts, a town with 20 chair factories, erected a 12-foot-tall chair and claimed it to be the world’s largest. Not to be outdone, folks in Thomasville, North Carolina, a town renowned for its furniture, went to work. Their chair measured more than 13 feet 6 inches tall. The Gardner folks reclaimed the title in 1928 with a 15-foot monster, and padded their lead in 1935 with a 16-footer.
After World War II the Thomasville folks reignited the competition by building an 18-foot steel-and-concrete chair. Bennington, Vermont, residents staked their claim by constructing a chair 19 feet tall, but Morristown, Tennessee, then built one that topped 20 feet.
All this time the folks in Gardner were watching. Their next chair set a new record: 20 feet 7 inches, which they held for an entire year! But next came a chair that was 24 feet tall in Binghamton, New York. It gained the title of world’s largest in 1979. Residents of Wingdale, New York, claimed the next record with their 25-foot behemoth.
In the early 1980s, a 33-foot chair appeared in Anniston, Alabama, and in 2002, two large chairs appeared on the horizon: a 26-foot rocker in Lipan, Texas, and a 30-foot rocker in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Are they the biggest? No. That distinction now belongs to a chair manufacturing company in Udine, Italy. Its wood-and-steel giant is 65-1/2 feet tall “” as high as a seven-story building.