Some things are a given for road trips. You can bet on ingesting greasy food and massive quantities of caffeine. You're likely to have at least one brilliant ah-ha moment and one crushing realization about your life. And, you'll definitely encounter roadside oddities to entertain your loopy, sleep-deprived brain. There's the world's largest this's and that's (peach, ball of yarn, beagle, whatnot) and kitschy bits of Americana to amuse. But there are also worthwhile art installations and other curious sights not to be missed. Here are the five coolest roadside attractions worth pulling over for.
1. The Paper House, Massachusetts
What started as an engineer’s quest to build a well-insulated summer house quickly drew the interest of residents in Rockport, Massachusetts, off local Route 127. Elis Stenman began construction on The Paper House in 1922 — with everything except the framework, floorboards, and shingles fashioned entirely out of pasted, coated, and rolled layers of newspaper. Electricity and running water were added, and after the exterior was varnished, Stenman made furniture out of paper logs that he glued or nailed together. But expect to see more than just a few functional tables and chairs. There’s a working fireplace, a grandfather clock that dates back to 1930 and is covered with newspapers from 48 states, and a newspaper-clad piano.
2. Prada Marfa, Texas
Your credit card can remain safely in your wallet when visiting this Prada boutique. In fact, you won’t even get past the door. Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset completed their permanent installation in 2005. The attraction represents a slice in the history of capitalist commerce (Ironically, it was constructed with a hefty $80,000 price tag attached.) It’s located on a less-traveled stretch of Highway 90, just outside the town of Valentine, about 25 miles northwest of Marfa. The high-heeled Prada pumps and handbags on display are from the brand’s Fall/Winter 2005 collection, and were chosen by Miuccia Prada, who gave the duo permission to use the logo.
3. Carhenge, Nebraska
The creator of this curiosity unsurprisingly spent a considerable amount of time studying Stonehenge while living in England. Artist Jim Reinders decided to construct a copy in the high-plains city of Alliance years later as a memorial to his father. A collection of 39 cars were upended and positioned in the same proportions as monoliths of the ancient site, arranged in a circle measuring close to 98 feet in diameter — and the heel stone is a 1962 Cadillac. Carhenge was dedicated on the Summer Solstice in 1987 (and it will be in the direct path of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017).
4. PennDOT Road Sign Sculpture Garden, Pennsylvania
Leave it to art students at a small East Coast college to dream up a quirky project that turns heads in a quiet town. The colorful 10-foot mural, which spans more than a quarter mile of Smock Highway southwest of Meadville, is made entirely out of repurposed road signs. Allegheny College professor Amara Geffen and her students built the mural along a chainlink fence on land owned by the state’s department of transportation (PennDOT), incorporating designs from residents and local schoolchildren. It took more than a decade to finish, with features that represent the community, from oil wells to hot air balloons to a Ferris Wheel with moving parts.
5. Cadillac Ranch, Texas
We had to include two Texas attractions in our roundup — it’s a big state! — and this one is a classic, dating back to 1974. The art installation, located on Interstate 40 in Amarillo, is the work of three hippies from San Francisco, who called themselves the “Ant Farm.” Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Hudson Marquez took a collection of Caddys and half buried them front-end first in the dirt. The explanation for how they came up with the idea is (unsurprisingly) a little fuzzy. If you visit, be sure to pick up a few cans of spray paint in advance to add your tag — graffiti is encouraged.
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