That’s Weird: Roadside attractions that make you go “hmm”
As a somewhat unusual guy myself, I appreciate the strange or bizarre. On vacation, I'm more likely to stop by the world's largest ball of twine than visit a generic Six Flags. So, I've seen my share of odd stuff along the road, from the upscale McDonald's shaped like a Happy Meal to the stray dinosaur grazing a pasture in South Dakota.
There are a few things that have really stood out as, well, weird. Roadside "attractions" that seem either really out of place, or stand out as unsolved mysteries. Below are my favorites; let me know if you think you have seen something even stranger.
The Marfa Prada Store
Where do I even begin? Over 150 miles southeast of El Paso, Texas--about as far away as you can get from anything--stands the Marfa Prada store. It sits alone along an empty stretch of lonely west Texas highway, peddling its high-end fashion wares to, well, nobody.
The weird aspects of the Marfa Prada store abound:
- It is a tiny shop containing just 20 high-heeled shoes--not pairs of shoes, just 20 left-foot shoes--and 6 expensive purses, all of the high-end Prada brand.
- It is located in the middle of nowhere, in a pasture where the few human residents wear cowboy boots and Wranglers, not high fashion handbags.
- None of the items are for sale, anyway. The door is permanently locked.
- Though the storefront proclaims it to be the "Marfa" Prada, it is not in or even near the small town of Marfa, Texas. Not that Marfa would have a Prada store, anyway.
- The nearest town is actually named Valentine.
A placard nearby proclaims the store to be a "site specific, permanent land art project". I guess just about anything can be considered "art" these days. In which case, I would like to nominate:
The Shoe Tree
Staying with the shoe theme, we travel to the "Loneliest Highway in America", U.S. 50 in Nevada. On this remote highway, a few miles east of the odd-in-its-own-right Sand Mountain, stands a large tree that is covered with shoes. Hundreds of shoes. Thousands of shoes. All hanging by their shoestrings from the tree's branches.
There is no explanation that I know of for the presence of the shoes. Sure, people have thrown them up in the tree, but why? Someone must have thrown a pair up in the tree, and then the next person who came along (remember, this is the Loneliest Highway, so there are relatively few people to drive by) decided it looked like a really good idea to add his or her footwear as well. And this was repeated thousands of times, until the tree could hardly hold them all.
Billions of trees on the planet, and that one looked like it needed some shoes.
Maybe it was just part of God's grand plan for things.
Speaking of God:
The Hand of...God?
That is my nickname for the 40-some-foot-tall hand growing out of the ground near Stratford, Oklahoma.
It is a rusty metal sculpture of some sort, and probably the weirdest thing about it is that it is not a roadside attraction at all. If it was designed to draw visitors, then the giant hand might make sense. Instead, it is just parked next to a machine shed, in a fenced-off lot next to the road. There is no sign announcing or explaining it, and no good place to pull off the road to take photos of it.
On top of the run-down but still unfinished hand, perched on a giant finger, is a giant butterfly, large enough for dozens of birds to perch on its metal-frame wings. Which is exactly what the birds do, marking the first and only time I have seen birds on a butterfly.
Red Oak II
Plenty of ghost towns exist--the remnants of burgs that just didn't make it, and were left empty (or mostly empty) of human life.
Only one town I know of, though, has ever been built as a ghost town, from the remains of other old ghost towns.
That town is Red Oak II, the sequel designation coming from the fact that there was an original Red Oak, which no longer exists.
Red Oak II is located in Missoura, near the town of Carthage. Most people refer to the state as "Missouri", but this town's name is officially Red Oak II, "Missoura".
The ghost town was built by "shade-tree artist" Lowell Davis, who grew up in Red Oak I, and was sad to see his hometown disappear. He started collecting old buildings, from Red Oak I and other ghost towns, and moving them to his pasture along a gravel road in southwest "Missoura". The collection of 1920's-era buildings eventually included a church, one-room school, town hall, gas station, jail, diner, store, and a handful of houses. To these, Mr. Davis added his own collection of junk art.
If you've ever had a hankerin' to own your very own 1920's-era ghost town, Red Oak II is for sale. That's right: you can buy the whole town, for the right price. It has been for sale at least since the first time I visited, 5 years ago. It is hard to find any takers, mostly because of the question: what do you do with a ghost town in the middle of nowhere?
How to find these odd attractions:
The Marfa Prada store is located just north of Valentine, TX, along US 90.
The shoe tree is on US 50, and is not near anything. It is on the north side of the road somewhere east of Sand Mountain, which is about 25 miles east of Fallon, NV.
The Hand is on the west side of US 177 south of Stratford, OK.Red Oak II is about 2 miles east of Carthage, MO off of highway 96. Directions and a map are located here.
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