Strange Americana: The Best Roadside Attractions in the Southwestern States
If you’re taking a road trip across the country — or maybe even just across your state — you’re probably anticipating at least a few hours spent playing “I spy” or finding another way to keep yourself and your passengers somewhat entertained on those long stretches of open road. Fortunately, if you have some spare time, there’s a much better way to enjoy an engaging drive: checking out the odd but captivating roadside attractions that exist throughout the United States.
In this edition of our Strange Americana series, we’re exploring some unbelievable and unforgettable roadside attractions in the Southwest. Ready to find out about a “luxury retailer” in the middle of the Texas desert or learn why there’s a huge whale in Oklahoma? Hop in for the ride to discover these (and other) bizarre roadside attractions.
Cadillac Ranch | Amarillo, Texas
Believe it or not, there are actually a few restaurants in the country that go by the name Cadillac Ranch. You won’t want to eat at this Cadillac Ranch, though — unless you’re interested in picnicking near an auto graveyard. This particular Cadillac Ranch has become a landmark in Amarillo, Texas, and it features 10 graffiti-covered Cadillacs all buried nose-down in a field. Interestingly, they’re all sticking out at the same angle as the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The pitstop, located just off of I-40, has been open since 1974. It’s accessible all year with no admission prices or timed entrances.
Upside-Down Pyramid | Tempe, Arizona
If the Cadillac Ranch cars are any strange indication, pyramids are pretty fascinating to us. The pyramids in Egypt are certainly a sight to see, but this upside-down pyramid is a wonder in its own right. Located in Tempe, Arizona, this six-story structure built in 1970 draws plenty of crowds who marvel at its peculiar construction.
This bizarre office is actually the Tempe Municipal Building just east of Phoenix. The surrounding court is typically open for pictures. However, because this is also a government building, it’s only open on weekdays during normal business hours. If you’re planning to stop in town and stay awhile, it’s worth checking out.
Prada Marfa | Valentine, Texas
This art installation in Valentine, Texas, created by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, started as a critique of the luxury fashion industry. Prada Marfa is modeled after an actual Prada store — but it’s plopped right down in the middle of a rugged Texan desert. This “store” holds some of Prada’s 2005 fall collection; however, the bottoms are cut out of the bags, and the shoes aren’t in pairs.
Today, it’s become a huge draw as far as roadside attractions go, with people venturing from near and far to snap pictures and pose in front of the faux shop. You won’t actually get into the “boutique,” which is part of the artists’ commentary about the ways high fashion is inaccessible to most of the population.
The Lightning Field | Quemado, New Mexico
Created by sculptor Walter De Maria in 1977, The Lightning Field is an art installation made up of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a rectangular grid formation. Lightning does indeed strike from time to time, requiring pieces of the work to be replaced.
You can walk around the field to see this totally unique piece of art, though no electronic devices are allowed. If you have extra time on your trip, you can even spend the night near this bizarre grid; between May and October, the art foundation that commissioned this piece provides overnight access to visitors.
Giant Red Arrow | Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you ever need a reminder of where a particular old-school shopping plaza is located in Albuquerque, just look for this giant red arrow sculpture. In the early 1960s when the supersized weapon was created — with the goal of drawing people to an out-of-the-way strip mall — it stood on the outskirts of town. But as Albuquerque grew, the city closed in on this bright attraction.
Today, the arrow is officially an historic landmark in New Mexico. And, it makes a great backdrop for those perfect social media snaps you’ll be sharing with friends during your ride. Find it at 2103 Carlisle Boulevard Northeast in Albuquerque.
Biosphere 2 | Oracle, Arizona
During its regular operations, the Biosphere 2 facility in Oracle, Arizona, is actually a laboratory for controlled scientific studies and a place for public education; it’s been owned and operated by the University of Arizona since 2011.
While science lovers come to the building to learn, they also find themselves captivated by Biosphere 2’s unique design. The complex was built between 1987 and 1991, mainly as a place to research future space colonization. If you’re looking for Area 51 vibes without, you know, trying to break into a top-secret government facility, this should do the trick.
Roswell UFO Crash Site | Corona, New Mexico
You saw the spaceship cement mixer and toured Biosphere 2, but your road trip still just doesn’t feel the truth is out there enough for your liking. That’s why the Roswell UFO Crash Site in Corona, New Mexico, is a must-see attraction. Those familiar with the history of the Roswell incident know of the 1947 crash of a U.S. Army Air Force balloon in the area. However, conspiracy theorists believe that the crash actually involved a flying saucer and that the government was covering it up. Who wouldn’t love this appealing blend of scandal and space travel?
The crash site is actually on the private property of the Dinwiddie Cattle Ranch, so it’s suggested to call ahead to see if you can access it. The dirt road to get to this crash site can be hard to navigate, too, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. Want to keep it a bit more casual? Visit the Roswell UFO Museum nearby instead.
Blue Whale of Catoosa | Catoosa, Oklahoma
Step aside, Taj Mahal — this monument to matrimony is totally weird. Hugh Davis built the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma, for his wife in celebration of their 34th wedding anniversary in 1972. The whale was also used as a swim dock that neighborhood kids used to dive and slide into a nearby pond.
Located right off of Route 66, the Blue Whale is 20 feet tall and 80 feet long. Today, you can walk through the structure for free. There are even picnic areas and a gift shop if you can’t pass through an unexpected site without picking up some commemorative merch.