Roadside oddities draw us in and have us plunking down dollars to see a mummified corpse, a teacup collection, an unidentified monster, or perhaps a flying saucer. It doesn’t matter if the thing ends up being an obvious hoax—it adds a wonderfully whimsical flair to your motorcycle trip
Here are 10 outlandish roadside attractions for when the usual museums and motels get old. Boggle your mind and introduce a touch of the bizarre into your next moto outing.
Cowboy Willy—Willits, CA
We’ve all seen them. Known as the Muffler Men, they are remnants of a 1960s-era marketing ploy to grab motorists’ attention for muffler shops. The 20-foot-tall figures are made of fiberglass and came out of the same mold, the company manufacturing some 250 of them.
Over time, the imposing, square-jawed figures suffered various calamities, many ending up in junkyards. Industrious souls resurrected some of them, though, and gave them new duties.
Willits Frontier Days—a non-profit organization keeping old-fashioned rodeos alive—transformed theirs into a cowboy, renaming him Cowboy Willy. Bought for $50 in 1967, the figure got a new coat of paint and traded his muffler for a Willits branding iron.
Elmer’s Fountain—Mullan, ID
If you find yourself traveling on I-90 between Spokane, WA, and Missoula, MT, you owe it to yourself to slow down in Mullan. On the south side of the interstate, you’ll find three bright school-bus-yellow pipework water fountains.
Named after Elmer Almquist, the man who designed and built them, they’re tucked away amidst a forest on the side of the road. Almquist was a miner and welder who crafted the fountains from salvaged steel pipes.
He set the pipes vertically and let them feed off of nearby Gold Lake with an ingenious dam and flume system that funnels water into a four-inch pipe to create pressure. Traversing a mine tunnel prevents the water from freezing in winter, allowing the spray to create ice formations.
The triple pipe fountain has two tall pipes that spill into a catch basin, while the third small one was intended as a drinking fountain.
When Almquist died in 1986 his widow named the fountain for its creator. Be aware that aside from the Elmer’s Fountain, there are no other amenities in Mullan.
Elmer’s Fountain can only be accessed from the eastbound lanes of I-90. There’s no exit and the attraction is unmarked, requiring a pull-over.
Joe Magarac Statue—Braddock, PA
Pennsylvania is a steel state, so it stands to reason a mythical steel-related hero would emerge in these parts. Joe Magarac follows in the vein of Paul Bunyan, but instead of wielding an ax and being accompanied by a blue ox, this folk legend is made of steel, was born in an ore mountain, and has the physical strength of a steel beam.
The legendary Joe Magarac is immortalized in a statue outside the old U.S. Steelworks in Braddock. True to the folklore, Joe is depicted as a brawny fellow, bending a steel beam with his bare hands with a cocky smile on his mug.
His shirt is open and the U.S. Steel medallion hangs proudly over his barrel chest. Joe is an emblem of this country’s famous heritage in steel and ironworks.
Smokey Bear Park—International Falls, MN
America likes to do things big. This 26-foot-tall statue of Smokey Bear, the iconic mascot of forest fire prevention, in a park in International Falls sure attests to that.
The statue was created in 1954 to commemorate the fire-fighting American black bear’s 10th birthday. Smokey Bear was born during World War II in 1944 when the authorities and the public were concerned about forest fires caused by potential foreing attack on home soil.
However, it took a few years for Smokey to develop his famous catchphrase: “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.”
Initially proposed by a forest ranger, the town built the 26-foot-tall fiberglass statue, complete with shovel in Smokey’s hand. After years of locals dressing the bear for changing seasons, it is now respectfully adorned only with his official uniform of blue jeans, a belt, a buckle and a hat.
Conny the Whale—West Hartford, CT
A short ride outside West Hartford, off SR 84, is the Children’s Museum. Out front on its grounds is a life-sized sculpture of a sperm whale.
It has been there for 40 years and offers curious visitors an opportunity to walk inside its 60-foot length. Known as Conny for Connecticut, you can follow the walkway to the entrance into her bowels.
Fortunately, the internals don’t attempt to faithfully replicate the guts of a whale. Insteadm they offer just a pleasant walkthrough.
Conny the Whale, as well as dinosaur statues, can be visited for free without entering the museum, and there’s plenty of free parking.. However, for a small entry fee, you can go visit the museum too.
World’s Largest Bowie Knife—Bowie, TX
If America likes it big, then Texas is the king of that pursuit. Among the Lone Star State’s slate of large things is the Guinness World Records certification for the world’s largest Bowie Knife.
Appropriately located in Bowie, the 20-foot-tall sculpture pays tribute to the town, which was named for James Bowie. The Kentucky-born man had visited Texas, but there’s no formal record of him actually ever having come to this part of the state.
Nonetheless, he was a knife-fighting legend, known for prominently wearing a knife that was reportedly 9.5-inches long, 1.5 inches wide, and a quarter-inch thick.
The Old West is ripe with these tall figures and lasting legends. Whether hyped-up fantasy or semi-truth, there’s no denying the largest Bowie knife in the world is real and worth a turn if you find yourself in this part of Texas.
World's Largest Boot—Red Wing, MN
Here’s a quirky attraction that speaks to motorcyclists. The Red Wing Shoe Company, located in Red Wing, MN, has a great pedigree of crafting fine shoes and boots.
Red Wing produced the famous buckle rider boot so strongly associated with heavy cruisers. Inside the lobby of the company’s museum is a 20-foot-tall replica of a Red Wing work boot created to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary.
The boot is a size 638 ½ D (it’s important to get those halves in there) and would fit a wearer taller than the Statue of Liberty. It was made from the hides of 80 cows and it took 80 pounds of brass to create the large lace eyelets.
In addition to seeing this mammoth shoe, the museum offers displays chronicling the company’s history and the boot-making process. It also displays Red Wing’s history of advertising, with the company famously using Norman Rockwell artwork for its ads.
Yet, one of the most appealing aspects of the museum is that it’s free.
Cadillac Ranch—Amarillo, TX
There is a site along I-40 in Texas, outside Amarillo, that has been attracting visitors since 1974. There’s no parking lot, no entranceway, no snack bar. It pounces upon weary drivers out of nowhere, signaling a strange surrealism.
Out among the barren landscape of dried shrubs and dirt, 10 Cadillacs are buried nose down, their tail ends rising up into the sky at precisely the same angle as that of the Giza pyramids.
Entry to the Cadillac Ranch is cost free. You simply walk through a formal break in the fence to get to the strange sculpture.
The cars have systematically earned layers of graffiti over the years, which has only added to their allure. One has to wonder whether this was just a quirk of the creator, a simple whimsy to do something with tired old relics of Detroit iron, or might the sculpture say something about American automobile manufacturing and its demise?
Cabazon Dinosaurs—Cabazon, CA
A long-time favorite of travelers taking the I-10 to Palm Springs, the little town of Cabazon enjoys celebrity courtesy of the late Pee Wee Herman. He immortalized the Cabazon Dinosaurs in the cult film Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure.
The dinosaurs proffer all the essentials of roadside attraction—they’re big, odd, colorful, and pointless.
In addition to the massive star of the show, Mr. Rex, there are 70 other dinosaurs to wander around. However, visiting Mr. Rex’s toothy mouth requires admission to the museum.
As with all good roadside attractions, there’s a gift shop where you can buy all kinds of dinosaur-related kitsch, from coffee mugs to T-shirts.
World's Largest Basket Building—Newark, OH
The central Ohio town of Licking (named for the Licking River) is home to one of those oddities that beg the question, “Why?” That’s the key ingredient to any classic roadside attraction—it should defy reason.
Here you will find the world’s largest basket building. Originally the headquarters of the once-thriving Longaberger Basket Company, the building was erected in 1997 at a cost of $70 million. It’s designed to resemble a picnic basket, complete with handles.
The seven-story building is a replica of the Longaberger medium market basket, just 160 times the size. The handles on top of the building are made of wood and weigh 75 tons.
Longaberger closed down in 2016, leaving the fate of the big basket up in the air until developers decided to turn it into a luxury hotel. However, the new owners have vowed to retain the basket appearance, as they realize that’s what gives it that perfect roadside attraction appeal.