Most interesting sights and experiences from road trips in America.
March 16, 2009 7:12 PM   Subscribe

What's the most interesting thing or place you've seen or experienced on a road trip in the US?
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion to Grab Bag (54 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
A faith healing in a gas station bathroom on I-80 in Indiana. Really!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:15 PM on March 16, 2009

America's oldest whorehouse in Butte, Montana. It was like a timecapsule for prostitution.
posted by lizbunny at 7:17 PM on March 16, 2009

California State Route 1 between SanFran and Pismo Beach on a clear day.
posted by meeshell at 7:21 PM on March 16, 2009

There is no way that a whorehouse in Montana is the oldest whorehouse in america.

I saw a church of signs and wonders in tennessee. My friends didn't want to be bitten by rattlesnakes, or catch the god, so we didn't go in.

I also saw america's most disgusting bathroom at a restaurant in alabama called omelette house.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:24 PM on March 16, 2009

Two women getting into a heated verbal exchange at a stop light which quickly escalated into a furious battle of Mexican pastries being flung between the open windows of the two cars. When the light changed, one car screeched off while the driver of the other car calmly ate an empanada which had landed on her dashboard.

Oh, you mean like something one can go visit any time? I sorta like the unabashed cheesiness of the Mystery Spot.
posted by jamaro at 7:25 PM on March 16, 2009 [7 favorites]

I've driven from Atlanta to Quebec and out the Gaspe penninsula and from Santa Barbara to Atlanta, saw the Grand Canyon and Canyon De Chelly and the Painted Desert and every thing in between, but the best thing I've seen is Beale Street in Memphis on a generic Friday night, everybody out singing and playing and dancing. Now, this was nearly 20 years ago, but it was amazing.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:28 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The shortest tunnel, near Damascus, VA.

I also once saw the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.

And the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

Mormon missionaries tried to convert me at a gas station outside El Paso, TX.
posted by thewestinggame at 7:32 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Once after having driven solo for 36 hours and 2k miles (Boulder to Boston) I thought my red speedometer needle was blood dripping from my dashboard.
posted by originalname37 at 7:34 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know that I could pick just one, but camping at Toroweap on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was pretty incredible.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:39 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The PCH from Santa Barbara up to San Francisco, and the Smokey Mountains. Gorgeous.
posted by kookaburra at 7:45 PM on March 16, 2009

Second the Mystery Spot.

Although, spectacular hotsprings in Bridgeport, south of Tahoe CA, at sunset, took my breath away, and I haven't seen too much of the beautiful States.
posted by hannahlambda at 7:49 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

A natural formed polished 200 foot granite waterside in the Sierras, complete with a 10 foot drop into a pool of ice water.
posted by JimmyJames at 7:49 PM on March 16, 2009

Oh, you mean like something one can go visit any time?

Actually, I'm curious about both: the places that someone else could go visit, and the completely unreproducible random experiences (I love that story, by the way).
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 7:55 PM on March 16, 2009

The Corn Palace.
posted by matty at 8:04 PM on March 16, 2009

A general store in Missouri had 3 Deliverance-like guys in hats with ear flaps sitting on the porch. Inside was a sink that drained onto the floor. There were rats and raccoons posed in domestic scenes above the ice cream. Antique dolls circled the ceiling. There was a horse's head, covered with mold, on one of the walls. We thought we'd walked into the Twilight Zone.
posted by clarkstonian at 8:06 PM on March 16, 2009

I spent a week in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah last October and was blown away by the geologic scenery. In the north of the park are the Bentonite Hills: a dirt that becomes almost like quicksand when wet. Soon after, you come upon Cathedral Valley, equally inspiring from a distance and up close. [photos self-link]

The most awesome section of the park though, to me, was in the south overlooking the Waterpocket Fold, a classic monocline: a regional fold with one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers. A monocline is a "step-up" in the rock layers. Major folds are almost always associated with underlying faults. The Waterpocket Fold formed between 50 and 70 million years ago when a major mountain building event in western North America, the Laramide Orogeny, reactivated an ancient buried fault. When the fault moved, the overlying rock layers were draped above the fault and formed the monocline. I didn't want to leave.
posted by netbros at 8:13 PM on March 16, 2009

The Corn Palace, which is exactly what is sounds like, and is very touristy. I enjoyed it, however. Pretty cool that it changes each year, too.
posted by metalheart at 8:17 PM on March 16, 2009

Without question The House on the Rock in southwest Wisconsin. There is, as the name suggests, a beautiful home built on a large rock formation. The owner of the house also collected all manner of strange things (the world's largest carousel, giant statue of a whale and squid wrestling, pipe organs, replica's of the world's crown jewels, model ships, and on and on and on). There is no way I can give and adequate description to capture how fantastically kitsch this place is, so here are some photos. I have been telling people about it for years. My grandparents took me there as a young teenager.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 8:18 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The most interesting thing I experienced on a road trip (other than those to far flung Grateful Dead concerts) was the look on my brother's face while we were crossing Texas about 20 minutes after he realized that the correct dosage of the chocolate ex-lax was probably much much less than he actually ate because the bar had melted on the dashboard and well eating a big honking bite seemed the right thing to do in Texas. The next 8 hours on the road consisted of going from bathroom to bathroom literally planning the path to the next one. Between shitting and drinking Gatorade and laughing so hard I almost shit my pants I think we actually saw some neat things in Texas.

I also saw some really surrealistic things in Stateline, Nev after driving for 16 straight hours alone. Bazaar things happen in the casinos there. I remember a one-armed man and a 300 pound woman arguing over the proper technique to pull the handle on a nickel slot machine.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:24 PM on March 16, 2009

I loved staying overnight at the French Glen Hotel (make reservations for dinner) and then driving up onto Steens Mountain, Oregon -- amazing views and wildlife. It's pretty off-the-beaten path, though.
posted by amanda at 8:29 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Arches National Park. I've been many places in the world and Arches transported me. A few years ago my brother and I were driving from SF to Kansas, taking our own sweet time and we ended up spending two days in Arches. We could not leave. It was like visiting another planet. Cliché, but true. We spent two days wandering around, slightly, er, stoned, and making up fantastic stories about the petrified fossil remains of alien ships, etc. One of my best memories ever.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw a guy light his pubic hair on fire near the Tropicana Hotel in Vegas. "Pube-o-technics," he called it. Brilliant.
posted by tiburon at 8:38 PM on March 16, 2009

The Salton Sea and surrounding communities are pretty fucking weird, especially if you stop and walk around the shore or visit the local eateries/ bars (which are mostly full of retired people comparing the Canadian and USian health care systems and not murderous bikers as it turns out). Bombay Beach and The Flats have to be two of the oddest places I've ever been.
posted by fshgrl at 8:39 PM on March 16, 2009

On the road along the Alvord Desert in Oregon there's a hot spring that comes out of the ground near the ditch, and someone built a pool and a shack that captures the hot water. Sitting in that hotspring and looking out over the playa counts among the top 10 moments I've had in the United States. (Note: it depends on who you're with.)
posted by Dr. Send at 8:50 PM on March 16, 2009

Lucas, KS (Garden of Eden and Visionary Arts Museum, yay weird stuff) and the Finnish Country Sauna & Tubs in Arcata, CA (yay cheap and lovely hot tubs). Also: I believe the Badlands to be the most beautiful natural landscape in the US.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:01 PM on March 16, 2009

Watching the Blue Angels practice while fishing at a pier where fish were biting at unbaited hooks.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:04 PM on March 16, 2009

Also a sign next to an emegency truck stopping area on a hill between Frankfort Michigan and Traverse City: RUNAWAY VEHICLES ONLY.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:12 PM on March 16, 2009

The worlds largest truck stop Yeah, didn't take much to amuse me at that point in time.

This site lists places that have those squished penny machines...some different touristy things that you might not think of.
(And I'll be happy to take any dupes off your paws if you DO stop anyplace that has one :)
posted by legotech at 9:16 PM on March 16, 2009

The Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, TX.

The most beautiful sunrise ever- Roswell, NM

An unusual McDonalds.

Pacing a Union Pacific freight train for 200 miles in New Mexico and Arizona.

Checking out abandoned buildings on Route 66 in Tucumcari, NM.

Discovering Mammy's Cupboard on a foggy, rainy morning in Mississippi.

Locating the site of Casey Jones' wreck in Vaughan, MS

Too many gorgeous roads and scenery to count.
posted by pjern at 9:33 PM on March 16, 2009

- Coming across the Georgia Guidestones unexpectedly one day and being totally stunned and surprised, not to mention confused about wtf they were.
- Stepping off the dirt road in Alabama next to a newly-rained-upon field to stretch my legs a bit and realizing that the field was littered with prehistoric pottery and other artifacts as far as the eye could see. (We reported it to the state historic commission.)
-Driving into Tampa, across the extremely long and very low bridges, hearing on the radio about the incoming tropical storm and everyone being warned to get inside NOW. We finally found our hotel as the storm struck. As we closed the car doors and tried to dash inside the hotel, a huge branch fell on the rear window and knocked it out. After we found shelter for the car at a construction site nearby, we had to walk back to the hotel up to our knees in water from the pouring rain.
posted by gemmy at 9:33 PM on March 16, 2009

Badlands in SD

Forevertron and Dr Evermore in Southern WI

four dogs standing in the the back of a pickup in Eastern Nashville, barking their heads off as the truck made it's way through a snowstorm.
posted by edgeways at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2009

I used to ride motorcycles extensively all over in the Pacific NW. A lot of the time that I rode multi-day camping trips with friends (packing tents, sleeping bags, etc. on the bikes with us) my group of coworkers and friends would come back with at least one WOW moment that defined the trip. For one trip up to British Columbia, we had at least one a day.

The first day we rode out of Portland and passed through the farms on the eastern side of the Cascades, we rode through a farming area where they were harvesting fruits. The fields of concorde grapes smelled like jam. The apple orchards smelled like ripe apples.

The next day we were up early. We crossed into BC and rode through Nelson, BC. The mountains were beautiful, rivaled only by the city of Nelson (and all the college girls walking around in skimpy shirts while winds blew down off the glaciers!) That night we finished up at a campground on Lake Kootenay, and watched the sun set over the mountains behind us as we grilled dinner.

Morning saw us crossing Lake Kootenay on the first ferry after we woke up to a rind of ice on our tents. We dropped back across the border to the States and (in an experience that requires a motorcycle to appreciate) rode a freshly asphalted state highway south along the edge of Lake Coeur'd'elene with perfectly banked hairpin turns... down to Hell's Canyon on the Snake River.

The last day was a bit boring, if you can call crossing the Cascades over Mt. Hood boring.

If you want to experience the world around you, you have to get out of the car every once in a while. Cars are great for tuning out your environment. Air conditioning, music, horrible handling, and freeways separate you from your environment and keep you from enjoying the experience of getting there. If you want to go somewhere and experience it, get a sports convertible and leave the top down. Or better yet, something with only two wheels that really puts you out in the environment.
posted by SpecialK at 9:50 PM on March 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I saw a world class bakery off the grid in a dirt road town in Montana. There was no electricity and no working toilets but the food was out of this world.
Polebridge, Montana just outside Glacier National Park.
posted by Twinedog at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2009

Can't pick just one either but I thought the Standing on the Corner Park in Winslow Arizona was pretty cool as far as man-made places go. Sorry, I'm on my iphone so I can't hyperlink but you'll figure it out.
posted by tamitang at 11:01 PM on March 16, 2009

A lake at sunset near Syracuse, NY. I don't know what it's called. I was near a baseball field. Beautiful.

City Museum in St. Louis, as mentioned in a recent St. Louis thread.

A long pier stretching into Lake Tahoe in the middle of the night. Gorgeous if you go all the way out.

The sunset from Kansas City's Kaufmann Stadium from the upper deck, no one within a hundred seats of me.

Waking up at a rest stop and realizing I was right in front of the Bonneville salt flats at sunrise.

4th of July fireworks from a hotel in Omaha, Nebraska.

Watching the original Superman movie in D.C. projected onto a screen in the middle the Capital Building and the Washington Monument with thousands of other people.

A discussion about the best post-apocalyptic music playlist while driving through barren Wyoming.
posted by HonorShadow at 11:26 PM on March 16, 2009

The bayou on the Gulf Coast south of New Orleans (specifically: the town of Galliano on the Bayou Lafourche).

The Cajun culture really stood out since it's more rural than some other areas I've been closer to New Orleans. It's completely unlike anywhere else I've been in the United States and the people down there are great.
posted by david06 at 11:28 PM on March 16, 2009

half a bench.... at the Alaska border. The other half was on the British Columbia, Canada side. They have a line painted down the middle of the bench and you can sit on the line ( be in two countries at once), or sit with another person, both being in different countries, again at the same time. I thought that was neat.
posted by Taurid at 12:11 AM on March 17, 2009

One-offs: Driving (slooooooooowly) on I-10 west of Houston when it was the world's longest skating rink. Watched cars and trucks sliiiiiiiiiiiiide off the road as if in slow-motion.

A few seconds of watching a car burn on the shoulder of an L.A. freeway on a gray day, all kinds of different-colored smoke from various materials burning; colors of car, flames, smoke against the sky backdrop could have made an interesting photo.

A family trip when I was 5 or 6, dad stops the car at night in the Arizona desert, wakes me and my sisters up for my first time seeing all the stars in the sky on a clear night with no light pollution.

Seeing the Gateway Arch when it was about 90-percent finished.

Being 20, getting in my head to drive 100 mph on the Golden Gate Bridge, doing it and not getting caught.

Being about 23, riding a motorcycle at 2 a.m. in the middle of the California desert at about 100 mph going up a hill, crouched down, focusing straight ahead into a star-filled horizon and feeling like I was riding into space.

Being 25, going across the causeway to Galveston, Texas at night at about 120 mph on a motorcycle.

Things visited not one-offs: Four Corners, Taliesen West, going back to the gateway Arch decades later and taking the really cool ride to the top, getting out of the car and taking in the big view of Crater Lake, first time walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, Gatorland, going to the top of the World Trade Center and the outdoor observatory on a gorgeous day.
posted by ambient2 at 3:16 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A road trip is what you make of it. The more time you have to stop and explore, the better your memories will be. This is especially true for children. I have amazing memories of the Medicine Wheel on the top of a mountain in Wyoming, hiking an old rail line in Yellowstone Park and picking up early 20th Century glass bottles discarded by workers, camping at Devil's Tower and stargazing at Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania.
posted by camworld at 7:19 AM on March 17, 2009

Climbing all those stairs in the Statue of Liberty and looking out the windows in her crown.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:26 AM on March 17, 2009

I can't believe I'm the first to say Bryce Canyon but oh my God Bryce Canyon.

Also loved the Badlands, which has already been mentioned. And driving through Custer State Park and coming on a herd of hundreds of bison was magic.

The Acoma Pueblo is astonishing.

Mr. Sidhedevil and I have a special fondness for the elephant seals of Piedras Blancas, and we try to see them every time we're in California. (And their neighbors, the herd of feral zebras on the Hearst Castle grounds in San Simeon.)

We also love the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont--it's designed for kids, but cranky grownups like it, too.

For random weirdness, this was the biggest jaw-dropper our 2007 8-week driving trip around the perimeter of the US.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:52 AM on March 17, 2009

Stonefridge in New Mexico.

2nd-ing the Cadillac ranch outside Amarillo.
If you're in that area hit the roads that go through Palo Duro and Caprock canyons.

Beautiful roads -
many parts of the PCH,
the Million Dollar highway (US 550) in Colorado,
the lonliest road in America Hwy 50 through Nevada,
All roads leading into Marfa, Alpine and Marathon, Texas.
the road going North through the Ozarks out of Hot Springs AR - hwy 7, I think.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:58 AM on March 17, 2009

Hamilton Pool near Austin.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico and subsequently sitting in a hot spring with 10 other strangers, passing a bottle of whiskey and watching the stars come out in the desert sky, nude.

Thunderstorms over White Sands, NM, and the pools created.

The view from Mount Mitchell on a clear day.

Seeing the sun come out in time for a spectacular sunset on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway after a day of furious thunderstorms.

Fireworks on the National Mall on July 4.

Best travel moment ever though, was standing in the waves at Edisto Beach, SC and getting a call from my mother doing the same thing in Monterrey, CA.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:58 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watching Old Faithful erupt at night, with a full moon, and a big thunderstorm in the distance, caught on the mountains. has pretty good suggestions.

Or, travel with pjern.
posted by theora55 at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2009

Waking up in the morning and seeing a desert for the first time.
posted by yohko at 11:44 AM on March 17, 2009

Entering a sweeping curve on a Wyoming highway in the middle of the night, with no man-made lights in sight, and having my headlights reflect the eyes of a thousand antelope assembled on the prairie. Just glowing eyes, for as far as you could see…
posted by dinger at 12:19 PM on March 17, 2009

Goblin Valley in Southeast Utah is pretty cool.
posted by pollex at 12:57 PM on March 17, 2009

Wow, I posted this out of general curiosity but after reading this I don't know if I can resist jumping in my car...also interesting that the responses are pretty heavily tilted toward the Southwest.

Two of my favorite moments:

When I came over the hill and saw Horseshoe Bend for the first time.

Wandering away from our campsite in far Northern California for a hike and getting chased by the apparent property owner (and probable pot farmer) with a shotgun.
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 2:11 PM on March 17, 2009

A rundown (abandoned?) old shack decked out with some psychedelic projector/lightshow equipment at sunset, in the middle of nowhere, seriously, just out in the desert miles away from anything, on the road between Las Vegas, and Twenty-Nine Palms.

It was one of the weirdest and most interesting things I've ever seen in my history of roadtrips.
posted by Polgara at 8:03 PM on March 17, 2009

I had way more fun at The Mystery Spot than I should have.

Frankly, I think New Jersey is the strangest place in the Union (dude, have you SEEN Asbury Park?) but no trip roun' the U.S is complete without The Madonna Inn
posted by The Whelk at 8:14 PM on March 17, 2009

White water rafting in eastern Tennessee this past summer, in one of those big no-experience-necessary tours where each raft has a guide, a friend and I ended up in a raft guided by this 22 year old hot shot who intentionally kept our raft at the back of the group so that he could all sorts of things that the tour company wouldn't have liked, had they known he was doing it. In the middle of a rapid the guy would jump out of the raft, leap onto a boulder coming out of the water, run along the length of the boulder, then do a backflip off the boulder back into the raft. Or intentionally put us in crazy spins, or let us sit perched on the very front of the raft, "riding the bull" through rapids... man, that guy was fun. We had a way better time than everyone else in the group who were actually following the rules.

On a different trip, 7 of my friends took two cars down to Gatlinburg for a few days. Except on day 2 of the trip, one of the cars broke down, so we had to drive it about 40 miles to the nearest Honda dealership to get it fixed. When we went to pick the car up again, on the way back to meet everyone else again, a friend and I were driving back in my car, following the guy who had just picked up his newly-fixed car. "Follow me," he says, "I know a shortcut!" He finds the shortcut, we lose track of where he is, we end up driving 2 hours in the wrong direction towards the opposite side of Tennessee before we stop at a gas station, buy a map, figure out where we are, and drive 3 more hours back to Gatlinburg.

All my favorite road trips have been in Tennessee, which is weird, because you wouldn't think it would be that interesting, but it is. Ahhhh, the Smoky Mountains......
posted by Quidam at 11:10 PM on March 17, 2009

Once I was driving with friends from Denver to Pittsburgh by way of St. Louis (about 24 hours if you do it straight through). I had drawn the short straw which meant I got the 2nd driving shift - the one that started around midnight somewhere a little over halfway through Kansas. So after a couple hours of tossing around in the back trying to get a pre-nap in, we're at some gas station where I take the wheel and everyone promptly passes out for the night. Endless white stripes slowly zipping by, passing the occasional 18-wheeler, nobody else on the road but us dumb road-trippers.

Now, I generally stick to the right lane no matter what speed I'm doing unless I'm passing someone. So there I am in the pitch black flying along at about 85-90mph when all of a sudden I'm nearly blown off the road by the ROAR of a Red Chevelle Super Sport flying by me at easily a 3rd again my speed.

"Holy hell."

Then he's promptly out of sight and I keep driving. Well, sure enough, about half an hour later I pass him, sitting bathed in the spotlight of a state trooper's car. I figure he's probably going to jail for driving however fast he was clocked at, but sure enough, he's still sitting in the driver's seat waiting for his ticket.

I figure that's the last of that, but no joke, right as I'm coming out of Kansas City, sure enough: ROAR.

"That guy's gonna get a ticket in 2 states in one night," I thought, somewhat impressed.

And before I got halfway across Missouri, sure enough, there he is again, in front of a state trooper.

"This is great," I'm thinking, "He's clearing all the cops out of the way for me." It was like this big game of repeating turtle-and-the-hare. I began wondering if I'd see him again before I got to St. Louis. Surely not.

ROAR. He passed me again about 2 minutes after we crossed into Illinois. I pulled over on the other side of St. Louis and woke up the next shift driver, who I told all about this guy, but she never saw him during her shift and I was out like a light.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:33 AM on March 18, 2009

Oh and seconding The Whelk re: New Jersey

If it weren't a shadow of it's former self, I would say Bud's Grave in Highlands, New Jersey.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:43 PM on March 18, 2009

One-off - I saw a girl grab and make out passionately for about a minute with this somewhat stunned fella who'd just staggered out of the gas station. She then slapped him twice and got in her car and drove away. The guy stood there for a second, shook his head, and went back inside the gas station. This happened in Topanga Canyon, CA.

Something you can visit - Eureka Springs, AR, was pretty cool, as was the rest of the Ozark Range I rode through. Also, the little road between Folsom, NM, and Raton, NM, was picturesque and probably my favorite part of the entire cross-country trip I was on just for it's serene, green fields and these little birds that would blast from the bushes at the side of the road as I rode by and fly, balls out, in front of my motorcycle for a few seconds before darting off to the side.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:26 AM on July 16, 2009

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