Gadlinks for Monday 8.3.09

This Monday, and the first week of August, begins with an apology. It’s been nearly a week since our last installment of Gadlinks, and it’s all my fault. I celebrated my 31st birthday on Wednesday, and have since been in a car, traveling between Seattle and San Francisco. Here at Gadling we are celebrating roadside attractions and undiscovered America, so it seems only appropriate to provide some Gadlinks in keeping with the theme.

And finally, my friend in Ohio sent me a video of Touchdown Jesus, and I couldn’t help but look up videos on pilgrimages to this famed roadside attraction. This one inspired me the most, though — a music video with fire dancers by the extra-large Jesus statue. The music is quite catchy, if I do say so myself.

Tomorrow, Jeremy will bring us the usual Gadlinks. ‘Til then, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.

Roadside attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway

I just completed a whirlwind tour of the Pacific coastline this past week and within a few days I got a taste of some pretty eye-popping roadside attractions along Route 101. While most of the sights I discovered were pretty kitschy, there were other natural wonders that inspired at least one or two ooo’s and ahh’s. While I’d like to say I drove the whole thing, I have to admit that I was only able to run the stretch between San Francisco, CA through Aberdeen, WA. Here’s a little taste of the roadside wonders waiting for you along the Pacific coastline:

Northern California

  • Golden Gate Bridge: A trip to NorCal wouldn’t be complete without seeing San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. While the building of the bridge itself is enough to place it firmly in national lore, many are sadly inspired to jump from the bridge to their death into the frigid bay waters below.
  • Redwood National Park: The towering redwood trees in Humboldt county along California’s “Lost Coast” are truly a sight to behold. At one point, the cars along 101 weave amid the trees.
  • Bigfoot country: While my friend may claim Bigfoot lives in her small town of Ada, Oklahoma, northern California also claims Bigfoot lives here, and the locals immortalize him by making lots of wooden statues of him.
  • Trees of Mystery: If you’re into tall tales like stories about Paul Bunyan (that giant lumberjack of a man), the audio tour along the “Tall Tales Trail” in the Trees of Mystery park should inform you of all you need to know about big country legends. Enjoy a ride on the Sky Trail gondola if you want to travel amid the big trees in the park.


  • Oregon Dunes: The sci-fi saga, Dune, was inspired by these sandy dunes in southern Oregon. The beach along this stretch of coast seems to go on forever. Sandy tumbling down a rolling dune is a must.
  • Prehistoric Gardens: A popular tourist trap right off the 101 is the dinosaur-filled park better known as the Prehistoric Gardens. Apparently, someone thought it was a great idea to create life-sized dinosaurs and place them throughout a forested park for tourists to stumble upon as they strolled amid the trees. A little scary, if you ask me, but the Gardens draw quite the crowd.
  • Tillamook Cheese Factory: The famous cheddar cheese company has a large amusement park-like factory complete with an ice cream shop that features over 30 original flavors. This place tops even Ben and Jerry’s as a must-see.

Southern Washington

  • The world’s largest frying pan: Once you cross the state border into Washington, the roadside pickings get a bit slim. Take a slight detour along the Long Beach Peninsula and you will find the world’s largest frying pan, which is a 10-foot tall specimen of shiny iron.
  • Oysters: The Willapa Bay just north of the peninsula is home to lots of oysters. As you drive into South Bend, you’ll see a sign declaring it’s the “Oyster Capital of the World.”

Great American Road Trip: The Corn Palace

It took three trips through South Dakota before we made it to The Corn Palace, a mecca of sorts in Mitchell, a town that seems as if it might be in the middle of nowhere. The middle of nowhere is a significant detail. Back in 1892, settlers to South Dakota wanted to showcase the harvest bounty of the state and attract people to the area.

If you’ve driven through South Dakota in this decade–it’s a favorite of ours for a Great American Road Trip, something we do each summer, one thing that’s evident is that there are expanses of land between towns. Imagine what 1892 must have looked like. Nothing but land for miles and miles and miles. No gas stations. No houses. No truck stops. Nothing. There wasn’t even a Mount Rushmore.

When the first settlers fashioned a building here out of panels of ears of corn and grains grown in the fertile soil of South Dakota, they probably didn’t imagine that their “The Corn Belt Exposition” would become the ground work for an explosion of gift shops, restaurants and every other touristy schlock a person can think of. Schlock, however, can be fabulous.

If you look beyond the excesses of “stuff” a person can buy in Mitchell, the passion and fortitude of South Dakota is evident in what The Corn Palace is today.

The current building was built in 1921, and the Moorish-style domes and minarets added in 1937. Originally, the building was made of wood, and looked more like a castle. It was also located on another spot in town.

Throughout the structural changes and new location, each year new murals are made of ears of corn and grains. The murals follow a theme and are created by local artists. Last year’s theme, the one we saw, was “Everyday Heroes.”

This year’s theme is a Gadling favorite topic: “America’s Destinations.”

Besides being Mitchell’s main tourist attraction, The Corn Palace, serves as a multi-purpose auditorium and exposition center.

We spent about an hour and a half here. If you go, really take time to look at each of the murals, both outside and inside the building. Although we didn’t take the tour (I think we didn’t have the time), it would be one way to find out more about South Dakota’s agricultural history and the building. For example, the various colors of the mural are due to the grains and type of corn used. There are 13 shades of corn in the current design.

Click here for more facts. As much as The Corn Palace could be touted as tacky, it could be touted as a work of art. Think of the entire building as a thematic art exhibit of sorts.

Plus, the items on sale inside are totally corn related. If anything, browsing through the offerings is a lesson in how much corn inspires people to make knickknacks. Items range from tacky to terrific. I had a blast wandering through the variety and picked up popcorn balls, postcards and a few tasteful presents.

The snack bar outside the auditorium has affordable eats. Of course, we bought ears of corn followed by ice-cream. The ice-cream was not corn related, but South Dakota is hot in the summer and ice-cream bribes make summer road trips bearable.

Although we passed through here last July, August is a month to consider. At the end of the month is the Corn Palace Festival. This year the festival is from August 26-August 30.

Oh, yeah. The Corn Palace definitely fits into budget travel. Admission is free. [all photos by Jamie Rhein]

Roadside California: World’s Largest Artichoke

What else are you going do when you come to the “Artichoke Capital of the World” (as the sign to Castroville, California boasts)?

Two things: take a photo next to the World’s Largest Artichoke and sample all-things-artichoke.

The giant artichoke sculpture is quickly visible once you get off Highway 156, just north of Monterey. Built in 1963, it’s made of concrete and rebar and stands 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide. It’s definitely popular, as far as vegetables go–on a recent stop there, kids hung from the sculpture’s protruding leaves, and a couple from LA posed for photos in front of it.

Next door at the Giant Artichoke Restaurant, a friend and I shared the giant artichoke platter: large steamed artichoke, fried artichoke hearts, and artichoke bread ($11.41). As someone who grew up enjoying playing with her food–and naturally loving artichokes–I was in heaven. Especially with those fried niblets.
And it turns out, it doesn’t matter what meal you’re there for–artichokes are always on the menu. Breakfast: artichoke eggs benedict ($9.99). Lunch: artichoke salad ($9.49). Dinner: artichoke pasta stir fry ($12.49).

Since 1959, Castroville has hosted an Artichoke Festival every May, but even before that it has crowned an Artichoke Queen. You might recognize the very first Artichoke Queen, crowned in 1947. Her name: Norma Jean, who went on to become Marilyn Monroe.

Appropriately, nearby Gilroy and Salinas have their own salad-inspiring monikers. Gilroy is the “Garlic Capital of the World” (and yes, you can smell it) and Salinas is the “Lettuce Capital of the World.”

Have you seen. . .The Thing?

As you drive through the desert along I-10 you see them–garish signs beckoning you to explore the mystery of “The Thing?” The signs are everywhere, 247 of them stretching from Arizona to Texas. The journey is long and boring, punctuated only by bad country music and Born-Again preachers on the radio. Finally you make it to Exit 322 at Dragoon, Arizona, and see the cheap yellow, red, and blue facade inviting you to stop and see The Thing? itself.

How could you say no? I couldn’t. A long, long time ago, a much younger Museum Junkie felt the siren call of roadside America and pulled over in his 82 Nissan Stanza to find out what The Thing? really was.

Past a curio shop stuffed with plastic tomahawks and The Thing? shot glasses, I entered a back lot with three sheds. The first two were stuffed with dusty displays of fascinating junk, everything from a mock-up of a torture room to a 1937 Rolls Royce supposedly owned by Hitler. There were strange carvings made of roots and driftwood too, and random bits that looked like they were saved from a dumpster behind an antique mall.

But then I spied the yellow trail of Bigfoot prints leading to the third shed. I followed them and beheld in all it’s glory–THE THING?!!!

So what is it? A crashed UFO? A fifty-foot Eiffel Tower made out of jelly beans? J. Edgar Hoover’s drag queen outfits? No! It’s. . .it’s. . .

. . .well, it’s this. A dusty female mummy holding a baby mummy and shyly hiding her geriatric genitalia behind a Chinese hat.

Is it real? This former archaeologist made a thorough examination of it (by staring through the dirty glass) and came up with the professional diagnosis of “maybe”. The face looks pretty fake, making me suspect its a paper mache dummy with a few spare ribs from somebody’s barbecue added for effect, but something made me think twice. Dessicated human remains are fairly common in the Arizona desert, and were even more common back in 1950 when the museum opened.

As an archaeology student at the University of Arizona back in the day, I got to tour the state forensics lab and saw several of these mummies. Some were ancient native Americans, others dated to modern times and were what the lab attendants referred to as JPFROG (Just Plain F**cking Ran Out Of Gas).

Another roadside attraction, The Million Dollar Museum in New Mexico, had several of these things, but sadly they have closed. According to unverified reports (what else would you expect?) the FBI was sufficiently convinced the mummies were real that they hauled them away for DNA testing.

Ancient mummy, cheesy fake, or JPFROG? You be the judge. Go to. . .The Thing?

Or be lazy and watch this YouTube video narrated by Hunter S. Thompson (not really).