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).

Top 5 favorite roadside stores and attractions

There are roadside stores and attractions that are worth driving to. In some cases towns wouldn’t exist unless it wasn’t for the store. With the bounties of kitsch, confections, food, and often an array of items that offer endless possibilities of items to buy–or wonder who in his or her right mind would buy such a thing, some places are hard to resist.

According to the reader survey conducted by USA Today recently, these are the top five favorite roadside stores in the United States. I’m wondering why the term “store” was used because in two cases stores aren’t involved at all. Bessie the Cow stands where she used to grace the front of a store called Oasis. Oasis was bulldozed under and a Menards was built on the land. If Oasis was great, why was it bulldozed under?

Still, it’s an intriguing collection that offers ideas for places to head, either on their own, or when you’re on the way to somewhere else. You’ll see Bessie is number 4.

The first time we drove to Hilton Head Island, we stopped at a small roadside stand that sold fireworks. Unlike that stand which was a one trick pony, South of Border, is a store and more. Fireworks is only a fraction of the bounty. You can’t miss it if you’re on I-75 I-95. Pedro, a 97-feet-tall statue of a Mexican man in a sombrero, stands by the store’s sign.

Back in 1936 when no one was stopping at the drugstore in Wall as they drove by after seeing the newly finished Mt. Rushmore, owners Ted and Dorothy Huestead began passing out free glasses of ice water to attract customers and be nice. The result is that the store has grown to be an over-the-top, you have to stop to see it type of place.

There is a store at Rock City, but the main attraction, from what I gather is the landscape. Located on top of Lookout Mountain, six miles from Chattanooga, there is a mix of fabricated attractions and ones that nature did on its own. Here you can see 7 states, tour a cavern and wander among rock formations that astound. Plus, buy stuff. Lots of it.

This 20 foot-long, one-ton bovine made out of fiberglass, stands where she used to stand after being refurbished. Here’s an idea. There needs to be a Bessie, the Cow ice-cream stand to highlight Wisconsin’s dairy hertiage. It could be next to Bessie. Here’s an article about Bessie’s return.

The Thing is a tourist attraction that is hard to explain, although there are 247 billboards that over a 200 mile stretch of highway between Deming, New Mexico and Mountain View, Arizona.

One you get to the Mystery of the Desert, you pay a small admission to enter for the chance to solve the mystery. According to the description on Roadside America, there are more than one thing to look at, each as unusual as the next. There are also The Thing related memorabilia to buy. Considering this place has been around since 1950, in today’s economy, that’s a reason to drive there. If you head to Deming, New Mexico, you won’t be far from Silver City, a very cool New Mexican town that is worth a stop as well.

I’ve driven by Wall Drug three times at least and have never stopped. I haven’t been able to talk my husband into it–yet. Next time. I’m determined. I want the cheap coffee at least. I’ve seen a sign advertising it.