If a road trip through the Southwestern US is in your future, then check out these fun and funky roadside attractions. It’s a great way to take a break, get off the highway and get some fresh air. And although they’re not all wheelchair-accessible, they are doable for most wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
This modest 9-11 memorial is located at the east end of town, along historic Route 66. There’s accessible parking on both sides of the memorial, with a level sidewalk over to the viewing area, which contains two pieces from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. There’s ample evidence of the reverence of the site, as past visitors have left flags, messages and notes at the memorial. There’s also a medallion from the former Winslow Bridge which once spanned the Little Colorado River on Route 66, at the site. Although folks from the east coast may discount this memorial as minimal, it’s still a reverent spot and should be recognized as such.
Rainbow Rock Shop
Although there’s no shortage of rock and petrified wood shops in Holbrook, the Rainbow Rock Shop is worth a stop, just for the photo op. Although the fenced yard is filled to the brim with rocks of every size and shape, the real stars at this stop are the giant fiberglass dinosaurs.
The best place to park is on the right side of the shop, which has a small paved unstriped lot, but parking is also available in a level gravel area in front. It doesn’t matter if the shop is open or not, because the real photo ops are from outside. Unfortunately the shop and the yard are so filled with rocks and petrified wood, that it’s not even remotely wheelchair-accessible. Still you can just roll up to the front to catch a glimpse of the dinosaur collection – you don’t even have to get out of your car. It’s easy to find too – just take exit 286 off of Interstate 40 and head south. The rock shop is located on the west side of the road just south of Hopi Drive.
El Rancho Hotel
Gallup, New Mexico
It’s hard to miss the ubiquitous billboards that sing the praises of the historic El Rancho Hotel as you tool along the New Mexico Stretch of Interstate 40. And although Gallup isn’t exactly a tourist Mecca, it’s well worth a quick stop to check out this site, that was once home base to movie stars that filmed westerns in the area. It’s easy to find too, as it’s just a short hop off Interstate 40, on historic Route 66 – just follow the signs.
Built in 1936 this funky roadside attraction entices prospective guests with the phrase “The charm of yesterday and the conveniences of tomorrow” emblazoned across its front portal. The main building is constructed largely of brick, with stone and wood finishing touches. Inside it’s like a step back into another century – from the vintage shoe shine stand to the cigarette machine near the front door. Add in the lush bordello-like furnishings and the massive wood staircase, and you have a real blast from the past.
And even though access wasn’t an issue when the property was built, there’s an accessible parking space near the front entrance, with curb-cut access up to the porch. From there, it’s an easy roll inside the lobby. There’s also a small gift shop and restaurant on site, if you’d like to extend your stay. Unfortunately the elevator up to the mezzanine gallery looks like it hasn’t worked for decades, so the only way to view the portraits of the stars that stayed there is to climb the stairs. Still, it’s worth a quick stop just to see the outside of the building and the front lobby, which has a few display cases filled with film memorabilia. And it goes without saying, that it’s a must-see for movie buffs.
New Mexico Route 66 Museum
Tucumcari, New Mexico
This well curated little museum, which is located along historic Route 66, next door to the Tucumcari Convention Center, is well worth a stop on any Interstate 40 road trip. There’s accessible parking next to the museum, with level access to the building. Inside, there’s plenty of room to wheel around the large gallery filled with vintage cars, old signs, Route 66 memorabilia and the largest public collection of Route 66 photographs in the US. Photographer Michael Campanelli’s images line the walls, and take visitors on a virtual Route 66 tour from California to Illinois. The cars, which are from local collections, are rotated throughout the season; and the volunteers that staff the museum are very knowledgeable – and enthusiastic – about Route 66. This nostalgic roadside attraction is open limited hours from March to October, so check the website for the current operating schedule to avoid disappointment.
Located about four miles west of Marfa along Highway 90, it’s hard to miss these larger-than-life plywood cutouts that pay tribute to James Dean’s last film, Giant. The work of John Cerney from Salinas, California, the cutouts depict the characters that James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson played in the 1956 movie. There’s also a large cutout of the mansion that was featured in the flick, which was filmed on the property where the installation stands. Sadly Dean was killed in a car accident before the film was released.
The figures are easier to spot traveling west, but you can still see the silhouettes in enough time to pull over on an eastbound journey. There’s no organized parking, but there’s a level dirt spot in front of the fenced-in figures, with plenty of room to get out and take a closer look. There’s also a small solar panel that powers a country music track — by Michael Nesmith of Monkees fame — that plays on a continuous loop. These unique cutouts, which were erected in October 2018, have quickly gained popularity with Texas road trippers in search of cool roadside diversions. A “must-stop” for sure.
Smallest Target Storefront
Located along Highway 90, about 6 miles east of the Highway 67 intersection, this former railroad building has been converted to a tiny target storefront. Nobody knows who painted the Target logo on the front and sides, but that’s pretty much all there is to this roadside stop. The small building houses a bit of trash, some graffiti and the occasional desert critter, so don’t expect any super deals at this location. There’s also a shopping cart in front of the store, which makes it a good photo op. There’s level parking on the dirt shoulder, and although the short path to the building is a little bumpy, you can certainly admire it from afar. A nice companion stop to the Prada Store in Marfa, or a good spot to take a break on the way to Big Bend National Park.
Billed as the “Birthplace to all Chile Cookoffs”, the ghost town of Terlingua is located about five miles west of Study Butte on Highway 170 – near the west entrance to Big Bend National Park. At first glance the town doesn’t look like it has much to offer in the way of a quirky roadside attraction, as the main drag is lined with a saloon or two, a number of galleries, and the odd souvenir shop here and there. That said the Terlingua Cemetery is reason enough to make the short detour out to this ghost town.
Located on the west edge of town – if you hit the “Welcome to Terlingua” sign, turn around as you’ve passed it – you’ll find this hidden gem on the right as you leave town. There’s a large level dirt parking area near the cemetery entrance, with room enough to park an adapted van. The cemetery – which was founded in 1902 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – is fairly level, although there are narrow spots and some bumpy pathways between the plots. That said, it’s worth a stop here, even if you can’t maneuver past the first row of graves, simply because of the the way the gravesites are adorned with all sorts of candles, fetishes, charms and other unique offerings.
The entrance pillars also have niches filled with everything from coins and candy, to bottle caps, rocks, shells, photos and even the odd personal item – like a make-up brush – here and there. An excellent spot for photographers, this site gets more interesting in October, as the Day of the Dead nears, and all sorts of new objects begin to appear. As an added bonus, there’s also a good view of the town ruins from the cemetery parking area.