Have You Ever Stopped?
Road trip participants typically fall into two categories: travels where the driver stops at all the quirky roadside attractions, or vacations where the driver powers through to the final destination with only minimal breaks when urgently necessary. Anyone who has voyaged up Interstate 95 through the Carolinas has been beckoned by the innumerable billboards for South of the Border located in the most obvious of locations on the North and South Carolina state line. When exiting Florida via Interstate 75, and with five more states to traverse, Frankenmuth, Michigan beckons visitors to celebrate the holiday season at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Driving the opposite direction the need for mile markers could be obsolete in thanks to the barrage of billboards for Ron Jon’s Surf Shop.
Through Georgia and Tennessee, passersby are encouraged to visit Rock City, which may be as well known for its red barn used to prompt travelers than the site itself. For tourists crossing the northern tier enroute to Mount Rushmore, while the Corn Palace may tempt travelers across a portion of the state, Wall Drug applies a heavy-handed bombardment to see the most famous of all drug stores doubling as a tourist attraction. Imagine how overwhelmed Dakota drivers would be if the four faces carved in granite campaigned so ferociously for visitors. No doubt every length of open highway features its own roadside attraction, and its survival depends heavily on those stretches of signs egging and inviting passersby to not pass them by.
Florida may be known for its world-renowned theme parks, but for those seeking an alternative to the higher price tags and dense crowds, a variety of kitschy spots show the older, smaller, sillier side of Central Florida. Marineland, the original sea-themed home to ocean mammals, still opens its doors to the travelers headed to Miami. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (see The Meraids of Old Florida from June 2021) boasts the only city in America with mermaids, and Silver Springs State Park showcases its waters via glass-bottom boats. Baseball World and Cypress Gardens have faded into history while Gatorland and Dinosaur World still stay in business with as much local traffic as tourism dollars.
When a weekend allows, I make a point to take Son Number One and Son Number Two to the low-end Jurassic Park near Plant City, Florida. The signs for Dinosaur World, as well as the life-size sculptures along the interstate, target young boys and mine had begged me to stop for years. We prepare for a close encounter by packing a picnic lunch, venturing into the colorful world of fake prehistoric creatures. Like all who have come before us, and all who have yet to visit, the boys stick their faces through the back access point of a tyrannosaurus rex’s mouth and appear to be at the end of the viscous creature’s snack time. While it doesn’t compare to the natural grandeur of the Grand Canyon or the crafted architecture of the National Mall, or the inspirational, historical reach of the Statue of Liberty, two little boys enjoy the simple detour.