Visit the Most Unusual Places in North America
North America is arguably the most diverse continent in the world. With an incredible variety of people, places and things, it’s bound to get weird. This article will explore some of the strangest locations from the American Southwest all the way up to Canada. You will get to vicariously visit natural curiosities, man-made oddities and downright bizarre happenings that have put these places on the map. Above is an image of the crazy Cadillac Ranch, but before we explore this iconic tourist attraction, let’s look at another Texas site that is just as interesting…
What appears to be a small Prada store is actually a permanently installed sculpture in Marfa, a small, desert city with a population of around 2,000. The artists, Elmgreen and Dragset, with assistance from architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, call the piece a “pop architectural land art project.” The building, which cost $120,000 and is made of adobe bricks, plaster, paint, glass, aluminum, MDF and carpet, is supposed to never be repaired so that it can slowly degrade back into the natural landscape. And this isn’t even the weirdest thing in Texas…
Amarillo, Texas is home to one of the most interesting man-made art installations in the world. Route 66’s Cadillac Ranch is true to its name, seeing as it consists of ten Caddies on the edge of a farm half-buried, nose-first at an angle purportedly corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The site is open to the public and vandalism is encouraged, with people from all across the globe coming to take pictures and paint the vehicles.
Stanley Marsh 3, who refused to go by Stanley Marsh III because he felt it was pretentious, funded the project. It was built by architects Chip Lord and Doug Michels and art student Hudson Marquez, who were part of the art group Ant Farm, which “was founded as an alternative architectural practice, kind of an experiment in an attempt to subvert normal corporate ways of doing architecture.” And this isn’t the only odd American structure that’s used cars in its construction…
In what is clearly a replica of Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, Carhenge is located near the High Plains city of Alliance, Nebraska. While the original site is made of large, standing stones, this one is formed from vintage American automobiles that have been welded together. The cars are spray painted gray to mimic the look of rocks, as opposed to the much more colorful Cadillac Ranch.
Carhenge was built by Jim Reinders and dedicated at the June 1987 summer solstice. It’s part of the Car Art Reserve, which features other sculptures and a visitor center. A sign at the site that sits on top of three buried cars reads, “Here lie three bones of foreign cars. They served our purpose while Detroit slept. Now Detroit is awake and America’s great!” While this is a formidable re-creation of Stonehenge, it can’t compete with…
Back in Texas, which is home to a lot of interesting locales, sits Stonehenge II. It might be less unusual than Carhenge, but it’s a much more accurate replica of the original. The monument was conceived by Al Shepperd and built with the help of his friend Doug Hill. Oddly enough, it’s located in the Texas Hill Country. There are also re-creations of two Easter Island statues, all of which are a part of the Hill Country Arts Foundation.
Before we leave the Lone Star State, let’s look at one more European replica that’s appropriately located in Paris. The city’s landmark was built is 1993, the same year as the one in Paris, Tennessee. There are even more around the world. But keeping with the “everything is bigger” motto, the Paris, Texas one was built five feet taller than Tennessee’s, and with a big cowboy hat on top.
Now things get even weirder. A gravity hill is a type of optical illusion that is created by rising and descending terrain. Magnetic Hill, seen above, is located at the northwestern edge of Moncton in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, specifically at the base of a ridge named Lutes Mountain. In the image, water appears to run uphill. And if that’s not weird enough, this can also happen with cars.
Water towers typically feature the name of wherever they’re located, but the one is Florence takes things up a notch. The Kentucky town’s tower is seen by millions of motorists every year. It originally read FLORENCE MALL in order to promote the local mall, but due to legal concerns raised by the giant advertisement, it was changed to the much friendlier Y’ALL.
Another amazing tower takes us back to Texas. Helping the popular city live up to its “Keep Austin Weird” motto, the Moonlight towers are the only known surviving light towers in the world. They are recognized as Texas State Landmarks and, along with other moontowers, were designed to illuminate areas of a town or city at night. The Austin ones were featured in the film Dazed and Confused.
The sign above is located at musical road in Tijeras, New Mexico, but there are several across the globe. As odd as it sounds, no pun intended, these stretches of pavement use modified rumble strips to cause tactile, audible vibrations that sound like songs. The Tijeras one plays America the Beautiful and a musical road in Lancaster plays the William Tell Overture.
San Luis Obispo, California is home to what is maybe the most disgusting entry in this article. Bubblegum alley is exactly what it sounds like, an alley covered in used bubblegum. The origin of the alley is unclear, with some historians thinking it might date back to a local high school rivalry. Either way, you have to wonder what it smells like…
A pyramid mausoleum is a piece of Egyptian Revival funerary architecture that was generally an extravagance of American tycoons who wanted themselves remembered as long and as well as the ancient pharaohs. Seen above is the Van Ness-Parsons Mausoleum at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. There are dozens of these odd structures all over the country, none of which can compete with…
Mary Ellis Grave
This gravestone from 1828 is located in the middle of a movie theater parking lot in New Brunswick, New Jersey. After Mary Ellis, a local spinster, was buried, the property became a site of the Great Eastern Discount Department Store but when that went out of business it was replaced by the Route 1 Flea Market. Eventually, in the late ‘90s, an AMC Theater was built and still stand to this day.
Mill Ends Park
In what is much less morbid but just as strange, the Mill Ends Park, which is often mistakenly called Mill’s End Park, holds the Guinness Record for being the smallest park in the world. It’s located in downtown Portland, Oregon and was dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day as “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland,” due to the local legend that claims the park was granted from a wish made to a caught leprechaun.
Mojave Phone Booth
Any remaining telephone booths are rare, but the one in Mojave was especially odd considering it was located in the middle of nowhere. It was originally installed to provide service for local volcanic cinder miners. Unfortunately, it was removed in 2000 after tons of tourists flocked to the location, but was replaced with a memorial grave. Read through to the end of the article to see even more crazy places that are no longer around…
Oregon’s Cape Perpetua is home to Thor’s Well, a gaping, seemingly bottomless sinkhole that appears to be draining the sea. While this natural wonder is not actually bottomless, it is still dangerous. It’s also referred to as the drainpipe of the Pacific. At high tide, waves fill the 20-feet-deep hole from the bottom until it bubbles out or bursts up in a violent spray and repeats as if it fills and drains endlessly.
The story behind Devil’s Tower, a US National Monument established by President Theodore Roosevelt, is one of the most interesting in this article. According to the Native American tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota, it magically formed to save two girls from a bear attack, which explains the marks. The name comes from the misinterpretation of “Bad God’s Tower.”
One of the most beautiful natural formations in the world is The Wave, which is located in Arizona near its Northern Border with Utah. It’s situated on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of the Colorado Plateau. People love to hike and take pictures of the amazing site, but because it’s so fragile, the park uses a lottery system to only allow a certain number of visitor per day.
Desert of Maine
Deserts are nothing new, except when there’s one in Maine. The Desert of Maine is an area of exposed glacial silt, which is basically a finer version of sand, in the middle of a pine forest outside the city of Freeport. While it’s not exactly a true desert, due to the amount of moisture it’s exposed to, as well as the surrounding vegetation, it definitely still qualifies. It even has a gift shop, a sand museum, and a farm museum.
While a lot of the entires in this article are about strange sites, this one covers a whole city. Centralia is essentially a ghost town, due to the fact that it’s pretty much been on fire for almost half a century. Due to a mine fire in 1962, the surrounding land has basically been unlivable. Some areas, like the one seen above, will still occasionally smoke.
Hikers love to attempt to scale the highest points of mountains all over the world. Any who find themselves in Rhode Island will more than likely end up on Jerimoth Hill, which is located in the town of Foster near Providence. The site is currently used as an observatory, but before 2005 it was known for being difficult to access due to a local landowner who prohibited entry.
Republic of Molossia
The halfway point of this article is an appropriate time to get even weirder. The Republic of Molossia is a claimed micronation founded by Kevin Baugh and headquartered at his home near Dayton, Nevada. While it is not recognized as a country by the United Nations or any major government, it is still technically a republic. Baugh refers to the taxes he still pays as “foreign aid.”
Republic of Indian Stream
Another republic is the Republic of Indian Stream, an unrecognized constitutional republic on the section of the border that divides Quebec from New Hampshire. The sign above says it all. It reads, “In 1832 the settlers of the area between Indian Stream and Hall’s Stream, claimed by both Canada and the United States, set up the Independent republic of Indian Stream… recognized by treaty as United States territory.”
This entry is pretty wild. A “spite house” is a building that exists almost solely to irritate neighbors for a variety of reasons, typically related to land stakes, which is basically having a vested interest in the property. The spite house seen above is known as Skinny House. It’s Boston’s narrowest house and originally served to spite a hostile neighbor. There are many more spite house across the world.
Sam Kee Building
This one is similar to the last entry, in that, it holds a unique record for its layout. While Skinny House is just the narrowest in its city, the Sam Kee Building actually holds the Guinness Record for the shallowest in the world. It might appear normal in the image above, but if you look at the bit of green wall on the left of the sign, that’s actually the depth of the entire location.
If you’ve ever wondered how many people it takes to make a town, this might answer your question. Since the picture above was taken, the population of Monowi has gone from 2 to 1. Yes, this village is home to just a singe person, Elsie Eiler, making it the only incorporated municipality in the US like it. This definitely qualifies as a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of place.
Point Roberts, Washington
This entry, like the previously seen Republic of Indian Stream, is odd because of its borders. It sits right in-between the US and Canada, specifically located on the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, south of Vancouver in British Columbia, next to Whatcom County, Washington. It was created when the United Kingdom and the United States settled the Pacific Northwest American-Canadian border dispute in the mid-19th century with the Oregon Treaty.
World’s Littlest Skyscraper
The next couple entries are some more world record holders. The Newby-McMahon Building, which is referred to as the world’s littlest skyscraper, is located in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas. Its style is late-Neoclassical and it is reportedly the result of a bad investment scheme by a con man. It was featured on the television show Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.
World’s Tallest Thermometer
The difference between the last entry and this one is that the previous structure is an actual building. The World’s Tallest Thermometer, a landmark in Baker, California, is an electric sign that commemorates the record breaking 134 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. What’s even weirder is that the thermometer actually works, as long as it doesn’t get hotter than 134.
Coming in a close second to the aforementioned Monowi, Nebraska, which has a population of 1, SNPJ is a borough of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania with a population of a little over a dozen. It stands for Slovenska Norodna Podporna Jednota, or Slovene National Benefit Society, and is a fraternal society and financial co-operative, which was established, in part, to get around liquor laws for its rec center. Amazing.
Fenelon Place Elevator
There’s nothing unusual about an elevator, unless it’s located outside of a building. The Fenelon Place Elevator, also known as the Fourth Street Elevator, isn’t simply an outdoor elevator, it’s actually a railroad. The shortest and steepest railroad in the world, to be exact. It’s part of a railway located in Dubuque, Iowa and is individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
A Mountain, not to be confused with simply “a mountain,” is literally a mountain with a giant A on it. It’s also known as Sentinel Peak, which is less confusing, and is a 2,897-foot peak in the Tucson Mountains, part of a 272-acre park in Arizona. At the beginning of the 20th century, the University of Arizona used local basalt rock to construct the A, giving it its name.
11 Foot 8 Bridge
Of all the strange places in North America, this is one of the more dangerous, seeing as the bridge sits at a height that is too low for many tall trucks and RVs to pass. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean they don’t try. But accidentally, of course, despite numerous signs and warning devices. The Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass, which is nicknamed The Can-Opener, is a railroad bridge in Durham, North Carolina.
Michigan’s M-185 is the only state highway in the country that bans motor vehicles, limiting its traffic to by feet, bike or horse. It’s on an island that is only accessible by passenger ferry. The City of Mackinac Island calls the highway Main Street, but it is referred to as Lake Shore Road elsewhere. It offers scenic views of several important sites and runs between the water’s edge and the woodlands outside of the downtown area.
Another weird road is Clinton Road, which is located in New Jersey. In addition to having the longest traffic light in the country, the road is also notorious for reported occurrences of paranormal activity. People have claimed sightings of ghosts, strange creatures and gatherings of witches. The local police chief’s explanation is that “it’s a long, desolate stretch and makes the imagination go nuts.”
Interstates 19 and 180
This entry is a two-for-one. While Arizona’s Interstate 19, seen above, is the only US highway marked in metric units, Wyoming’s Interstate 180 isn’t even really a highway at all, as it doesn’t conform to Interstate Highway standards. Interstate 19’s unusual metric markings are a result of a push toward the metric system at the time of its construction.
Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was once the home of Sarah Winchester, a widow whose late husband created the firearm that was named after him. It’s said to be haunted by the ghosts of people who were killed with Winchester rifles.
U Thant Island
The final size-related entry in this article is U Thant Island, which, with an area of just 2,000 square feet, is the smallest island in Manhattan. In the last 40 years it has been adopted by a group called the Peace Meditation at the United Nations, was once considered a potential home for a time capsule, and illegitimately declared a sovereign nation by a local artist.
While Spiral Island is technically an island, it’s not a natural one, and is the second entry to be featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, as well as Extreme Cribs on MTV. It was built out of thousands of empty floating plastic bottles in Mexico by British artist Richart “Reishee” Sowa. Despite being destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005, it was replaced by Joyxee Island three years later.
Tower of Wooden Pallets
The Tower of Wooden Pallets was a structure of discarded wooden pallets built by Daniel Van Meter in 1951. He said of the tower, “…in a few years this piece of the good earth may be covered by apartments for the storing of surplus people. In the meantime, pray, let this strange structure be, let it continue to be a haven of rest for an individual, that endangered species, who once knew how sweet was our Valley.”
Dixie Square Mall
Like the last entry, this one no longer exists, but was weird enough to be included. The Dixie Square Mall stood abandoned for over twice as long as it was in business. It was featured in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers and became a popular target for urban explorers before it was demolished in 2012.